Friday, 24 June 2011

Geert Wilders cleared of hate charges by Dutch court

Excellent news from the BBC yesterday:

Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders, who described Islam as "fascist", has been acquitted of inciting hatred against Muslims.

Amsterdam judge Marcel van Oosten accepted the Freedom Party leader's statements were directed at Islam and not at Muslim believers.

They were, the judge ruled, "acceptable within the context of public debate".

It is of course shocking that the charges were brought in the first place. Had his statements been directed at "Muslim believers" rather than Islam, he still shouldn't have faced prosecution. Causing offence should not be a criminal act. Judges shouldn't be ruling on what kind of speech is "acceptable within the context of public debate".

Those who can't stand the notion of free speech are undaunted:

It is believed the plaintiffs may attempt to make their case before a European court or the UN.

Their lawyer, Ties Prakken, was quoted by Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf as saying they were "deeply disappointed" and believed the right of minorities to be protected against hate speech had been violated.

Protected against 'hate speech'? Even if Wilders had explicitly encouraged violence against Muslims (in the style of "behead those who insult Islam"), responsibility for any violent acts would rest with those who undertook them. Tom Paine wrote a good article about this back in February 2009:
The very concept of "incitement" is a flawed one. And it is a flawed concept which is in course of being rapidly and dangerously extended. Our legal system believes there are people so dumb that they will hate whole races if "incited" to do so. What tosh. They have the choice to hate or not hate. And if they hate, then they have the choice whether or not to harm the objects of their hatred. I hate Gordon Brown, Harriet Harman and David Blunkett with a veritable passion, but until I act upon it there's no crime involved.
I happen to think that Mr Wilders has a perfectly valid point, but even if I disagreed with him, I'd want him to be free to speak his mind.
Mr Wilders has compared the Koran to Hitler's Mein Kampf.

Outside the courtroom, the 47-year-old politician said he was "incredibly happy" with the verdict.

"It's not only an acquittal for me, but a victory for freedom of expression in the Netherlands," he said.

"Now the good news is that it's also legal to be critical about Islam, to speak publicly in a critical way about Islam and this is something that we need because the Islamisation of our societies is a major problem and a threat to our freedom and I'm allowed to say so."

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