On Wednesday, freedom of speech in Europe took a new and devastating turn, as a Dutch appellate court ordered the prosecution of Geert Wilders, parliamentarian and filmmaker, charging him with "inciting hatred and discrimination" against Muslims for his film exposing the threat of radical Islam.
This ruling comes a mere six months after the public prosecutor's office found Wilders' dialogue contributed to the debate on Islam and that he had not committed any criminal offense. Now, curiously, the court has done an about-face and decreed that charges may be brought against the politician, and that prosecuting him is somehow in "the public interest."
After releasing a ten-minute self-produced film entitled "Fitna," Wilders found himself wound up in a litany of "hate speech" litigation, one such suit filed by a radical Imam asking for 55,000 Euros in compensation for his hurt feelings.
Ironically, the film's narrative is primarily comprised of quotes from the Koran which incite violence and death to "infidels" as well as scenes of an Imam preaching death to the Jews. Akin to something out of the Twilight Zone, the Imams who routinely spout hate speech from the pulpit and who are instigating these suits are never themselves charged with incitement to immediate violence. Moreover if the film "Fitna," which merely quotes the Koran and depicts angry Imams, is "hate speech" then what is the Koran itself?
Suspiciously, the wording of the appellate court's ruling strongly echoes public criticism made by the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) when the earlier prosecution was dropped, where the OIC censured prosecutors for ignoring the "thin line separating freedom of speech and the instigation of hatred, animosity and discrimination."
Even more disturbing is that the State of Jordan, most likely acting as a stalking horse for the OIC, has issued a request for Wilders' extradition to stand trial in Jordan for blasphemy of Islam, a crime for which Shari'a law declares the penalty to be death. The Dutch parliament has taken the extradition request very seriously, and has shut out Wilders from all multi-lateral negotiations. As a precaution, Wilders no longer travels abroad unless he can obtain a diplomatic letter from the destination state promising he won't be extradited. For years now, Wilders has lived under looming death threats complemented by the threat that any day, Interpol might issue a warrant for his arrest at Jordan's behest.
Mistakenly, Wilders had thought that his own country remained true to democratic ideals, despite cases such as that of the cartoonist Gregorious Nekschot, who was arrested on May 13, 2008, by Dutch police for the criminal offense of "publishing cartoons which are discriminating for Muslims and people with dark skin."
The very notion that a judge could weigh a man's freedom of speech against what the court construed as "one-sided generalizations" is an absurd and dangerous misrepresentation of the very concept of free speech. However, that pales in comparison to the fact that a democratically elected and sitting member of government is going to be prosecuted for a thought crime for speaking to his constituents about matters of national security. In Iran dissdents are routinely arrested for holding opposing political views. Now we are seeing the same tactics being employed in Europe, but this time, enacted by Western governments at the behest of Islamist groups and against their own citizens.
WIlders' "crime" is what the OIC has been working to criminalize on a global level through the United Nations, while advocating the punishment of Westerners who speak out against radical Islam, terrorism, and its sources of financing. It is clear that the OIC's successes in the United Nations -- where the General Assembly passed its "Combating Defamation of Religions" resolution last year -- are already resulting in direct action.
This is no victory for the Netherlands, or for anyone -- save the OIC and Islamo-fascists. The damage being done to free speech, however, is a defeat that will be felt everywhere. When members of a democratic country's legislature can be arrested and tried for expressing ideas that some find objectionable, that country's status as a free and fair democracy is in serious doubt. But while the Dutch will have to come to grips with their government's abject failure to uphold basic principles of human rights, the leaders of other nations must take notice as well.
The OIC has power and influence, and "hate speech" laws provide an extremely malleable tool to silence critics of radical Islam -- even if you are a member of a parliament, or indeed, perhaps, eventually, a member of Congress. Whatever pressure may be brought on the Netherlands to counteract the OIC's influence must be brought to bear. For if Geert Wilders is tried and sentenced, it will establish the precedent Islamists have been striving for -- and one day, none of us will be free to speak out against them.
Brooke M. Goldstein is a practicing attorney, the director of the Legal Project at the Middle East Forum and the director of the Children's Rights Institute. She is also an award-winning film producer of The Making of a Martyr, an adjuct fellow at the Hudson Institute, and the 2007 recipient of the E. Nathaniel Gates Award for Outstanding Public Advocacy. Aaron Meyer is the assistant director of The Legal Project at the Middle East Forum and legal correspondent at the Terror Finance Blog.