Geert Wilders Case Reveals Deeper Problems in the West

Four weeks ago, the trial of Geert Wilders started in Amsterdam. Wilders is a right-wing politician from the Netherlands accused of hate speech and discrimination against Muslims. Friday, October 22, his lawyer successfully challenged the Court's impartiality after the media reported that one of the judges allegedly attempted to influence a witness summoned by Mr. Wilders. Following a complaint filed by Mr. Wilders' lawyer, another panel of judges ordered a retrial of the whole case.

Before the case went to court in the first place, the prosecutor decided that the statements in question were not punishable by law and therefore refused to initiate prosecution. Some of Mr. Wilders' opponents successfully challenged this decision in court through a special procedure in Dutch penal law, and subsequently, the court ordered the public prosecutor to start a case against Mr. Wilders.

But since a flawed indictment was used as an attempt to incriminate Mr. Wilders' statements, the whole process backfired on those who hoped for a conviction of the controversial politician. The court that ordered the prosecution of Mr. Wilders not only blatantly violated his right to freedom of speech, but it simultaneously attempted to convict nearly one and a half million Dutch voters sharing the opinion of Mr. Wilders. Wilders' constituency keeps rising, partly due to outrage caused by the trial, which was considered by many as an attack on free speech.

The trial of Mr. Wilders teaches us how fragile are the freedoms we enjoy. We in the West often consider our basic democratic rights as obvious, self-explanatory, and everlasting -- but such a contention is the greatest mistake any civilization can make. Civilizations -- from Rome to the Ottoman Empire -- have collapsed in the past because their people considered their societies the end of history [i]. But the truth is that history never ends. The truth is that civilizations continuously have to reiterate, redefine, and reestablish their values [ii]. The Wilders' trial exemplifies a certain political tendency in Europe, in which it is considered politically incorrect to criticize Islam. This tendency should be reversed, as it can create the dangerous precedence of equating religious criticism with discrimination, and social dissent with intolerance.

For decades, persons questioning issues such as immigration and increasing Islamic influence were labeled as "extreme right" and "racist" by political elites. These elites believed the problem would solve itself by their looking in the other direction. While the Netherlands is generally considered a liberal and tolerant country, it is facing the same problems many other countries in the West do in a world of globalization, economic interdependence, mass immigration, and cultural homogenization. These are issues that will not solve themselves and for which a balanced response has to be found. This response must combine the preservation of national culture and identity with the influence of external ones

The starting point in finding those answers is understanding the elements that are able to quickly poison this coexistence. Islam has a totalitarian range of ideas, since it elevates the word of Allah above the authority of the state. Therefore, Mr. Wilders was right in assuming that Islam is a political ideology rather than a religion, which poses a threat to democratic societies. Islamic civilization is unfamiliar with many of the freedoms we enjoy in the West, which explains why there is such a strong cultural clash between the two civilizations. In 1996, the late political scientist Samuel Huntington, in his work The Clash of Civilizations, claimed that in the near future, Western and Islamic civilizations would be diametrically opposed to each other. Huntington predicted the bloody conflicts of the early 21st century [iii].

Bearing in mind the attacks of 9/11, the bombings in Madrid and London, the Danish cartoons, the murder of Theo van Gogh, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Huntington's analysis has proven terrifyingly correct.

In a cultural and ideological clash with a civilization that attempts to alter and influence our Western freedoms, we need people like Mr. Wilders to remind us of what we enjoy. Instead of putting him on trial for statements that are largely based on facts, it might be a better idea to address the problems he emphasizes and cherish our right to speak and think as we see fit. In order to do so, Western countries should be less afraid in cultivating their own culture and values, tackling problems of integration, and outlining the problems they face in an open way.

The freedoms we enjoy in our Western civilization are not going to defend themselves. We will have to do that. We are the ones who have to reiterate, reestablish, revalue, and, if necessary, redefine the freedoms that are the very base of our civilization. Eventually these freedoms are only as strong as those who are willing to defend them.

Ivar Scheers is a recent graduate in international public law from the Netherlands.


