This week Geert Wilders, the leader of one of the major parties in the Netherlands, was found guilty of inciting hatred by a panel of judges. This was his crime: He asked a question at a cafe gathering: “Do you want more or fewer Moroccans in this country?” and when his supporters answered “Fewer!” he said, “We’ll take care of that.”
The judges got it wrong.
First of all, “inciting hatred” is a vexed term. Here is what the Dutch law prohibits:
1) expressing yourself “insultingly” with regard to a group of people because of their race, religion, philosophy, sexual orientation, or disabilities.
2) inciting hatred, discrimination, or violence against a person based on race, religion, philosophy, sex, sexual orientation or disabilities.
So you CAN suggest that immigrants be kept out of your country, as long as you don’t insult them or incite hatred or discrimination or violence against a racial or religious group. That means if you say, “someone needs to round up all the migrants and deport them”—that’s not targeting a racial or religious group even if it happens that all the migrants in your country are of just one religion. You should be able to express your opinion on immigration freely as long as you don’t bring race or religion into it. “Moroccan” is not a race or a religion, so the law doesn’t apply.
But let’s assume the lawmakers meant “ethnic group” in what is verboten, and let’s assume “Moroccan” is an ethnic group. Would this be a good law or not? Many in Europe and North America are complaining that everything has gotten too PC to the point where no one can tell it like it is any more—that’s why they like Trump and his ilk-lings.
Here is what we want: we want people to be able to talk about things that are bothering them in a respectful way. We want suggestions for a better world—a marketplace of ideas to use that tired old phrase—and we want to be able to choose from among those ideas.
Here is what we don’t want: we don’t want people to get so worked up that they start rampaging through the streets, burning, looting, beating people up and killing them. We would like there to be a free exchange of ideas precisely because we hope the best ideas will come to the fore based on reasonable people making reasonable decisions. We also hope that the results of those ideas will be obvious to all reasonable people.
We want these things because the alternative is unrest that leads to violence that leads to revolution as history has shown over and over again. Changing the complexion of a country too quickly can lead to exactly this kind of unrest. When people see rapid change, they get nervous, there is often a backlash, and there is often violence. Europe is in the grip of its biggest series of changes since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Wilders should be allowed to express his views on how to manage these changes. He also should be allowed to call the Islamic religion “fascist” as he did in 2011. It’s offensive, it’s insulting, but is not necessarily “ridicule.” He should be allowed the freedom to state his case. If there are objectionable parts of any religion, they should be made known and then, in the best of all possible worlds, incremental change can occur.
But Wilders should not be allowed to resort to mockery–no politician should. In the past, Wilders has referred to Muslims as “towel-heads” and “scum”—this should not only be condemned, it is and should be illegal under free speech restrictions.
Inciting hatred is a bad term. So is the use of “insulting.” You could be condemned under this law for calling the members of ISIS barbarians for using the civilian population as shields. Any member of any group that is subject to criticism will be offended and claim the haters are after them. The legal line we draw should be ridicule.