Tuesday, December 20, 2016
In defence of hate speech
Criminalising offensive language only empowers bigots
GEERT WILDERS, a Dutch politician, says some horrible, inflammatory things. He has called Islam a “fascist ideology” and referred to Muhammad, Islam’s prophet, as “a devil”. He is no friend of free speech, either: he wants to ban not only the Koran but also preaching in any language other than Dutch. The Economist deplores his views; but he should be allowed to express them.
Prosecutors in the Netherlands have reached a different conclusion. On December 9th a court found him guilty of insulting and inciting racial discrimination against Dutch Moroccans. At issue was a nasty line from a speech in 2014. “Do you want more or fewer Moroccans?” Mr Wilders asked supporters of his anti-immigrant Party for Freedom (PVV). The crowd replied: “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” Mr Wilders smiled and said, softly: “We’ll take care of that.” The audience chuckled.
The court decided not to impose a fine, arguing that the conviction itself was punishment enough. Some punishment. Three months before an election, Mr Wilders can pose as a victim of an illiberal law and a politically correct elite who, he claims, are letting Islam undermine Dutch civilisation. Mr Wilders’s image as a martyr is further enhanced by the fact that Islamist radicals have threatened to kill him for his words.
All this makes him stronger. His party leads the polls, with the support of a third of voters. The PVV will probably not win control of the country—mainstream parties will club together to keep it out of office. But using the law to attempt to silence Mr Wilders enhances his malign influence over Dutch politics and makes it more likely that he will one day wield real power.