The brute facts, grim consequences and apparent incongruity clearly baffled the author of last week’s Wall Street Journal’s column: “Silencing Islam Critics: A Dutch Court Imports Saudi Blasphemy Norms to Europe”. After all, in June 2008 the Dutch Public Prosecutor had decided after viewing Fitna. The Movie and reading several writings of Geert Wilders MP in which he compared the Koran with Mein Kampf and Islam with fascism, that these comments belonged to the realm of free speech. Wilders, leader of the Party For Freedom (9 seats in the Dutch Parliament, and 20 in the latest polls) did not address individuals or called for violence, he attacked a religion, so his comments were legal.
Clearly, his statements outraged Muslims around the globe, but “if freedom of speech means anything, it means the freedom of controversial speech. Consensus views need no protection”, the Wall Street Journal pointedly concluded. However, on the 21st of January 2009 the Amsterdam Court decided exactly the opposite. Wilders has to stand trial for the expressions and comparisons that are so insulting to Muslims. Perplexed the Wall Street Journal noted that “this is no small victory for Islamic regimes seeking to export their censorship laws to wherever Muslims reside”, and the writer chillingly concluded that after the court has accepted the free speech standards of, “say, Saudi-Arabia”, Geert Wilders is correct in his observation that “Muslim immigration is eroding traditional Dutch liberties”.
What the writer, like most journalists, failed to recognize, is that this course of events has neither been accidental, sudden or spontaneous, but planned and orchestrated. Again, the proof is in the timing. A day before sending Wilders to trial, on the 20th of January 2009, a majority in the Dutch Parliament backed Ernst Hirsch Ballin, secretary of Justice, key member of the Christian Democrat Party (CDA) and orthodox Catholic, in his desire to outlaw every expression that insults any religion and ideology, and/or any of its members. Formally only in effect after its passing by the First Chamber, this bill revived a ‘dead’ law on blasphemy (article 137d) and an old criminal law (article 137c) that was aimed to curb the hate campaigns against Jews by the Dutch Nazi’s in the 1930s (Elsevier, 31/01/09).
The Amsterdam Court, in its 33 pages Wilders-dossier openly sympathetic to the multi-cultural ideology of the Social Democratic Party (Elsevier, 31/01/09), immediately seized the opportunity. “Flaunting the fair trial principle”, professor Afshin Ellian of Leiden University’s Law Faculty stated, “the Court claims that Wilders has intentionally and consciously invoked discrimination, intolerance, contempt against Muslims, to cause fear and hatred. The Amsterdam Court has already sentenced Wilders”(De Volkskrant, 26/01/09). The real sentence by the lower criminal court will merely be “an official rubber stamp of already proven guilt”, Mr. Gerard Spong, leading lawyer and denunciator of Wilders, happily declared (De Volkskrant, 23/01/09).
Hirsch Ballin claims that his new law merely follows European Law. But the leading lawyer, professor Pieter van Dijk MA, a former judge at the European Court and a prominent advisor of the Venice Committee on EU Law, judges this notion “highly debatable”. Pressed by the Danish cartoon crisis in 2006 the European Court asked for advice. The EU Venice Committee noted that very few European states have any legislation on blasphemy. And what they have are dead letters. The Committee concluded in November 2008 that legislation is not the way. But education and discussion is: “Democratic societies should not be taken hostage by the extreme sensitivities of some people [...] a democracy ought not to be afraid of debate, even if it is shocking or anti-democratic [...] not repression but discussion keeps our foundation democratic” (De Pers, 27/1/09). Yet, Hirsch Ballin outmanoeuvred the Venice Committee: in June 2008 the Dutch law on blasphemy could still be used against an unknown cartoonist such as Gregorius Nekschot but was ineffective against a fellow member of Parliament. The statements by the Public Prosecutor, quoted by the Wall Street Journal, merely functioned as a decoy: amidst the exploding financial crisis Hirsch Ballin, advancing his agenda, simply devised a new law.
