The Amsterdam Court of Appeals has ordered the criminal prosecution of a Dutch Member of Parliament for criticizing Islam. The court’s ruling overturns a previous decision by Dutch public prosecutors, who had determined that there was not enough evidence to charge Geert Wilders, leader of the conservative Freedom Party, for hate crimes after he produced a hard-hitting film that says Islam promotes violence. In a written judgment, the appeals court said that “by attacking the symbols of the Muslim religion, [Wilders] also insulted Muslim believers.”
The ruling will please the Dutch Muslim immigrant groups who asked the appeals court to force the justice department to prosecute Wilders for expressing his opinions. But many others say the prosecution is an alarming attack on free speech by politically correct activist judges who are trying to silence criticism of the growing power of Islam in Europe.
Wilders, who frequently speaks out against the “Islamization” of the Netherlands, said “the judgment of the court [is] an attack on the freedom of expression.... Participation in the public debate has become a dangerous activity. If you give your opinion, you risk being prosecuted.... Who will stand up for our culture if I am
Of course, Wilders is only the latest in a line of Dutch citizens who have run afoul of the pro-Muslim thought police in post-Christian Holland. In 2002, Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was assassinated for his views on Islam and Muslim immigration. In 2004, Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh was stabbed to death for producing a movie that criticized Islam. In 2006, former Dutch lawmaker Ayaan Hirsi Ali was forced to flee the country after criticizing the mistreatment of women in Islamic societies.
What makes the Wilders case different, however, is that the Dutch state itself is now caving in to pressure from Muslim immigrants who seek to criminalize any opinions that could be deemed to insult Islam or criticize Muslim immigration.
But Holland is not the only European country at war with the exercise of free speech. In Austria, for example, Member of Parliament Susanne Winter was convicted for the “crime” of saying that “in today’s system” the Prophet Muhammad would be considered a “child molester,” referring to his marriage to a six-year-old child. She was also convicted for “incitement” for warning that Austria faces an “Islamic immigration tsunami.”
In Italy, the journalist and author Oriana Fallaci was taken to court for writing that Islam “brings hate instead of love and slavery instead of freedom.” She died in September 2006, two months after the start of her trial. In France, novelist Michel Houellebecq was taken to court for calling Islam “the stupidest religion.” He was acquitted in October 2002. More recently, animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot was convicted in June 2008 by a Paris court for “inciting racial hatred” for demanding that Muslims anaesthetize animals before slaughtering them.
In Britain, the 2006 Racial and Religious Hatred Act, which creates a new crime of intentionally stirring up religious hatred against people on religious grounds, has led to zealousness bordering on the absurd. In Nottingham, for example, the Greenwood Primary School cancelled a Christmas nativity play because it interfered with the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha. In Scarborough, the Yorkshire Coast College removed the words Christmas and Easter from their calendar so as not to offend Muslims. In Scotland, the Tayside Police Department apologized for featuring a German shepherd puppy as part of a campaign to publicize its new non-emergency telephone number. The postcards are potentially offensive to city’s 3,000-strong Muslim community because Islamic legal tradition says that dogs are impure.
In Glasgow, a Christian radio show host was fired after a debate between a Muslim and a Christian on whether Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life.” In Cheshire, two students at the Alsager High School were punished by their teacher for refusing to pray to Allah as part of their Religious Education class. In East London, all elected members of Tower Hamlets town council were told not to eat during daylight hours in town hall meetings during the Muslim month of Ramadan. Special arrangements were also made to disrupt council meetings to allow for Muslim prayer. Meanwhile, the council renamed a staff Christmas party as a “festive meal”.
Nor are Muslims the only ones trying to restrict free speech in Europe. In Britain, for example, the government is facing pressure from homosexual rights activists to overturn a free speech protection amendment added to a controversial “gay hate” law. The free speech protection clause, which states that criticizing homosexual practice or urging people to refrain from such conduct will not, in itself, be a crime, was added to the new offense of “incitement to homophobic hatred.” But now the government wants to remove that protection. The crime of inciting homophobic hatred includes any words or behavior which is threatening and intended to stir up hatred. It carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.
At the European level, meanwhile, government ministers from the 27 member states of the European Union are debating a draft EU Directive that aims to outlaw discrimination and “harassment” in the provision of goods and services. The new legislation would, for example, shut down Christian adoption agencies if they refuse to provide same-sex couples with children. Indeed, the definition of “harassment” is so broad that even moderate explanations of Christian beliefs on sexual conduct or other religions could be considered a crime.
Europe’s war on free speech is the result of a profound identity crisis, one that is being generated by the blanket abandonment of traditional Judeo-Christian values coupled with mass immigration from Muslim countries. But in their zeal to criminalize free thought and free speech, the leftwing guardians of Orwellian political correctness are systematically destroying European democracy.
Not only are European elites using hate crime legislation to silence people with opinions that do not conform to official state policies. They are also dividing Europeans into two groups (the majority and the minority), each with different rights and responsibilities. The minority (Muslims, homosexuals, Socialists) is imposing its will upon the majority (non-Muslim, heterosexuals, non-Socialists) by aggressively prosecuting those who refuse to fall into line.
Europeans lack an American-like First Amendment, which means they can be punished for expressing the “wrong” opinions. But Europe’s war on free speech should serve as a warning to Americans about the perils of complacency. Indeed, the Obama administration says it intends to “strengthen federal hate crimes legislation, expand hate crimes protection by passing the Matthew Shepard Act, and reinvigorate enforcement at the Department of Justice’s Criminal Section.” Some politicians have also expressed support for re-imposing the Fairness Doctrine, which would effectively censor the opinions of tens of millions of Americans.
More than 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson warned of the slow drift from freedom to tyranny when he observed that “there are rights which it is useless to surrender to the government and which governments have yet always been found to invade. These are the rights of thinking and publishing our thoughts by speaking or writing.”
Will the United States follow in Europe’s footsteps?
Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios EstratÃ©gicos / Strategic Studies Group