I am somewhat surprised to learn that Geert Wilders will be prosecuted for insulting Muslims by comparing Islam with Nazism after a ruling by the Amsterdam Appeals Court.
While Mr Wilders views are repugnant and designed deliberately to offend Muslims and incite religious hatred, I don’t agree that bringing a prosecution is in the public interest. It seems that Dutch authorities will seek to prosecute under similar provisions contained in the UK Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 which at the time seemed to be designed to appease certain groups supporting the Government than being a serious attempt to deal with religious hatred.
Any Court action against Mr Wilders will give him a platform to seek more publicity, and if he is found guilty and sentenced he will claim to be a martyr for the causes of freedoms of speech and expression. And quite frankly I can’t see how anything that Mr Wilders says about Islam makes any difference to the beliefs Muslims hold. I doubt if he has the ability to divert a single Muslim away from Islam or prevent anyone interested in the religion to stay away from it – but if he wants to spend the rest of his life trying to do that, then let him carry on.
He shouldn’t be prosecuted for freedoms of expression and speech reasons as well. While inciting violence should be prosecuted, inciting religious hatred should not for the obvious reason that the threshold for prosecuting anyone under this category is too low. For example, Mr X belonging to religion Y could be prosecuted if for example he denied a fundamental belief of religion A, and Mr B, a believer and follower of religion A took offence to that comment and claimed that Mr X was inciting hatred.
The flip side to this argument is that a judge and jury are able to distinguish between hatred and criticism but surely if that is the case, are we not entering into a legal minefield where many subjective matters such as the intention of the inciter would have to be accurately determined? And if every inciter was to say that his intention wasn’t to incite hatred, are we not left with a strict liability offence which undoubtedly encroaches on freedoms of speech and expression?