Free speech loses in Holland

This week, a court in the Netherlands found Geert Wilders, leader of Holland’s Party for Freedom, guilty of inciting discrimination and insulting a group after a trial over statements he made about Moroccans. At a rally, Wilders asked his audience: “Do you want more or less Moroccans in this city and in the Netherlands?” The audience repeatedly chanted “less.”

The Netherlands has thus criminalized an instance of free speech regarding a political issue. People are entitled to want less of a particular group of immigrants in their city and country, and in a free society are entitled to say so. The issue is at the heart of immigration policy debate.

Donald Trump’s comments about immigration/deportation and about Mexicans seem more “discriminatory” and “insulting” than Wilders’ question about Moroccans. Yet as I recall, only a few left-wing extremists, most of them on college campuses, suggested that Trump’s comments were criminal. The vast majority of Americans, whatever their opinion about what Trump said, would bristle at the notion that he committed a crime. For now, at least.

Unfortunately, the Dutch view of free speech seems to prevail over the American view in Europe. Giulio Meotti, an Italian journalist writing for the Gatestone Institute, cites examples of free speech leading to criminal proceedings in Austria, France, and Italy. He concludes:

The death sentence against Salman Rushdie in 1989 by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini looked unreal. The West did not take it seriously. Since then, however, this fatwa has been assimilated to such an extent that today’s threats to free speech come from ourselves. It is now the West that puts on trial writers and journalists.

Although this phenomenon has deeper causes, it is a consequence of Europe taking in so many Muslim immigrants. It’s a reason, though hardly the only one, why Dutch citizens might reasonably prefer having fewer Moroccans in their country.

Wilders leads one of Holland’s major parties. His party is doing well in the polls. Will his party do better as a result of Wilders’ criminal conviction (he will serve no jail time)? Andrew Stuttaford cites polling data that suggests it very well might.

We often hear that the liberal elites in the U.S. and Europe have lost touch with the views of ordinary citizens. They will become even more out of touch if they use the criminal law to deter people from expressing those views publicly. And even less popular.