Geert Wilders is on trial for us all
But liberty is rather more important than welfare.
And togetherness in the national interest is not simply a fiscal policy for the economic objective of sustaining the nation’s AAA credit rating, but a spiritual commitment for the political objective of sustaining the peace and security of the realm.
How can we coexist ‘together’ when our fundamental freedoms borne of religious strife are being systematically eroded in order that future strife may be prevented now?
The Conservative Party is focusing on empowering communities because the sense of political community is intrinsic to people’s sense of the need for social community. This is part of the ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ agenda. Community is a fundamental human good because commitments and values are shared; the good life demands participation in a political community, and this requires communal participation in a political organisation of the widest scope, such as the nation state.
‘Together in the national interest’ is not possible without a commitment to shared values.
Today, the ‘anti-Islamist’ Dutch MP Geert Wilders goes on trial in Amsterdam ‘on charges of inciting racial hatred against Muslims’.
That is the BBC’s cursory and casual mention of the event.
It is a curious juxtaposition, for which of us is not anti-Islamist?
What is this racial law which can now be used to protect a religio-political system from criticism?
The irony is that Geert Wilders has fast become the most popular politician in the Netherlands, and is about to enter a coalition government. His fame has spread far beyond his national confines of clogs, bulbs and dykes: indeed, if there were elections to the office of President of Europe, Mr Wilders would undoubtedly be in the running. Following last June’s election, his Party for Freedom (PVV) became the third largest group in the Dutch parliament with 24 members. His policies are popular; his concerns resonate. Yet, if found guilty, he faces years in prison and a considerable fine.
Mr Wilders is on trial for allegedly ‘inciting hatred and discrimination’ against Muslims, including calling Islam ‘fascist’ and likening Mohammed’s Qur’an to Hitler’s Mein Kampf. The prosecution adduces Mr Wilders’ short film Fitna as evidence.
As a result of this, he was refused entry to the UK last year by the Labour government, despite having committed no crime and despite having been invited by two British parliamentarians to screen his film in the House of Lords.
Mr Wilders naturally denies the charges against him, insisting that Islam represents a serious threat to democracy. His lawyers have demanded that academics and other experts who are critical of Islam might be permitted to testify at the trial in order to support his proposition.
It is not yet clear that he will be permitted to do this. The last thing the court will want is for Geert Wilders to turn a trial on allegations against him into a trial against the nature of Islam itself.
Yet if he is not even to be granted the freedom to make his case in his own defence, we have surrendered a sacred principle of our liberty. When a politician sounds the trumpet to warn a continent of the incursion of an antithetical ideology and an oppressive power, it is ironic indeed that he should be silenced not by that alien ideology or foreign power, but by the very agencies of government he seeks to guard and of which he is part.
It is not speech itself we stand to lose, but the freedom to articulate in our speech those thoughts or expressions which others might find offensive, whether or not any offence was intended.
If he loses, Geert Wilders faces a little impoverishment and a few years imprisonment.
But if he loses, Western civilisation itself will be impoverished as we are all confined by the diminution of our liberty.
One may not agree with an awful lot of what Mr Wilders says, but putting him on trial in order to silence and censor is no substitute for free debate and discussion. He has beliefs and opinions; he is entitled to them. He expresses thoughts and ideas; he should be free to do so, as long as he does not engage in violence or incitement.
If one can no longer be of the opinion that Islam is a backward religion, or that Mohammad was a criminal, or if one may not defame the Qur'an by placing it on the bottom shelf of a public library, or purchase meat which is not halal, or draw cartoons of the Prophet or put him on television, film or stage without being threatened or brutally murdered, then one is probably living in an Islamic country.
Geert Wilders is defending the liberties of us all.