Social Question

Thammuz's avatar

What's your position on the Wilders Trial and why?

Asked by Thammuz (9262points) October 4th, 2010

http://www.bbc.co.uk/go/rss/int/news/-/news/world-europe-11464025

Dutch MP Geert Wilders is on trial for his protracted and constant bashing of Islam.

While one may or may not agree with his position, this is, to me, a staggering demonstration of how european countries are starting to cave in to the pressure of the islamic minorities. Freedom of speech is a right, and it is, quite frankly, hilarious that a politician, someone that in an ideal world would be the voice of at least part of the voting people, is going to be fined for “abusing” his right to free speech while loads of extremist groups abuse it daily and get away with it. Consistency would be nice, for once.

Personally, i find this preposterous and dangerous to an extent that the people accusing Wilders probably don’t even realize.

It’s a dangerous case of making favourites, making favuorites of a minority that has far too often expressed its contempt for the state that is favouring it.

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48 Answers

poisonedantidote's avatar

Im more or less with you on this, the man is without doubt some kind of bigot, his ideas are even more extreme than mine, and i hate islam (the belief system not the people) freedom of speech is paramount.

I dont quite agree with you that they are giving preferable treatment to islam, they have done similar things for all kinds of cultures and religions over the years, such as letting those who practice sikhism carry blades and excusing them from the mandatory use of crash helmets. in the UK they have islamic courts, but they also have jewish ones. more than anything europe is trying to favor the whole multi cultural deal.

the problem is, freedom of speech is only an idea, in reality its gets messed about with on a daily basis by almost every country. people are more than happy to crush someones freedom of speech if it suits them. you can only have real freedom of speech when everyone is willing to stand up for the freedom of speech of everyone, even those they disagree with.

not too long ago, in the USA (the so called free country) president obama fired a general because he spoke his mind, and said a few negative things about obama. so there are violations of freedom of speech all the time. while geert should be allowed to say what he likes, i bet you will find they manage to silence him.

whitenoise's avatar

minor edits for wording
Your position is wrong, in my opinion.

In The Netherlands we have freedom of speech and are proud of it. Freedom of speech, however is different from not having to accept responsibility over what one says.

Wilders has said things about Islam and people of Islam that are to a large extent not nice and some say also aimed at incitning hatred. In The Netherlands, freedom of speech is accompanied by a punishability of ‘inciting hatred or insulting (groups of) people.’

The place in our society, where punishability is being evaluated, in line with our laws, is in our courts of law. The mere fact that a court is now going through that process is not something shameful. The quality of the process may turn out to be disappointing and one may wonder whether this trail will do any good, but i am happy to live in a country were laws are being upheld and tested by an appropriate court.

BTW… This trail has started at a wrong foot, by the court’s president making clear that he was not free of prejudice. There will likely be new judges.

meiosis's avatar

Inciting Racial Hatred, in the UK at least, has been on the statute book for decades. It has nothing to do with appeasing muslims, and everything to do with trying to let people live their lives in peace, free from the fear of violence directed against them – a fear which, sadly, was all too often based on reality. Freedom of speech does not give the speaker the freedom to incite hatred; it is not an absolute right.

rts486's avatar

Its funny how only some people are entitled to free speech. In NY a person can put crucifix in a jar of urine, call it art and the federal government has to pay him $100k for it. Why isn’t this considered hatred? Put a koran in a jar of urine and then its racial hatred. My ex-Dutch girl friend told me about how in Holland, the muslims can burn or trash Christian symbols and Bibles, but if you try to burn a koran, they arrest you.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I agree with the trial.

Mozart's avatar

“I am on trial, but on trial with me is the freedom of expression of many Dutch citizens. ”
I think that quote sums it up best.

Thammuz's avatar

@whitenoise @meiosis I agree with what you’re saying, to a point. It is absolutely correct that one should be responsible for his actions, but only if this applies to everyone. I’ve seen several pictures of chaotic and violent muslim demonstrations on Dutch and British soil, with hateful and violent slogans supporting violence and criminal acts, and heard many speeches by muslim pundits who were to free speech what Wilders’ position is to islam.

