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To fight the xenophobic populists, we need more free speech, not less
How can we best combat the anti-immigrant populists who are now making the political running in many European countries? Later this month, the verdict is due in the trial of the Dutch politician Geert Wilders for anti-Islamic statements he has made – such as that the Qur'an is a "fascist book" which should be banned. At the same time, the country's minority centre-right government depends for its survival on the "tolerance" of Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV), which won more than 15% of the vote in the last general election. Wilders' price included a commitment to a burqa ban.
In the Netherlands, as elsewhere in Europe, centre-right parties have been trying to win back voters who have turned to such anti-foreigner populists by adopting slightly toned-down versions of their rhetoric and policies.
So the courts are being asked to do what the politicians won't. This is the wrong way round. For reasons both of free speech principle and political prudence, Wilders should not be on trial for what he says about Islam. Instead, mainstream democratic politicians, and other opinion-leaders, should be more brave and outspoken in combating his inflammatory rhetoric.
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