In the cause of freedom the interventions of Dutch politician Geert Wilders are both a blessing and a curse. They are a blessing not merely on account of Wilders' own support for Israel, but because he has been absolutely unrepentant – and unrelenting – in his insistence on telling the truth about militant Islam. They are a curse because without his support and that of his Freedom party the efforts of a fringe animal welfare group to outlaw shechita in the Netherlands would have failed at the first hurdle. Make no mistake. Shechita is in peril in the Netherlands partly because of the propaganda put out by the Freedom party against religious slaughter of food animals, which most Dutch people take to mean Muslim slaughter. In a frenzy of passion against Islam, the Dutch have punished the Jews. For this state of affairs Wilders himself must take part of the blame.
Wilders is a driven man. On 22 June a Dutch court declared him innocent of charges that he had incited 'hatred and discrimination' against Muslims. The very public statements that landed him in court included the challenging assertion that 'Islam is a fascist ideology' and the equally provocative allegations that 'Islam and freedom, Islam and democracy are not compatible.'
Each of these statements is credible (or at least plausible) and each can be supported by evidence. An Islamic state cannot be a democratic state. At best it could be a benignly-inclined theocracy, as the Emirate of Granada (southern Spain) was in the late medieval period.
But, however benign, it could not be a state in which freedom flourished. I know of no contemporary Islamic state that can by any reasonable definition be termed a democracy. All are characterised, to a greater or lesser extent, by the hallmarks of a totalitarian and more or less repressive society, underpinned by a more or less repressive religious identity.
Can this identity be rightly termed "fascist?" The fascist state is an authoritarian state, frequently characterised by an obsession with national decline and a fixation upon victimhood, and commonly policed by paramilitary elites loyal only to 'the leader.' Clearly, not every Islamic state is a fascist state, but there is an argument to be had that some branches of Islam are in many respects fascist in intent.
The right to give offence is a vital component of freedom
Anyone in public life ought to be able to advance these arguments, and put them in the public domain, without the fear of prosecution for incitement to hatred. Some of my non-Jewish acquaintances point out that King David was a notorious and persistent womaniser, which he was. Do they incite hatred simply by pointing this out? Of course not.
A few years ago I doubt that Wilders would have been acquitted. In 1997 the now-deceased Dutch politician Hans Janmaat was given a suspended prison sentence and fined around £3,000 for having declared in public that as soon as his party had 'the opportunity and power' it would 'abolish the multicultural society.' In 1997 a Dutch court actually found that this constituted incitement to racial hatred.
Today, opposition to multiculturalism is commonplace, both in the Netherlands and here in the UK. That is the true significance of the acquittal of Geert Wilders. The oppressive regime of political correctness, which prevented honest opinions being voiced and unpleasant truths being uttered, is now at an end.
A colleague whom I invited to join me in welcoming the acquittal became visibly upset. A taboo, she pleaded, has been broken. The right to express unpleasant opinions had been perversely upheld by a weak judiciary.
I begged to differ. Incitement to violence remains a crime on both sides of the Channel. So it should. Anti-discrimination laws remain untouched, as they should. But the right to give offence is a vital component of freedom of speech. Should a man receive a criminal record and be sent to prison for voicing unpleasant thoughts? If freedom of speech amounts merely to the freedom to express conventional, unprovocative opinions, of what real use is it?
To the cause of freedom Geert Wilders has thus performed a signal service, but in supporting a ban on shechita he has displayed a limited vision that does neither him nor his party any credit. I can only hope that someone in authority within Dutch Jewry has the courage to tell confront him with both these truths.