Janet Albrechtsen Blog | January 28, 2009 | 193 Comments
CAN this be right? Last month I wondered aloud whether 2009 would differ from previous years and see a reinvigoration of the West’s commitment to free speech. Instead, with January not yet over, another assault on freedom of expression has arrived portending yet another year of stifled speech.
Last Wednesday, a Dutch court ordered the prosecution of far right-wing Dutch MP Geert Wilders for inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims in his film, Fitna. The three-judge appeals panel said: “The instigation of hatred in a democratic society constitutes such a serious matter (that it is necessary) to draw a clear boundary in the public debate.”
In response to many public complaints against Wilders, the court rejected the original view of Dutch prosecutors who, back in June, said: “That comments are hurtful and offensive for a large number of Muslims does not mean that they are punishable. Freedom of expression fulfils an essential role in public debate in a democratic society. That means that offensive comments can be made in a political debate.”
It’s too bad that the judges on the appeals court felt pressured to order a prosecution. In so doing, they exposed the West’s feeble commitment to free speech. This is not about supporting the views of Wilders, who in his short film, likens the Koran to Mein Kampf, caricatures the prophet Mohammed and includes footage of Muslim acts of violence and hatred. However, it would be remiss not to point out that Wilders damns Muslims using their own actions, showing, to take just one example, Muslim demonstrators wielding “God Bless Hitler” placards.
That aside, a significant distinguishing feature between Muslim countries and the West has been our belief in freedom of expression. It was no surprise that Wilders’s controversial film led to protests in Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Indonesia. Muslim countries have a long and poor record when it comes to defending freedom of speech or allowing criticism of their faith. But when complaints in the heart of Enlightenment Europe lead prosecutors to put Wilders on trial, facing a jail term of two years for expressing his opinions, then the tyranny of thought police has truly taken hold in the West.
The Dutch MP with the flamboyant hair style has opinions that are surely offensive, perhaps hurtful and even hateful. You may say Wilders is wrong. Indeed, feel free to do so. But to prosecute a man for his offensive views is, on so many levels, even more wrong. Let me count the ways.
The Netherlands – often lauded as the home of Western civility – has mistaken tolerance for anesthesia. Eager to filter out jarring, uncomfortable views, putting us to sleep with consensus and anodyne niceness, Dutch authorities have strayed far from the true value of freedom of expression. They have forgotten progress rarely occurs without controversy. The best ideas – including those that are uncomfortable or even, at first glance, outlandish – are the ones that prevail when tested in the furnace of opposition.
It would be grand if Wilders’ colleagues in the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) and his other supporters backed him on free speech grounds rather than merely because they are opposed to Muslim immigration.
But if we truly value free speech we can’t always pick and choose our allies. Defending the expression of views we share is the easy bit. Our commitment to freedom of expression is only truly tested when we are asked to defend the expression of views by those with whom we disagree, no matter whether we find their views personally offensive.
So what say the political opponents of Wilders about his right to express his views? As so often is the case, not much. Or worse, they support the prosecution of his words and thoughts. The opportunity for short-term political advantage triumphs over long term principle with disturbing frequency.
Prosecute people for their offensive words and three things happen as sure as the sun rises in the morning. First, offensive opinions may be suppressed but that won’t make them go away. They are driven underground where they avoid the blowtorch of robust public debate and often become more powerful as they fester. Exposing even the most offensive or hateful views to public scrutiny – whether you then argue with them or choose to ignore them – is the best way to defeat them. This was John Howard’s insight into Pauline Hanson. Her views might attract short-term support but would ultimately die naturally if exposed to the sunlight.
Second, when we prosecute people for their words, society unwittingly encourages those with hateful views to become heroes, martyrs to their cause. Though not prosecuted for her views, Hanson demonstrated this principle also in Australia. The attempt by urban elites to shut her down only strengthened her attractions in many parts of Australia.
And third, bringing actions such as those against Wilders creates some very perverse incentives. Prosecuting at the request of the thin-skinned rewards preciousness and indeed encourages it. With such returns for sensitivity we can expect increasing claims to protection from free speech and increasing censorship. The unwitting result is a society that has strayed so far from the correct understanding of free speech that The Wall Street Journal was right to suggest the Dutch have started importing Muslim standards of censorship.
