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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wilders acquitted

The BBC reports that Geert Wilders has been acquitted in his trial for crimes relating to hate speech:

Amsterdam judge Marcel van Oosten accepted the Freedom Party leader's statements were directed at Islam and not at Muslim believers.

They were, the judge ruled, "acceptable within the context of public debate".

It is believed the plaintiffs may attempt to make their case before a European court or the UN.

This is an important victory for freedom of speech in Europe. However ugly some of Wilders' ideas and policies may be, they should be opposed with arguments for better ones, not by suppressing them as an exercise of state power.

7 comments:

DEEN said...

I suppose you can call it a victory of free speech. At the very least, I'm glad he got acquitted on the "group insult" charge. I also didn't think Fita was a problem.

However, especially on the inciting discrimination charges, the reasoning in the ruling is quite peculiar. For example, I still don't understand how remarks like "We want plenty of things. Closing our borders, no more Muslims into the Netherlands, many Muslims out of the Netherlands, de-naturalization of Muslim criminals", "We're having a huge problem with Muslims, it's really getting out of hand", "The Muslim population doubles every generation - every 25 years - and the number of Muslims in every European country is becoming more than worrysome" are directed at Islam and not at Muslims. (Quotes are from the subpoena).

Yet it's what the public prosecution argued, somehow, so I guess it's not that strange that the judge ruled that way too. I can understand why the minority organizations who brought the case feel like they weren't really well represented by the public prosecution. I can also see why they are considering taking it to the UN or European courts. This ruling could have some far-reaching consequences for deciding what is discrimination and what is legitimate criticism.

Gaius Sempronius Gracchus said...

Couldn't agree more.

The general run of even the American left is so committed to disapproving “hate speech” and attacking critics of Islam as “Islamophobes” that it surprises me whenever I see someone defend his freedom of expression who isn't at least as crazy as those guys over at Jihad Watch or as far right as its sponsor, David Horowitz.

Thanks.

Gaius Sempronius Gracchus said...

I wonder if Deen, above, thinks the Dutch have the right to do any of the things suggested in the remarks he quotes.

Not just the legal power, although that's a good question, too.

But the right.

Let's even say "the moral right."

Close their borders?

Deport aliens?

De-naturalize naturalized Muslim criminals and then deport them?

Do Dutchmen have the legal right to advocate any of these things?

Should they?

DEEN said...

@Gaius Sempronius Gracchus:
Article one of the Dutch constitution guarantees equal treatment under the law, regardless of religion, ideology, political affiliation, race, gender, or any other ground. That means that closing our borders to Muslims, and stripping Muslim criminals of their citizenship, are grossly unconstitutional. As they should be. So no, we don't have that right.

Then again, Wilders actually wants to replace article one, with an article that establishes the cultural dominance of the Christian, Jewish and humanist traditions. So if it were up to him, we'd definitely have that right. I disagree. If Wilders wants to protect "typical Dutch values", I think he should start with protecting article one.

Whether it should be illegal to advocate for this is a different question. This question, by the way, wasn't addressed in this lawsuit, because of the weird way the prosecution argued that these remarks are criticism of Islam. So even free speech absolutists should be somewhat disappointed by this verdict.

To answer your question: On the one hand, of course you should be allowed to argue for changes to the law or even to the constitution. On the other hand, that doesn't allow you to unfairly demonize a minority first.

Gaius Sempronius Gracchus said...

Deen,

You wrote,

Article one of the Dutch constitution guarantees equal treatment under the law, regardless of religion, ideology, political affiliation, race, gender, or any other ground.

That means that closing our borders to Muslims, and stripping Muslim criminals of their citizenship, are grossly unconstitutional.

As they should be.

So no, we don't have that right.


Are those constitutional guarantees generally thought (or meant) to extend to foreigners or only citizens or, anyway, only people living in Holland?

Are they commonly understood to have any bearing on immigration policy?

And, anyway, a little discretion is always required in interpreting and enforcing constitutional guarantees.

No one thinks the American free exercise clause guarantees a right to human sacrifice.

And, after all, it is perfectly normal to treat criminals differently from others.

It’s called “punishment.”

None of which is to say Wilders is right or that his program is in any way desirable.

You wrote,

Then again, Wilders actually wants to replace article one, with an article that establishes the cultural dominance of the Christian, Jewish and humanist traditions.

I confess I had no idea of this aim of his program.

Personally, I would oppose both the elimination of article one and the addition of that one about “cultural dominance.”

And you wrote,

On the one hand, of course you should be allowed to argue for changes to the law or even to the constitution.

On the other hand, that doesn't allow you to unfairly demonize a minority first.


Does that last mean you think the law or the constitution does or should forbid “unfairly demonizing minority”?

Just to avoid confusion, I am not a free speech absolutist.

Few people really are, when you get to the nitty-gritty.

But there is widespread disagreement about what should and what should not be legally suppressed.

DEEN said...

@Gaius Sempronius Gracchus:
The text of article one specifically states: "All persons in the Netherlands shall be treated equally in equal circumstances. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race or sex or on any other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted." (taken from the translation that can be downloaded here)

So yes, by a direct reading, it should also apply to visitors, or people who are here on a temporary residence permit.

Of course, it would still allow punishing criminals (I'd say abiding by the law or not constitutes unequal circumstances), but it wouldn't allow for a different punishment for Muslims only.

Of course, there will always a little bit of a gray area, between what falls under "unequal circumstances" or under "any other ground", but it is quite explicit about religious or ideological affiliation (so even redefining Islam as an ideology, like Wilders and others have tried, won't work).

"Does that last mean you think the law or the constitution does or should forbid “unfairly demonizing minority”?"
The constitution doesn't forbid it, at the very least. I think it shouldn't, either. But I do think a case can be made that allows groups (or their representatives) to sue in case of defamation, in a way very similar to libel laws. Assuming the procedures aren't too cumbersome, and public interest and truth defenses are allowed, I would support that. Otherwise, the ones with the biggest soap box would always win, which would not be in the best interest of a free society.

Gaius Sempronius Gracchus said...

@Deen,

Of course, it doesn't matter quite so much in the real world case of Muslims, but anyone can easily imagine circumstances in which banning immigrants exactly because of their moral, political, or religious beliefs and the associated practices could make perfect sense, I think.

Rather than allowing them to immigrate and then devoting lots of resources to law enforcement efforts to suppress those objectionable practices, I mean.