October the 6th: day 3 of the Wilders Trial
When I left the chilly courtroom for the day’s final break I looked my fellow reporters in their eyes. These were fine, polite people. Decent Dutch. All of them were politically correct and instinctively against the politician Geert Wilders. Their articles ridiculed his perspective, and their texts and TV shows expressed regret with the PVV now upholding the Cabinet instead of Job Cohen’s Social Democrats. To a large extent these journalists of the daily printed press and anchormen of major networks depicted what ought to be ‘proper’ in Dutch politics and were indispensable for promoting the multi cultural sentiment as ‘good’.
I turned around to look at the journalist of the high brow Trouw (‘Loyalty’), a newspaper which had originated in the Second World War as Dutch Resistance’s pamphlet. All week I had sat next to him and today he confided to me what most of his colleagues had said earlier: “Wilders is an obnoxious fellow, but he got his facts and figures right. His perspective is highly defendable. I’ve now seen Fitna for the first time in one go, it’s extrapolation can be criticized, but it’s not bad at all. It’s like those legal experts claimed: there are no grounds for a conviction. People feel insulted, but that’s no justification to shut him up.”
His confession came as no surprise. The understanding that Wilders might be correct had hovered in the courtroom all day and infuriated the complainants’ lawyers. Later that evening at news show Nieuwsuur mrs. Ties Prakken, emeritus Law professor and lawyer of Mohamed Rabbae’s multi cultural and Islamic pressure groups, chided the Public Prosecutors for not addressing Wilders, for neither questioning his witnesses nor his statements. And although she had prepared her complainants’ case for over a year, she suddenly self-righteously demanded “new proof of Wilders’ hate speech” to be included into the dossier.
“Wilders calls for racist violence!”
A claim the Public Prosecutor Paul Velleman denied off-handedly. Which infuriated Prakken even more: “Wilders clearly calls for racist violence! And the Public Prosecutor sits still, publicly showing his reluctance! I think there is a severe chance that Wilders will walk free! Unthinkable!” That afternoon I had interviewed Hero Brinkman, PVV’s most flamboyant MP. After 8 hours of non-stop listening to the three judges reading out aloud and in verbatim Wilders’ dossier he concluded: “Now everybody knows. All of this live on TV – anobody can claim innocence anymore. Wilders tells the truth. His vision on the Islam and the dangers of non-Western mass immigration is sound. He’s backed up by evidence and legal reasoning all the way. Only a bigot will condemn him.”
Brinkman is at least right on the shattering transparency of Wilders trial: it’s live on NOS TV, although Fitna was continuously interrupted with close ups from Wilders, his lawyer Moszkowicz, the complainants, the judges and the audience in the room and on the balcony. For everyone to see is the structure of the process and the weird construction of the Dutch legal system: the Public Prosecutors, apparently in 2008 defying wishes from the Justice Department, did refuse to prosecute Wilders on several occasions and they concluded as such only after a very thorough research. The judges of the Court of the city of Amsterdam, however, decided that Wilders had to face charges on racism, group insult, discrimination, hate speech and blasphemy. The Amsterdam police in the mean time facilitated people and pressure groups to come up with even more complaints and charges by handing out “the right forms, to make things proper.” Around Autumn 2009 the Amsterdam Court had selected the evidence, constructed the indictment, and forced the Public Prosecutors Paul Velleman and Birgit van Roessel against their own evaluation to prosecute Geert Wilders. Consequently, Wilders stands trial facing the same Court and judges who did list the “already condemning indictment” (Moszkowicz) and who will judge him and decide on his sentence. Moreover, even if the Public Prosecutors plea for an acquittal the three judges, chaired by Jan Moors, can still sentence Wilders. “I think an acquittal on specific accusations is possible,” Moszkowicz said to me after leaving the courtroom. “Why not all” I asked him. “Caution. Specific accusations such as ‘group insult’ is what I’m thinking of right now,” Moszkowicz answered, after earlier that day having confronted Moors with another of his utterances revealing the judge’s bigot partiality.
At least Moszkowicz’ tactic of Wilders’ silence is becoming clear: time can be spent on presenting the dossier itself, which proves to be exonerating even though it is accumulated to defend the ‘decent’ and the ‘new’ Dutch.