What i didn’t see is those people rounded up en masse and fined for their abuse of free speech, despite them having committed the very same crime Wilders committed. That’s what i mean when i say this is making faviourites.

And i’m not saying ALL muslims should be fined, before you get on my case, i mean that those who participate in those protests (or stage them) are just as guilty as Wilders, if not moreso considering they’re abusing a right that they probably wouldn’t have in the country they were born in.

Also i don’t really think “Racial” hatred is the case here.

Nullo's avatar

I think that there’s altogether too much Islam-coddling. I am reminded of the kids who throw tantrums in the supermarket because they want something, whose parents bend over backwards to get it for them so that they’ll be quiet. Though perhaps a more appropriate analogy would be that of the schoolyard bully.

Wilders isn’t on trial for having made an offensive video – or else Youtube might have long since been shut down, or the Sundance people been shot – but because he angered such Muslims as would be likely to kill people.

“But sir, nobody worries about upsetting a droid.”
“Droids don’t pull peoples’ arms out of their sockets when they lose. Wookies have been known to do that.”

A good litmus test: would legal action be justified in similar situations? Imagine if someone made a similarly accusatory hit piece about the Catholics, for instance.

Jaxk's avatar

The problem is, when you limit free speech it becomes very subjective. Who is judging, about whom, and what their reaction might be become the deciding factors rather than the law’.

@Nullo
“I suggest a new strategy, let the Wookie win’.

Nullo's avatar

@Jaxk Sadly, it seems that ‘let the Wookie win’ is indeed the strategy that many Europeans – many people in general – want to implement in this case.

Thammuz's avatar

@Jaxk Yeah, but they shouldn’t be. Laws are made on principle, not on convenience. If we are all equal then all our beliefs are equally up for scrutiny, regardless of the percentage of psychos who share them.

meiosis's avatar

@Thammuz “rounded up en masse and fined for their abuse of free speech, despite them having committed the very same crime Wilders committed.”

Just because you didn’t see it doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4689556.stm

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2006/nov/10/race.muhammadcartoons

Thammuz's avatar

@meiosis Good, at least there’s a little more consistency than i thought. Still not enough, but it’s a start.

Jaxk's avatar

@meiosis

I suspect when they learned Abu Hamza al-Masri was targeting women in Bikini’s, that was going too far.

iamthemob's avatar

not too long ago, in the USA (the so called free country) president obama fired a general because he spoke his mind, and said a few negative things about obama. so there are violations of freedom of speech all the time. while geert should be allowed to say what he likes, i bet you will find they manage to silence him.

What this statement fails to address is that the action taken against the general in question was an employment action rather than a legal one. Obama is the commander-in-chief of the army, and in essence, were a top employee in any company to criticize the CEO, president, etc. of that company no one would bat an eyelash if that employee were terminated. This is a very, very different issue with attempting to limit the speech of a political figure through statutory law.

Its funny how only some people are entitled to free speech. In NY a person can put crucifix in a jar of urine, call it art and the federal government has to pay him $100k for it. Why isn’t this considered hatred? Put a koran in a jar of urine and then its racial hatred. My ex-Dutch girl friend told me about how in Holland, the muslims can burn or trash Christian symbols and Bibles, but if you try to burn a koran, they arrest you.

The piece you’re talking about is actually hauntingly beautiful, and is a photograph that doesn’t make apparent the fluid at first glance. It’s also an expressive piece that is as easily interpreted as speaking to how Christ’s message has, essentially, been “pissed on” by some of the people claiming to be Christians. Art by necessity is subjective – a statement directing a crowd to participate in some violent or hateful act is not.

I think the case is the reason why I appreciate the freedom of speech protected under the U.S. Constitution as opposed to many European countries. So far, we’ve declared “hate speech” protected, unless it is intended to incite. This is a very high bar, unlike what apparently is the case in The Netherlands. Such a bar is necessary because otherwise we have situations like this one, where people feel that one group is being more protected by the law because they are historically deprivileged.