The most generous interpretation of the Wilders prosecution is that good intentions have gone badly astray. But perhaps something more sinister is happening. Many in the West have a knack for dressing up their own occasional totalitarian tendencies in fine-sounding language.
The Dutch appeals court said that the prosecution of Wilders is justified on the grounds that his film was inciting violence. But it turns out that the only violence incited by Fitna, released on the internet in March 2008, was not against Muslims but by Muslims against the West. In other words, the phrase “inciting violence” has been rendered meaningless, stretched to stifle views that merely offend. It may be sensible to prohibit words that genuinely incite violence. But the Wilders case shows how easy it is to use this test as camouflage to censor views that are uncomfortable. Writing about the increasingly vacuous claims of Islamophobia in Forbes magazine, Elisabeth Eaves suggested a good litmus test for whether a law makes any sense: “If the ‘crime’ in question can only be described using the word for an emotion, like ‘hate’ or ‘phobia,’ then we have wandered into thought-police territory.”
The Netherlands is a striking example of how a noble quest to produce a tolerant society can be hijacked by social engineers opposed to free speech. With our myriad vilification laws, Australia needs to heed the lessons from the Dutch before we make the same disastrous blunders.
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Wed 28 Jan 09 (12:51am)
While the content of Fitna was shocking, horrible and inhuman, none of it incited violence against Muslims. It only shows violence by Muslims.
Why is it that all other religions, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, incite peace and love and understanding of others and yet Mohaddism does not? Why does it followers act like some barbaric 11th century brutes??
The Dutch should show the backbone they showed against Hitler and demand that this ridicilous decision is overturned. The UN should do the same, nothing untruthful, nothing unsourced has been said. And every Australian over 15 years should be made to watch Fitna (although there will be many like me who would do so with horror and through their hands over their eyes).
These are the same people that tell us Hamas is peaceful – yeah sure. How does that poem go, I did not speak for the Jews, the Homosexuals and the gypsies whne they came for them and there was no one left to speak for me.
Wed 28 Jan 09 (01:15am)
Imagine anyone being critical of a group of people some of whom were responsible for 9/11,Bali,and the odd beheading of non Muslim hostages?
Lucky for Wilders he is only having his freedom of speech removed by the Dutch.If the other side got hold of him I am reasonably sure a few apendages and his cranium would possibly be removed
Wed 28 Jan 09 (01:46am)
I agree with Janet. And to demonstrate your committment to free speech, perhaps you could publish some Islamofascist tracts on your blog? I mean it probably needs the harsh light of day and Janet should be more than willing to do that for us. In fact, it would be odious self-censorship if she did not use her blog to publish Jihadist materials.
That would really show those anti-free speech social engineers something. After all, as a learned commentator once said “Our commitment to freedom of expression is only truly tested when we are asked to defend the expression of views by those with whom we disagree, no matter whether we find their views personally offensive.”
Here’s your chance, Janet.
Wed 28 Jan 09 (01:53am)
Right again, Janet. Prosecuting wilders id foolish and indeed dangerous. There are, unfortunately, several recently established precedents for this deplorable interference in the right to free speech.
All OECD countries espouse the concept of free speech. The reality is contrary. The Federal Republics of Germany and The Austrian Republic prosecute those idiot fingerwaggers who rant and rave about the question of the veracity of the unspeakable Shoah.
Some even deny that the Nazi attempt at ethnic cleansing never occurred. Strewth!
I firmly believe, however, that everyone is entitled to free speech sans limitation. In a true democracy, say the U.S.A., this is a critical element of freedom. It may be unpopular to champion a certain point today, but tomorrow it is an other story. The mood may change. O tempora o mores. Those self evident nincompoops who prate such blatent absurdity as denial are self evident fools. No prosecution necessary to uphold the truth.
In the absense of free speech, the whole democracic entity into a collapses into a quazi democracy. One rule for my truth, and a muzzle for the other truth just wont cut it. The misinformed need to be cleansed of their ignorance and not prosecuted. This Dutch government initiative is wrong.
