(Reuters) – Dutch anti-Islamist politician Geert Wilders, who plays a controversial but pivotal role in the formation of a new Dutch government, went on trial on Monday for inciting hatred against Muslims.
Wilders is charged with inciting hate and discrimination against Muslims in comments he made in the media and for insulting Muslims by comparing the Islamic faith to Nazism.
“The freedom of speech of at least 1.5 million people is on trial with me,” Wilders said on a social media site, referring to the number of voters his Freedom Party won at the June 9 elections. He added Monday would be a “terrible day.”
If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of one year imprisonment or a fine.
The trial comes at an awkward time for Wilders, whose party is poised to gain a powerful role in the running of the country through its support of a minority government made up of the Liberals (VVD) and Christian Democrat (CDA) parties.
A CDA congress voted in favour of entering into a minority government with support from the Freedom Party on Saturday, but still remains split over the prospect of relying on Wilders’s support and a final decision on the matter will be made on Tuesday.
The trial will be held over several days in October, with a ruling expected in early November.
Wilders: in power and on trial
Wilders feels he is on a mission. His closest advisor and party colleague, Martin Bosma, has even called it a crusade. Wilders himself put it this way at the end of the first day of his trial in January, “It is not only the right, but the duty of every free person to speak out against every ideology that imperils freedom.”
The move from the opposition benches to a supporting role in government will not change this sense of purpose. During the presentation of the new governing agreement, he said “We live in historic times, and we’ve come to a historic agreement… this accord will have far-reaching effects on the Netherlands.”
Presenting the agreement and in a speech he gave in New York on September 11, Wilders failed to reiterate some of his more controversial remarks about Islam. Some observers say a milder Geert Wilders may be emerging as he gets closer to power.
But that is unlikely to last, in part because of the trial.
Wilders says the case against him is politically motivated, that it is an attempt to silence him. While he admits to being concerned about the prospects of going to jail (he faces a maximum sentence of two years in prison), he is characteristically defiant. And he passionately defends his right to say what he wants. Hence, toning down his message would damage his very credibility.
Wilders is facing three charges: incitement to hatred, discrimination against Muslims, and insulting Moroccan immigrants. The charges are based on statements he made in public, articles he wrote and the film he produced: Fitna.
Wilders has described Islam as “evil”, a “violent religion” and an “intolerant and fascist ideology”. He has called for an outright ban on the Islamic holy book, the Qur’an, calling it the “Islamic Mein Kampf”. He called the prophet Muhammad a “sick paedophile” who behaved “like a pig”, and he called for a “headrag tax” on women who wear a Muslim headscarf.
He referred to Muslims in the Netherlands as “colonisers”, who they are attempting to “transform the Netherlands into a province of the Islamic superstate, Eurabia.”
Wilders may be controversial, but so is the fact that charges have been brought against him. The public prosecutor’s office in Amsterdam only filed charges against Wilders after a judge so ordered. Before that, the public prosecutor had repeatedly refused to bring charges, on the grounds that, as a public figure, Wilders should be allowed a great deal of leeway in expressing his views. His views make up part of the public debate.
No clear precedent
The outcome of the trial is difficult to predict. The precedents in Dutch law for incitement to hatred and discrimination are not clear.
The trial is set to continue all month, with a verdict currently scheduled for 4 November. In the meantime, Geert Wilders will see many of his ideas implemented, as the government he has made possible takes office.
Dutch politician on trial on hate speech charges
But his lawyer, Bram Moszkowicz, told presiding judge Jan Moors at the start of the trial that Wilders would not answer questions during the trial.
“My client will, at my advice, exercise his right to silence today, tomorrow and the other days,” Moszkowicz said. Moors then adjourned the case to consider a request from Wilders to explain his decision not to speak.
The case has generated huge interest in the Netherlands and the opening was broadcast live on television.
Wilders’ party has agreed to support a new all-conservative government forming this month. In return, his political allies have promised to carry out much of his anti-immigration agenda.
Immigration-related issues have dominated politics in the Netherlands and much of Europe over the past decade. Wilders has drawn comparisons with populists such as Jorg Haider in Austria and Jean-Marie Le Pen in France as he cashed in on the growing unease and tested the limits of free speech.
However, his stances resound deeply with Dutch voters, who have reconsidered their famous tolerance amid fears their own culture is being eroded by immigrants who don’t share their values.
The Wilders-supported government expected to take power as early as this week intends new measures to reduce acceptance of asylum-seekers and cut immigration from non-Western countries in half, notably by making it difficult for foreign spouses and children to join their Dutch citizen spouses.
It also plans to force immigrants to pay for their own mandatory citizenship classes.
I quote from the bestselling book and BBC television series The Triumph of the West which the renowned Oxford historian J.M. Roberts wrote in 1985: “Although we carelessly speak of Islam as a ‘religion’; that word carries many overtones of the special history of western Europe. The Muslim is primarily a member of a community, the follower of a certain way, an adherent to a system of law, rather than someone holding particular theological views.” The Flemish Professor Urbain Vermeulen, the former president of the European Union of Arabists and Islamicists, too, points out that “Islam is primarily a legal system, a law,” rather than a religion.
The American political scientist Mark Alexander writes that “One of our greatest mistakes is to think of Islam as just another one of the world’s great religions. We shouldn’t. Islam is politics or it is nothing at all, but, of course, it is politics with a spiritual dimension, … which will stop at nothing until the West is no more, until the West has … been well and truly Islamized.”
These are not just statements by opponents of Islam. Islamic scholars say the same thing. There cannot be any doubt about the nature of Islam to those who have read the Koran, the Sira and the Hadith. Abul Ala Maududi, the influential 20th century Pakistani Islamic thinker, wrote – I quote, emphasizing that these are not my words but those of a leading Islamic scholar – “Islam is not merely a religious creed [but] a revolutionary ideology and jihad refers to that revolutionary struggle … to destroy all states and governments anywhere on the face of the earth, which are opposed to the ideology and program of Islam.”
Ali Sina, an Iranian Islamic apostate who lives in Canada, points out that there is one golden rule that lies at the heart of every religion – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. In Islam, this rule only applies to fellow believers, but not to Infidels. Ali Sina says “The reason I am against Islam is not because it is a religion, but because it is a political ideology of imperialism and domination in the guise of religion. Because Islam does not follow the Golden Rule, it attracts violent people.”