The real question of the Wilders trial

It is not, Did Wilders incite to hatred and discrimination against Muslims? And it is not, Is the government infringing on Wilders’s right of free speech? It is, Shall the Netherlands exist?

I recommend a perusal of the long criminal indictment of Geert Wilders for inciting to hatred and discrimination against Muslims (posted at the Hudson Institute site, discussed previously here) as it consists entirely of his own statements about Islam. When his various comments are collected together like this, the consistency, power and truthfulness of his message, including the truthfulness and correctness of his occasional tough language, stands out more than ever.

Which means that what he is being put on trial for is true statements about Islam. As I understand it, he is going to argue in court that the truth of his statements is a defense from the charge of inciting to hatred and discrimination. Is it true, as Wilders has said, that the Koran is a Mein Kampf like document that dehumanizes non-Muslims and calls for their destruction? Is it true that the program of Islam is the complete destruction of Western freedom and Western nationhood? Is it true that Dutch people should find this very alarming and that alarmist language is justified?

There are various problems with the Dutch law that leave it open to challenge on technical grounds. For example, “incitement to hatred and discrimination” is too vague for a criminal statute, as it makes it impossible for people to know if their behavior is criminal or not, and leaves it up to law enforcement officials to define the law according to their whim, the very definition of tyranny. However, as important as that issue is, my own thoughts on the case tend to focus on a different type of question. When the indictment of Wilders came out in December, and I looked at the charges and the kinds of statements for which he was being charged, I thought:

Wilders is saying that Islam is dangerous and violent, that Islamic immigration should be stopped, that sharia believers should be made to leave. He is calling for discrimination against Islam, which of course I also support. His statements could therefore be reasonably characterized as “incitement to discrimination.” Meaning he is guilty under the law, a law which says you cannot criticize a group that intends the destruction of your country. So let’s have it out. Let’s state clearly that we believe in discrimination against Islam. Let’s have the debate between those who think that discrimination against Islam is necessary to prevent the Islamization of our society, and those who think that it’s criminal to oppose the Islamization of our society.

In this connection, I am reminded of a passage in the Introduction of my 1990 booklet, The Path to National Suicide: An Essay on Immigration and Multiculturalism:

This curious inhibition [against discussing immigration] stems, of course, from a paralyzing fear of the charge of “racism.” The very manner in which the issue is framed—as a matter of equal rights and the blessings of diversity on one side, versus “racism” on the other—tends to cut off all rational discourse on the subject. One can only wonder what would happen if the proponents of open immigration allowed the issue to be discussed, not as a moralistic dichotomy, but in terms of its real consequences. Instead of saying: “We believe in the equal and unlimited right of all people to immigrate to the U.S. and enrich our land with their diversity,” what if they said: “We believe in an immigration policy which must result in a staggering increase in our population, a revolution in our culture and way of life, and the gradual submergence of our current population by Hispanic and Caribbean and Asian peoples.” Such frankness would open up an honest debate between those who favor a radical change in America’s ethnic and cultural identity and those who think this nation should preserve its way of life and its predominant, European-American character. That is the actual choice—as distinct from the theoretical choice between “equality” and “racism”—that our nation faces. But the tyranny of silence has prevented the American people from freely making that choice.

In other words, the real issue at stake in the immigration debate is not between different ideas but between different substances. Shall America continue to exist as what it has historically been, as a white-majority nation with a recognizable Anglo-European culture and identity, or shall it be changed into a majorityless, nonwhite, non-Western collection of humanity bearing no relationship to what America has been?

Applying the same understanding to the Wilders trial, on the most fundamental level the issue is not inclusion versus “incitement to hatred,” and the issue is not political correctness versus free speech; the issue is non-existence versus existence. Are the Dutch, are the Americans—are all the nations threatened by Islam—going to go on existing? If we believe and affirm that it is legitimate for our respective nations to exist, then discrimination against Islam, which threatens our existence, is right and necessary. If we believe that it is not legitimate for us to exist as nations, then there is no moral basis for discriminating against that which threatens our existence, and the anti-hate laws make more sense.

The problem with most discussions of these problems today, as it was when I wrote The Path to National Suicide, is that the existential issue is never identified. The debate always remains on the level of “rights”: discrimination is bad, racism is bad; and when people are accused of discrimination and racism they say: “I’m not a racist, I wasn’t discriminating, and I have my free speech rights!” They accept the premise that discrimination is bad, and simply say that they personally are not guilty of it. The premise underlying the idea that discrimination is bad is never identified and challenged.