Proof of partiality
The 3rd day in Court started exactly where the first day had halted: with a riot. Formally cleared of partiality by their peers the same judges took their seats to show Fitna. Three minutes later judge Moors blundered, now as usual. One of the complainants, mrs. Yvonne Wolthuis an immigrant from Surinam who left the Netherlands for Curaçao two years ago, jumped up and shouted that she didn’t want to watch Fitna, “that scandalous movie”, she wanted to leave the courtroom immediately. “I can fully understand that you don’t want to see this movie,” judge Moors replied, “you may leave the room and enter after showing.” To Moszkowicz this was, again, proof of Moors’ partiality: “I cannot understand that you say you can understand. Your honor, you’re identifying with her position. And such after what happened on Monday and yesterday.” Judge Moors blushed and apologized, saying he merely behaved courteous. Moszkowicz accepted but insisted by saying that “this trial is about utterances, words and tone. Mr. Wilders is urged to show extreme prudence with his expressions, in fact he’s standing trial because of his statements. I do expect the judge who presides over this trial to be as cautious.”
“Islam is peace”
The procedure after showing Fitna was the same as during the first day. Wilders was asked whether the movie was ever screened on TV; whether the comparison with Nazism was really necessary; who’s freedom is threatened, and who is ‘our’? The Public Prosecutor refrained from asking questions. Like before, Geert Wilders remained silent.
Then the Court continued with presenting 3 files with dossiers containing interviews, summaries of police files, and police declarations. The latter consisted of 76 filed declarations by citizens and pressure groups against Wilders. Judge Moors presented a handpicked selection of six of which he took the most juicy parts to read out. Later I asked Moszkowicz why Moors had done this and whether Moszkowicz had expected. Wilders lawyer answered by saying that he “didn’t know why and was not informed beforehand,” but “that the judge had to present something of the bulk of complainants.” Most of the declarations stated: “we’re very worried”, “Islam is peace”, “Wilders abuses his freedom”, “Wilders sets the stage for another Kristalnacht”, “What do I tell my daughter’s Moroccan friends?”
The legal experts
The next bit concentrated on the evaluations by the leading legal experts on the freedom of speech. Three experts were asked to shed some light on the matter. Moszkowicz asked that the testimonies of prof. Theo de Roos and prof. Henny Sackers were presented in full. The verdict of prof. Rick Lawson was presented as a resume. Lawson did not test Wilders’ trial to Dutch law, but solely looked at European law; and according EU law article 7 “to criticize a religion is to criticize its followers”. Article 10 obligates EU nation states to prosecute anyone, politicians included, who makes racist statements, which according to Lawson, Wilders clearly did.
Theo de Roos concluded in August 2009 the opposite. Wilders merely insulted the Islam and not its believers; his statements have to be read in the context of the interviews and his position as a politician entering a debate, and in this his observations are consequent and logical; Wilders did not call for violence or hate, not one muslim has been put in “clear and present danger”. Expressly the latter is crucial for a hate speech condemnation –and is lacking in Wilders’ case.
After the break the process resumed at eleven with the testimony of Henny Sackers. In February 2008 he had advised not to prosecute Wilders because “his statements consist of factual observations,” “the comparison of the Koran with Mein Kampf is critique on a religion and does not address its followers,” “according to EU law censorship follows only after extremely shocking and hurting remarks –nothing Wilders have said comes even close,” “hate speech is linked to incitement and violence –Wilders observations entirely lack these facets.” “To my opinion,” Sackers concluded, “a trial against Wilders will almost certain end in an acquittal, in the Netherlands and in Strasbourg.”
"Worse than Nazism"
The judges continued by reading out the statements of the three expert witnesses Wilders had called: Arabist and Islam watcher emeritus prof. dr. Hans Jansen; Arabist and translator drs. Simon Admiraal; and psychiatrist and Islam criticaster dr. Wafa Sultan. On the 6th of May Jansen was interrogated for six hours on his knowledge on the Koran, the Islam, the Arabic language, the Arabic world and culture. Also he had to show the context of every statement of Wilders and whether Wilders had quoted the Koran correct. According to Jansen every quotation and statement of Wilders was exact and factual: “the Netherlands is an Islamic missionary country; Islamization is a fact and goes according plan.”
At one o’clock the statements of Admiraal followed. On the 26th of April he had been punctual and precise in his critique of the Islam and in his backing of Wilders’ presentation. Admiraal was able to reference every observation of him and Wilders to the Koran and the Sharia: “Islam is a totalitarian ideology that wants to conquer and destroy any secular state of law,” “there’s only one Islam,” “other religions may be tolerated, but never incorporated,” “the Netherlands is an Islamic missionary country, and not the only one,” “Koran calls for hatred and murder,” “Fitna’s verses are correct.”