And as for that old canard fire in the crowded theatre. No valid analogy there.
If somebody libels me I can sue them, but nobody has the franchise on the truth. The legal profession make decent livings on the moot of it.
You will, no doubted have noted the ridiculous attide of the Canadian politically correct on this one. Another fruit of that egregious Charter. Ridiculous!
Wed 28 Jan 09 (02:32am)
Janet, the problem with The Netherlands is that they actually have to try to produce a tolerant society. The first thing my Dutch partner told me about my adoptive country when I moved here is that the Dutch are not tolerant, that it was all a big lie. That is why they are attempting to prosecute Wilders. Dutch society, like most Western European societies, is not robust enough to handle the sort of division that has been created by the European equivalent of Pauline Hanson. The population is distinctly divided into three categories at the census: white and born here of white parent, coloured and born here of coloured/mixed parents, and foreigners. Children who are the third or fourth generation of their family to be born in the country are always referred to as, for example, Dutch-Moroccan or Dutch-Turk, they are always damned to be second class citizens. I am simply a foreigner, the lowest of the lot, but fortunately I am white so do not suffer as much discrimination in the employment market or in the newspapers as many of those who were actually born here, but are classified by the colour of their skin.
Into the mix goes a group mentality that makes the tall poppy syndrome look positively tame, not to mention political correctness, and it is easy to understand why many in this country feel that Geert Wilders has had his 15 minutes of fame.
Wed 28 Jan 09 (02:47am)
Absolutely correct! Welcome to Eurabia! If you have ever been to the Netherlands you can see why they think this way.
Also Brussels is now targeting Ireland for it’s stance on abortion and gay marriage. Strange that on the holy writs of the left-abortion and same sex marriage- they seek liberalization. Yet on Frreedom of speech the voices of concern, regardless their lack of credibility or sophistry, are being marginalized to the extreme. Muslims are now a more significant demographic (over 20 million) in Europe than are the Irish, Danes and Belgians combined. With France, the Netherlands Germany and the UK in the West and soon to be new EU member Turkey in the East, Europe is being re-islamised with more success than the Moors and Sarrisons.
Wed 28 Jan 09 (03:12am)
I was wondering at the motives for this article until I saw the two advertisements at the end of your article; one for for “Muslim Matrimonials” and another for a Muslim chat line.
This article is nothing but a beat up intended to attract Muslim readers to the two online advertisements. I know times are tough and we have to eat, but really?
ps.. you are right, the Dutch are a wimpy lot and its only encouraging right wing extremism there.
Wed 28 Jan 09 (03:24am)
Freedom of speech is a privilege for those who believe in it. Those who obviously are using it to further their own selfish means are usually legally protected by our democratic and human rights values. We should never attack our civil libertarians or judges because they are part and parcel of a robust and free society. What we can do is to shame , ostracize and expose the hypocrisy of extremists from any section of our community , white , Muslims or any cults.
IF we ourselves target only 1 group and shame our own free legal system ,then we ourselves are culprits of extremism and should be stopped too.
Ben in Dubai
Wed 28 Jan 09 (04:00am)
After watching Fitna I would have understood if Muslims wound their neck in a bit. That is, it simply displayed the anti-West pro-violence agenda of many of their Brothers.
Answering that movie with protests and expressions of more violence played straight into Wilders’ hands, proving his message correct, yet they were too thick to realise that. Displaying the factual sections, (pro-Hitler signs, decapitations), was not innuendo or isolated opinion, IT HAPPENED. So how can somebody be persecuted for that? Ok, it may have been constructed to display the negatives of Islam and Muslims, but it is fact; not inciting or creating negativity out of nothing.
I applaud your continual fight to ensure free speech remains. Good luck!
Now just watch the crazies launch into you “right wing Islamophobe agenda”.
Wed 28 Jan 09 (04:17am)
Caving in to Islam has become the next Olympic sport – with B. H. Obama leading the American team. His humble approach to the Muslim world makes me and all patriotic Amereicans sick. Obama, who avoided any connection with Islam during the campaign, is now the Muslim poster boy. He has just signaled the entire Muslim world (hereinafter “the enemy”) that he is the world’s latest weak sister.
