by Iman Qureshi
Equating the Quran with Hitler’s manifesto Mein Kampf, calling Islam a “retarded” religion, and demanding a “head rag tax” are just a few examples of how Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, has succeeded in catching the attention of many media headlines, as well as a Dutch court.
Wilders, whose trial is set to resume this week, is facing five counts of giving religious offence and inciting hatred against Muslims—particularly those immigrant to the Netherlands which are of Moroccan origin—through his comments to the public and media, as well as his short film, Fitna, which can be viewed on YouTube:
Wilders’ arguments make the scaremongering right wing press in America look moderate. His appearance on Fox News is almost amusing in its juxtaposition of an interviewer who clearly agrees with Wilder on many issues, but doesn’t quite have the balls or endorsement to say so out loud.
Indeed, Wilders’ is acutely aware of his unconventional and outspoken discourse. He dismisses theories of multiculturalism, cultural relativism and political correctness. They have no place in a Western liberal-democratic society, he argues. And nor does Islam and its proponents.
If we ignore, for the moment, the fact that Wilders’ advocacy of free speech is in direct conflict with his calls to ban the Quran, there should be no doubt that he is entirely within his rights to express his opinion – disagreeable or “politically incorrect” as they may be.
The hegemony of political correctness and a reluctance to offend has resulted in an insidious oppression of opinion. It seems that the global epidemic of cultural and religious hypersensitivity, spawned by critics of Rushdie over 20 years ago, is now a dominating force of politics.
The danger is that, by skirting around or censoring cultural and religious issues for fear of offending, we are left with stilted debate and analysis.
Wilders’ points out that even the left wing journalists in the Netherlands appreciate his frank discussion because he “makes sure there is a debate”.
If Wilders’ critics are scared of how much power this polemic figure holds in government—his Party for Freedom (PVV) won 15% of the vote and is integral to the current coalition government—they must act through the other democratic institutions in place, and not by censoring his opinions. They must use their own power of free speech to highlight the idiocy of his arguments. Perhaps someone could point out to him that the Quran is a poetic plagiarism of the Bible and the Old Testament.
Furthermore, the implementation of his obtuse policies can be rebuffed on basic grounds of equality – the banning of Muslim schools but not equivalent Christian or Jewish ones can and will, if it comes to it, be challenged at all levels of the democratic system in place. It should not be challenged on a hypothetical level of expression.
More importantly, Wilders’ views—and their worrying popularity, as 1.4 million people voted for him in the last election—signal grave social, cultural and economic problems that are not being adequately dealt with in the Netherlands. For example, Wilders’ argues that Muslim immigrants are not assimilating because the welfare system is such that they don’t need to go out and work.
He also attributes the majority of crime in the country to Moroccan immigrants and asylum seekers. These indicate socio-economic problems, not religious ones. This emphasizes the pressing need to embark on an open and unabashed dialogue regarding these issues – not censorship.
If found guilty, Wilders’ risks up to a year in jail or a £6,600 fine. Most distressingly, however, it will not just be a defeat for Wilders’, but the demise of free speech altogether.
|Post to del.icio.us|
Filed in: Culture,Religion,The World