So, my advice would be that Wilders argue in court something along these lines:

It is a reasonable view that the increase of Islam threatens Dutch freedoms and the very existence of the Netherlands as a historical society. Therefore it is reasonable for people to state that view and to advocate steps that will prevent Islamization. This position will then win or lose in the realm of politics, not be suppressed in advance by the force of law.

I mentioned earlier that Wilders is planning to base his defense on the truth of his statements about the doctrines and practices of Islam. However, given the hyper political correctness and suicidal assumptions that govern today’s Netherlands, it may not enough for him to show that his statements about Islam are true, unless he also demonstrates (1) that the Netherlands exists and ought to exist, and (2) that Islamization means the end of its existence.

If, arguing on that basis, he is acquitted, then the right of Dutch people to speak negative truths about Islam and to defend their country from Islamization will have been established. If he is convicted, then the Dutch government will have announced that it is on the side of the Muslims in seeking the Islamization and destruction of the Netherlands, and the battle lines will have been clearly drawn.

- end of initial entry -

* * *

LA writes:

After I drafted this entry and discussed it with a friend, he suggested that I read David Yerushalmi’s essay in “The Trial of Geert Wilders: A Symposium” at the International Free Press society website. Yerushalmi’s thoughts on this subject are remarkably similar to my own, emphasizing the question of existence, though worked out on a more philosophical level. I recommend his essay.

January 24

Kidist Paulos Asrat writes:

I was waiting for your article on the Wilders trial. This is, I think, another one of your important pieces and insights from your long list on the Islam question.

It has been difficult for me to decipher why the ultimate question of existence doesn’t figure high in the discussions of counter-jihad groups. I think it is more than fear of being called racist or discriminatory—many are direct and even harsh in their discrimination against Islam. I think it is a matter of how they view the problem, which they see in terms of “freedom.”

Many of the “freedom” proponents are writers, who are attempting to say the truth about Islam. When this truth is curtailed or aborted, contrary to Western traditions, strengthening (re-establishing) freedom of expression, freedom of the press, etc. to tell this truth understandably becomes their paramount focus.

That is why I have always been wary of the often limited “free speech,” “freedom of expression” and even “freedom of the press” arguments, although I do think they play an important, and many times an essential, role in the discussion of the West vs. Islam.

However, Islam threatens not only these foundations of freedoms, but the very existence of society: our religion, family traditions, schools and education, art and music, even food and drink (alcohol!). Some of these have nothing to do with “freedom” but how our society is structured, according to our traditions and our (often restrictive, and hence not “free”) values.

I hope the folks at the International Free Press Society, the most organized body of counter-Jihadists, read this article of yours, and incorporate it into their modus operandi.

LA replies:

Thank you for understanding and bringing out this profoundly important point. One reason I like Wilders is that he has never limited himself to defending threatened “freedoms,” but regularly states that the Netherlands itself, Western civilization itself, is at stake. And he does this even though he calls himself a liberal, while the self-described conservatives in America who support him speak almost exclusively in terms of “freedom,” not “existence.” In this regard, as in others, Wilders is to the right—and correctly to the right—of most of his American supporters. People who defend only freedom, and not America’s or Canada’s existence as a nation and culture, are, on the deepest level, liberals, not conservatives. Liberalism at its core is about rights, about equality and freedom, about the procedures by which rights are maintained. Conservatism is, first and foremost, about the substance of a society—its culture, its people, its religion, its moral code, its way of life, its political structure, its very existence as a sovereign nation. For Americans, the unalienable right of liberty is an indispensable part of what we are, but what most Americans don’t understand is that liberty or freedom is not the primary thing that we are, because the freedom cannot exist, it cannot be secured, in the absence of more fundamental things. Without a substantive people, culture, way of life, political structure, and national existence, that freedom wouldn’t exist. This kind of understanding is what I mean by traditionalism or true conservatism, as compared with the liberal type of conservatism that is predominant today.

* * *

Larry T. writes:

I just read your “The real question of the Wilders trial” article. Truly, you are a Paul Revere of our time. Keep punching away. More and more people are getting it.

Rick U. writes:

Thank you! Your comment is the most erudite explanation of Traditionalism I have ever seen.

Lydia McGrew writes:

Interesting question occurred to me: If Wilders is acquitted, will this be a case of in-practice nullification of the law? I assume he’s being tried by a jury, so would it be jury nullification? Or would it actually be a statement that he hadn’t violated the law? Generally an acquittal means that you didn’t break the law in question, however awful the law might be. So if there were a law against going to church, being acquitted on the charge would mean you were “not guilty” of going to church. On the other hand, sometimes juries acquit someone as a kind of statement of protest against the law itself. It would be much better if the entire “incitement to hatred” law in Holland were overturned by whatever mechanism exists in Dutch law for that purpose. As it is, Wilders’ aquittal would leave the law in place to be used to intimidate others. A jury nullification of a bad law means that the defendent was lucky to get away with it this time. That’s an unsatisfactory outcome in the long run.

