The Dutch Court of Appeals verdict in acquitting Geert Wilders, a member of parliament and leader of the Freedom Party, of all charges of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims and Islam will likely not end his troubles.
The case against Wilders was formally not about free speech protected by Article 7 of the Dutch constitution, and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights to which Holland is a signatory.
It was about “inciting hatred” towards a minority group, Muslims in Holland, under articles 137c and 137d of the Dutch Penal Code.
This case, however, was driven by political considerations and pushed by left-wing groups, such as the Nederland Bekent Kleur (NBK), or the “Colourful Netherlands,” when the public prosecutor’s office had been initially doubtful any crime was committed.
These same groups, I expect, will appeal the Dutch court’s decision to the European Court of Human Rights and test the limits of Article 10 of Europe’s human rights convention.
The European view on the need to prosecute “hate” speech is to be explained by the continent’s history surrounding the rise of fascism, the barbarity of the Nazis and the experience of past wars and the Holocaust.
It is a shared view among a significant segment of Europeans if Hitler’s words in Mein Kampf were taken seriously and checked in time, Europe might have been saved from what followed.
The lesson taken is free speech must be limited when minority groups are indisputably being vilified and offended.
The court, in acquitting Wilders, has indicated speech deemed offensive might still be legally permissible.
This suggests that views considered offensive by some and not others should be debated in the court of public opinion, and not in the court of law.
I was against the prosecution of Geert Wilders and wrote in support of his right to speak freely, even as I disagreed with his views on Islam.
I believe the court arrived at the right verdict and saved the reputation of Holland as a free and open society.
On hearing of Wilders’ acquittal, I was reminded of John Stuart Mill’s unforgettable words.
Mill was peerless when it came to defining liberty and defending free speech, and he so remains when there are those politically correct among us who believe virtue demands they abridge the core principle that characterizes a free society. The temptation is ever present to muzzle those we disapprove, and often for reasons that on the surface seem convincing.
Mill thought differently.
He wrote, “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”
The West has not lived up to the full measure of the ideal Mill expressed.
Yet in striving to be true to this ideal, the West as a civilization has distinguished itself from all other civilizations and cultures of the past and present. In acquitting Geert Wilders, the Dutch court pointed out the true measure of an open society. This is how it functions with disagreements in its midst, contrary to a closed society where, through coercion, there prevails uniformity of speech.