Tue Oct 12th, 2010 at 09:54:58 AM EST
In The Netherlands continues today the trial that has been generating national, and international, headlines: Geert Wilders versus the State. It is a case in which Wilders is accused of breaking the law on two accounts (137c and 137d), namely: "discriminating on basis of religion" and "inciting hatred" against the usual suspects: Islam, Moroccans, etc.
From the start, this case has been problematic. It gained a some legs after the release of the highly stupid "Fitna" movie in 2008, and bundled with a few choice quotes from Wilders which he made in the public domain, they form the case that is before the court today. It already took a while to get there: many of the judiciary branch have expressed doubts about the viability of the case, and this also showed in the history of the prosecution: it had to be taken to the Supreme Court before the (reluctant?) Attorney General began with the prosecution, which was early this year.
And that really was only the beginning of the trouble. In fact, whether Wilders is convicted or not has become rather non-trivial at this point. He is winning either way.
As a member of Dutch parliament, Wilders has immunity for anything he says inside parliament. However, he can be held accountable as a citizen for anything attributed to him outside it and this is what has been done. But Wilders has been consistently clever – outside parliament he has always balanced on the very boundary of the written law. Because he does not target Muslims in his speeches – he targets Islam, and is at his best with smearing Muslims without saying it. I wrote previously on his ideas here, also outlining why it is foolish to simplistically label Wilders as fascist or racist.
A conviction for Wilders on both counts is most likely uncertain. While for many people, comparisons of the Koran with Mein Kampf may be out of bounds with respect to decency, they may well be within the right of free speech in the Netherlands. There is recent jurisprudence which went as far as the Supreme Court: a recent case with an offensive poster bearing the text "Stop the cancer that is Islam" was dismissed, as the offensive remark was not directed to a specific group, or a person. In fact, today the Attorney General argued to dismiss part of the charges, likely based on this case.
However, Wilders may well be convicted for inciting hatred for targeting particular groups of people (Moroccan youths, talking about "others"). And if that is the case, the circus will likely go on to an appeal, and you can add in additional media hubbub. With a conviction, Wilders has it in him to pull a very decent Berlusconi: lamenting that the courts are prejudiced, that he is convicted on political grounds, etcetera ad nausea. In all, it feeds his preferred image as a martyr, outside the powerful elite trying to destroy him, a champion of the Dutch Tea Party people.
Of course the case is political, Wilders being a high-profile politician, and particularly because the court case targets political ideas. And that's where things really go off the rails: should a politician be held accountable for his political ideas by the judiciary? If this was a case of Wilders his behaviour, it would've made this case a trifle easier, though not by much, as Wilders is enough press virtuoso to make any accusation against him part of his constant martyrdom. Now, however, Wilders and his lawyers deliberately push the political angle to the point it begins to undermine the viability of the court, while they milk the image of a victim of free speech for political gain.
For public relations, the court case is a perfect platform to draw sympathy – just the recipe a politician hungers for. All in all, I repeat: I wish it would just go away. How it'll end? The best I could now hope for is a slap on the wrist of Wilders, and no punishment. Anything other will likely become even more annoying.