Friday 24 June 2011

Geert Wilders: Not Guilty

Geert Wilders, the leader of the PVV party in the Netherlands (Partij voor de Vrijheid or Party for Freedom) has been found not guilty of hate speech and discrimination. The court action wasn't one the public prosecuter wanted to take - it was only after civil society groups challenged the public prosecuter's refusal to take Wilders to court was the complaint lodged. The result was a strange case where the prosecuters didn't really want Wilders to be found guilty, and the danger of the PVV benefiting from the case.

On winning the case, Wilders said:

"“I’m incredibly happy with this acquittal on all counts," Mr Wilders said outside the court. "It’s not only an acquittal for me, but a victory for freedom of expression in the Netherlands. Fortunately, you’re allowed to discuss Islam in public debate and you’re not muzzled in public debate. An enormous burden has fallen from my shoulders.”"

Although the court tagged on some disapproving language to its judgment:

"The court found that Mr Wilders’ rhetoric was “on the edge of what is legally permissible” but not illegal. The judge described statements about a “tsunami” of immigrants as “crude and denigrating”, but legally legitimate given the wider context and his acknowledgement that those who integrate are acceptable and do not call for violence."

It was likely to be a win-win situation for Wilders in any case: had he been found guilty, he could protray himself as a martyr for freedom of speech; now that he's been acquitted he can present his rhetoric as being perfectly within the bounds of reasonable political debate (even though the court didn't rule it to be "reasonable", just not illegal).

There are some cases where using the law to limit free speech is a good thing. In a democratic society we take certain level of tolerance and mutual understanding for granted, but hate speech and incitement to violence can have a very toxic effect on a democratic culture, even if they are not acted on. Apart from these extreme cases, it's generally better to fight extremist rhetoric openly. Otherwise court cases will just have the effect of giving such movements a greater dose of the oxygen of publicity.


  1. I have to agree with this verdict but have reservations as to the politically correct position take by the comments from the judges.
    The dutch people know all too well that their democracy and secular freedom has cost them rivers of blood, one only needs to look at dutch history and the religious wars, the oppression of the papal forces and the misery caused by the calvinists.
    I can fully appreciate in the light of such a history the position taken by Mr.Wilders.
    The Islamic experience for the dutch population is one i can not comment on as I do not live there. I can however say that tolerance only ever extends to a given point and there is a breaking point for all . Mr. Wilders expresses that which many in holland dare not say but obviously agree with, based on poll results.
    The comments Mr. Wilders made re; Islam are probably fairly accurate, he should however extend these criticisms to all other religions as well, there is plenty to look at in all .
    The desire for dutch people not to have to live in an Islamized suburb is understandable and it is the new comer who should adjust, dutch people have not forced any one to come to their country. It is more likely the other way around.

  2. Immigration issues in the Netherlands (where I'm currently based) would better be dealt with through integration policies. The inflamatory talk from the PVV and Wilders stokes distrust and division and makes integration harder.

    While religions should be open to questioning and even ridicule, I disagree that Wilders' approach is a good way towards any religion. The great thing about the Netherlands is its tolerance, but this is damaged with Wilders' intolerant approach, where he makes the religion itself the problem, rather than extremism within religion that actually adversely affects the rights of others.