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The Curious Case of Geert Wilders

Posted by on Mar 11th, 2009 and filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

By YOUSEF DRUMMOND

ABOUT a month ago a Muslim brother convinced me to see a film called “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”.   Quite frankly, I didn’t want to see the film because I associated it with others that are usually devoid of historical or social value.   Besides, any adherent to a religious faith that tries to see a decent film today run into obvious difficulties, as most if not all films today lean towards a “crash-and-burn” ideology replete with machine-guns, misogyny and organized mayhem.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button charts a very interesting or “curious” life of a human being who was born “old” and died as an infant, but the film director’s use of historical backdrops immerses characters within historical and social milieus, allowing viewers to add meaningful existences to all the characters in the film.  Yet, Mr. Button’s case is curious to me on one important level:  despite the fact that he has “defying the laws of nature” by growing younger through time – an incomprehensible train of events at the outset – his life illustrates an optimistic view of the human spirit. But Mr. Benjamin Button was never alone in his “social” development.  Even though the child grows up “old”, he is warmly accepted by those who chose to nurture him; and this nurturing environment, combined with historical elements, continued unabated until his death.  Perhaps the film’s producer wanted to show viewers what conservatives consider a “utopian view of society” that aims to contradict, at least for a few hours, our atomistic view of society where individuals are motivated chiefly by self-interest and where social bonds never surface alongside commercial society.                 

Now I’m not a film-critic and I’m not in the business of telling others to see this or that film.  I cannot help but extrapolate the “curious” theme of this film to a political drama, imagine whether Geert Wilder’s political odyssey would fit nicely with a political cast of characters, and see whether any of them would sacrifice their political careers to support him.  Unlike the curious case of Benjamin Button, where a host of characters rally to nurture him despite his “curious situation”, many European political figures are choosing to abandon Mr. Wilders, as he is wandering in a political wilderness.  Given the unfortunate turn of events, though, I imagine a bleak picture of a man whose cumulative political actions repel the most seasoned and experienced political representatives of Europe. 

Ironically, Mr. Wilder’s defense of free speech as it relates to his denigration of the religion of Islam has fallen on deaf ears.  Instead, we may see a tragedy in the making.  If we immerse Mr. Wilder’s political life along a cast of political characters, he is suddenly alone – his voice disfigured by European nations whose legal institutions are built on this natural right.  Instead of encouraging his natural right to freedom of expression through opinions that offend religious practices and laws pertaining to Islam, we are witnessing a number of European nations adopting legal rules blocking his right to free speech.  

Geert Wilder’s has had an unexpected rise to political fame as a staunch defender of free speech in Europe (the Netherlands), only to be isolated by an increasing number of European nations in tow, with the prospect that Mr. Wilder’s cadre of political supporters in Europe will continue to dwindle.  I see this as the curious case of Geert Wilders.

The natural right to free speech can hardly be exaggerated.  It is the only natural principle, as expressed through the human will that is the foundation of the Western notion of legal jurisprudence.   The right to free speech in Europe has led to a significant political transition from the authority of kings to the authority of the rule of law.  It has led to the spread of representative democracy in Britain, the United States and, albeit imperfectly, in France. 

Zealous supporters of free speech say that an individual’s right to free speech should be legally protected and cannot be subordinated by social dictates because, while it may offend its sensibilities, the individual’s use of free speech is not meant to “incite violence”.  Besides, Mr. Wilders claim that the terrorists, not he, incite and perpetrate acts of mass violence against innocent human beings.   

Geert Wilders contend that his film, Fitna, illustrates that terrorists gain inspiration to exact human destruction from what he considers “violent” verses of the Qu’ran, and he only wants to warn the community of European nations of this ominous threat.   He contends that he has no beef with Muslims, but with Islam.  So why is he a threat?  

Mr. Wilder’s efforts to address the House of Lords directly after conservative lawmakers were to view his controversial film failed, and he has called the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, a “coward”.  As he embarked off the plane at Heathrow Airport he was summarily escorted on another flight back to his native country because his presence was deemed a “threat to public policy”.  But while Mr. Wilders was detained in Great Britain, he was not detained by authorities here in the United States.

