The aquittal of MP Geert Wilders on charges of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims and non-western foreigners, generated considerable comment in the foreign press on Friday.
The boundaries of free speech in Europe widened Thursday after a Dutch court acquitted politician Geert Wilders of inciting hatred against Muslims when he compared Islam with Naziism and called for a ban on the Quran, said Toby Sterling of the Associated Press.
‘Political analysts say the ruling will likely embolden Wilders and other right-wing populists across the continent to ramp up their anti-immigrant rhetoric, with remarks like Wilders’ call for a ‘head rag tax’ now squarely within the boundaries of fair political debate.
‘(The verdict) will further the inward-looking and to some extent xenophobic atmosphere in the Netherlands,’ Leo Lucassen, chair of the Social History department at Leiden University, told AP.
The verdict comes a week after the government announced plans to end programs to help integrate immigrants into Dutch society, which ‘fuels this idea of immigrants who are basically an alien element to the Dutch people,’ Lucassen said.
Lauren Comiteau says in a BBC analysis that it appears that Wilders’s radical words are now more mainstream in a country that for decades was viewed as one of the most liberal and tolerant in the world.
‘Mr Wilders is an enormously popular politician, his Freedom Party the third largest in parliament, and many analysts say Thursday’s acquittal will only boost his popularity in the immigrant-wary Dutch mainstream,’ Comiteau said.
Jean- Pierre Stroobaants, writing in Le Monde, said the verdict marks a clear turning point in Dutch history. ‘Over a 20-year period, the country has swapped its tolerant image for extreme mistrust of ‘foreigners’, he writes.
Ubaldus de Vries in the Guardian states politicians, not the law, must tackle Geert Wilders now
‘Political debate in the Netherlands is usually presented to the electorate in black-and-white terms: more or less public healthcare, public transport to be privatised or not, higher education to be the financial concern of the student or not, etc,’ he states.
‘Wilders radicalises this mode of presentation. His alternatives are not alternatives of the political category (left/right) but of the moral category (wrong/right): you’re either with us or against us, to paraphrase another politician. This pits groups against each other; it formulates an ‘other’ who needs to be defeated, destroyed. ‘I eat them raw,’ as Wilders has said.
‘In doing so, Wilders adopts nationalism as a mode to gather momentum, support and power. It feeds on fear and abuses this fear. Whether the fear is real or imaginary is irrelevant. Fear is a powerful and explosive instrument of power. Many ‘indigenous’ Dutch are threatened and frustrated by developments in the globalised world that they do not want but cannot control, such as immigration, and Wilders talks about ‘a tsunami of an alien culture that increasingly dominates local culture’.
‘The feeding of this fear is an attempt to increase the existing polarisation and segregation of Dutch society, potentially leading to banlieue-type unrest. Unless we all start realising the futility of the attempt – and the court should have given just such a signal.’
In a news analysis, the Economist says we should ‘expect a newly emboldened Mr Wilders to start expanding his range of concerns’.
In recent provincial elections, his party turned on the Netherlands’s biggish Polish community, accusing them of crime, drunkenness and taking Dutch jobs. Similar sentiments were soon heard from both the ruling liberal VVD party and the opposition Labour Party. More recently Mr Wilders has joined the euro debate, calling for the Dutch government to reject another bail-out for the Greeks, the Economist says.
The magazine points out that a lot of Mr Wilders’s populist ideas have found their way into the political mainstream. ‘Ignore Mr Wilders’s fiery rhetoric; it’s the quiet shifting of the tectonic plates of Dutch politics that are worth listening to,’ the magazine concludes.
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