A Dutch court acquitted controversial politician Geert Wilders of defaming Muslims last week. Ending a three-year prosecution, the Freedom Party leader has now been cleared of charges of inciting hatred and discrimination. Some of Wilders’ statements on Muslims were “rude and belittling” the Amsterdam district court finds, but according to the bench they were made by a politician in the context of an on-going social debate on multicultural society. But the presiding judge Marcel van Oosten also said that some of Wilders’ statements on Islam were sometimes on the edge of legal acceptability quoting him saying “You feel that you’re not living in your own country anymore. There’s a battle going on, we have to defend ourselves.” While comparing the Koran to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf in a Dutch newspaper editorial in 2007, the 47-year old politician was also charged with insulting Muslims. “You have spoken in a hurtful and also shocking way,” the presiding judge said. Another point of controversy involved Wilders’ Fitna, a movie produced in 2008 in which he spurred Muslims to rip out alleged hate-preaching verses from the Koran. The court found the footage “shocking and worrying” and said that some visuals might invoke feelings of hatred. However, the film was totally acquitted of incitement as the court felt it had rights under freedom of speech. Forced by a court order to prosecute Wilders after anti-racism campaigners’ protests against an earlier refusal to sue him, the public prosecution department joined Wilders’ legal team in its not-guilty plea, saying that certain statements by the Freedom Party leader were insulting, but not criminal. The legal base for the acquittal is a ruling by the Dutch High Court in 2009 stating that comments on religions are not penal. Accordingly, the presiding judge said that Wilders’ comments were largely about Islam as a religion and not aimed at Muslims. It’s very unlikely that there will be an appeal against the verdict.
“Victory for Dutch people”
Wilders hails the verdict as a triumph for freedom of speech against what he calls “Islamisation” of Dutch society. “I am delighted with this ruling,” he put on his personal website. “It is a victory not only for me but for all Dutch people. Today is a victory for freedom of speech. […] I have spoken, I speak and I shall continue to speak.” Geert Wilders has been living under police protection since an Islamic radical killed Dutch film director Theo van Gogh in 2004. His own feature movie Fitna also put foreign Muslims’ backs up. The film led to massive protests and demonstrations in Islamic-majority countries such as Indonesia and Pakistan and even incited Malaysians to call for a boycott for products stemming from the Netherlands, one the Eurozone’s largest exporters. But his Freedom Party doubled its representation in last year’s elections and is now the third largest group in the Dutch house of representatives. As the ruling coalition failed to secure a majority in the senate on 23 May by just one seat, it’s now also dependent on the Calvinist party SGP, an unlikely bed fellow at first sight. But it shares with Wilders’ Freedom Party the primate of Judeo-Christian heritage as opposed to ‘alien’ traditions such as Islam.
“The ruling is clear and in line with the prosecutors’ demands,” Dutch Prime Minister Marc Rutte tweeted not surprisingly within two hours after the court’s verdict. “Great news for Geert Wilders with whom we are cooperating well on the basis of the tolerance agreement.” Rutte’s minority government relies on Wilders’ Freedom Party as it needs his support more than ever to deal with its unpopular economic policies, including proposed budget cuts of €18 billion that are vehemently contested by the opposition. In a bid to secure Wilders’ support the Dutch minister for home affairs Piet Hein Donner told parliament two weeks ago that Dutch society and its values must have the right of way over a multicultural society. Integration policies should go. The government “will distance itself from relativism contained in the model of a multicultural society,” the Christian-Democrat said during the presentation of a new integration bill. General policy on schooling, job and housing gives plenty opportunity for integration according to the home minister.
“What’s next to be thrown in our face?“
Donner favours a tougher approach to people who ignore ‘Dutch values’ or disobey the law. The minister is planning to introduce a law making forced marriage illegal and he wants tougher measures for immigrants who lower their chance of employment by the way they dress. On 1 January 2013 a burqa ban will be introduced. But what do statistics say about all this fuss? According to the latest poll by the Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics (CBS) 837.000 Muslims lived in the Netherlands in 2006. Most are of Turkish or Moroccan descent. The overall population is 16,7 million. The CBS calculated that in 2050 – if demographics stay the same - Muslims will account for about eight per cent of the Dutch overall population. While allegedly fighting Islamisation of Dutch society, Wilders forecasts far bigger Islamic influence. Obviously not everyone shares these views and did not welcome the court’s verdict accordingly. Anti-racism campaigners and Muslim groups saw their chance to put a spoke in Wilders’ wheel blown away by the court ruling. “To my surprise and slight consternation Wilders said after the verdict that he meant to be rude and insulting. That’s actually a kind of confession,” Gerard Spong, a lawyer representing the civil plaintiffs, told the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad. “I find the acquittal disappointing because the judges have paved the way for Wilders to make Muslims second grade citizens in our society.” Aydin Akkaya, president of an umbrella organization for Turks living in the Holland agrees. “[The verdict] means that everything is permitted in the Netherlands as long as you find the right context. […] What’s next to be thrown in our face?”
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