Wed 28 Jan 09 (04:46am)
Does this mean Holocaust deniers should not be prosecuted ?
When did the Dutch represent the Wests view ?
All of a sudden 3 Judges in The Netherlands is the Wests yardstick ?
I don’t think so Janet.
Wed 28 Jan 09 (05:04am)
David Irving was locked up a couple of years ago for denying the holocaust 17 years earlier. He said he had changed his views and no longer denied it, but he was still locked up. So what’s all this rubbish about ‘the West’s values’? The West locks people up for offensive views too. And why are Muslims to blame for the Dutch locking up some other Dutch guy? You’re just using this event to get on your soapbox about Muslims. You should do your own mind a favour and stop trying to convince people that the actions of a clear minority of Muslims represent the majority. I’m from Aus, am happily engaged to a Muslim, know and have met many Muslims and currently live in the Middle East. I actually have a semblance of understanding about the meaning of Islam in culture and the individual, and it varies greatly. I’ve always found your views quietly pretty offensive and ignorant, and I’m not fooled that you disguise your prejudices within topics or themes such as freedom of speech. People here just find views such as yours irrelevant.
Wed 28 Jan 09 (05:18am)
As an Australian resident in Netherlands I can confirm the modern Dutch state bears no resemblance to free thinking, open, liberal society that is often portayed.
At best it is a decaying, self righteous fellow traveller in the post modern slumber that defines Western Europe. Most people here will acknowledge the problem but are too stoned or cossetted by the state to bother lifting a finger to change the situation.
Long gone is the famed protestant work ethic – it emigrated to places like the US and Australia.
Wed 28 Jan 09 (05:46am)
Holland is a nation which adopted a bill of rights with the inevitable result that freedoms of individuals are stymied for the benefit of vocal elites. In this case we have a legal system cowed into a poor decision, by the threat of violence from one segment of dutch society. The freedoms of Western Civilization were hard won over centuries.
The principles of Voltaire and Churchill are now imprisoned to the deranged cliquism of the Social Engineer, made even more sinister by those who would change our language for there own political agenda. Where once robust debate was seen as a strength of the west it is now seen as a threat to the east (which it has always been) and instead of ignoring the protests of the slave mind of Islam we now listen. How long is it before people like me, who say uncomfortable things, are arrested in this country?
Wed 28 Jan 09 (06:15am)
This is yet another sad indictment of a religion that has no place in the 21st century. Why is it that Islamic fundamentalists can draw their own conclusions as to how western society should behave while a film maker who expresses his own views becomes the hunted? It seems incredible that predominantly Christian countries can be tolerant of religions like Islam yet when one takes a closer look at most Middle Eastern countries they ban all other religions from flourishing. I bear no hatred of Islam itself and for those who wish to follow this religion good luck to you. But, as a member of modern society, why should I or anyone else be persecuted for expressing their right to freedom of speech? Those who don’t preach the same verse as the Koran are treated like infidels yet when the overall concept of God is considered why do we kill each other in the name of God? Bloody pathetic attitude!
Wed 28 Jan 09 (06:38am)
As more than one of my urbane Muslim born friends says “religion is the problem” – meaning any religion. We do seem to have evolved to have problems living in large communities without binding myths but we have obviously done better when the competing myths are overtaken in the modern state by the Anzacs, Bradman, Warnie, Australian Hollywood stars etc. Perhaps we ought to vilify religion much more vigorously in our national interest? Perhaps not. But in aid of free speech and to try to ensure that our religious separatists, which of course includes still a surprisingly high proportion of Jews as well as old-fashioned the-Pope-is-infallible-when-speaking-ex-cathedra-on-faith-and-morals Catholics, maybe we ought to be challenging our wretched weaselly little anti-vilification laws with deliberate provocations.
