Islam and freedom of speech
Geert Wilders is a member of the Dutch Parliament and head of the Freedom Party. In 2008 he released "Fitna," a controversial film about the Koran and jihadist violence. Wilders was condemned as an anti-Muslim agitator but also hailed as a defender of Western values and free speech. In January, a Dutch court ordered Wilders prosecuted for allegedly inciting hatred against Islam. Last month he was invited to screen "Fitna" at Westminster, but the British government barred him from entering the country. He was recently interviewed by Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, who prepared the following edited excerpts:
Q: You've said that England today is more Chamberlain than Churchill. Explain what you mean.
A: Well, Chamberlain was the biggest appeaser to a totalitarian ideology called fascism. Now we face the threat of another totalitarian ideology called Islam, at least according to me. And instead of defending our freedom, defending our values, when I was invited a few weeks ago to show "Fitna" in the House of Lords, they denied me entry to the United Kingdom.
Q: The letter from the British home secretary said: "Your statements about Muslims and their beliefs . . . would threaten community harmony, and therefore public security, in the UK."
A: What really happened is that she was pressured. In the English press, there was a lot of news that Lord Ahmed [Nazir Ahmed, a British peer] threatened to have 10,000 Muslims demonstrating in front of Westminster.
Q: If you were allowed into the country.
A: Yes. And this is what I meant by Chamberlain. The UK government is giving in, appeasing the enemy. They should stand up and say: We might not like the political view of this guy, but he should be allowed to come here and say it.
Q: In the film, you show quotations from the Koran, together with video of statements and actions by Muslim extremists.
A: Exactly. I used reality. It was really made by radical Muslims themselves. I just combined the pictures with the source. If they don't like the movie, they don't like what they do themselves. At the end of "Fitna," it talks about Islamic ideology - that we should defeat the threat of Islamic ideology. For that to not be allowed in the United Kingdom, to be prosecuted in my own country, is an absolute outrage.
Q: A few weeks ago at a demonstration in Amsterdam, people were yelling, "Hamas! Hamas! Jews to the gas." Was there any prosecution of that type of speech?
A: This is the double standard: If you are a radical Muslim imam, and during your Friday prayer - this happened in the Netherlands - they said that Shariah should be installed, gays should be thrown from high buildings, women should be beaten up - terrible things. Sometimes the prosecutors brought them to trial, but they were always acquitted, because [of] freedom of religion. Now somebody like me stands up and says, "Hey, this is wrong," and I'm being brought to court.
Q: This month is the 20th anniversary of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie by the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. Back then, the West pretty much defended Rushdie. Yet now, 20 years later, you're banned from Britain, prosecuted in your country. What accounts for such a different response?
A: What's happened is that the cultural relativists believe that all cultures are equal, that Islam is just another leaf on the tree - and that everybody who says different is a xenophobe or racist. Within Europe, Muslims today have enormous political force. They all vote, and they're represented by mostly leftist parties.
Q: You say: "I don't hate Muslims; I hate Islam." Is there really any difference?
A: I have nothing against the people. I don't hate Muslims. But Islam is a totalitarian ideology. It rules every aspect of life - economics, family law, whatever. It has religious symbols, it has a God, it has a book - but it's not a religion. It can be compared with totalitarian ideologies like Communism or fascism. There is no country where Islam is dominant where you have a real democracy, a real separation between church and state. Islam is totally contrary to our values.
Q: What do you say to scholars of Islam like Daniel Pipes, who argues that radical Islam is the problem and moderate Islam is the solution? Why should one accept what Geert Wilders says about Islam, rather than someone like Pipes?
A: I respect Daniel Pipes, but I fully disagree. There is no moderate Islam. It's like the [prime minister] of Turkey, Mr. Erdogan, said himself recently: There is only one taste of Islam, and that is the taste of the Koran.
Q: But he's an Islamist. You would expect him to say that. What about anti-Islamist Muslims, Muslims who reject the radicals?
