Geert Wilders: a ghost at his own freedom feast

When Geert Wilders assumes the podium at the launch of the Australian Liberty Alliance tomorrow evening – looking, one assumes, as he always does, like a Disney prince in a hall of mirrors – he will do so not just as the representative of a particularly nasty strain of anti-Muslim prejudice but as a living symbol of free expression. Having decisively outsoared the lefty nanny-staters who would have refused him entry to Australia on account of his clearly bigoted views, the founder and leader of the Party for Freedom has further cemented his reputation as a célèbre in the cause of freedom of speech, that cornerstone of the very civilisation – the Western one – the Islamists so despise. No doubt the leaders of the ALA are hugging themselves with joy at the optics. What better start in life could a political party with ‘liberty’ in its name have than to be launched by a man who came so close to genuine free speech martyrdom?

Well, I’ve no wish to spoil the party (actually I’d love to spoil the party but the ALA’s secretary has informed me, in a brusque email, that media will not be permitted at the launch) but I’d like to enter into the record an opposing view of Wilders’ free speech credentials. I take as my text and only exhibit an article penned by the blonde bombshell himself, for the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant, in 2007:

The root of the problem is fascist Islam, the sick ideology of Allah and Mohammed as laid down in the Islamic Mein Kampf: the Koran. In this regard, the texts from the Koran speak for themselves.

In various suras Muslims are summoned to oppress, prosecute or kill Jews, Christians, renegades and non-believers, to beat and rape women and to establish a worldwide Islamic state through violence. I’ve lost count of the number of suras that incite Muslims to spread death and destruction.

Why don’t we ban that miserable book? After all, we also decided to ban Mein Kampf!

Now, when Wilders writes ‘fascist Islam’ he clearly means something different from ‘Islamic fascism’ or ‘Islamofascism’ or ‘fascism with an Islamic face’. He means that Islam is fascist, full stop. And he affects to extrapolate from that that its organising text – the Koran – should be banned, noting with a cluck of self-congratulation (‘!’) that that other genocidal text, Mein Kampf, is also banned in the Netherlands. (That’s not quite true by the way: it’s legal to own it but not to sell it. Still, point taken, Geert, and well done!!)

So Wilders, who has never retracted this demand, has no in-principle attachment to freedom of speech. Is this significant? I think it is, for two reasons.

First, it points up the disingenuousness of the kind of politics with which he is associated The anti-Muslim right is increasingly determined to couch its politics in civic-nationalist terms, insisting that its problem with Muslim people has nothing to do with the colour of their skins but with a religion/ideology that is antithetical to ‘Western’ values like free speech, gender equality etc. This is clearly important to them – so much so that even the pitbulls of the UPF (now under new management, apparently) will throw an old geezer off their bus if he tells the bloke sitting next to him that we should really kick the Jews out too. This isn’t an original observation, I know, but we do need to keep a close eye on it, not least because these appeals to ‘Australianness’ are not always confined to the political margins. Tony Abbott never actually said ‘Australia: love it or leave’ – possibly because it was two words too long to be a really effective slogan – but it was implied in much of what he said.

Second – and with free speech creeping back on to the agenda this point cannot be stressed enough – it shows that liberal democracies make a rod for their own backs when they ban political or religious books of whatever ideology. Wilders’ comments on the Koran and Mein Kampf have a touch of the non sequitur about them, but his logic can only really be called flawed if those who seek to defend Muslim people from the libels of the Party of Freedom and its analogues can prove that the Koran does not contain injunctions to violence, hatred etc. If they can’t (and they can’t), then it is best for them to refrain from all forms of political censorship, however marginal or apparently piffling. The charge that the defence of multi-ethnic democracy is at the expense of liberal democratic values is, or rather should be, groundless.

Personally I think it’s excellent that the ALA has chosen Wilders to launch its party. The choice of such a discredited figure tells us all we need to know about the new kid on the political block. Plus it demonstrates that the very ‘liberty’ the ALA proposes to protect is robust.

So have your say, Geert, and then piss off.

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First published at New Matilda on 19 October 2015