Nullo's avatar

@iamthemob That’s very obviously a case of an artist expressing his disrespect. Your ‘easy interpretation’ is especially unlikely, given that most non-Christians don’t really care about how Christ is represented to them.

iamthemob's avatar

@Nullo

Even if that’s the case, who cares? Artists are supposed to do just that – and they get to deal with any backlash that comes with it.

And the interpretation (which isn’t really mine, but one I agree with – see the link) doesn’t depend on non-Christian opinions on how Christ is represented to them, but rather on any viewers potential opinion on the actual message of Christ and the way that message has been presented by many people claiming to be followers of Christ. THEN it becomes a very clear potential interpretation. Also, we must remember that the artist said that it was his urine – it very well could have been something else if the artist himself had a personal reverence.

meiosis's avatar

@Nullo “So far, we’ve declared “hate speech” protected, unless it is intended to incite. This is a very high bar, unlike what apparently is the case in The Netherlands.”

Err, except he is being tried for inciting hatred against muslims. Not for upsetting them, not for offending them, not for hate speech per se.

iamthemob's avatar

@meiosis

I believe that was directed at me, so I’ll respond. ;-)

To clarify, I was referencing the U.S. standards for incitement. This requires that there essentially be an immediate threat and that the danger be perceivable, etc. Basically, you need to be speaking directly to the crowd, members with sticks in hand, and the victim needs to be in range. You can incite hatred all you want, just not violence. This is in fact why the U.S. submitted certain reservations when it signed the Genocide treaty that required the states criminalize incitements to genocide, which included the kind of hate speech this seems to reference, to state that such incitements could not fall below the standards set forth by the U.S. Constitution.

meiosis's avatar

@iamthemob Oops, so it was.

I think here in Europe, with our lamentable record down the centuries of mob violence against minorities, having incitement to hatred on the statute is a regrettable but necessary safeguard. We have been all too ready to listen to tuppence-ha’penny demagogues in the past, protecting minorities from their rabble-rousing is, on balance, a good thing. It’s not as though prosecutions such as Wilders’ are common.

iamthemob's avatar

@meiosis

I agree with you in terms of the sentiment…but I think reality makes it impossible to enact. I am all for personal accountability – but I think that in the cases of speech issues the accountability always should first be addressed as to the person who has heard the speech. We hear a lot of things that we don’t act on…and when we do, it’s our choice.

But hate is such an amorphous thing, and such a natural thing, that it’s almost impossible to regulate in a legal structure. It therefore will more often be used as a tool against unpopular speech in a political manner. The dangers it brings in a legal context, and the possibility of reducing the variety of opinions in the market of ideas, far outweigh any potential efficacy.

Thammuz's avatar

@meiosis Ok, i see your point but i have one final point to make on this thing. What you’re basically saying is that his use of free speech, being potentially dangerous, is rightfully prosecuted by law.

Which is reasonable, but poses a bigger problem: it sets a precedent.

Let’s assume Wilders actually believes what he says: that muslims are dangerous, uncivilized and have no place in modern europe, expecially in the netherlands. If that’s the case, then the simple vicing of his opinion is hate speech, because wether you actually say “kick them out, by force if necessary” or say that you think they should be kicked out and make no actual suggetion of violence, you’re still displaying your hateful position, which someone else might pick up on and act on regardless of you suggesting they did so. Hate in itself implies that, at the very least, you don’t care what happens to the people of that particular cathegory, and you yourself said that “it shouldn’t be illegal to hold hateful views”.

And it rings hypocritical to me saying “one can hold that view, but can’t say he does” or “one can display his views but not encourage people to act upon them” when voicing an opinion implies that you support it.

Wilders should be held responsible for his views, and the fact that his views are known is more than enough to make him responsible for them. He already suffers backlash from the moderate voters and i assume his credibility was already in the shitter. What is wrong is that the state is allowed to fine him. That is not consequence, that is state sanctioned punishment for something he was entitled to do. And if one allows that then where will it end?

And don’t think i’m talking out of my ass, here you get fined if you publicly insult any member of the government or the church, because we didn’t stand up against it the first time around. Take it from a citizen of a semi-free nation.

iamthemob's avatar

@Thammuz

Where is that?

whitenoise's avatar

@Thammuz There is very good reason to not allow people to incite hatred against other (groups) of people. The common population isn’t a very smart, docile, well thinking thing.

