Beck, Krauthammer and the Geert Wilders perplex

Geert Wilders - the sometimes-libertarian Dutch politician currently on trial for "hate speech" in his country - has become a kind of Rorschach test for right-of-center American pundits. He has recently been under attack by Glenn Beck, who seems to have called him a fascist, and by Charles Krauthammer, who, while more judicious, claims Wilders does not understand, or misconstrues, the difference between Islam and Islamism (and is therefore not worthy of our support).

Beck's criticism of Wilders is pretty dismissible since the populist TV commentator does not appear particularly versed in European affairs. Indeed, in the video linked at his name, Beck erroneously identifies French politician Dominique de Villepin as "far right" and then mispronounces his name - in fingers down a blackboard fashion - as if he had confused the Chirac protégé with the truly fascist Jean Marie le Pen. Maybe he had. Only his producers, who have served him poorly here, know for sure. And maybe even they don't, which is the problem. (Beck should also have another look at Jonah Goldberg's book and at Hayek's The Road to Serfdom before he makes such simplistic conclusions about fascism, the left and the right across the pond.)

I could go on about how the American Right ought to become sophisticated about international affairs (not that the American Left is!), but I will pass on to Charles Krauthammer, a man many of us - myself included - regard as the sine qua non of conservative columnists. He too seeks to distance himself from Wilders:

What he says is extreme, radical, and wrong. He basically is arguing that Islam is the same as Islamism. Islamism is an ideology of a small minority which holds that the essence of Islam is jihad, conquest, forcing people into accepting a certain very narrow interpretation [of Islam].

The untruth of that is obvious. If you look at the United States, the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the U.S. are not Islamists. So, it's simply incorrect. Now, in Europe, there is probably a slightly larger minority but, nonetheless, the overwhelming majority are not.

Paul Mirengoff of Powerline responds:

The words "radical" and "extreme" connote the relationship between Wilders' view and mainstream thinking (in this they differ from the word "fascist," which connotes a specific ideology). In the politically correct West of today, I believe it is fair to characterize Wilders as radical and extreme.

But is Wilders wrong? Krauthammer says he is because the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the U.S. and Europe are not Islamists. Wilders does not deny this. As he said last week in London:

The majority of Muslims are law-abiding citizens and want to live a peaceful life as you and I do. I know that. That is why I always make a clear distinction between the people, the Muslims, and the ideology, between Islam and Muslims. There are many moderate Muslims, but there is no such thing as a moderate Islam.

Wilders is making a theological point here -- his contention is that Islam, as set forth in the teachings of the Koran, "commands Muslims to exercise jihad. . .to establish shariah law [and]. . .to impose Islam on the entire world." I'm no scholar of Islam, but I believe Wilders is correct. To show otherwise, one would have to explain away portions of the Koran. It is not enough just to call Wilders' interpretation of that book "narrow."

If you agree with Mirengoff - and I do -, it is important to support Wilders in his trial, if only as a supporter of fundamental free speech. The ACLU - if it existed in any honest fashion - would be behind the Dutchman in a heartbeat. Such support would seem to be obvious and an easy choice for a man like Krauthammer. So why his unease with Wilders?