Thursday, October 7, 2010

A false prophet: Why Geert Wilders is a problem, not a solution

October 7, 2010

His big bleach-blond mane was unmistakable, but this time his mouth, the biggest in Dutch politics, stayed shut. Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigrant Freedom Party, is on trial for incitement to hatred and discrimination against Muslims. But when he appeared before judges in Amsterdam on October 4th, this champion of free speech declined to speak.

The court heard some of Mr Wilders’s greatest hits: “the Koran is the Mein Kampf of a religion that intends to eliminate others” (2007); “Islam wants to control, subdue and is out for the destruction of our Western civilisation” (2008); a Koran stripped of its hateful verses, “should actually have the format of a Donald Duck [comic book]” (2007, again). The judges’ questions were comically innocent. Did Mr Wilders really say such things? Was it in the heat of the moment? Had he received legal advice? Did he really need to refer to Donald Duck? Stubborn silence.

Maybe the state should not be in the business of prosecuting politicians for their offensive views. But these are highly charged times in the Netherlands. The threat of murder hangs over the traditionally tolerant country. In 2002 Pim Fortuyn, an earlier anti-immigrant politician, was killed. Two years later so was Theo van Gogh, an anti-Islamist film-maker. Mr Wilders now moves only with a posse of bodyguards, and lives at a secret location.