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Putting the Wilders Win in Context
by Nina Shea
After being acquitted by a Dutch court of five criminal charges of hate speech against Muslims, parliamentarian Geert Wilders told reporters: "This is not so much a win for myself, but a victory for freedom of speech." While Wilders was understandably happy and relieved he is not going to be spending the next 16 months behind bars, the significance of his victory seems overstated.
As I wrote in the Corner on October 17, "The Wilders case demonstrates the continued willingness of authorities in Europe's most liberal countries to regulate the content of speech on Islam in order to placate Muslim blasphemy demands." Wilders' acquittal does not change that.
The presiding judge in the case determined that Wilders's remarks were sometimes "hurtful," "shocking," and "offensive." But the Court of Amsterdam reached its decision, as Reuters reported, by noting that "they were made in the context of a public debate about Muslim integration and multiculturalism, and therefore not a criminal act." Thus, this case was decided on the basis that Wilders's remarks were made in the proper context — in an ongoing public debate on specifically legitimate issues. Using this subjective criterion, the court evaluated the content of Wilders' words to determine that they were lawful. In another context, or evaluated by another court, they might not be.
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