LA replies:

Good question, I don’t know the answer.

Lydia McGrew replies to LA:

I’m ignorant about Dutch law. My strong impression is that hate speech laws in England and in some states of Australia are expressly written so that truth is not a defense against them. Which is terrifying. If Holland’s law is the same, then I’m not sure how his defense would play out.

LA replies:

But Wilders is bringing forward 17 witnesses who are going to testify as to the nature of Islam. He’s making the truth of his statements about Islam the main basis of his defense.

Lydia replies

I know. That’s why I’m bringing this up. What if the Dutch law is written also so that it doesn’t matter if what you say is true, you’re still forbidden to say it if it “incites hatred”?

I can’t tell if Wilders is saying that the law shouldn’t be the way it is and he seeks acquittal as a form of protest against the existence of the law, or if his defense is predicated on the assumption that truth is an actual legal defense given the way the law is written. Perhaps this is left ambiguous in the Dutch law. I just don’t know.

LA replies:

My guess would be that the Dutch authorities have never thought about that. My guess is that the assumption underlying the law is that the protected groups by definition do not and cannot have anything objectionable about them. That’s why saying anything negative about them is automatically bad. So if Wilders can show that Islam really is dangerous, that might shake the judges up and make them acquit him, which I suppose would mean voiding that law.

However, there’s a deeper and more troubling way of imagining what the Dutch authorities’ assumptions are. Their assumption could be that the Netherlands, as the Netherlands, has no value and has no right to exist other than as a promoter of freedom and equality and of the welfare and rights of foreign peoples. As I’ve said many times, in the minds of left-liberals, one’s own country is fatally ridden by guilt and never deserves to be defended against enemies. “Look at all the terrible things we’ve done! What right have we to judge others?” That kneejerk attitude, by itself, is enough to assure national suicide, because it means that the country has no right to criticize a troublesome or hostile Other and stand for itself vis a vis that Other. The automatic response in any dealing with the Other is to yield. This attitude is so deeply engrained in modern Western people that they’ve never thought about it. Which means that the Dutch have never thought about the meaning of the hate-speech law, beyond its expressing their kneejerk attitude I just described. Their belief is that their country because of its sins (racism, colonialism etc.) has no right to stand up for itself, and is morally legitimate only to the extent that it is carrying out a liberal program of expanding rights, equality, welfare, and inclusion. In short, the country only exists for the sake of others. Of course they make lots of exceptions. But that’s their default position.

If if is their position, then Wilders’s argument as to the truth of his statements about Islam may well fail, because he’s speaking a language that is literally nonsensical to the judges. He’s saying that Islam threatens Netherlands, and therefore it’s legitimate to criticize Islam. But to the judges the idea of something threatening Netherlands, the idea of taking the side of the Netherlands against non-Western immigrants whose beliefs are dangerous to the Netherlands, is impermissible and unthinkable; it can’t even be formed as a concept.

If what I just said is true, then Wilders’s best bet may be to argue not on substantive but on legalistic grounds, such as the vagueness of the law, and the rights of conscience and speech which are also enshrined in Dutch law. Which I suppose would mean overturning the hate speech law at least in its present form.

Kidist Paulos Asrat writes:

With regards to Lydia McGrew’s questions, I hope some Dutch people can enter the fray, but here is how some aspect of the truth can prevail in the Hate Provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada:

Section 319(3) identifies acceptable defences. Indicates that no person shall be convicted of an offense if the statements in question:

- are established to be true

- were relevant to any subject of public interest, the discussion of which was for the public benefit, and if on reasonable grounds it was believed to be true

- were expressed in good faith, it was intended to point out, for the purpose of removal, matters tending to produce feelings of hatred toward an identifiable group in Canada

So, pursuing truth is defense against the charge of “hate speech,” at least in Canada.

Furthermore, in the Canadian Criminal Code (S. 318), there is a provision against genocide—which speaks of matters dealing with existence at its most stark level.

So, at least here, truth and existence can be woven into arguments against Muslims.

I wonder if there any such provisions in the Dutch Penal Code. I presume since Wilders has made truth a focus, there must be something similar.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 23, 2010 10:56 PM | Send

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