Last year, I attended the Dutch trial of the century: that of Geert Wilders, leader of the third-largest party in the Dutch parliament. Sparking the charges against Wilders were about 50 statements that he had made about Islam. Three of the most widely circulated, from newspaper columns that Wilders wrote, will give an idea of the rest: "The heart of the problem is the fascist nature of Islam, the sick ideology of Allah and Mohammed as laid down in the Islamic Mein Kampf: the Koran"; "We have a huge problem with Muslims which crosses boundaries in every field, and we come up with solutions that wouldn't make a mouse go back into its cage"; and "Islam is a violent religion. If Mohammed were living here today, Parliament would instantly agree to chase him out of the country in disgrace."
Wilders was charged under articles 137c and 137d of the Dutch penal code, which forbid group insult, hate speech, and incitement to discrimination. The trial was hugely controversial, partly because the articles—which were passed in the 1930s as an attempt to halt rising anti-Semitism—have rarely been invoked. Further, the fact that the leader of a powerful anti-establishment party was standing trial for his opinions inevitably cast a political shadow over the affair.
The trial dominated public debate in the Netherlands for months and captivated Europe as well. It will probably continue to do so for at least another year, because Wilders's lawyers successfully appealed for a declaration that the judges in the Amsterdam District Court had appeared biased. The trial will now have to start all over again. What follows is an account based on my firsthand observations of this tawdry episode.