March 5 is an important day in the history of freedom and its slow, very slow spread across the world: it is the anniversary of Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953 and, although the Soviet Union struggled on for some decades, getting itself more and more bogged down in economic stagnation and the contradictions of its own ideology, his death did signal the beginning of the inevitable end. More immediately, his death began the process of release. Tens, hundreds of thousands of prisoners who had been kept in unspeakable conditions in camps, came home to their families. This did not happen as soon as he died. In fact, the first developments were uprisings in the camps, described by numerous writers such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn and, more recently, the man I have mentioned in a previous posting, Tim Tzouliadis. The uprisings were put down with extraordinary brutality; people were still murdered and tortured and some never left the camps or not for many years after this date. But the thaw had begun. Indeed, that is how Russians refer to the period immediately after Stalin’s death: the thaw.
So, in a sense, it is right and proper that a man who is fighting what he calls a new totalitarian ideology and is, in many ways, suffering for his courage, should have finally managed to show his film Fitna, address a group of parliamentarians and their staff as well as hold a full press conference on March 5.
Readers of this blog will recall that Geert Wilders, the leader of what may well be after the coming election, the largest party in the Netherlands, was refused entry into the country by the egregious Jacqui Smith, then Home Secretary, on the grounds that other people might protest against his visit and that may lead to violence. Since then the decision was overthrown by an Appeal Court, Geert Wilders came once and was met by a demonstration of bearded freedom-loving individuals who assured us that they had our best interests at heart and to make sure that those best interests were served, they would decapitate us all if we did not submit to their ideas. All that, naturally enough, proved that they did not represent a totalitarian ideology and they were ready to murder anyone who suggested otherwise.
Curiously enough, they were not there on Friday. Instead, the police had to deal with something like a hundred (it was hard to tell as they were corralled on Millbank, just outside the garden, which boasts The Burghers of Calais as well as Mrs Pankhurst’s statue) rent-a-mob creatures who had clearly not been told against whom they were supposed to demonstrate. Whatever happened to Lord Ahmed’s threatened 10,000 warriors? Not one put in an appearance.
I cannot, in all honesty, say that Fitna is the best film I have ever seen, not even the best propaganda film that has ever hove into view in my life. (I have high standards of propaganda and have even written off Richard III, the first Shakespeare play I ever considered to be absolutely wonderful at the age of 10 and undoubtedly Tudor propaganda.) It is, nevertheless, a powerful work and I can quite understand that it has displeased many a freedom-loving individual who does not like attention being drawn to such matters as threats of wholesale slaughter, bombs going off, aeroplanes flying into buildings, women being murdered for going out without their faces being covered and other suchlike utterly unimportant matters.
The links between sundry texts in the Koran, rabid pronouncements by various Imams and actual acts by those who claim that they are committing atrocities in the name of Allah (whether Allah agrees with that or not) do create a disturbing whole, which, coupled with the obstinate reluctance by main-stream politicians and media to discuss undoubtedly serious problems in Europe, particularly Western Europe, makes it important that we should pay attention and, at the very least, talk about what is going on.
After all, as Lord Pearson of Rannoch pointed out to some not altogether friendly journalists at the subsequent press conference, there is a reason why Geert Wilders, an elected member of the Dutch parliament, leader of one of the main parties in that country, cannot walk the streets of any Dutch city (or of any British city, for that matter) freely; he has to be guarded all the time.
There is a reason why our own media, so proud, allegedly, of its history of struggling for freedom, refused to publish those Danish cartoons, whose authors are still in hiding. One of them was recently attacked and barely escaped with his life.
There is a reason why Oriana Fallaci had to live out the last years of her life in the United States, unable to return to Italy. There is a reason why Ayaan Hirsi Ali is permanently guarded. I could go on but my readers must have got the point. Lord Pearson repeated several times that the violence tends to flow from one direction and even the most hostile journalist could merely say that it was unwise to invite someone like Mr Wilders if the intention to talk to “moderate Muslims” was genuine. They would not come to a meeting if he was present. But why not? – asked Lord Pearson. That is precisely what they should do. Answer came there none.
Nevertheless, Mr Wilders’s presence in London was a triumph for freedom of speech as he, Lord Pearson and Baroness Cox, who chaired the press conference, pointed out. He proclaimed himself to be particularly pleased to be able to speak freely in what he, erroneously, called the Mother of Parliaments (it’s England that was described thus) and referred with some emotion to the time when the Dutch, living under Nazi occupation, tuned to the BBC that proclaimed the word of hope and liberty (those were the days). People risked their lives to hear the words: “This is London”. What, Mr Wilders asked rhetorically, will be heard in fifty years’ time? This is London or This is Londonistan?
It is easy with all the media hullabaloo and the personal attacks on Mr Wilders (for instance here and here) to miss what it is he is saying and has been saying for some time. Let us try to sum it up.
His main argument is that he does not consider Islam, certainly not in the form it is propagated by a number of Imams, to be a religion like others, whether Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism or such secular religions as Humanism. Islamism, which is what really meant here, is a totalitarian ideology and Mr Wilders could back that argument up by quotations from the Koran but, more importantly, fiery statements by various Islamic religious leaders. Totalitarian ideologies have to be defeated for us to live in freedom; just as Nazism and Communism were defeated (in Europe, anyway), so we must fight against Islamism in order to protect our culture and our values: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, equal rights, an open society.
None of this is particularly strange or controversial. Even those on the left and the right who think Mr Wilders is an appalling little man who says nasty things about poor persecuted minorities, cannot argue with those points thought they sometimes pretend that these are not values of any importance (except for them). Instead, they prefer not to quote him or to argue with him but to attack him personally.