A: Listen, the Koran is seen by Muslims, unlike all the other religions, as the word of God that can never be criticized. If you criticize the Koran, you are a renegade, an apostate. There are people who are moderate and call themselves Muslim. But moderate Islam is totally nonexistent. It will never have an Enlightenment as happened with Christianity.
Q: Why not?
A: Because unlike the interpretations of other holy books, Muslims believe that the Koran is the word of God and can never be changed.
Q: Hold on - the New Testament today is the same New Testament as a thousand years ago. What's different is the way that book is read and understood. A thousand years ago, one could have said Christianity was a violent, militant religion; today one wouldn't.
A: Yes, there was a change in Christianity. It was possible because Christians don't believe that the Bible is literally the word of God - not like the Koran. If you really believe [the Koran] is the word of God, it will never have room to change.
Q: But why couldn't there be a movement within Islam that would say, "Yes, the Koran says X, Y, and Z, and it has been interpreted violently by violent people, but we give it a different interpretation"?
A: Then they are not Muslims anymore.
Q: How do you decide whether they are Muslims anymore?
A: I am not deciding. It's the Koran that's saying it.
Q: What Christians did at the time of the Inquisition was what Christianity was then; Christianity today has become something different.
A: Your premises are totally wrong. Islam is not a religion. Islam is an ideology. You keep comparing it to Christianity, Judaism. It's not. It's an ideology that wants to dominate every aspect of society. I know billions of people believe it's a religion. I don't.
Q: Is there any difference in your view between Islam and Islamism?
A: Islam and Islamism, it's exactly the same.
Q: With an outlook like this, don't you effectively exclude any Muslim from being an ally?
A: I am not excluding anybody. I don't even want Muslims from the Netherlands to leave my country. I'm not a [Jean-Marie] Le Pen. I want to help people be educated, be part of our society, get a job, respect our values. But it can never be possible on the basis of their violent ideology called Islam.
Q: Doesn't that contradict your defense of free speech?
A: Holland is not an Islamic country. I wouldn't want to have a system like in Saudi Arabia or Iran. Their ideology [says] to beat women, to kill Jews, to kill homosexuals. You can say, "Well, isn't that freedom of speech?" I want us to have more freedom of speech. But there is one red line - incitement of violence.
Q: You've said that under Dutch law, the Koran should be banned. Were you being rhetorical, or did you mean it literally?
A: I meant it. But you have to know the Dutch context for that. In the '70s, "Mein Kampf" was banned, and the left was so pleased. I am now proposing a ban on a book that is even worse than "Mein Kampf." And I'm not the first one - Winston Churchill compared "Mein Kampf" to the Koran in the 1950s.
Q: An American defender of free speech would say "Mein Kampf" shouldn't be banned, the Koran shouldn't be banned; books shouldn't be banned. To publish ideas in a book, even if they're hateful ideas - the First Amendment says you have that freedom. Is that what you would like in Holland as well?
A: I would, with the exception of incitement of violence.
Q: Do you think that multiculturalism and freedom of speech are ultimately incompatible?
A: No, Islam and freedom of speech are incompatible. Cultural relativism makes it difficult to fight, because cultural relativism says that Islam is the same as Christianity. Europe is being Islamized very, very quickly. In our prisons, we have a mark in every cell indicating the direction of Mecca. In Holland! I can give you 500 examples. People are getting beaten up on the streets of Amsterdam and Brussels for drinking water during Ramadan. We should have a sense of urgency.
Q: What do you say to Muslims like Zuhdi Jasser? He is an American, a former Navy officer, a doctor. After 9/11, he was so horrified by what was done in the name of Islam that he founded the American Islamic Forum for Democracy: pro-American, pro-democracy, anti-violence, anti-Islamist. How do you answer Muslims like him, who say: "I love my religion. I also love freedom, democracy, Western values. I believe in separation of mosque and state. But how can I be an ally with someone who says my religion itself is evil?"
A: Well, I would tell him I wish there were more people like you. It didn't happen. I would not agree with [Dr. Jasser] about Islam, but I wish there were more like him.