Opinion: Bodyguards

POSTED: 01/15/13 1:01 PM

Freedom of expression is an often misunderstood principle. Just ask comedian Theo Maassen who made the following joke in his latest show: If a cat is vicious, it is euthanatized; if a politician is vicious he gets personal security. I am in favor of freedom of expression but I am against providing personal security. Maybe that people in that case will think a bit longer before they say something.”

The joke obviously referred to Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders. Maassen’s critics interpreted the joke as a death wish, but there is of course more to say about this issue.

First of all, Maassen is a comedian. If everything that happens in theaters became the subject of scrutiny on, say, political correctness, all comedians would be out of a job. Jokes always go at somebody’s expense: it is simply part of the territory called humor.

And then: since the murders of Pim Fortuyn and film maker Theo van Gogh many people have given up on saying what they really think. Only recently there was a discussion in the Volkskrant where cartoonist Jos Collignon was challenged to take on Muslim extremism and the prophet Mohammed. After all, the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo just published an issue dedicated to the prophet’s life. Have Dutch cartoonists become cowards?

The sentiment among these artists seems to be indeed that they prefer to keep the windows of their homes in one piece and that they prefer to extend their earthly existence a bit as well. Collignon responded to the criticism with a reference to a lack of solidarity among his fellow-cartoonists. It’s every man for himself and that makes us vulnerable, the artist noted.

But back to Maassen and his Wilders-joke. Are politicians entitled to bodyguards because there is a perception that their personal safety is at risk? Moreover: should the tax payer foot the bill for these services?

Wilders’ fellow-party member Peter van Dijk told this newspaper last year in St. Maarten: “We would love to get rid of these islands, and if they make a bigger mess of it than it is today, that may very well happen.” Immediately after Today published the story, Van Dijk was provided with bodyguards. That seemed a bit of a Pavlov-reaction, and Van Dijk did not care much for it.

Still, these days the trend among writers and artists in the Netherlands seems to be that they reckon with an invisible threat that could come back to haunt them for anything they write. Of course – they the state does not provide bodyguards for them.

The question is whether writers, cartoonists and comedians should even want that. The question is also whether Wilders should want bodyguards.

Columnist Jan Bennink wrote in the Volkskrant this line: “Those who have the guts to express the unvarnished truth run the risk to choose for life as a prisoner. To support this opinion he refers to Wilders who is living in isolation because of his opinion. That may very well be true, it still is a choice Wilders has made, and he lives with the consequences.

In an ideal world, Wilders should not need bodyguards – that’s a point we do agree with. In a healthy country people must be able to express their opinion, also when others strongly dislike it.

There is of course another way of looking at this. Film maker Theo van Gogh was shot eight times by a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim extremist in 2004. The killer also stabbed van Gogh and attempted even to decapitate him. He is serving a life sentence for the crime.

It is hard to imagine Van Gogh clamoring for protection during his life. He was outspoken, critical, rash, he made the short movie submission about violence against women in Islamic societies – and the thought that somebody would ever shut him up the way it finally happened probably never crossed his mind. When he was murdered, he was cycling through the streets of Amsterdam on his way to work.

That is something Wilders won’t do and in that way he contributes to the atmosphere of fear. The protection also goes well with his political agenda, because it created the impression that the world is full of extremist who are ready to shut him up Van Gogh-style.

But the worst fear is fear itself. Pim Fortuyn’s murder in 2001 was the first political assassination in the Netherlands since July 1584. Van Gogh’s murder is also a unique crime. Their uniqueness does not justify them, but it indicates that the Netherlands is still a relatively safe country, where many people feel free to express their opinions.

Against this background, Theo Maassen’s joke is almost lame. His audience applauded and laughed, but it is hard to imagine that there were people in his theater who literally wish Geert

Wilders dead. What’s the point anyway? Killing for an idea is a bit like assassinating the Pope and think that this will make the Catholic Church disappear. Good luck with that one.

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Comments (2)

 

  1. He was outspoken, critical, rash, he made the short movie submission about violence against

  2. Theo Maassen’s joke is almost lame. His audience applauded and laughed, but it is hard to imagine that there were people in his