Mr Wilders’s related point is the need to affirm our values proudly. We must not be afraid of speaking up for freedom, he repeated several times and the truth is that he has shown the way.
Following from that Mr Wilders would like to see the Koran banned in the Netherlands. This is something many of us do not agree with, as Lord Pearson explained to the assembled hacks. Needless to say, a blog called Your Freedom and Ours cannot lend support to such an idea. Mr Wilders’s argument is that as long as Mein Kampf is banned (something the left, misguidedly, agrees with) the Koran should be as well, since many of the ideas it produces are the same. The answer to that is very simple: Mein Kampf should not be banned either. Not now, not in any country, not after all these years. In fact, Germany seems to be coming round to that point of view. (My suggestion would be to force all would-be neo-Nazis to read that turgid text and then ask whether they still wanted to follow those ideas.)
Mr Wilders and his Freedom Party are in an interesting electoral position. They did very well in the recent local elections coming first in and second in the Hague. There is a strong possibility that they will be the largest party after the June election caused by the collapse of the government over the question of whether to continue the deployment of Dutch troops in Afghanistan. Mr Wilders’s view is quite interesting. He and his party supported the original deployment and continue to support the fight against terrorism and Islamic totalitarianism, wherever that fight may be. However, he feels that the Dutch, a small nation, have already done more than their fair share and it is time for other NATO countries to shoulder the burden. He did not explain whom exactly he had in mind since Britain, Denmark, Poland and other East European countries are there with as much strength as they can muster.
The system in the Netherlands is such that coalition governments are inevitable and Mr Wilders described himself as a pragmatic politician. His party will not join any grouping, preferring to remain independent but if they are the largest party they will have to try to form a coalition government. It is highly probable that other parties will refuse to join them, thus alienating voters even more. That does not bother Mr Wilders. He is prepared for a situation in which the largest party will be in opposition, watching the coalition government as it tears itself apart.
What are Mr Wilders’s policies? It’s worth asking that question since you will never find out the answer from the main-stream media whose denizens consider the state of Mr Wilders’s hair far more important.
He wants a complete moratorium on immigration from Islamic countries, not because he dislikes the people but because he considers the ideology inimical to what he sees as European (not European Union) values: Judeo-Christianity and Humanism. Mr Wilders is a strong opponent of cultural relativism and considers that the eradication of that pernicious attitude is of the utmost importance. Who can argue with that? Certainly not the people who proclaim the superiority of Islam and of Sharia law. They do not exactly believe in cultural relativism (or open-mindedness).
His party would crack down on crime, no matter where it comes from. It would appear that the problems the Netherlands face are not dissimilar from our own.
What of the Muslim immigrants already in place? Simple, says Mr Wilders. They have a choice: either they conform to our very liberal standards or they leave. That let’s face it, might cause problems. Those who were not born in the Netherlands can be said to have no right to stay there and try to undermine the country and society. But what of those who were born there? Mr Wilders talked of dual citizenship and other suchlike matters but it is obvious that there will be difficulties with those who are second generation immigrants and ought to be Dutch Muslims but prefer to see themselves as Muslims who are out to subvert Holland. That, as Mr Wilders pointed out, applies only to a minority of Muslims, which is true in Britain as well but, so far, only individuals (and very brave they are, too) have accepted the situation and have turned against Islamism. Mr Wilders’s party intends to put surveillance on all the mosques (I suspect quite a lot of that in place already) and close down madrassahs. Will they close down all Muslim schools, even if they accept the curriculum others teach? Will they even be Muslim schools if they accept that curriculum and the duty to teach girls and boys equally? There are many problems here but the general outline is clear. The question is, will the Freedom Party’s opponents argue these matters openly. If they will not, where will the vote go?
On some matters, as Mr Wilders pointed out, his party tends to be somewhat leftish. For example, they intend to put more money into the health service. On others, they are on the right: they believe in smaller government and lower taxes (no, I am not sure either if they have worked their figures out properly). In particular, they want to cut back on child benefit, intending to give it only for the first two children. This, too, is perceived as an attack on the Muslim families as they tend to be larger and claim far more benefits.
Asked about Turkey, Mr Wilders accepted that she is a very good neighbour, being among others, a strong and active member of NATO. However, a good neighbour is not necessarily part of the family. His party would oppose Turkey’s membership of the EU for two very good reasons. Firstly, there is the question of Islamic immigration that cannot be controlled once Turkey is a member state. The second point is a very astute one and had clearly not occurred to any of our own politicians or political analysts. The EU demands that member states should place armed forces under the control of an elected government. In Turkey, however, the army is the guardian of the Kemalist secular politics and the strongest bulwark against Islamism. Therefore, the usual rules cannot apply to her.
If Turkey becomes a member of the EU or if there is any likelihood of it, Mr Wilders will campaign for the Netherlands to leave. That strikes me as an excellent argument for Turkey’s membership as, otherwise, Mr Wilders believes in the EU being radically reformed. This, as Lord Pearson explained to the assembled hacks, is a point of some disagreement between his party and UKIP. It was not clear whether the hacks understood that.
In general, there was an attempt to bring the whole session round to UKIP, despite the fact that it was chaired by Baroness Cox, and independent peer. But bless those little hacks, their minds cannot accommodate too many ideas all at once.
So we come to the question of the legal case against Geert Wilder. As he pointed out, this is a political trial. He is, undoubtedly, being tried for his opinions. Furthermore, he is not allowed to produce adequate defence. Of the eighteen experts on the subject, whose names he submitted to the court, fifteen were rejected for no very good reason at all. The remaining three will not be allowed to give their evidence in public but behind closed doors. It is a sad day for European history when the Netherlands, one of the first countries to accept the notions of free speech and religious tolerance decides to put its politicians on trial for their opinions and to dispense with the notions of free, fair and open.