THE LOST CAUSE AGAINST WILDERS

THE LOST CAUSE AGAINST WILDERS (Netherlands)

The case against the Dutch politician has backfired in every way imaginable.

26/10/2010- When even the prosecution calls for a defendant's acquittal and the trial judges have been disqualified for the appearance of bias, maybe it's time to drop the charges. Rather than a retrial, a dismissal would be the best outcome in the case of Geert Wilders, the Dutch lawmaker accused of insulting and inciting hatred against Muslims. Mr. Wilders is not shy in his criticism of Islam. He has called for banning the Quran, which he has compared to Hitler's "Mein Kampf." Mr. Wilders became famous by making a short film, "Fitna," which juxtaposes Quranic verses calling for jihad with footage of the aftermath of Islamist terror attacks. As unattractive as his expressed sentiments may be, they also qualify as free speech, which is why Dutch prosecutors initially dismissed complaints against Mr. Wilders. "No doubt his words are hurtful and offensive for a large number of Muslims," prosecutors said in 2008, but "freedom of expression fulfills an essential role in public debate in a democratic society." That should have been the end if it. However, an appeals court overruled the prosecution last year, forcing Mr. Wilders to stand trial. But the prosecutors still believe that no crime has been committed. "Criticism of a religion is not punishable," prosecutor Birgit van Roessel told the Amsterdam district court 10 days ago.

Then the politically charged trial took another twist last week when one of Mr. Wilders' expert witnesses, the Arabist Hans Jansen, wrote on his website that a member of the judiciary had tried to influence him. He said that at a dinner party before he was supposed to testify, one of the appeals judges whose decision compelled the prosecutors to press charges tried to "convince me of the correctness of the decision to take Wilders to court." To further complicate matters, the trial judges then denied a defense request to question Mr. Jansen in court about his allegations. An oversight panel of jurists finally granted the defense's request to dismiss the presiding judges, calling their colleagues' refusal to hear the witness "incomprehensible." The trial, which was supposed to end next month, theoretically must start over with new judges.

Prosecuting Mr. Wilders has backfired in every way imaginable, not least politically. The trial has seemed to confirm his charge that avoiding debate over the implications of Muslim immigration leads to the erosion of Western freedoms, most notably freedom of speech. Despite, or perhaps because of, the trial, Mr. Wilders' Party for Freedom became the third-strongest parliamentary faction in last June's elections. This allowed Mr. Wilders to become a political king-maker by backing the new center-right minority government. Meanwhile, as part of his defense Mr. Wilders has been putting the entire Muslim religion on trial. His defense includes not only invoking free speech but also calling expert witnesses to testify on the accuracy of his views of Islam. Before the judges could rule on whether it's a hate crime to compare the Quran to "Mein Kampf," Mr. Wilders wants them to rule on whether he was correct to make the comparison. This is only contributing to further religious animosity. A retrial will achieve nothing but exacerbate these tensions. It's time to drop the charges against Mr. Wilders before it further undermines the credibility of the Dutch legal system and the country's tradition of free political discourse. © The Wall Street Journal http://europe.wsj.com/home-page

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