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Speak And Let Speak

The acquittal of Geert Wilders in an Amsterdam court yesterday was a victory for free speech. It was also a victory for hate and hypocrisy. I don’t believe that any religion should be exempt from criticism in a modern democracy, and critics should be able to voice their concerns without fear of physical reprisals. But what Wilders produces is more than criticism, it crosses all boundaries of respect and strides into full blown hate mongering. Some might argue that freedom of speech should also allow us to express our dislikes without censorship. I’d go along with this, but there needs to be a crucial caveat in my opinion. If you’re going to take advantage of your right to free speech, what you say needs to be based on facts. Especially if the facts are unpleasant and controversial. Much of what Wilders says is unpleasant and controversial, but not all of it is rooted in the truth. His views may be offensive to many people, but he has a right to air them. I argue though that he should also have an obligation to justify these views with fact based evidence. If he thinks women who chose to wear the hijab should be taxed, that’s his right, but his reasoning needs to be sound otherwise he just looks like another Islamophobic bigot. When asked if he would extend the tax to Orthodox Christian head scarves, he said no. So already we can see a clear anti-Muslim bias. Also, calling it a ‘head-rag’  probably doesn’t help his case.

Other views he has expressed include comparing of the Qur’an to Mein Kampf, the view that Holland should halt immigration from all Muslim countries and Muslims living in Holland should be repatriated, that the possibility of Dutch cities becoming majority non-white is a bad thing, and he supports the occupation, theft of land, displacement and violence against Palestinians. These views probably don’t differ a great deal from any other far right group, including our beloved EDL, and as much as I disagree with them and will challenge them, I support their right to express them. Beyond the standard right wing, anti-immigration fare though there lies a more sinister and devious rhetoric that we’re unaccustomed to from British politicians, and is more akin to American Christian evangelists and Zionists. He specialises in the demonisation of Islam and Muslims in a manner which is inflammatory and provocative, offensive and insulting, and wholly misleading and dishonest. Here is a selection of quotes from Wilders:

Islam is not a religion… the Quran is a book that calls for hatred, that calls for violence, for murder, for terrorism, for war, and submission…We should also stop pretending that Islam is a religion…the right to religious freedom should not apply to Islam.”

“It is not a coincidence that every terroristic act, almost every terroristic act, aimed and based on this fascist book, the Koran, and this wrong ideology, Islam, unfortunately has been done by people from Islamic [background]“

(Completely false, and a claim I will put to bed in a future post)

“I don’t believe in a moderate Islam.  I don’t believe in what some people call a European Islam. I don’t think there will be [a moderate Islam] and if there will be, in time, it will be in two or three thousand years.”

“Madam Chairman, this country has an excise tax on petrol and diesel, it has parking permits and a dog tax, it has an airline ticket tax and has a packaging tax, so why not tax the headscarf? A Head Rag Tax.”

“The Quran asks, commands Muslims to kill non-Muslims.”

“The purest joy in Islam is to kill and be killed.”

“Muhammad was a warlord. In establishing Islam he preached violence, he preached the slaughter of non-Muslims.”

“Europe is beginning to look, slowly but gradually like Arabia.” (VERY slowly. There are approx. 45m Muslims in Europe, only 5m are Arabs. 9% of a Muslim population that accounts for 6% of the total.)

“We need a spirit of resistance, because resistance to evil is our moral duty.”

“The media call it an Arab Spring, I call it an Arab Winter. Islam and freedom, Islam and democracy are incompatible.”

The claim that there is no moderate Islam, and other accusations of violently homicidal tendencies inherent to Islam will be news to anyone who has read the extracts below in the Qur’an, which Wilders claims is not open to interpretation.

There shall be no compulsion in religion: the right way is now distinct from the wrong way. [2:256] 

“And do not kill yourselves, for God has been merciful to you.” (4:29)

‘He who has killed one innocent soul, it is as if he has killed all humanity. And he who has saved one soul, it is as if he has saved all humanity . . .’ (Quran 5:32)

“…Take not life, which Allah hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus does He command you, that ye may learn wisdom.” (al-An’am 6:151)

“Nor take life – which Allah has made sacred – except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully, We have given his heir authority (to demand Qisas or to forgive): but let him not exceed bounds in the matter of taking life; for he is helped (by the law)” (al-Isra’ 17:33)

“Whoever hurts a Non-Muslim citizen of a Muslim state hurts me, and he who hurts me annoys God.” (Bukhari)

All accusations can be refuted at the drop of a hat. It’s scaremongering at it’s worst, and if it’s not hate speech I don’t know what is. His views and proposals are blatantly constructed to discriminate against one section of society. He endorses the overt targeting of Muslims for unequal treatment. He wants to ban the building of new Mosques, ban Madrassas, ban the Qur’an, introduce a licence for the hijab, ban Halal slaughter, ban Muslim immigration, repatriate existing Muslims, enforce assimilation to his idea of western culture, the list goes on. All of this based on a totally false and distorted image of Islam.

The irony of him being the leader of the Freedom Party seems lost on him. It appears that basic human rights of freedom of speech, worship, expression or any other kind isn’t extended to Muslims in his world. Not just Muslims either though. This is where his hypocrisy becomes laughable. Wilders supported the rights of a Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten to publish insulting cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, yet when a Dutch website hosted an illustration of Wilders manning a Nazi style concentration camp for Muslims, he called for their suppression and bullied them into removing it. He has also condemned criticism from opposition parties and demanded apologies for what he deems to be insults. He actually succeeded in getting a prominent philosopher banned from criticising his party in a University lecture. These double standards are fairly typical for far right groups who purport to champion free speech.

It’s tempting to imagine how much leeway would be given to Wilders if he was demonising Jews for example. Consider that he recently spoke at a Christian college in Toronto, while the same Canadian city’s council has unanimously voted to outlaw criticism of Israel. Anti-Semitic hate speech is quite rightly off limits, as it seems is pointing out the transgressions of an apartheid state, but blatant Islamophobia is apparently acceptable.

Unsurprisingly, Wilders supporters were jubilant at his acquittal. Not only is it a triumph for free speech, but indicates to them that comparing Islam to Nazism is “…acceptable within the context of the public debate.”

What will this mean for Muslims in Holland, across Europe and the West? A report from Belgium shows that Islamophobia is at an all time high there, while anti-Muslim attacks are on the rise in the UK and US, ranging from verbal abuse, to mosque vandalism and physical attacks. France and Switzerland have also introduced legislation that infringe on Muslims practicing their faith. This legal victory will no doubt fortify those who share his views, and I would venture that we can expect some attention seekers to attempt to capitalise on it.

Despite initially being dismayed at the decision, and angry at the reaction from the usual candidates, I’ve taken stock. I now wish to issue a challenge to the supposed free speech advocates on the far right. I accept and respect your right to speak your mind, no matter how hateful. Now that the precedent has been set, I expect you to abide by the same ethos. Don’t like what us liberals have to say? Tough. Don’t like whatever rubbish MAC are spouting? Deal with it. Don’t want to be called fascist? Prove you’re not. Freedom of speech works both ways. We all have the right to it. I also urge you to remember this. Challenging what you say isn’t stopping you, state your case but expect me to state mine. It’s how a debate works, if you have a valid case there shouldn’t be an issue. Shouting people down, smearing, insulting and abusing them doesn’t prove your point or win an argument, quite the opposite. If you want this country to be the free democracy you claim Muslims are trying to put an end to, speak and let speak.

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