If one tells attractive lies and uses them as a seduction to violence, for instance, the masses will often hppily follow along. We have seen much misery come of that, in history and in recent times. (Just think of Ruanda, for instance.) Politicians have a very special kind of responsibilty, in that they aim theie words to have effect. If those words are not true and aimed at fueling hatred and cause misery, the politician should be held responsible.

i am not saying that is necesarilly the case for Geert Wilders, but having a court look at it, is rather reasssuring, I feel.

BTW… I feel we should also prosecute muslims that encite hatred, and we do… we even evict them from our country.

iamthemob's avatar

@whitenoise

I think that’s more an argument to educate your population, rather than regulate speech.

The problem is that, although a noble concept, because what qualifies as hate is so subjective it’s an easy political tool for parties in power to use to silence their enemies.

Unfortunately, we can’t be allowed to punish those who have particularly convincing rhetoric, no matter how hateful, simply because they are particularly convincing.

Thammuz's avatar

@iamthemob Italy. We’re “free” as far as politics go, the press, however, is “partly free”.

@whitenoise So we should forbid any kind of convincing public display because the people aren’t smart enough to decide for themselves? Why not deprive them of the right to vote, while we’re at it?

I’d be all for it, i’ve always said that democracy is bullshit and that people who can’t tell their hat from their bedpan should never be allowed to decide for a nation, but i really don’t think that’s what you wanted to suggest, is it?

iamthemob's avatar

@Thammuz

The way that the press seems to exploit its freedom in the U.S., I’m beginning to wonder if freedom of speech is a good idea at all. ;-)

Thammuz's avatar

@iamthemob Both our situations call for a verse from Revolution Calling: “Who do you trust when everyone’s a crook?”

whitenoise's avatar

Speech is and should remain unregulated. There is a guaranteed right to freely express oneself. This is the case, will be the case and should remain the case. It is a principal right in the Dutch constitution to not need anyone’s permission to speak ones mind.

If one willingly makes statements, however, that are likely to cause great damage to innocent others, one should be willing to bear the consequences. That is, if I, for instance, were to make a statement that I know will result in a mob of people hurting other people’s property or livelyhood, then I should take that into consideration when I make the statement, especially when my statements are designed to do so.

Let me illustrate: if I tell people that blacks are lazy and should be kicked out of the local school, for polluting ‘our youth’ with their ‘vile behavior’, I will be responsible for the consequences, since I could know it would lead to innocent people being unjustly hurt.

The day our courts will not pick up a case like that, because the accused is a politician, would be a sorry day, in my book,

whitenoise's avatar

@iamthemob
re “The problem is that, although a noble concept, because what qualifies as hate is so subjective it’s an easy political tool for parties in power to use to silence their enemies.”

This is not the case at hand, Geert Widers is part of ‘the parties in power’ and always has been. He is a career politician that preceeds a political party that is about to participate in the next government of our country. Besides that, we do have a very strict seperation between politics and courts, as it should be in a modern democracy. it is in fact Geert Wilders who has a track record of involving himself, as a politician, in the verdicts of our independent courts. Your worries are sincere and important, but of no relevance for this particular case.

whitenoise's avatar

@Thammuz No, I didn’t suggest forbidding any kind of convincing public display, one should however punish deliberately misleading the public, especially in a way that hurts others.

Please keep in mind, by the way, that Wilders may be acquitted.

meiosis's avatar

@Thammuz There’s a difference between holding, and expressing, hateful views and iciting racial hatred. Granted it’s a fine line at the junction between the two, but that is why we have courts and trials.

iamthemob's avatar

@whitenoise

Regardless of whether there is a separation between branches of government, simply because a model is set up to function a certain way doesn’t mean that it does – this is PARTICULARLY the case in governments.

The problem is, no matter if he is acquitted, the state has demonstrated its willingness to prosecute such cases. That is almost as dangerous.

