Introduction – Geert Wilders
Geert Wilders is a Dutch parliamentarian and founding father of Dutch right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV). His slogan of ‘Islamisation of Netherland’ is actually symbolic that shows his mental paranoia. Islam, according to Geert Wilders, is a violent religion and its followers, the Muslims, have designs to destroy the Western civilisation through force. Majority of the Muslims, he believes, nourish the intentions to subjugate or to convert the non-Muslims into Muslims. Insanity has paralysed that he has equated to Allah’s Holy Book Qur’an with Hitler’s (un)popular autobiographical book ‘Mein Kampf’. Islam, to him, is a criminality.
Wilders is an ardent advocate of the complete closure of Dutch borders for Muslims and that the Muslims with Dutch citizenship must be stripped off of this status. He has made a short film called ‘Fitna’ which mocked Islam and the Muslim world. Known to everyone that he recently announced a cartoon contest for “Draw Muhammad Cartoon Competition” with the full backing of Dutch’s counter-terrorism agency having $10,000 as first prize.
Wilders sloganeered that “you kill us for drawing cartoons, and so we will draw your cartoons to exercise our right to freedom.” He also demands of banning the Quran, mosques, and outlawing the faith-based schools of Muslims. It is noteworthy that his abhorrence is not fundamentally against religions in general, or any kind of extremist ideologies, it is because he has not proposed the same for Christians or people committed to other faiths. These demands are exclusively about Islam and Muslims. This is, however, not the first time there he has announced such a blasphemous activity. There have been similar absurd stunts by Geert Wilders earlier, this time, however, he enjoyed official support from the Dutch’s counter-terrorism agency.
Back in 2005, Danish Jyllands-Posten newspaper published the offensive and mocking cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Similarly, in 2010, Terry Jones, the pastor of the Christian Dove World Outreach Center, announced the “Burn a Quran Day”.
The fact is, and surely unfortunate it is that all such criminal activities are perpetrated in “democratic societies”, the ones that vow to ensure pluralism, survival and sanctity of all cultures, races and religions.
Free Speech VS Hate Speech
Can the right of freedom of expression allow any individual to provoke the anger and hatred against any religion or caste? It is no strange to demand, by any human law, that free speech should not be used to shield the liberty to insult, abuse, mock, dehumanise, degrade and oppress any culture, religion, race or colour. The bigotry and prejudice of Geert Wilders, Terry Jones and hundreds of other extremist individuals must not be shielded by the right to exercise freedom of expression.
As theatres, back in 1910s, were considered as a mainstream source of information and entertainment with millions of people connected to it. In 1919 case of Schenck vs United States, the US Supreme Court said that free speech did not allow any individual to shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre. The same is in the case for Geert Wilders. Social media and mainstream media are a substitute for theatre given billions of people from the globe connected to it.
As a justification, Wilders often quotes Abraham Lincoln’s words from a letter written in 1859: “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.” But one could turn Lincoln’s words against Wilders himself. By calling for a ban on the Quran, the closing of mosques and closing schools of Muslims, he actually insists on denying freedom of speech and faith to Muslims.
The Supreme Court of the United States in its endeavour to define the First Amendment which protects freedom of speech clarified that the freedom of speech and expression DOES NOT INCLUDE the right to incite actions or consequences that would harm others. Statistics, on the other hand, have proven that the increasing criticism and unjust blame on Muslims for terrorist attacks have increased the hostility towards Muslim populations, inciting abuses, harassments, and attacks on Muslim individuals in Europe, United States and other countries. The Supreme Court of United States also further said that the right to freedom of speech does not constitute the right to spread the obscene material. Hence, the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and abusing Islamic values are beyond the standards of morality and decency.
Wilders political career is based on anti-Islam rhetoric. He wishes to unite the far-right activists, politicians, and public to support him in his cause. The cartoon competition was merely a motive to gain the national and international attention. He wants to exploit all the anti-Muslims labels and slogans. Wilders wishes to avail this labeling of Muslims as an opportunity to gain support from like-minded people and the fellow politicians.
The same was also approved by the Canadian Supreme Court, which stated in 1990 that “hate propaganda can operate to convince listeners… that members of certain racial or religious groups are inferior… which can increase acts of discrimination, including the denial of equal opportunity in the provision of goods, services and facilities, and even incidents of violence.” Hence, this proves that the actions such as by Geert Wilders are instigating severe hatred and crimes against the Muslim community. Again, Article 10 of European Convention on Human Rights states that (1) Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law and (2) Any advocacy of national, the racial-religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.
The countries around the world that have legislation and have implemented the blasphemy law, prohibiting insult towards holy personages of all religious groups, sacred artefacts, customs or beliefs include:
Afghanistan, Algeria, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritania, Myanmar, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Palestine, Pakistan, Phillipines, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Yemen.
Among all these countries, Netherlands (Holland) is the only country that later abolished the law on blasphemy. This brings concern that the government of Netherlands is doing nothing in the protection of religious communities. The irony is that despite the blasphemy laws present and being implemented in all these countries, they still fail miserably in the prosecution of such criminals.
However, the situation is not the same with other laws. For example, in the United Kingdom, a 165-year-old law calls for life imprisonment for the abolition of the monarchy, named as Treason Felony Act 1848. In the case of Netherland, the Monarchy appears hard to kick as compared to the religious communities. Insulting the King Willem-Alexander is a punishable crime for up to five years in prison. In 2016, a social media activist was sentenced to 30 days in jail for the crime of insulting monarchy on Facebook. But the biasness of Dutch law enforcement agencies and judicial system is evident that no voice is heard, and no plausible measures are taken in case of attacks on the Muslim community and their religious beliefs.
Over 17 countries have implemented the laws against Holocaust denial with sentences comprising of imprisonment and heavy fines. Europe undermines the right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression in case of Holocaust. Meanwhile, in the case of hostile attacks on Muslims, the dual policy of Europe is no secret. The 17 countries, including the Netherlands, are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia Slovakia, and Switzerland. So, the question arises that when there are a number of laws restricting the freedom of speech, why double standards in the case of holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him)? It clearly is hatred against Islam. The ECHR ruled against an Austrian woman who claimed calling the Prophet Muhammad a pedophile (Naudobillah) was protected by free speech. The ECHR ruled that defaming the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was not a free expression.
In a nutshell, it is not something to be ignored that the hatred, violence, hate-speech, and incitement to discrimination has severe consequences and disproportionate effects on minorities. Cultures or religions must not be rendered into victims of hostility. The clarification of ‘free speech’ laws must be ensured. Given the dramatic expansion of digital age and modes of communication, the freedom of speech laws needs to be revised so that they ensure personal responsibility and guarantee co-existence and survival of other cultures, races, and religions.