However, putting people such as Geert Wilders on trial has very little to do with justice, and everything to do with power and, perhaps surprisingly, ideology and religion. Ever since the assassination of Pim Fortuyn in May 2002, and the jihad killing of Theo van Gogh in November 2004, the Dutch Cabinet’s agenda has been geared to regain control. Sadly, this is not surprising. Actually, professor dr. Hans Daudt (1925-2008) of the University of Amsterdam and a member of the highly prestigious Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences (KNAW), summed up his research by stating that “even if Holland is a constitutional state, it certainly is not a democracy, and never has been either. Via the main political parties the traditional regent families are still in power. Parliament does not count elected representatives, but party appointed careerists”(De Volkskrant, 21/10/08).
The “traditional Dutch liberties” as understood by the Wall Street Journal, only existed for a very short period from approximately 1997 until 2005, Daudt and the Mertens Institute observed (also see my article Why Spinoza was not murdered). The meteoric rise after 2005 of Wilders and his disciplined Party For Freedom, which opposes The Hague’s mores (the group doesn’t accept government funding), merely gave the process of increasing control and censorship focus and a sense of urgency. A week before he was shot, Fortuyn remarked that “the Christian Democrat Party (CDA) and the Social Democrat Party (PvdA) are like the Mafia: they forgive and forget nothing. All candidates to public positions are either appointed by the crown or by these two political parties and they will not allow any real competition. Hence no truly competitive politics exists. Any challenger will pay dearly.” So Wilder’s first reaction of "complete surprise" (NRC Handelsblad, 22/01/09) after being confronted with the Amsterdam Court’s decision must have been a case of some serious method acting. Because ever since Wilders during the Parliamentary debate after Fitna’s release defied Prime Minister Balkenende (CDA and a staunch Calvinist) and Hirsch Ballin, and openly called them “liars”, and got away with it too, the war has been on.
The consequences of the trial will be ruinous to Wilders and his Party For Freedom and it is designed to cause that effect. The court case, which might drag on until 2015, will cost Wilders hundreds of thousands of dollars, money that neither he nor his party has. Also, after he is convicted his publicly paid around-the-clock protection including bodyguards wherever he goes, might be discontinued if he commits the same crime again: criticizing Islam. The CDA and the PvdA have earned a reputation for not shying away from such chilling and rigorous logic: Fortuyn and Van Gogh did not get protection and Ayaan Hirsi Ali was stripped of her protection. Yet Hirsch Ballin stated that the prosecution of Wilders “is not a political process. He is not silenced” (Metro, 22/01/09).
The new and “refreshing” openness towards debating Islam, which the Wall Street Journal noted as Fitna’s very positive effect, only impelled the mainstream parties, their appointees, civil servants and party members to declare Wilders socially dead, openly comparing him to Hitler and his PVV to the Nazis. Professor dr. Theo van Boven, a professor of International Law, stated that he was “very happy with Wilders’ prosecution. It’s about time he’s stopped. If not, Hitler has shown to us what will happen next.” Comparisons such as these have been rampant in Holland over the past 30 years. The tactic has proved highly effective in socially ostracizing anyone who has refused to follow the mores of the leading cultural and political climate and its tyranny of "true taste". However, this tactic, which effectively killed Fortuyn, has now come under attack. The columnist Nausicaa Marbe of the leftist De Volkskrant remarked: “It is bizarre that Wilders will be prosecuted for comparing the Koran with Nazi ideology, while the Anne Frank Foundation recently equaled the Party For Freedom with fascism. Is Wilders a Hitler, yes or no? That seems to be the question. And according to the old regime of intellectuals and politicians the answer is affirmative. They are the only ones with the prerogative to insult and criticize. Trials against the hate crimes of the vested powers have never happened. But a conviction of Wilders might change all that” (De Volkskrant, 23/01/09).
Wilders i Kurt Westergaards berømte streg
Marbe partly based her column on the latest critical novel by the leading Dutch essayist Joost Zwagerman, Hitler in Holland & Free from God
(2009). Zwagerman argues that the inbred and intense feeling of guilt caused by the Dutch collaboration with the Nazi regime and the Holocaust lead to an eternal fixation to seek and root out Evil before it ripens. Yet the yardstick which measures Good and Evil has always been determined by the Dutch cultural and intellectual elite. Zwagerman attacks the underlying hypocrisy and shows that the condemnation of Wilders as a "Hitler" is derived a yardstick according to which Muslims are defenseless and weak party, comparable to the Jews in the 1930s. Helping and protecting them is Good; criticizing and confronting them and their religion is Evil.
