By Bruce Bawer

Since 9/11, there has been a series of red-letter dates that should figure in any future history of the Islamization of Europe. One thinks, for example, of the Madrid train bombings on March 11, 2004, and of the general election three days later, in which Spanish citizens, apparently bowing to the terrorists’ wishes, voted in the Socialists, who had promised to pull the nation’s troops out of Iraq. One thinks, too, of the London bombings on July 7, 2005; of the international violence that followed the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten’s publication of cartoons of Mohammed on September 30, 2005; and of the shameful episode in which editor Vebjørn Selbekk, under intense pressure from craven Norwegian government leaders, apologized to a gathering of imams on February 10, 2006, for having bravely reprinted the cartoons.

Many of these red-letter dates have been concentrated in the Netherlands, a small country that once upon a time—not so long ago, in fact—was perceived around the world as a beacon of freedom and tolerance. The murder of professor, author, and Islam critic Pim Fortuyn in Hilversum on May 6, 2002, was followed by that of filmmaker, raconteur, and Islam critic Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam on November 2, 2004, and by the resignation of politician and Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali from the Dutch Parliament on May 16, 2006. Ali’s resignation came as the result of a cowardly effort by her legislative colleagues to remove from their ranks the voice of a heroine of liberty, whom they plainly perceived as nothing more than a troublemaker in a country whose political and cultural elite has, in modern times, been less driven by principle than by consensus and compromise.

Today, alas, is also a red-letter date in the terrible history of this period, and once again the setting is the Netherlands. The figure at the center of today’s infamy is Islam critic Geert Wilders, member of the Dutch Parliament, head of the Freedom Party, and currently the most popular politician in the country—a man who, like Fortuyn eight years ago, looks like a strong prospect to be his nation’s next prime minister. Yet if Wilders enjoys strong backing from the Dutch electorate, he is also—again like Fortuyn, and for that matter like van Gogh and Hirsi Ali—despised by the Dutch political, cultural, educational, media, and business establishment, which has plainly decided not to fight the Netherlands’ Islamization but rather to help the process go as smoothly as possible.

Members of this establishment have made many efforts to silence Wilders. When he announced in November 2007 that he was making a film about the Koran, members of the Dutch cabinet expressed regret that they had no authority to stop him. During the same month, a leading member of the Dutch establishment, Doekle Terpstra, organized a coalition of influential Dutchmen whose goal was to exclude Wilders’s views from the public square. “Wilders is the evil,” said Terpstra, “and that evil must be stopped.” In January 2008, a long list of celebrated Dutchmen signed a statement that appeared on the front page of the newspaper Trouw condemning Wilders’s “intolerance” and calling for “a new balance between the values of then and now.” Bernard Welten, Amsterdam’s police chief, held talks with imams about Wilders’s film; the country’s national counterterrorism coordinator proposed that Wilders leave the country after its release. Commenting on Wilders, a long line of top Dutch politicians declared, in effect, that freedom of speech didn’t include the freedom to offend. In April 2007, intelligence and security officials had called Wilders on the carpet and demanded that he tone down his rhetoric about Islam; in February 2008, the Dutch ministers of justice and foreign affairs summoned him to a similar dressing-down.

Wilders’s film, Fitna, appeared online on March 27, 2008. It was a short work consisting largely of documentary evidence—imams and other Muslims expressing their views on camera, quotations from the Koran, footage of terrorist acts—all of which added up to a convincing argument that key ideas of Islam, as contained in its holy book and preached in its mosques, do indeed underlie acts of terrorism and represent a menace to Western liberties as well as to the security and equal rights of gays, of Jews, and of women who don’t know their place. Fitna amounted to a powerful defense of liberal values against the primitive ideology that brought down the World Trade Center and that is already eroding the freedom of post-Enlightenment societies. And yet establishment figures, not only throughout the Netherlands but around the world, reflexively condemned it as a work of vicious bigotry.

