Geert Wilders, the controversial Dutch politician accused of stirring up anti-Muslim hatred, has won a two-and-half-year court battle in the Netherlands.
The right-wing Freedom Party Leader stood accused of inciting discrimination and hatred. His accusers, an alliance of several race and religion based organizations, objected to his description of Islam's sacred scriptures, the Qur'an, as "fascist."
Wilders had compared the book to Adolf Hitler's Nazi work "Mein Kampf" and called for it to be banned. His criticisms of Islam appeared in print and on film, in the 2008 documentary Fitna.
Wilders was acquitted today after a trial that began in January, 2009. Presiding Judge Marcel van Oosten said Wilders had spoken in a "hurtful and also shocking way," but said that he had the right to propagate his message.
On his website, the politician described the verdict as "a victory for freedom of speech."
Conservative pundits in Europe, many of whom believe Islam is a threat to western, democratic culture, have also hailed the outcome as good news for free speech.
Writing for the Telegraph, Ed West said the trial was a "disgrace" and that, although he disagrees with him on Islam, Geert Wilders had "every right to wish to preserve his national culture."
"Half a century ago the idea that a major European politician could go on trial for insulting a religion, in the Netherlands of all places, would have been fitting only for a dystopian parody," West continued. "Yet this is really happening, as western Europe adopts Singapore-style multicultural authoritarianism."
Geert Wilders has said some very ugly things about Islam, and his critics may have a point in accusing him of Islamophobia. As West -- a prominent conservative commentator and hardly a friend of liberal multiculturalism -- notes, "many forms of Islam, and many ways it is practised by everyday people, are not remotely threatening or incompatible with European life."
But banning speech sets a dangerous precedent. As the saying goes, the solution to the problem of free speech is more free speech. Western democracy must fight ugly words not with censorship but with reasoned argument.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons