Opinion: Free hate speech for all

POSTED: 06/24/11 12:47 PM

Geert Wilders is at it again. Maybe it is more correct to say: Geert Wilders is still at it – we’re not sure. This time the leader of the populist Freedom Party had come up with yet another brilliant idea: take the articles that make inciting hatred a crime out of the penal code.

According to Wilders, people ought to be free to say whatever they want, also when others experience this as hurtful or insulting. He draws the line at inciting violence.

There is of course a problem with this idea, because hate-speech is quite often the prelude to violence. If Wilders creates the freedom for himself to say all kinds of nasty things about the Koran, Muslims and foreigners in general, others will be quick to follow with insults and denigrating text aimed at for instance the Catholic Church, the royal family and anybody else they happen to dislike.

At the Today Newspaper we function as a filter between people who write letters to the editor and our readers. This week for instance there was a letter that called National Alliance leader William Marlin no less than seven times “the Guyanese leader” and labeled his party as the party for illegal immigration. When that letter did not make it into print, a new version followed, but this time the writer called a whole host of politicians fools. Also a no go.

This may seem small potatoes compared to Wilders-style hate speech directed at Muslims, but it is a path we do not wish to travel. We have no problem with letters that criticize actions by politicians – we criticize them ourselves all the time. But criticism has to be founded and it has to contribute to the public debate about issues. Criticism that is personal (all politicians are thieves, and so and so in particular) is mostly alcohol and drug induced pub talk.

Now Wilders wants to give free reign to hate speech writers and to people who want to run their mouth anyway they see fit. It is a typical populist approach coming from someone who felt insulted when a cartoonist depicted him on one occasion as a concentration camp guard.

So we don’t know what Wilders really wants. Freedom for himself to continue as the enfant terrible of Dutch politics? Freedom for all to insult to our heart’s desire?

The world would certainly not become a better place because of it. Surely, individual citizens have the right to think that so and so is a total idiot, a crook, a fraud, or a swine. But if such thoughts become routine elements of public debate one thing is certain: people will only talk about the insults, and not about issues that matter.

That sounds like a typical strategy for populist politicians like Wilders. When the web site joop.nl published a cartoon depicting him as a concentration camp guard earlier this year, Wilders was enraged. The cartoon was a reaction to the Freedom Party’s proposal to create “scum-villages” for the re-education of criminal youngsters.

 

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