Today—January 20, 2010—the Dutch establishment’s most serious effort yet against Wilders gets under way, as he is forced to go to criminal court to defend his right to speak his mind. Wilders is, of course, not the first European to face legal action for criticizing Islam; such luminaries as Oriana Fallaci and Brigitte Bardot also appear on that honor roll. But Wilders’s case nonetheless feels unprecedented. To read the official summons addressed to him—a sitting member of the Dutch Parliament and the head of a major Dutch political party—is all but surreal. It is to feel as if one has been hurled back into a distant, pre-Enlightenment era; it is to feel that in one fell swoop, the illusion of freedom in Europe has been extinguished. (An English translation is available here.)

The charges are itemized. First, Wilders is charged with having “intentionally offended a group of people, i.e. Muslims, based on their religion.” Second, with having “incited to hatred of people, i.e. Muslims, based on their religion.” Third, with having “incited to discrimination . . . against people, i.e. Muslims, based on their religion.” Fourth, with having “incited to hatred of people, i.e. non-Western immigrants and/or Moroccans, based on their race.” And fifth, with having “incited to discrimination . . . against people, i.e. non-Western immigrants and/or Moroccans, based on their race.”

Supporting these charges is a long list of statements from Wilders, many purely factual, others opinions that follow logically from those facts. Among them: “The demographic composition of the population is the biggest problem of the Netherlands” and “those Moroccan boys are really violent. They beat up people because of their sexual orientation.” Absurdly, among the statements cited in support of the charges against Wilders are his direct quotations from the Koran in Fitna, such as “Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers in fight, smite at their necks; at length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly on them” and “Fight them until there is no dissension, and the religion is entirely Allah’s.” The summons also mentions footage shown in Fitna of imams preaching against unbelievers: “What makes Allah happy? Allah is happy if non-Muslims are being killed” and “Destroy the unbelievers and polytheists, your (Allah’s) enemies and the enemies of the religion. Allah, count them and kill them up to the very last of them. And do not spare a single one.”

In short, Wilders is charged with stating facts about Islam and its adherents; drawing logical conclusions from, and forming opinions based reasonably on, those facts; correctly quoting the Koran; and making a film that shows actual imams doing actual preaching and that shows other Muslims expressing violently hateful opinions about Western liberties, gays, Jews, and so forth. And for having done these things, Wilders is deemed by the public prosecutor to have offended Muslims and incited hatred and discrimination against Muslims and other non-Western immigrants, and thereby to have committed serious crimes punishable under the laws of the Netherlands.

In fact, all that Wilders has done is expose vital truths about a dangerous ideology. The bottom line is clear: in the Netherlands today, it’s not an offense to incite violence in the name of Islam against gays, Jews, and infidel women, but it is an offense to draw public attention to these incitements of violence. We are supposed to pretend not to know what the most devout members of a certain religion believe, what they say among themselves, and what they want to attain. What we are witnessing here is an upside-down world—an Orwellian nightmare come to life.

Wilders’s trial – the event today is a pre-trial hearing – has been in the offing a long time. It was first announced a year ago. And yet one still finds oneself staring in disbelief at this list of charges, this document that embodies the Netherlands’ surrender of its freedoms in the name of an illusory domestic social harmony. In recent years, in the Netherlands’ major cities, young Muslim gangsters have acted with increasing frequency and aggression, incited by Islamist leaders to brutality against gays, Jews, and infidel women. And in response to this atrocious situation, increasing numbers of Dutch families have begun emigrating to places like Canada and Australia (American immigration laws make it more difficult for them to move to the U.S.); gays have begun fleeing cities like Amsterdam for smaller towns; Jews are checking out and moving to Israel. The land of Erasmus is headed into a future that looks more and more like something out of a dystopian novel. Yet instead of focusing on these alarming developments, the Dutch justice system has chosen to go after Wilders, whose only offense is shining a light on them.

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