Thursday, November 24, 2016

Wilders's Trial: "Unnecessarily Offensive"

As his trial continues in the Netherlands, Geert Wilders, if found culpable, faces a fine for his comments, purportedly "racist", on Moroccans.
The prosecution alleges that his comments unfairly "targeted a specific race, which is considered a crime."
Never mind that Moroccans are not a race or even a religion; they are members of a country – apparently, making comments on trends that are prominent within minorities or advice on how to keep a country secure is now criminal. Statements might sometimes be unpleasant to hear, but to express these views should not be "criminal".
Look at the comments of the lead prosecutor, Wouter Bos who said, "Freedom of expression is not absolute, it is paired with obligations and responsibilities." This is worrying. To suggest that an individual should have the obligation not to "uncessarily offend," is to make every individual responsible for the thoughts of every other, theoretical individual who might be offended by one's words – or even, as we see now all too often, just claim to be offended for malicious purposes.
Bos added that Wilders has "the responsibility not to set groups of people against each other." Is this really what Wilders was trying to do? The opposite would seem to be true: Wilders was not calling for racial tension; in his view, he is seeking to alleviate it, the solution to him being less immigration from Morocco. So far, objectively, immigrants from Morocco seem to have had a significant effect on the increase in crime syndicates, drugs- and human trafficking and a notably lopsided change in the composition of the prison population in the Netherlands.
Is it racist to note these problems? Statistical data are usually not racist; they simply express the factual reality of a situation.
With this in mind, perhaps then the struggle Wilders faces could be better described as: Geert Wilders is now on trial for having national security views that the prosecution have deemed unacceptable to air in public.
The latest development in this process is that the prosecution have submitted that Wilders should pay a fine of €5,000 for him to atone for his alleged transgression against Moroccans.
To suggest that Dutch citizens, whose safety Wilders was elected to protect -- it is his job; it is why he was elected – should not publicly given his best advice, would to countermanding his official duty. If, heaven forbid, there were to be adverse circumstances in the Netherlands, as seen all too often in Paris Nice, Copenhagen, Toulouse, Germany and Belgium, and Wilders had failed to warn his countrymen, why could he not, conversely, risk being charged with reckless endangerment?
Saying that the Netherlands should have fewer Moroccans is apparently considered "unnecessarily offensive ".
Perhaps the problem in the long-term survival of Europe is that in modern politics, too many individuals are seeking to base legislation to protect people from being offended instead of basing legislation on what is most wholesome for the national and cultural security of a country. While no-one might wish others to be offended, sometimes offending others is necessary, even a duty.
When Wilders criticises Islam and its associated practices and legal codes, no doubt he offends many conservative Muslims. Does this mean his criticism should not have been expressed? (No.)
When Wilders criticises the European Union, he no doubt offends Eurocrats in Brussels. Does this mean his criticism should not have been expressed? (No.)
So when Wilders criticises Moroccan immigration and suggests it should be less, he may well have offended Morocans. Does this mean his criticism shouldn't have been expressed? (No.)
Sometimes, causing offence and allowing individuals critically to engage with a viewpoint with which they disagree is a critical part of our dialogue as a society. Individuals sometimes need to be presented with uncomfortable truths.
Whether one agrees with Wilders's view or not, it should be comforting that an individual is allowed to question fundamental building blocks for the future health of our Western values and communal wellbeing.
The freedom to speak and to question without fear of retribution is, in fact, fundamentally what separates democratic governments from totalitarian ones.
If one wants individuals to be able to counter views they perceive to be "racist" or in some other way prejudiced, they first need to be able to hear them to counter them.
In condemning Wilders, we are not only robbing Wilders of his right to free expression, we are also robbing individuals of a right to listen to him.
In a democratic society, individuals should have the right to hear Wilders, and then, based on his arguments, to draw their own conclusions. Too many countries, based on originally well-intended laws that repress free speech, have already fallen into the trap of "the truth is no defense."
Is the implication then that half-truths, distortions and lies are an acceptable defense? In closing the door to "truth" in Europe and Canada, our fragile Western democracies are opening the door to authoritarian governance. Farewell, democracy.
There are other reasons why all Dutch nationals or other individuals should be terrified of this.
For Wilders as a member of Parliament, the request of the prosecutors in this case for a fine of €5,000 may not - on the surface – destroy his life; but the official sentencing is to be heard only on December 9. But this fine does not include the crushing court courts a defendant has had to incur even if he is acquitted. What happens when ordinary members of the Dutch public are summoned before a court - possibly for even greater penalties and greater court costs - for expressing views that prosecutors claim are "unnecessarily offensive"?
Wilders, as a private citizen with possibly a moderate income, has had to go up against the virtually unlimited exchequer of the entire Dutch government. People's resources are not inexhaustible. This is the nightmare that great protectors of freedom such as Franz Kafka or George Orwell have written about.
What happens when Geert Wilders, who is a politician, is only among the first of those who might be prosecuted for speaking out? Other individuals who might also want "fewer Moroccans" may not be able to afford endless court costs and a fine of €5,000 – or whatever the judgement might be on December 9. Are we really asking the citizens of the Netherlands, and much the free world, as we have already seen too often - to go through life weighing whether expressing a view will come with a crippling economic cost? Surely if there is a conviction this will be only the beginning. Will anyone ever feel free again to express opinions that might be found – by someone, anyone, who knows - "unnecessarily offensive"? Probably not.
What, by the way, then, does "necessarily offensive" consist of? Will lawyers become rich as person after person is hauled into court to decide, case by case, how necessary is "necessary"?
Is this really what the free world wants: societies that claim to protect the rights of the individual but then instead prosecute them? Sunshiny, politically correct views do not need protecting. The reason for free speech is to protect the less-than-enchanting views. Without any contrarians, how would society have developed?
If this court rules against Wilders, will every politician thereafter who makes a statement that someone deems "unnecessarily offensive" be summoned before a court? From the other end of the political spectrum, three Labour politicians were noted to have insulted Moroccans far more corrosively than Wilders ever did - even likening them to dirt and excrement. Those Labour politicians were never prosecuted. Gee, could this be a double standard we are seeing? Wilders's judges refused to dismiss his trial on the grounds that it was, as Wilders maintained, politically motivated; but what looks suspiciously like a selective prosecution seems to bear him out. Will the Dutch prosecutors, in fairness, proceed to try these even-more-insulting politicians from the political left?
Repeated trials and appeals only lead, as in a totalitarian government, to no one being able to afford maintaining his freedom by due process.
That thought leads to the major politically incorrect elephant in this room:
Is it possible that there are people who are exploiting the West's open but expensive legal process precisely to shut down free speech and political views they find inconvenient for themselves? Is that the whole secret point behind the prosecution: to smother speech and smother thought?
European nations seem to be rapidly approaching a path of political censorship to prevent views being expressed that their leaders deem unacceptable. The result? These views only grow in prominence. Across Europe, as Brexit, Wilders, Le Pen, and other "politically incorrect" tributaries that leaders are trying to restrict, are surging in popularity.
Ideas cannot be killed by stopping individuals from hearing them; people only seem to want to hear more about what they sense is being hidden from them.
You do not have to like Wilders or even agree with him; it is, however, fundamental for the health of our society that he and others be able to speak and be heard freely.
To protect us and to protect the humanist values of freedom brought to us by Erasmus and the Enlightenment, it is crucial that the Dutch court grant Wilders a full acquittal.

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