The Geert Wilders Trial

February 4, 2010

Some of you may be aware already that Geert Wilders, the flamboyant, right-wing Dutch politician and writer, has been placed on trial in Amsterdam. He is charged with "group defamation" and inciting hatred and discrimination against minorities, in particular Muslims.

I say "may" be aware because the trial has not received much press coverage in the United States. Relatively short articles did run in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal at the beginning of the trial, but since then there has been hardly anything in the news.

If you want updates on the trial, Wilders has just set up a website with current information

I believe this trial should receive more attention because it is a troubling example of how hate speech laws can be used to suppress free expression. One does not have to agree with what Wilders has said - and I do not endorse many of his statements - to be concerned about the use of criminal sanctions to curb speech, especially in a country with a long tradition of respecting individual liberties such as The Netherlands. The case may set a dangerous precedent.

Obviously, the right to free speech is not absolute. In the United States, direct incitements to violence or direct threats of bodily harm are proscribed. But there is a significant difference between saying "let's kill that Muslim" and saying that we must "stop the tsunami of Islamization" or claiming that the Koran is comparable to Mein Kampf in the harm that it causes - which are some of the statements Wilders has made.

However, as always, I urge individuals to make their own judgments after reviewing the relevant facts. If you've not done so already, you should take a look at Fitna, Wilders notorious 17-minute film in which he draws attention to Islamic extremism (caution: the film contains disturbing images), and you should also review some of the statements attributed to Wilders. These statements have been posted on an anti-Wilders website. (The website is in Dutch, but you can get it easily translated through Google.)

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