The total and open support which Wilders and his party gave to Israel during the recent war against Hamas in Gaza only seemed to make things worse. Dutch public opinion sided with the people of Gaza and “the freedom fighters of Hamas”. Respected politicians joined an Amsterdam pro-Palestine demonstration, walking in the front row shouting “Intifada! Intifada!” while around them Muslims were screaming “Hamas, Hamas, the Jews are in need of more gas!” (see the video here). Former cabinet ministers publicly compared Israel's operation to the ethnic cleansing of the Nazis.
Quoting the Amsterdam Court reason to prosecute Wilders, Afshin Ellian concluded in Elsevier and De Volkskrant that Wilders is also targeted because of his tone, which the Court understands as fundamentally undemocratic: “Wilders' inadmissible statements are so intimidating that they lead to the exclusion of Muslim believers from the debate merely because they believe in Islam. And this observation forms the core of the criminal charges: Wilders' harsh and general denunciations are contrary to the foundation of a stable democracy, and are hence illegal” (Ellian quoting the Amsterdam Court in De Volkskrant, 23/01/09). With this kind of reasoning, Ellian argues, the Amsterdam Court shows itself to be biased and as a believer in the multi-cultural ideology of the Social Democratic Party, which sees the Muslim newcomers (even the third generation of immigrants) as people to be pampered. Ellian ends his analysis by stating that the use of political notions to prosecute a politician smacks of the Iranian system. “Even the ‘Hofstadgroup’ terrorist organization [found guilty of conspiring to blow up Parliament and jihad-killing right wing politicians, AL] has more freedom of speech than Wilders has, because their statements are based on their religion and religiosity”.
The centrality of "tone" and "religion" also was immediately noted by Syp Wynia, blogger at Elsevier: “The Court sanctions Wilders for his harsh language on the Koran, Islam and the Islamization of the Netherlands, which causes undemocratic discord. Yet the Court also states that Wilders would not have been prosecuted if he had spoken from a religious perspective. An unnerving position indeed” (Elsevier.nl, 21/09/09).
Strangely the aspect of religion and religiosity, although mentioned by Ellian and Wynia, has completely escaped the attention of analysts and journalists as the third motivating reason why Hirsch Ballin and his Christian Democrat colleagues are trying to implement new and revive old laws to protect religion, religious organizations and individual believers. The fact that this factor went unnoticed is worrying because it has been on the CDA’s agenda since November 2004. The day after Theo van Gogh was murdered by Mohammed Bouyeri, Piet-Hein Donner, then secretary of Justice, publicly decided to revive the old law on blasphemy. His reasoning was that with a functioning article 137d, Van Gogh could have been persecuted by Islamic organizations and Bouyeri would not have needed to go to such extremes to quell him.
A few months later Donner confessed that he was in favor of implementing aspects of the sharia for with an ever increasing Muslim population the separation of their religion and the state would not stand: “their growing demography will alter our democracy”. This line of thought made way in the CDA. Moreover, a Christian dimension was openly added. Once again the proof is in the timing. On January 20, 2009, a day before Wilders heard the news, Sophie van Bijsterveld, CDA senator in the Parliament’s First Chamber and lecturer of Law at Tilburg University, stated:
“A secular state is neither tenable nor desirable. Religion has personal, public and social aspects and ought to have closer links with government. The government should remain aloof from religious controversies but has a special and cultural task in protecting religion and religious heritage. An appeal to the division of Church and State has become irrational. This classic democratic creed has lost its position, now that religion plays such a crucial social and political role. Hence the government has to involve itself, and start to work very closely with all religious institutions, locally, nationally, financially” (Elsevier, 20/01/09).
The erosion of Dutch liberties
Van Bijsterveld would never have said these things and published them in her new book Government and Religion (2009) if Balkenende and Hirsch Ballin had not agreed. It comes as no surprise that Hirsch Ballin received the first copy of her book. The Christian Unionists, the third party in the cabinet, publicly backed the CDA’s idea of placing the Netherlands on a new religious foundation, with the new ‘pillar’ of Islam being part and parcel of it. Of course Islamic institutions and organizations cheered the Cabinet’s new law and its condemnation of Wilders: “Finally, Islam and Muslims are getting the respect they are entitled to” (De Volkskrant, 22/01/09).
