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What started as a trial against Geert Wilders for alleged Islamophobia has nearly turned into its opposite: a historical case about the message of the Quran. The Amsterdam court trying the controversial Dutch politician is now preoccupied with the question of whether this book, sacred to more than a billion believers, can be compared to one of the most vile publications in the history of Western civilization—Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” What could possibly go wrong?
In his writing and speeches, Mr. Wilders has found these two works to be similar in terms of their anti-Semitism and incitement to hatred, and has thus called for a publishing ban on the Quran similar to the one in place for “Mein Kampf.” This is what triggered Mr. Wilders’s prosecution for discriminatory and insulting remarks against Muslims and Islam. The Dutch politician, though, denies having insulted Muslims. He insists his focus is on radical Islam and the Quran, which he considers to be not only a religious text but also a political pamphlet encouraging Muslims to discriminate against and, if necessary, kill Jews, Christians, apostates and other unbelievers. That’s why Mr. Wilders claims the right to criticize and condemn Islam.
Following complaints brought by mostly Muslim and radical leftist activists, Amsterdam’s district attorney in 2008 at first found no legal basis for prosecuting Mr. Wilders. Prosecutors were forced to change course only after an activist appeals court last year ordered Mr. Wilders’s prosecution—basically condemning the politician before any trial could even begin and before Mr. Wilders had a chance to defend himself. The court’s unusual intervention illustrates the Dutch confusion about the conflict between two essential rights: the right to free speech and the right to protection from discrimination.
According to polls, Mr. Wilders’s Freedom Party, a libertarian-conservative movement with populist tendencies, is currently the most popular political party in the Netherlands. If elections were held today, Mr. Wilders would be a serious contender for the position of prime minister. Mr. Wilders’s detractors are mistaken if they think a conviction would hurt him politically. The trial is a win-win situation for him: If the court rules to restrict Mr. Wilders’s right to free speech, many Dutchmen will interpret this as an effort by the politically correct establishment to limit the growing strength of the Freedom Party, which would widen its appeal to many voters. If, on the other hand, the prosecution fails to prove that Mr. Wilders has purposely insulted Muslims because of their religion, Mr. Wilders’s views will be seen as vindicated. Again, he will gain politically.
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