I put to you an alternative scenario: I tell people that blacks are lazy and should be kicked out of the local school, for polluting ‘our youth’ with their ‘vile behavior’, Someone takes that to heart and attacks a black student in a group of others. I am held responsible, and the attackers attempt to put forward a defense that it is NOT their fault because I was so convincing with my rhetoric.

Incitement needs to be kept clear, and close in time to the actual harm. Otherwise, there are way to many opportunities to game the system.

Nullo's avatar

I think that the whole ‘inciting hatred’ thing is too subjective to be of much use in preserving justice. A person of sound mind is responsible for his own actions, but we have very, very little control over the actions of others. I don’t see why I should be punished because somebody has poor impulse control.
Sure, egging somebody on isn’t right, but most ‘hate speech’ isn’t for egging. Rather, it’s mostly to review and reaffirm a group’s unpopular views to itself.

@iamthemob You can game the system the other way, too. Got someone you don’t like? Accuse them of hate speech, and they have a world of woe on their hands.

iamthemob's avatar

@Nullo

Good point. And another reason why hate speech is a necessary, if unfortunate, product of free speech.

I forget who formulated the concept of the “marketplace of ideas,” but we have to trust that the more hateful the speech, the better it is to make it public. Ridiculous arguments can only be responded to if they are expressed, and expressed loudly.

whitenoise's avatar

@iamthemob re “I am held responsible, and the attackers attempt to put forward a defense that it is NOT their fault because I was so convincing with my rhetoric.”

… I would not suggest that people should be able to redirect their own responsibility that way. I would just say that it remains their fault and you’d be responsible for it as well.

iamthemob's avatar

@whitenoise

And of course, I didn’t mean to suggest that you think all fault would shift. However, when someone commits a violent act, they should be held liable. If someone tells them to do it, in my opinion, for them to be responsible they really should be whispering in the actor’s ear while the crime is being committed.

Thammuz's avatar

@meiosis There’s a difference between holding, and expressing, hateful views and iciting racial hatred.

Well, not really. If i express my opinion i want to make people agree with me. If i hate muslims and express my opinion that muslims should be hated i am doing both. I’m trying to make people think the way i do and by that i am inciting hatred.

@whitenoise one should however punish deliberately misleading the public

Absolutely, but that’s another case altogether. If we’re talking about misrepresenting facts, then we agree that should be punished. But there’s an objective way of distinguishing when one is doing that, and that’s the point. Opinions are by definition subjective, if Wilder’s opinion is that Muslims are the root of all evil most people would say he’s a raving lunatic, but there’s no mandatory need for objective data when givingyour opinion, if the same phrase was given as fact then we’d absolutely agree that, as soon as it was proven wrong, he should be held responsible.

That is, if I, for instance, were to make a statement that I know will result in a mob of people hurting other people’s property or livelyhood, then I should take that into consideration when I make the statement, especially when my statements are designed to do so.

Again, dangerous logic. If i say that our prime minister Silvio Berlusconi should be peeled, salted, driven through the streets by mental patients with spiked planks and then used as a toilet and jizz-catcher by baboons in heat, at best, and then someone actually does, it why should i be responsible? I didn’t act. I only voiced my opinion, that someone might have shared, i, however, respected the law, while the other guy did not. Is wishing ill illegal now?

whitenoise's avatar

@Thammuz re “Again, dangerous logic. If I say [...] and then someone actually does, it why should i be responsible?”

Of course not… you should not expect anyone to act merely on your statements. If you, however, were in a position that you could reasonably expect someone to do an evil act as a consequence of your statements, then things are different. An imam for instance that tells people that gays should be thrown from high buildings, head first, should be held responsible. (And I am happy that these people have been prosecuted for that kind of insanity as well.)

When one claims a position of authority, with that comes responsibility. Wilders is a politician who knows he leads the opinion of big parts of the people. His words are designed to create and maintain that position. With that comes responsibility.

iamthemob's avatar

@whitenoise

I agree that it’s a responsibility – but a popular and inflammatory radio host can have the same, if not greater, effect, without the built in responsibility of a representative status.

Politicians, I feel, need to feel free to express any and all ideas in particular. Otherwise, we cripple democratic debate at its very source.