A cynic might say that the CDA is also trying to steal the voters of the PvdA. The Social Democratic Party has become the party with the largest constituency of Muslim voters. At present Muslims make up a third of the PvdA seats in Parliament. The PvdA also has the most Muslim politicians, including a large number in the Cabinet. Achmed Aboutaleb, the PvdA’s rising star and former secretary of Social Affairs, recently became mayor of Rotterdam. Of course, these elite Dutch Muslims are highly integrated and don’t and no strangers to common sense politics. But they have to consider the sensitivities of their orthodox voters.
In addition, the continuous pressure by the strict believers has caused some high-profile PvdA Muslim politicians to shift. The mayor of Amsterdam-West, Achmed Marcouch, until recently a defender of the separation of church and state, has become a pupil of the Egyptian imam Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who also inspires him politically. Marcouch has become a turncoat and now advocates the teaching of Islam in public schools, the separation of girls and boys during swimming and classes, and the setting apart of the western Amsterdam to create a true Muslim community. Tellingly, the PvdA merely thinks the notion of a separate and Islamic Amsterdam-West untimely (Elsevier, 12/01/09).
It is important to realize that the PvdA's accommodation with Islam is not solely driven by political considerations. The party's multi-cultural ideology is also an important factor. Pressed by the observations of Pim Fortuyn and forced by Geert Wilders’ increasing popularity, the PvdA leaders Wouter Bos and Lilianne Ploumen decided half a year ago in their note Divided Past, Shared Future to be more critical and firm on the issue of Muslim integration. However, on January 22, 2009, a day after the Amsterdam Court’s decision, the regents of the PvdA began to tone down this demand and to fully embrace the multi-cultural ideology (De Volkskrant, 23/01/09; Metro 26/01/09).
Interviewed by NRC Handelsblad, Geert Wilders said that he did not understand what crime he was supposed to have committed:
“I don’t understand Islam as a religion but as a dangerous totalitarian ideology, similar to communism and fascism. That’s all right to say, isn’t it? I don’t call for violence or hatred. I don’t discriminate. My way of speaking, my tone, is not important, it’s what I’m saying that’s important. Our proposed measures are seriously needed. The statements I made about Islam, Churchill made them too. If I were to say the same things about communism, it wouldn’t matter at all. I’m a democrat through and through. I can say whatever I want. Free debate is the essence of the political arena” (NRC Handelsblad, 22/01/09).
Among Wilders' defenders is mayor Bloomberg of New York: “For us it would be unthinkable to censure an elected politician” (NOS Television, 29/01/09). Kader Abdolah, essayist and popular translator of the Koran, considers the prosecution of Wilders to be wrong: “Geert Wilders is our product. And by us I mean the (Muslim) immigrants. Why drag yourself to Court? You have to debate, speak, argue, and partly accept, because, after all, we are immigrants. Away with all that discrimination nonsense, and long live Wilders and his critique”(De Volkskrant, 26/01/09).
In Holland, however, over the past five years a very close links been forged between "secular" and "religious’, leading to the subsequent curbing of free speech. In so doing, the CDA and the PvdA have changed the political rules and created a different game. Hence the erosion of traditional Dutch liberties observed by the Wall Street Journal observed is not caused by the Muslim immigration but by the desire of the Dutch political, cultural and religious elites to create a new, braver, Netherlands. A nation based on multi-culturalism and confessionalism – and not on the division of powers and freedom of speech.
Geert Wilders and his Party For Freedom present merely an annoying obstacle that must be to removed or isolated. The polls show the Wilders' is growing by leaps and bounds and is now outnumbering the traditional Liberal Party to the great dismay of its leader Mark Rutte. He immediately demanded “absolute freedom of speech, barring calls for violence, to prevent cases like those against Gregorius Nekschot and Wilders from happening again” (Algemeen Dagblad, 28/01/09). Wilders reacted by noticing “the total hypocrisy of Rutte: on the 20th he voted in favor of Hirsch Ballin’s new law” (De Volkskrant, 26/01/09). But even if the Party For Freedom gets 25 seats, it will not be allowed to join in a coalition and form a Cabinet. It will be isolated. The Evil is located.
Arthur Legger (44) is an independent Dutch writer and critic. He was schooled at the University of Amsterdam, the European University Institute in Florence and UC Berkeley.