“Debate”: Bizarre row with Islam

In this article, Michael Prüller comments on the overreactions and bizarre turns in the current debate with regard to Islam in many European countries, and especially in Austria. He highlights one “worrying trend,” whereby criminal law seems to be increasingly emerging as an instrument for immigration and culture politics. In turn, this trend has opened the door for three possible developments which may have serious consequences for freedom, rule of law and actual European values.

The first development is the establishment of a new state religion: the “European way of life,” exemplified by the Austrian justice minister’s desire to oppose “general behavior which attempts to impose upon someone a lifestyle that is not consistent with our society.” Secondly, in order to uphold and maintain this “European way of life” the state is given ever more opportunity to punish its citizens. An example for this can be seen in the current debate concerning the burqa in France, where Saudi Arabia-style legal penalities with regard to clothing is now being suggested with the goal of upholding fundamental European values. Finally, under the beguiling influence of stricter penalties against troublemakers, the plaintive nature of those who might potentially be disturbed is strengthened. In other words, more groups will wish to be brought under the protection of the state and its criminal law.

This has been seen in the recent broadening of Paragraph 283 in Austrian criminal law, which used to protect only religious and ethnic groups from hate speech, and which now will include hate speech based on any criteria, from sexual orientation to age, and from skin color to gender. This extension of state legal protection to a larger number of groups should not, however, be a restriction to free speech. Freedom and rule of law are things which can be clearly defined, while national identity and “European values” can change with each person and with each day. Thus it follows that they should not qualify as the basis for any legal framework that hopes to attain some degree of clarity.
Die Presse (German)

Wilders’ trial begins in Amsterdam

The commencement of anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders’ trial for discrimination dominated Dutch press this week. The right-wing politician is standing trial on charges of inciting racial hatred against Muslims, insisting on his right to speak out about “Islamization”. Although as an MP Wilders has immunity for any comments made in parliament, he is not protected for anti-Muslim comments made in public to the media.

Numerous politicians from Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) attended the hearing, as well as 300 protestors demonstrating in his defense. In the courtroom Wilders stated his belief that the trial is politically motivated, and that his defense will rest on the fact that he is “telling the truth”. He urged the court to permit his list of 17 expert witnesses, including university professors, radical imams, and Mohammed Bouyeri, the man who murdered film maker Theo van Gogh, to be called to testify. The prosecution is not planning to bring any witnesses to the trial, public prosecutor Birgit van Roessel announced.

The trial is set to resume on February 3, following a two week recess during which the court will determine how to proceed through the trial.

In addition to reporting on the trial, a number of daily newspapers ran commentaries and opinion pieces. Dutch News posted a poll asking whether Wilders should face prosecution for inciting hatred. Radio Netherlands Worldwide juxtaposed Wilders’ position on tolerance with South African poet Antjie Krog and lawyer Gerard Spong. Its in depth coverage also considered whether Wilders’ has broken the law, and questions how he will finance his defense campaign.

Wilders trial to go ahead with expanded charges

A court in Amsterdam ruled on Wednesday that Geert Wilders’ trial on hate crime charges will proceed as scheduled on January 20.

Earlier this week, the public prosecution service announced the expansion of charges against Wilders. Initially charged for religious insult and anti-Muslim hatred evidenced in his online movie Fitna and his public statements, Wilders now faces additional charges of inciting hatred against Muslims, Moroccans, and non-Western immigrants following his claim that Moroccan youths are violent and calling for Holland’s borders to be closed to all non-western immigrants, Volkskrant reported.

Following the expansion of charges, Wilders and his lawyer Bram Moskowicz attempted to appeal the court date. On Wednesday the court ruled Wilders’ appeal inadmissible, saying the defense had not produced any new facts or evidence.

According to AFP, Wilders faces up to one year in jail if convicted.

Dutch politician retracts statements critical of Islam

The leader of the small Christian SGP party in the Netherlands, E. Klein, has taken back critical statements on Islam made during a meeting on freedom of education.

Klein declared that he would rather see no mosques, and that “Islam has produced nothing good so far”. Under pressure from local conservative (VVD) and center-left (D66) parties Klein has retracted the statement, announcing during a meeting of the provincial council that he “wholeheartedly takes back” his words.

Manual on Hate Speech

The right to freedom of expression entails duties and responsibilities and is subject to certain limits, provided for in Article 10.2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which are concerned, among other things, with protecting the rights of others. Identifying what constitutes “hate speech” is especially difficult because this type of speech does not necessarily involve the expression of hatred or feelings.

On the basis of all the applicable texts on freedom of expression and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and other bodies, the author identifies certain parameters that make it possible to distinguish expressions which, although sometimes insulting, are fully protected by the right to freedom of expression from those which do not enjoy that protection.

Wilders loses bid to stop his pending trial for inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims

Far-right lawmaker and filmmaker Geert Wilders has lost a legal bid to stop his pending trial for inciting hatred ad discrimination against Muslims. “The Attorney-General is of the opinion that there are no grounds” for a further appeal, the Dutch Supreme Court said in a statement. Lawyers for Wilders sought to overturn a ruling but the Amsterdam appeals court that he should be prosecuted for a series of public anti-Muslim sentiments – and in particular, for comparing Islam to Nazism. The appeals court judgment followed numerous complaints form citizens over the prosecution service’s initial refusal to press charges against Wilders. Wilder, 45, is the maker of a 17-minute film, Fitna, which has been called “offensively anti-Islamic” by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

CAIR commends Florida Jewish group for condemning hate speech

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) commended the Florida office of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) concerning the anti-Islam hate of Dutch politicial Geert Wilders, who was recently given a standing ovation at a Florida synagogue.

