- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 14, 2010

Although the Netherlands is widely recognized as a bea- con for liberalism, tolerance and freedom of speech, the last decade has proved that it is perhaps not as tolerant as many thought it to be, as both tolerance and freedom of speech have been under attack, literally in the murders of Islam critics Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh.

Both Mr. van Gogh and Mr. Fortuyn sparked controversy in Dutch politics, Mr. Fortuyn being the first politician to eloquently address immigration, integration and the increasing influence of Islam in Dutch culture, problems that - given the quick rise of his political movement - were relevant but earned him the scorn of the political elite who had ignored those questions for decades.

In the subsequent years, Dutch leaders seemed incapable of solving such problems, leading to the rise of a new anti-Islam politician - Geert Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party. Mr. Wilders and his party hold 24 out of 150 seats in Parliament, and the Freedom Party is the supporting party of the new minority Cabinet.

With his regularly blunt and undiplomatic way of addressing issues as well as his outspoken anti-Islam statements, Mr. Wilders is more than a little controversial. According to him, Islam constitutes a threat to the Judeo-Christian culture of our modern Western democracies. In 2008, he published a short movie on Islam, with comparisons between the Koran and Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” especially sparking controversy. Following the movie and several of Mr. Wilders’ anti-Islam statements, the Dutch public prosecutor started a case against him on the charge of hate speech and discrimination - a case that had its first session on Oct. 4. And Mr. Wilder’s statements are strong:

“The core of the problem is the fascist Islam, the sick ideology of Allah and Muhammad as embodied in the ‘Mein Kampf’ of Islam - the Koran” (2007).

“I came here to warn you [of] another danger - Islam. Islam presents itself as a religion but has another target as well - ruling this world, a holy war, the Shariah, the end of separation between church and state. It is not a religion, it is a political ideology. It demands your respect but has no respect for you” (2009).

It goes without saying that these statements lack a sense of diplomacy and will offend followers of Islam. Yet should they be considered as falling outside the limits of freedom of speech? In his revolutionary work “On Liberty,” the English philosopher John Stuart Mill presented his readers with the example of corn dealers. According to Mill, the opinion that corn dealers are the cause of starvation among the poor is ordinary speech in a newspaper or opinion article. However, the same opinion may go beyond the bounds when uttered in front of a raging, uncontrollable mob assembled in front of a corn dealer’s house. That context transforms the statement into a call for violence.

Mr. Wilders made his statements on his own website or during interviews with newspapers, not while addressing a raging mob that assembled in front of a mosque. Mr. Wilders never called for violence, and even in some of the statements for which he was subpoenaed, he rejects the use of violence. Truth be told, Islam and a part of its followers do not exactly reflect the concept of tolerance themselves. The list of controversial statements made by Muslim leaders in the Netherlands is endless. If you dish out, you should be able to take it.

Therefore, not only a conviction of Mr. Wilders for the statements, but even the mere fact the statements were a reason to start a case against him will creates a dangerous precedent. It will not just lead to a cloudburst of charges against persons making similar statements. Each legal charge will further crumble the wounded body of freedom of speech until it eventually collapses with each aggrieved group wildly challenging every statement it considers inappropriate. Ultimately, no person would dare speak anymore out of fear of persecution. Nothing but silence would remain.

No one benefits from that. One may agree or disagree with what Mr. Wilders has to say, but that is irrelevant . What matters is that he has the right to say it. What matters are the words of the French philosopher Voltaire, who stated: “I may disagree with what you have to say, but I will defend to death your right to say it.”

Freedom of speech is not solely a combination of three words giving us the right to say what we think. It is a perspective that stands or falls with our dedication to value, honor and, most of all, defend it.

Ivar Scheers is a recent law graduate from the Netherlands.