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Wilders Is Right: Europe Needs a First Amendment

The trial of Dutch MP Geert Wilders wasn’t really about him or about Islam. It was about individual liberty.

by
Bruce Bawer

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October 17, 2010 - 10:55 am
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Of course, there have always been ways in which Wilders’s opinions and mine have deviated. For one thing, he has repeatedly proposed that the Koran be banned. In my view, the Netherlands would be better off if its government distributed copies of the Koran to every household in the nation. (Nothing would more quickly clear up everyone’s questions about what Islam is and isn’t. And the media would stop getting away with running preposterous articles claiming — to cite one recent example — that Islam is a “religion of love.”)

After the Dutch elections, moreover, I was disappointed to learn that Wilders had taken on as a personal assistant the reactionary Catholic writer Paul Belien, who is associated with the poisonous Vlaams Belang Party in Belgium and who has made clear not only his contempt for gays but also his distaste for liberal secular democracy. This hire seemed at odds with Wilders’s own oft-declared concern for the preservation of secular democracy and for the rights and well-being of gays.

Yet such disagreements and disappointments, needless to say, don’t diminish my outrage over the prosecution of Wilders. This trial wasn’t really about him or about Islam. It was about individual liberty. It was about fundamental rights that are enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but that in Western Europe are incredibly fragile — a fragility of which the “soft jihadists” haven taken full advantage.

The good news is that on Friday, the prosecutors in Wilders’s trial called for his acquittal. This was quite a turnaround, given that in their closing argument a few days ago they argued that because Wilders’s “views about Islam … are his opinions, not irrefutable facts,” he should be found guilty.

Nothing could make this American feel like more of an alien in Europe than the premise that a man deserves to go on trial, let alone go to prison, for expressing his opinion — whether about a religion or anything else. After all, the freedom to express “unacceptable” opinions — especially about religion — lay at the very heart of the Enlightenment and remains an unnegotiable cornerstone of American liberty.

In an apparent contradiction, the same Wilders who has called for banning the Koran has also argued forcefully that Europe is in desperate need of an equivalent of America’s First Amendment. You can agree or disagree with his opinions on other matters, but he’s certainly right on that one.

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