Geert Wilders, a Dutch Member of Parliament, has dedicated his life to supporting freedom of speech and religious tolerance... What seems to have earned him these death threats is his unrelenting passion for freedom. Pictured: Wilders speaks to the media outside the Dutch Parliament on March 22, 2021. (Photo by Phil Nijhuis/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)
Last month, a Dutch Member of Parliament, Geert Wilders -- the leader of the Party for Freedom, which is the largest opposition party in the Netherlands' Parliament -- received two fatwas. Fatwas, officially, are Islamic religious opinions; they sometimes contain calls, however, to kill whomever might be considered insufficiently supportive of Islam or its prophet, Mohammad.
Wilders has dedicated his life to supporting freedom of speech and religious tolerance, and pointing out problems in radical, violent Islamist extremism. Because of this, he has been the target of frequent death threats by Islamist leaders. There are many who appear to prefer religious conformity, restricted speech and often the death penalty for what they might consider blasphemy.
As for this author, born in the Netherlands, it was always a particular pleasure for many years, while serving as a member of the US Congress, to meet with political visitors from the Netherlands to the US. A special one, with whom I often met, is Wilders.
What seems to have earned him these death threats is his unrelenting passion for freedom. To others, it seems, this commitment, is not a plus. Radical cleric Muhammad Abdullah Ahsan, for instance, recently proclaimed: "The rascals like Geert Wilders can't be stopped by mere condemnation. He must be handed over to Muslims for public execution to ensure world peace."
Another radical Islamist leader, Saad Hussain Rizvi Sahib, according to an online post, "issued a fatwa against the Arrogant [sic] Greet [sic] Wilders, to Kill [sic] him and he ordered Ummat-a-Muslima to spread this message to Muslims of Haaland and kill him as soon as possible."
In response to these latest threats, Wilders tweeted: "It is no use threatening me, Muslims in Pakistan, Netherlands or anywhere else. Fatwas won't stop me..... Freedom is my ideology. And no one will stop me."
After years of countless threats, Wilders, since 2004, has been forced to live with around-the-clock security, generously provided by the Dutch government. "It is a situation," he has said, "that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy". "I am in prison," he has said privately; "they are walking around free."
"An Imam," Wilders has noted, "who wants a politician dead is—however reprehensible—allowed to say so."
Wilders' first alleged "offense," in 2004, was to have been part of a team that created a ten-minute film, Submission, produced and directed by Theo van Gogh, to dramatize the abuse of Muslim women that sometimes takes place based on three Quranic suras: 4:34, 2:222 and 24:2.
Film critic Phill Hall wrote:
"'Submission' was bold in openly questioning misogyny and a culture of violence against women because of Koranic interpretations. The questions raised in the film deserve to be asked: is it divine will to assault or kill women? Is there holiness in holding women at substandard levels, denying them the right to free will and independent thought? And ultimately, how can such a mindframe exist in the 21st century?"
After Submission (the English for the word "Islam") was released, a 26 year old Dutch-Moroccan Muslim, Mohammad Bouyeri, murdered van Gogh by shooting him and slitting his throat. Bouyeri later told a Dutch court, "If I ever get free, I would do it again." Papers on a knife stuck in van Gogh's body warned that Wilders, among others, would be next. Since then, for 18 years, Wilders has had constantly to move from one safe house to another, unable to live in his own home or with the freedom to go out alone in public. His life, every minute, is in extreme danger.
Wilders, nonetheless, sees the personal sacrifice as the price to be paid to advocate for a free society and free speech, saying:
"[T]he point is, if you really speak out in favour of freedom, let alone if you use the freedom of speech. ... [a]nd why Islam (I'm not talking about the people, but the ideology of Islam) why they are not free. ... [y]ou either get fatwas as I got; you are taken to court by people who hate your guts. You are silenced in parliament...."
Free speech, he comments, is "absolute for the people who talk according to the wishes of the elite that are in charge. But if you diverge from that, it's very relative, it's non-existent."
Wilders is indeed extremely outspoken. To the Dutch Parliament, he said, "Islam, is the Trojan Horse in Europe, and, "there is no such thing as 'moderate Islam'. As Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan said the other day, and I quote, 'There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that's it.'"
In New York, after the 9/11 attacks, he said, "We must never give a free hand to those who want to subjugate us."
In London, he said, "I feel that the more Islam that we get in our societies the less freedom we get [and quoting George Orwell]: 'If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they don't want to hear'".
Yet, despite years of death threats and a lifestyle no one would want, he remains a passionate advocate for free speech. This conviction -- aligned with America's First Amendment and dating back to our founding fathers, flies in the face of today's trends in the West where "cancel culture" runs rampant and people try to silence those with whom they disagree.
Here in the US, you were not allowed to talk freely about the very real possibility that the Covid virus, which has killed more than six million people worldwide, may have escaped from a Chinese laboratory; and you were blocked from making any statements about treatments for Covid that were not approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You also could not, in the middle of a national campaign for the presidency, talk about Hunter Biden's laptop computer, filled with potentially damaging evidence that voters might find useful as they assessed which candidate to vote for.
The most recent assault on freedom of speech in the US now comes from the Department of Homeland Security, which is armed: the Disinformation Governance Board. According to its website, it supposedly "protects free speech." The great American public, evidently sensing something awry, immediately renamed it "The Ministry of Truth" after the government's propaganda center in George Orwell's novel, 1984.
The American version is to be headed by a supposed "expert" on disinformation, Nina Jankowicz, who already has a record of unexpertly dismissing Hunter Biden's easily verifiable laptop as a "Trump Campaign product;" supporting the notoriously false "Steele Dossier;" saying on National Public Radio: "I shudder to think about if free speech absolutists were taking over more platforms," and, while discussing "online abuse" against women, she actually recommended deploying the police:
"We need to at least upskill police officers and local law enforcement to deal with these things and perhaps start some collaboration... Online, that just doesn't exist yet. So I'm hopeful for that architecture to come into play."
The historian Robert Spencer commented:
"'[D]isinformation' and 'hate' re entirely subjective categories, based on the point of view of the person who is doing the evaluating.... [and] who gets to decide what 'hate speech' is? Nina Jankowicz, apparently."
As the freed slave Frederick Douglass said in 1860:
"Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one's thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power.... Equally clear is the right to hear. To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker. It is just as criminal to rob a man of his right to speak and hear as it would be to rob him of his money."
Who really believes that the rhetoric of Wilders -- or just about all of us, for that matter -- would ever pass the scrutiny of the new Orwellian-sounding federal Disinformation Governance Board? Certainly not those who embrace free speech. In my years in Congress there were frequent votes about flag desecration, well-intended attempts by colleagues to ban defiling the American flag. I love our flag as much as anyone can, but voted every time against making flag desecration a crime. Freedom of speech in free nations should supersede imposing even more limitations on freedom.
As Wilders receives still new fatwas, we would do well recognize the price that he and others have paid for expressing their points of view. As the powers that be continue clamping down on the free speech we all should cherish, we must recognize the value and strength that people like Wilders, and even those who burn flags, bring to the public square. We may or may not agree with their views, but should recognize that through their freedom of expression they enrich the debate and discourse. They make us stronger, not weaker.
Peter Hoekstra was US Ambassador to the Netherlands during the Trump administration. He served 18 years in the U.S. House of Representatives representing the second district of Michigan and served as Chairman and Ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. He is currently Chairman of the Center for Security Policy Board of Advisors.