Friday, 29 January 2010

Geert Wilders: martyr of truth?

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Writing on the Telegraph website, Douglas Murray of the Centre for Social Cohesion, describes the plight of far-right Dutch MP Geert Wilders, who has just gone on trial for group insult of Muslims, as one that "will have unparalleled significance for the future of Europe. It is not just about whether our culture will survive, but whether we are even allowed to state the fact that it is being threatened."

Murray portrays Wilders as a kind of martyr of truth – indeed, the piece is headlined "Geert Wilders: on trial for telling the truth". In Murray's view, Wilders is warning against the Islamification of Europe while the rest of us bury our heads in the sand, and he is being prosecuted for daring to do so.

Of course, this isn't the first time Wilders has been hailed as a free speech martyr – a similar thing happened when he was banned from this country by then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith last year. At the time, I wrote that this was regrettable. He shouldn't have been banned – that was a foolish decision, and one that played into the hands of the far right, who could then present him as a champion of free speech. It was a decision that forced many who find his politics of division repulsive to speak out in defence of his right to enter the country. All this for a man who would have the Koran banned in his home country (free speech indeed).

The decision to prosecute him in the Netherlands appears similarly foolish. As with the (later overturned) ban on him coming here, the authorities are resorting to misguided legal tactics when they should be arguing against the man's politics. In the process they strengthen his case, win him votes, and force those who would otherwise oppose him to speak out in support.

So his legal troubles, both past in the UK and present in the Netherlands, do pose a challenge for free speech. But is he really, as Murray suggests, "on trial for telling the truth" about the creeping Islamification of Europe? For his controversial film Fitna, he cobbled together horrific scenes of the aftermath of terrorist attacks and acts perpertrated by violent Islamic extremists, and interspersed them with lines from the Koran. The message of the film was one entirely devoid of nuance – Islamic extremists who will commit violent acts exist, inspired by lines in the Koran, which is the holy book of Islam, which is therefore an inherently violent religion. Therefore that religion has no place in European society and therefore, by extension, neither do the people who follow it. Forget that there are over 1.5 billion of those people in the world - they are all tarred by extremism by association. So what should you do? Vote for Wilders and his "People's Party for Freedom and Democracy", of course. Because what would they do? Well, here are a few choice items from their 2005 manifesto:
  • An immigration ban of five years for immigrants from non-western countries. Foreign residents will no longer have the right to vote in municipal elections.
  • A ban of five years on the founding of mosques and Islamic schools; a permanent ban on preaching in any language other than Dutch. Foreign imams will not be allowed to preach. Radical mosques will be closed and radical Muslims will be expelled.
  • Introduction of minimum penalties, and higher maximum penalties; introduction of administrative detention for terrorist suspects. Street terrorism will be punished by boot camps and denaturalisation deportation of immigrant offenders.
Sounds familiar, doesn't it? That's because we have a party with some broadly similar policies in the UK. And note this idea of "non-western" – I wonder how that would effect potential immigrants from Australia and New Zealand?

And just like other far-right politicians, Wilders feeds on the fallacious idea that an ethnic and cultural minority (5 per cent in Holland) is growing at such a rate that it will become the majority in the forseeable future. Hence the following statements
"Take a walk down the street and see where this is going. You no longer feel like you are living in your own country. There is a battle going on and we have to defend ourselves. Before you know it there will be more mosques than churches!"
"Islam is the Trojan Horse in Europe. If we do not stop Islamification now, Eurabia and Netherabia will just be a matter of time. One century ago, there were approximately 50 Muslims in the Netherlands. Today, there are about 1 million Muslims in this country. Where will it end? We are heading for the end of European and Dutch civilisation as we know it. Where is our Prime Minister in all this?"
For those who wish to see "Islamification" and extremism everywhere they look, this is an appealing message, and one the BNP is currently thriving on promoting in this country. But for those of us looking to confront the problem of extremism, while at the same time negotiating the complex and challenging issues of immigration and integration, and with that the de-facto segregation that exists in some of our towns and cities, it is not a message we should be taking seriously. Geert Wilders is being wrongly prosecuted, but not, as Douglas Murray suggests, for telling the "truth". He is being prosecuted for promoting a message of division and separation, in which religion plays the role traditionally reserved for race. It's a message that, in a democracy, he should have the right to promote, and therefore I oppose his prosecution in the same way that I would oppose the prosecution of Nick Griffin over his party's manifesto. We should be arguing against such people, not hauling them before the courts.

But I accept Wilders' postition as a free speech martyr reluctantly, and reject any notion that he is a martyr of "truth".


elbuho said...

Wilders has his flaws, and is happy to pander to the religious far right in America, and to accept the support of right-wing nutjobs and neo-nazis, but basically he is telling the truth about Islam - the Koran insists on submission to Islam by other peoples, and Muslims are commanded to subdue the rest of the world. Hopefully his wake-up call will galvanise other, less extreme people to take a stand and win political support for a party which can tell the truth without fanning the flames of racist hatred.

quedula said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
quedula said...

I do not understand what point Paul Sims is trying to make. Either GW is telling the truth or he is not. If he is then what is there to argue about? Sim pleads for "negotiating the complex and challenging issues of immigration and integration, and with that the de-facto segregation that exists in some of our towns and cities". He needs to explain why we should strive to integrate with people who patently do not want to integrate with us?

Neal said...

@quedla says "I do not understand what point Paul Sims is trying to make. Either GW is telling the truth or he is not"

I'm not sure what you mean by "truth", most of the time what GW says is opinion which I am sure GW believes. That does not make it truth. Sometimes GW quotes fact, though not always in a fair way.

If you watch Fitna then on first look it is superficially good viewing. Un pick it and some of the undertones are not so acceptable and I think Paul teases these out. A very thoughtful article.

Fundamentally GW is being criminalised for exercising free speech. The charge is not as far as I am aware hate speech or incitement to violence and as such the charge itself is indefensible, not the oppinions of GW which are at worst disagreeable and flawed.

Anonymous said...

In Holland Mein Kampf is forbidden. As I understand Wilder's point of view, then why should the Quran be allowed? They are both equally bad. Both full of hate against non-believers; full of words like kill. I have read both, and am hard put to figure out which one is worse. Either they should both be forbidden or both allowed. I prefer the latter so people can read for themselves how horrible they are.


Eiskrystal said...

"Before you know it there will be more mosques than churches!""

I wonder how easy it would be to make a film showing the violence and intolerance of christians, interspersed with the "holy" words of the bible.

Not so hard I think.