At the end of April, CAIR called on members of the Jewish community to condemn “Nazi-like” statements by Wilders, who claimed that “Islam is not a religion” and “the right to religious freedom should not apply to this totalitarian ideology called Islam” at a Palm Beach, FL synagogue. He received applause and a standing ovation from his statements. In a statement released by the ADL Florida Regional Director, Andrew Rosenkranz said: “The ADL strongly condemns Geert Wilders’ message of hate against Islam as inflammatory, divisive and antithetical to American democratic ideals. This rhetoric is dangerous and incendiary, and wrongly focuses on Islam as a religion, as opposed to the very real threat of extremist, radical Islamists.”

Dutch cartoonist arrested on suspicion of violating hate speech laws with artwork

A Dutch cartoonist who works under the pseudonym ‘Gregarius Nekschot’ was arrested for publishing insulting cartoons targeting Muslims and the Islamic religion. The cartoonist’s real name has not been released, fearing his safety may be jeopardized. Judicial authorities in Amsterdam said that the cartoonist was arrested as a suspect for publishing cartoons which are discrimination for Muslims and people with dark skin. Following his arrest, the artist’s home was searched for discriminating evidence; his computer, backups, mobile phone, and a number of drawings were confiscated from the searches. Nekschot was released two days after his arrest, but his troubles may not be over. It is possible that he will be charged following a 2005 complaint by the Dutch imam Abdul Jabbar van de Ven, a Dutchman who converted to Islam. Nekschot’s work is cited as often rude, sexually explicit, and extremely controversial.

UN Chief condemns Dutch anti-Islam film

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon led a condemnation of the Internet broadcast of a video made by a Dutch parliament member, describing the film as offensively anti-Islamic and called on those upset by the film to remain calm. In a statement issued after the film’s airing, Mr. Ban said there is no justification for hate speech or incitement to violence. The right of free expression is not at stake here. The Secretary General stressed that the UN stands to advance mutual respect and understanding, and to foster dialogue between different religions and cultures.

Europe Struggles To Balance Free Speech, Limits On Expression

By C_sar G. Soriano LONDON – Outspoken London Mayor Ken Livingstone may not be reporting for work Wednesday at the city’s egg-shaped town hall on the banks of the River Thames. Unless he appeals successfully, he will sit at home, serving a four-week suspension for comparing a Jewish journalist to a Nazi concentration camp guard. The mayor – a veteran of many foot-in-mouth controversies – had argued he was exercising his freedom of speech. The Adjudication Panel for England ruled against him Friday and found the mayor guilty of bringing his office into “disrepute.” Livingstone has refused to apologize. The suspension “strikes at the heart of democracy,” he said. Newspapers from several countries have asserted a right to free expression – and inflamed Muslims worldwide – by publishing Danish cartoons that depict the prophet Mohammed. At the same time, European courts, lawmakers and religious groups are pressing for limits on expression. In recent speech cases: _An Austrian court last week sentenced British historian David Irving to three years in prison for denying the Holocaust in a 1989 speech. Prosecutors are asking the court to lengthen Irving’s sentence. Ten European countries, along with Israel, have laws against denying the massacre of Jews by Nazi Germany in World War II. _A German court on Thursday convicted a 61-year-old businessman of insulting Islam by selling toilet paper printed with the word “Quran,” the name of Islam’s holy book. The man, identified in court papers only as Manfred van H., also referred to the Quran as a “cookbook for terrorists.” _Britain’s House of Commons on Feb. 15 approved a ban on speech and writing that glorifies terrorism. _Nick Griffin, leader of the right-wing British National Party, was acquitted Feb. 2 on charges of using hate speech for describing Islam as a “vicious, wicked faith” and comparing immigrants to cockroaches. _British lawmakers on Feb. 1 rejected Prime Minister Tony Blair’s proposed law against insulting religions. Among the critics of the bill was comic actor Rowan Atkinson, who plays Mr. Bean on TV and in movies. He argued that the bill would have curtailed the work of entertainers. _A British tour of the hit musical Jerry Springer – The Opera was delayed for a year and has suffered poor ticket sales, producers say. A religious group, Christian Voice, has organized protests against the tour. Christian Voice says the play is blasphemous and an insult to Christians because it contains foul language and depicts Christ as a guest on a daytime TV show. Europe’s view of freedom of expression is “less absolute” than the view in the USA, where First Amendment speech guarantees are broad, says Daniel Simons, legal officer for Article 19, a London-based human rights group that defends freedom of expression around the world. “Americans are more distrustful of the government and concerned about government limitations on freedom of speech,” Simons said. “Europeans feel freedom of expression is one value, but respect the legitimate need to protect the feelings of other people. I suppose the experience of World War II has led people to be more concerned about racism.” In an interview with the BBC earlier this month, Agnes Callamard, executive director of Article 19, said free speech guarantees put the United States at one extreme and governments that practice censorship at the other. Europe is in the middle, she said. In most European countries, the state “attempts to strike a balance between the right to freedom of speech and the right to equality, and therefore freedom from discrimination,” Callamard said. Many of the objections to “anything goes” free speech have been raised by religious groups. “With freedom of speech comes responsibility. And one has to be sensitive to the people within a society, so there are limits to what can be said,” said Jon Benjamin of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the group that brought the complaint against Livingstone. Even Amnesty International, a longtime advocate of freedom of expression, has called for laws that prohibit “hate speech” following the Danish cartoon flap. Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the London-based National Secular Society, says he is worried about the chilling effect of limiting speech, especially when it is the result of pressure from religious groups. Wood’s group has lobbied against government restrictions on speech. “Most of the objections are coming from Islam,” he said. “It’s a very worrying development because the freedom of speech is an enlightenment value that Europe must cling to. In the end, it’s the best defense against religious extremism and (best way) to resolve questions in a peaceful way.”