Many political observers fail to notify their viewers, consciously or unconsciously, that Mr. Wilders delivered a speech on Capitol Hill on Thursday, February 26th of this year after some members of Congress viewed his film behind closed doors.  Senator Kyl of Arizona invited Mr. Wilders to the Capitol, and other than him, we cannot know who else attended the screening.  Mr. Wilders contended that freedom of speech is being curtailed to appease Muslims and that freedom of speech is currently “behind bars”.  Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota and a Muslim, objected to the screening and compared the event to one that occurred over a hundred years earlier, when Capitol Hill entertained the screening of the racist film “Birth of A Nation”  (1915).   Mr. Wilders has also conducted interviews with conservative hosts such as Bill O’Reily and Glen Beck.  

So what entity is pressuring European nations to adopt legal rules to block Mr. Wilder’s freedom of expression?  Right-wing political commentators point to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, or the OIC.  Their reports now say that the order to proceed with Mr. Wilder’s criminal prosecution in the Netherlands resulted from pressure put on European states and on the U.N. Human Rights Council from the OIC.  The OIC and its allies dominate the U.N. Human Rights Council without effort.

Readers may know that the OIC is a 57-nation bloc of Islamic states held a summit in March of last year to discuss how “Islamophobia” can be combated or challenged in Western countries.  Their “battle plan” is to defend Islam from “political cartoonists and bigots” by creating a “legal instrument” to combat criticism of Islam.  “Islamophobia”, asserted Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the OIC’s secretary general, “cannot be dealt with only through cultural activities but (through) a robust political engagement”.  This “robust political engagement” entails restrictions on freedom of speech.  Abdoulaye Wade, the President of Senegal and chairman of the OIC, had this to say:  “I don’t think freedom of expression should mean freedom from blasphemy.  There can be no freedom without limits”.  The OIC’s robust response to the rising tide of Islamophobia arose after the Danish cartoons featuring the public caricature of the Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) in September of 2005. 

According to the latest statement from the OIC, any political figure on the world-stage who freely insults Islam through freedom of expression runs afoul of misusing that right, and non-Muslim states will be “put on notice” to “silence” them through extensive lobbying efforts in order to implement its political objectives on a global scale. Non-Muslim states may now legislate against any show of disrespect for Islam “however they may choose to define ‘disrespect’”.   

Bat Yeor, an author of studies on the conditions of Jews and Christians within the context of “jihad ideology”, asserts that Geert Wilders is the latest victim of “this (the OIC’s) enormous world machinery”.  But this declaration is a curious one at best.  Given the long history of this natural right of freedom of expression in Europe to the point that European nations boast of this particular Western value, one born of a determination to elevate secular values of free and independent inquiry above religious values, I cannot fathom how the OIC, an organization of Muslim states and a political arm of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, can effectively cajole European governments into restricting freedom of expression against anyone that denigrates religious values.  Many studies now say that Christian religious values, once a cornerstone of Western civilization, are weakening in most European societies.             

In addition to his continued ostracism from the growing community of European nations, Mr. Wilders is facing increasing legal challenges in the Netherlands.  Apart from an Appeals Court in Amsterdam ordering his prosecution for his statements on Islam (he has compared, among other things, Islam to Nazism), he faces mounting lawsuits from Dutch businesses, fearing that his incendiary brand of speech against Islam is hurting their profits.  Dutch Muslim leader Mohamed Rabbae is planning to sue Mr. Wilders over inciting hatred against Muslims, and the Kingdom of Jordan is threatening to prosecute him for insulting Islam and is demanding his extradition to Jordan to stand trial.  Nearly 30 Jordanian newspapers, radio stations and web-sites launched efforts aimed at boycotting Dutch products. 

Yet Mr. Wilders, in a speech at the U.S. Senate less than two weeks ago, continues to argue indefatigably for a European First Amendment, one that defends freedom of speech on European soil.  We will have to see whether his proposal gains political traction, and gauge how this “curious case” will end.

The writer is a recent revert to Islam and can be contacted at:  drummondhugh@verizon.net      

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