[i] Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (London, Simon & Schuster, 1996) 301

[ii] Huntington 303

[iii] Huntington 238, 245, 254-265

Four weeks ago, the trial of Geert Wilders started in Amsterdam. Wilders is a right-wing politician from the Netherlands accused of hate speech and discrimination against Muslims. Friday, October 22, his lawyer successfully challenged the Court's impartiality after the media reported that one of the judges allegedly attempted to influence a witness summoned by Mr. Wilders. Following a complaint filed by Mr. Wilders' lawyer, another panel of judges ordered a retrial of the whole case.

Before the case went to court in the first place, the prosecutor decided that the statements in question were not punishable by law and therefore refused to initiate prosecution. Some of Mr. Wilders' opponents successfully challenged this decision in court through a special procedure in Dutch penal law, and subsequently, the court ordered the public prosecutor to start a case against Mr. Wilders.

But since a flawed indictment was used as an attempt to incriminate Mr. Wilders' statements, the whole process backfired on those who hoped for a conviction of the controversial politician. The court that ordered the prosecution of Mr. Wilders not only blatantly violated his right to freedom of speech, but it simultaneously attempted to convict nearly one and a half million Dutch voters sharing the opinion of Mr. Wilders. Wilders' constituency keeps rising, partly due to outrage caused by the trial, which was considered by many as an attack on free speech.

The trial of Mr. Wilders teaches us how fragile are the freedoms we enjoy. We in the West often consider our basic democratic rights as obvious, self-explanatory, and everlasting -- but such a contention is the greatest mistake any civilization can make. Civilizations -- from Rome to the Ottoman Empire -- have collapsed in the past because their people considered their societies the end of history [i]. But the truth is that history never ends. The truth is that civilizations continuously have to reiterate, redefine, and reestablish their values [ii]. The Wilders' trial exemplifies a certain political tendency in Europe, in which it is considered politically incorrect to criticize Islam. This tendency should be reversed, as it can create the dangerous precedence of equating religious criticism with discrimination, and social dissent with intolerance.

For decades, persons questioning issues such as immigration and increasing Islamic influence were labeled as "extreme right" and "racist" by political elites. These elites believed the problem would solve itself by their looking in the other direction. While the Netherlands is generally considered a liberal and tolerant country, it is facing the same problems many other countries in the West do in a world of globalization, economic interdependence, mass immigration, and cultural homogenization. These are issues that will not solve themselves and for which a balanced response has to be found. This response must combine the preservation of national culture and identity with the influence of external ones

The starting point in finding those answers is understanding the elements that are able to quickly poison this coexistence. Islam has a totalitarian range of ideas, since it elevates the word of Allah above the authority of the state. Therefore, Mr. Wilders was right in assuming that Islam is a political ideology rather than a religion, which poses a threat to democratic societies. Islamic civilization is unfamiliar with many of the freedoms we enjoy in the West, which explains why there is such a strong cultural clash between the two civilizations. In 1996, the late political scientist Samuel Huntington, in his work The Clash of Civilizations, claimed that in the near future, Western and Islamic civilizations would be diametrically opposed to each other. Huntington predicted the bloody conflicts of the early 21st century [iii].

Bearing in mind the attacks of 9/11, the bombings in Madrid and London, the Danish cartoons, the murder of Theo van Gogh, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Huntington's analysis has proven terrifyingly correct.

In a cultural and ideological clash with a civilization that attempts to alter and influence our Western freedoms, we need people like Mr. Wilders to remind us of what we enjoy. Instead of putting him on trial for statements that are largely based on facts, it might be a better idea to address the problems he emphasizes and cherish our right to speak and think as we see fit. In order to do so, Western countries should be less afraid in cultivating their own culture and values, tackling problems of integration, and outlining the problems they face in an open way.

The freedoms we enjoy in our Western civilization are not going to defend themselves. We will have to do that. We are the ones who have to reiterate, reestablish, revalue, and, if necessary, redefine the freedoms that are the very base of our civilization. Eventually these freedoms are only as strong as those who are willing to defend them.

Ivar Scheers is a recent graduate in international public law from the Netherlands.


[i] Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (London, Simon & Schuster, 1996) 301

[ii] Huntington 303

[iii] Huntington 238, 245, 254-265

RECENT VIDEOS