According to Wafa Sultan, who was questioned in June, all the facts, figures and insights of Wilders that had to do with the Islam and muslims were correct. She backed Wilders’ observation that Saudi Arabia was leading the missionary zeal and paying for it too. She herself had been offered $1500,-- on her arrival in the States for wearing the headscarf, which she refused. “These people cannot think different. For over 1400 years the Islam has been dominant. By now its coded into their DNA. I agree only partially with Wilders statement “the Koran is the Mein Kampf of the Islam”: I think Islam is worse than Nazism. Because it is less hard to overcome a political ideology than to defeat a political ideology dressed up as a religion.”
Then a letter of the Public Prosecutor was read out in which the lawyers of the complainants were warned to stop presenting incorrect information which was supposed to show the bias and incompetence of Jansen, Admiraal and Sultan. This chiding was used as an introduction to the evaluations of the Openbaar Ministerie ( OM: ‘body of Public Prosecutors’), in which they had come to conclusion on three separate sessions in The Hague and Amsterdam in 2008, that Wilders did not break the law and was not punishable. According to articles 137c, 137d, 137e, and 147 Wilders was not guilty of insulting groups, discrimination, hate speech, racism and ‘scoffing or jeering’ (article 147). All his remarks such as “fascist Islam”, “shred the Koran,” “Islamization,” “muslim colonization” are insulting, according to the OM, but not illegal as such. They belong to a political debate of the present. It’s not hate speech, because he didn’t talk about inevitable and harmful consequences. Hence, the principle of freedom of speech is imperative. This goes as well for Fitna: the statistics are insulting, but not illegal. To criticize a religion is legal. This applies for the Islam as well. The only defendable conclusion, according the OM, is not to prosecute Wilders. And so they didn’t. Until they were forced to do so.
“A climate of terror”
At four o’clock the Court resumed with the dossier of the complainants who sued Wilders for “creating a climate of terror”. Three parties were presented who claimed financial and social loss because of Wilders’ remarks. The first was ‘Movement for Rebuilding Respect’, which represented 12 leading mosques: “we feel no longer safe and are discriminated because of the climate Wilders’ created.” They claimed compensation of €1,-- (one Euro). The second was Mohamed Rabbae’s National Platform of Moroccans. They claimed compensation of €1,-- and rectification on the website of the PVV. The third was mrs. Wolthuis from Surinam who “fled from Amsterdam to Curaçao in 2008 because of angst, and stripping non- Western immigrants of their dignity.” She, too, claimed €1,-- (turning around Moszkowicz whispered sarcastically: “and no transportation compensation?”).
Concluding the day the Court stipulated the law, to great dismay of Ties Prakken who would express so later in Nieuwsuur, that the complainants were neither allowed to speak nor to address Wilders. They had a claim, correct, but they were not partaking in the process. Again, the Public Prosecutors had no questions or remarks.
On leaving the court room I asked Moszkowicz how the Public Prosecutors ever could turn on their own judgment. “Well,” Moszkowicz muttered, “in politics such a turn might be called ‘a perspective changed by the winds of time and power’ –I’m not certain, yet.” On Tuesday the 12th and Friday the 15th of October the Public Prosecutors will present their requisitory. They asked for 9 hours speaking time.
Efforts to silence the debate about Islam
According to mrs. Ayaan Hirsi Ali: “There are the efforts of countries in the Organization of the Islamic Conference to silence the European debate about Islam. One strategy used by the 57 OIC countries is to treat Muslim immigrants to Europe as satellite communities by establishing Muslim cultural organizations, mosques and Islamic centers, and by insisting on dual citizenship. Their other strategy is to pressure international organizations and the European Union to adopt resolutions to punish anyone who engages in "hate speech" against religion. The bill used to prosecute Mr. Wilders is the national version of what OIC diplomats peddle at the U.N. and EU. The implications of this trial are enormous. In the short term, it could bring the simmering tensions between Holland's approximately one million Muslims and the 1.4 million voters who elected Mr. Wilders to a boil. The Netherlands has seen its share of Islamist violence before and could well see violent confrontations again. On a more fundamental level, this trial - even if Mr. Wilders wins - could silence the brave critics of radical Islam. The West is in a war of ideas against political Islam. If free speech is not protected in Europe, we're already losing.” (Wall Street Journal, 12th October)
Ayaan Hirsi Ali might be correct. But what she didn’t mention, though, is the deteriorating divide between the 1.4 million voters (in recent polls 2 million) of Wilders’ PVV and the remaining 6 million voters of multi cultural Dutch decency. The latter group and their political leaders will do anything to hinder their dream to be disturbed. And the same goes for their political leaders. Ayan Hirsi Ali worries about violence between Mohammedans from Morocco and indigenous Dutch. Looking into the eyes of my fellow reporters, decent Dutch themselves, and listening to their utter distress, a worldview to pieces, I have a different worry – what their waking up might bring us.