Wed 28 Jan 09 (06:55am)
Since I have worked Offshore I witness daily the erosion of “Free Speech” from Anglo Saxon European descent Australian with each passing month. I shudder each time I open my email each morning to see what the Australian Indigenous and Islamists, have been given or provided with. It would appear to me that the Australian Governments are try to create an Islamic Nation headed by our Indigenous Leaders. If anyone writes an article about their poor behaviour of these groups there are threats of legal action. Apart from the massive handouts. Islam is not the only religion in the world and if one speaks out about their heading lopping performances. My God Jesus is what I was taught in my School days as a Catholic Boy in Australia. Today is this a dirty name in Australia. Australians by the actions of their governments are appearing to the world as APPEASSERS and each time a hard decision is to be made we capitulate. Pray we do not go down the road of the Dutch for if we do areas like Bondi will become a picnic ground, and some suburbs like Gaza. Let Australians make decisions based upon what our forefathers fought & died for. Our Australia was fought for on various battlefields and shores to give all Australians freedom. We have given away too much already. Next will be our self respect. Remember Islamists are an unforgiving bunch and death is their penalty to non believers. That’s us people if you are not of the Islamic Faith. The Islamic Radicals now many in number are changing their religion to suit their political aspirations. This is not true Islamic belief. Wake up fellow Aussies before we cannot.
Wed 28 Jan 09 (06:59am)
Careful Janet, you might have a fatwa issued against you. Perhaps inciting religious hatred as well? My question to anyone who professes to be a Muslim is to what does your first loyalty belong to? Your country or your religion/faith?
Why is there no reverse flow into Muslim countries regarding immigration? It seems to be one way traffic. Such an obvious question and answer but one the thought police cannot abide.
The Gang-gang Cockatoo
Wed 28 Jan 09 (07:34am)
Ian Burumaâ€™s book Murder in Amsterdam is required reading.
Wed 28 Jan 09 (07:34am)
Why do you think Pym Fortuyn LIST party did so well.
Then the leftwing Elite murdered him to stop democracy.
Don’t worry though.List is still around.So is Vlaams Belang in neighbouring Belgium,Front National in France and the rising BNP in Britain.It’s just a matter of time now.
Wed 28 Jan 09 (08:35am)
Another great article, Janet.
Would Wilders be prosecuted for producing a film criticising Christianity? I don’t think so.
Riots in the streets over cartoons and teddy bears, while art that defiles Christianity goes by with little whimpering. Europe is doomed.
Wed 28 Jan 09 (08:38am)
Typical Janet clap trap.
“Itâ€™s too bad that the judges on the appeals court felt pressured to order a prosecution.” Pressured by who Janet? The Dutch public, the Dutch government, Islamic terrorists? Your pathetic use of these throw away lines only serves to prove your increasing irrelevance.
And then this – “The opportunity for short-term political advantage triumphs over long term principle with disturbing frequency.” This was the modus operandi cry of the Howard years but of course you had absolutely no problem with it then did you Janet! Once again you show yourself as the narrow minded, right-wing hypocrite you truly are.
Wed 28 Jan 09 (08:41am)
If Journalists and newspapers would actually read the Quran and print what is in the Surahs, their readers could see for themselves that the most of the book incites violence, cruelty, and how to torture non Muslims with an occaissional suggestion to be kind to others, especially if one followers Islam.
Wed 28 Jan 09 (08:45am)
What Jannet has written will depend upon the law in regards to freedom of speech in Netherland. Freedom of speech largely entitles one to express his or her views without prejudice to others.The other thing some muslims have also come out with film similar to fitan showing christinaity is violent.The point is where do we stop.
Wed 28 Jan 09 (08:59am)
I think that everyone who apologises for Islam should read ther Quran again and explain why is is full of how to kill, maim and torture. While I am abhor torture of any kind, what that holey book describes is far worse than what happened in Cuba yet I haven’t seen andy journalists or newspapers print any excerts! Janet is only pointing out the obvious, and yes, let’s have a go at other religions – or are their so many vilification laws inAustralia now, we are all too scared. Thank goodness in Australia we can make comments on-line without being locked up. But don’t count on it! Australia’s excessive tolerence to Islam does not seem to give us the right to free speech.
Posted by: euzoia | March 2, 2009
Caving in to Islamists
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