Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Court Decision Boosts Party of Dutch Lawmaker Who Criticized Islam
Controversial Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders has seen his party’s popularity rise following a court ruling that he should stand trial for his statements about Islam. Last week’s decision by an appeals court in Amsterdam instructing prosecutors to indict Wilders for “inciting hatred and discrimination” has directly contributed to increased support for his Party for Freedom (PVV), according to Dutch pollster Maurice de Hond. The court ruling “has had a clear positive effect on the size of the electoral support for the PVV,” which now stands at a 16-month high, he said. The Maurice de Hond poll found that if an election were held now, the PVV would win 20 seats in the Tweede Kamer, or lower house of parliament – three more than a similar poll showed last week. Since Nov. 2006 elections the PVV has controlled nine seats in the 150-member legislature. That election result made Wilders’ party the fifth biggest in the house, but this week’s poll showing would make it the third largest, behind the Christian Democrats (29 seats) and Labor (27). Wilders, who lives under tight security because of death threats, last year released a short documentary film linking the Koran to terrorism. Entitled “Fitna” (an Arabic word sometimes translated as “strife”), the movie shows images of major terror attacks carried out by Muslims over recent years and footage of radical Islamists – in the Netherlands and elsewhere – inciting violence, interspersed with translations of verses from the Koran. He appealed in the film for Muslims to repudiate violence-inciting verses in the Koran, but the film’s release instead sparked angry protests and boycotts, and provided further ammunition for the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)-led campaign to outlaw the “defamation” of Islam. Millions of people have viewed the film online. Also controversial was an open letter by Wilders, published in a Dutch newspaper in 2007, calling the Koran a “fascist” text that should be outlawed in the Netherlands, in the same way as Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf is banned. Muslims believe the Koran to have been divinely revealed to Mohammed in the seventh century, and they view the text in the original Arabic to be the infallible “final revelation” of Allah. Last June Dutch prosecutors dismissed complaints against Wilders, saying his statements were made “in the context of public debate.” But a three-judge Amsterdam Appeals Court panel last week overturned that ruling, ordering that he be indicted “for inciting hatred and discrimination, based on comments by him in various media on Muslims and their beliefs.” “The court also considers appropriate criminal prosecution for insulting Muslim worshippers because of comparisons between Islam and Nazism made by Wilders,” the judges stated. “In a democratic system, hate speech is considered so serious that it is in the general interest to ... draw a clear line.” In the Maurice de Hond poll, 50 percent of respondents said the court had made the wrong decision; 43 percent agreed with the ruling and seven percent expressed no opinion. Shortly after Wilders learned that he would go on trial, Britain’s House of Lords reportedly bowed to pressure and protest threats and called off a private screening of Fitna, which had been scheduled for later this week. Pakistan-born Lord Nazir Ahmed, the first Muslim to be appointed a life peer in the British upper house, led efforts to get the event cancelled. He told Pakistani media the outcome was “a victory for the Muslim community.” Wilders, who was to have attended the screening and taken part in a discussion, called the decision “very sad.” “It is yet more evidence that Europe is losing its freedom and bowing to Islamic pressure and protest,” he told the Dutch news agency ANP. According to Wilders, the screening in London was arranged after senior officials at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France blocked an attempt last month by a British member for the film to be shown there. The British Euro-lawmaker, Gerard Batten of the libertarian U.K. Independence Party, in a statement called that ban “a direct attack on free speech.” “A parliament that constantly talks of freedom, democracy and tolerance has shown once again that these are empty words when it does not agree with what is being said,” he said. Meanwhile a new online petition in support of Wilders has attracted more than 23,000 signatures. Addressed to the Dutch government, the petition says that if it attempts to punish Wilders “for exercising his freedom of expression, the undersigned will initiate a boycott of any and all Dutch goods.”
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