A Free Speech Outrage

Geert Wilders is a Dutch politician, an elected member of that country’s Parliament, infamous for his right-wing views on immigration and social policy. In 2008, he released a short film, Fitna, which criticizes Islamic radicalism by interspersing video footage of terrorist attacks with quotes from the Quran and from prominent Islamic religious authorities praising the use of violence. The film can be viewed here – caution, contains some graphic images.

Now there’s some news that’s incredible in its audacity: a prosecutor in the kingdom of Jordan has charged Wilders with blasphemy and demanded that he be extradited to Jordan to stand trial.

Let’s be perfectly clear about this: Geert Wilders is a citizen of the Netherlands. He is not a citizen of Jordan; as far as I know, he has never set foot in Jordan. Everything he has said was spoken in the Netherlands, where the right of free speech is recognized and protected. Yet because his speech was heard in Islamic nations, and because it offended them, those nations demanded that he be extradited from his home country and sent to one of their countries, to stand trial under their primitive and repressive laws.

Whatever you may think of Wilders’ personal or political views, this development ought to lay to rest any remaining doubts regarding the goals of those groups he has criticized. By far the majority of states where Islam has become dominant have become theocracies, and like all theocracies through history, they do not want intellectual diversity, freedom of thought, or open debate on a level playing field. They want enforced silence and obedience, and they do not want to meet their critics on the battlefield of ideas, but to harm and punish them regardless of the merit of their arguments.

Of course, Wilders is in little danger from this ridiculous demand. Dutch prosecutors declined to charge him with anything, understandably so as he had broken no laws. But the 56-member-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference strongly condemned that decision and said it was “deeply annoyed” by it. (The next time someone says that Islam is for the most part a moderate and peaceful religion, ask them if they can produce quotes from a 56-nation Islamic conference defending the right of free speech.)

This affair is, however, an excellent illustration of the chilling danger posed by laws which seek to ban “hate speech”. Even if passed with the best intentions in the world, they are swiftly made use of by tyrants and theocrats who recognize quite well that any means of persuading the state to censor ideas can easily be used against their critics. Make no mistake – if Wilders was extradited and imprisoned, he would not be the last. Swiftly on the heels of that demand would come the next one, and the next, each one arrogantly presuming the right to punish anyone anywhere who says anything uncomplimentary about Islam. The OIC, in fact, referred to the “thin line” separating freedom of speech from what they want to be illegal. In other words, they’re saying it’s very easy to cross the line between what they view as permissible and impermissible criticism, which means the zone of permissible criticism must be a very small one indeed.

The OIC also says that Fitna “instigates feelings of hatred, animosity and antipathy towards Muslims”. And that may well be true. But the film, from what I’ve seen of it, does not invent imaginary crimes or fictitious outrages to attribute to Muslims. (This in contrast to Muslim theocracies which still teach the “blood libel” idea to their children.) To the contrary, Wilders’ film replays and exposes things which Muslims have actually done and actually said. If Muslim leaders feel that they’re shown in a bad light by these things, then they should go after the Muslims who’ve advocated or committed acts of appalling bloodshed in the name of that religion. Those should be the people they seek to extradite and bring to trial. To instead attack people who point out these evils gives the impression that they do not care about the savagery and brutality committed in the name of Islam, but rather, that they want to silence the people who bring it to public attention.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.


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