Dutch Lawmaker’s Trial Pits Anti-Islam Remarks Against The Rights Of Minorities

Dutch lawmaker's trial pits anti-Islam remarks against the rights of minorities

Toby Sterling,
The Associated Press
12:00 AM CST on Thursday, January 21, 2010

AMSTERDAM Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders sat in the defendant's dock Wednesday, nodding his head as prosecutors read aloud a hundred remarks he has made condemning Islam, Muslims and immigrants notably one comparing the Quran to Hitler's Mein Kampf.

Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders has compared the Quran to Hitler's Mein Kampf and called for taxing clothing commonly worn by Muslims, including headscarves, because it 'pollutes' the Dutch landscape.

Wilders' criminal trial on charges of inciting hate against Muslims has resonance across Europe: He is one of a dozen right-wing politicians on the continent who are testing the limits of freedom of speech while voicing voters' concerns at the growth of Islam.

Wilders has also called for taxing clothing commonly worn by Muslims because it “pollutes” the Dutch landscape. He may be best known for the 2008 short film Fitna, which offended Muslims around the world by juxtaposing Quranic verses with images of terrorism by Islamic radicals.

“I know the words I use are sometimes hard, but they are never impetuous,” he said Wednesday. “I also do not intend to hurt people's feelings. I have nothing against Muslims. I have a problem with Islam and the Islamization of our country because Islam is diametrically opposed to freedom.”

His lawyer said Wilders is not guilty and asked for the charges to be dismissed.

About 200 Wilders supporters demonstrated outside the court, many carrying signs saying “Stop the Islamization of Europe.”

“There are lots and lots of them [Muslims] who are good people, decent, hardworking people it's not about that,” said Jeroen Korthuis, who traveled from the northern province of Friesland to attend the protest. “It's about their numbers.”

After a wave of immigration in the 1980s and 1990s, Muslims make up about 6 percent of the Dutch population of 16 million.

While Wilders' supporters see the trial as an attack on of freedom of expression, immigrant groups see it as a test of whether the Dutch government is willing to support minority rights, including freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination.

If convicted, Wilders could face a maximum sentence of two years in prison, though a fine is more likely. He could keep his seat in parliament.