Sunday, April 1, 2012

"The Acquittal of Geert Wilders and Dutch Political Culture"

Robert A. Kahn, The Acquittal of Geert Wilders and Dutch Political Culture (Working Paper--University of St. Thomas School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper Series) (2011). Available here:

Kahn's working paper discusses the 2011 acquittal of Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders on charges of hate speech and group defamation. Wilders faced trial over comments he made in a variety of media outlets condemning Islam as a violent religion and warning about the rise in Muslim immigration. Kahn argues that although many see the acquittal as a victory for freedom of speech, this view is, at best, only partially accurate: "The standard explanation of the Wilders' verdict, while not without merit, only goes so far. If Wilders' trial was indeed a victory for freedom of speech, it was a partial one. The hate speech laws remained intact." (p. 15) Kahn goes on to analyze the trial and acquittal according to three alternative themes: (1) the frequent comparisons by commentators to the Nazi-era, with Muslims cast in the role of Jews; (2) the role of politicians--should they receive more or less free speech protection? Some judges believed Wilders' words were more harmful because he was the head of a small political party and could in theory see his views enacted into law, while others thought his views entitled to more protection because they could be seen as sincere legislative proposals; and (3) the role of Dutch elites in overseeing the trial; for example, prosecutors initially decided not to charge Wilders, but this decision was overturned by an appellate court, and one of the judges handling Wilders' case found himself in hot water after it was revealed he lectured a defense witness on why the charges were appropriate.

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