And if this responsibility is abused, there is a very simple mechanism to use to hold them liable – your vote.

whitenoise's avatar

@iamthemob
You’re right… the same goes for radio hosts, for instance.

I just don’t trust politicians’ intentions too much, to say that merely the fact that they are politicians should allow them to say anything they want, any which way they want it.

If a politician has a sincere interest and worry, than there is always a way without inflammatory lies. And again… Mr. Wilders may well be acquitted!

But… I understand where your coming from and please allow me to agree that any public prosecutor should be utterly reluctant to pursue legal actions against a politician for expressing his ideas.

In this case, the prosecutor was reluctant and did not want to pursue. (S)he was forced to prosecute, after a court had ruled on a complaint against the prosecutor for initially refusing to take the case. So far, the prosecutor has not made its demand for this case public. They may still even ask for an acquittal as well. (Though I doubt that, since there seems indeed enough ground for a conviction.)

iamthemob's avatar

@whitenoise

My problem is that, regardless, this will cause them to over edit. If you’re concerned about whether something you said could be deemed inflammatory, you’re going to err on the side of caution. The prosecution is just as potentially damning as a “conviction.”

I don’t assume you think this is a tool that should be used with anything but the greatest of care. However, when we allow our government to regulate something like speech, which is the expression of ideas, no matter how distasteful, there’s no real way to wield it carefully enough. People are fallible, and it’s better to allow as much speech as possible – the truly dangerous situations will be CLEAR incitement. Incitement to an emotion which may lead to an action is too far removed.

Your example of this particular case shows how dangerously imperfect it is.

I agree with your stance on an ideological basis, but think that people are too imperfect to handle this well.

Nullo's avatar

Now, let’s imagine that a ‘hateful’ person isn’t misrepresenting the facts, at least not deliberately. You’d be saying that he’s legally wrong (and will face penal consequences) for having those opinions. Thought censorship, right there.
The State doesn’t get a monopoly on reality.

Thammuz's avatar

@whitenoise The whole problem with this reasoning is that people WANT to know the opinion of those they hold in high esteem! It is people who decide that Wilders is an influential man, as would be people to decide that the hypotetical radio host is, and that means that they deem his opinion to be worth knowing, at the very least.

If you impose that those in authority can’t speak against such and such you’re only raising the pressure in a metaphorical propane tank, making their ideas all the more dangerous, because those who share them don’t feel represented, get frustrated and eventually might decide to act regardless of external suggestions. Not to mention the flat out conceptual and semantic wrongness of a legislation where anyone is forced to lie, or at least omit, by law, probably while still punishing perjury.

Plus, it’s good for nutters to be represented in the political scene. As long as they are, they’ll have one last reason not to go completely bananas, if they’ve been thaught to have faith in the democratic process.

On a side note: this whole debate strikes me as incredibly resonant with Transmetropolitan, a comic i read and i’m really fond of. To the degree that it might even be the best comic i ever read. You should read it, it’s really entertaining but more importantly it touches deeply on the issues of free speech, freedom of the press and trusting politicians. It might give you a better perspective on where i’m coming from with this whole point.

whitenoise's avatar

@Thammuz
Wilders can speak freely. He may just be held responsible. To be honest… I feel he purposefully sought out the position he is in.

@Nullo
Again… there is no law, regulation or anything against thought, nor against ideas, just against some ways of portraying them.

In any way…. please understand my position as well. The Netherlands make a pretty descent society in which government and judicial systems have a good tradition of being truly separated and respecting people’s freedoms and liberties. We do not make a habit of political trials and there is no sincere reason in The Netherlands to fear the government, nor to fear for ones right of freedom of thought and expression. With that in mind, i feel it might probably be best to wait for the outcome of this process first, before condemning the mere fact that even a politician may be held responsible.

meiosis's avatar

All in all it’s a very tricky area, one fraught with competing rights and interests. On the whole, I think we have it just about right here, especially given the history in Europe of allowing demagogues free rein,. If there were frequent prosecutions for this then it would be a cause for grave concern, given the importance of free speech in a free and open society, but these prosecutoins are rare and reserved for the most egregious cases.

Nullo's avatar

@whitenoise Not yet, there isn’t.

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