Razib at Brown Pundits.
A few people have asked me about the Geert Wilders’ affair. If you don’t know Geert Wilders’ is a right-wing Dutch politician prone to making inflammatory remarks about Islam. He’s been brought to court on the grounds of whether his comments violated the speech laws in much of Europe, which sanction inciting or hateful speech.
The main issue as an American that one always has about these sort of things is that because of the First Amendment and the way it has been interpreted our social norms are such that in regards to speech we are exceedingly liberal. Prosecuting Wilders would not be an issue in the United States. Rather, it is much more likely that he’d be marginalized and ignored as a kook.
From my perspective the main problem with prosecutions for hate speech in relation to Islam and immigrants in Europe is that these attempts seem like banning lying; it’s a nominal and symbolic salve on the underlying diseases. Additionally, one must note that the attacks are focused on Muslim immigrants in particular, who from what I can tell have shown (in part) the greatest concerted collective resistance to becoming absorbed into the “European consensus,” as it has evolved.
Some of Wilders’ statements are so extreme and strange that I can’t but help believe that he’s working the Overton window. And from what I’ve read his strategy has worked, the whole center of gravity of public discourse has shifted in the Netherlands and much of Europe. The very fact that Wilders was acquitted is probably a reflection of this, as the enforcement of these laws often is a signal of public mood.
Overall I think there are several issues in Europe which must be addressed in the near future which are relevant to the rise of the right-wing sentiment:
- The likely unworkability of the European “super-state” because of cultural incompabilities
- The nature of employment regulation in Europe which discourages labor market mobility and fluidity
- The welfare state predicated on a common set of values affinity across lines of class and age not always compatible with a multicultural order
- The cultural insularity of many minority ethnic groups in Europe, especially Muslims, vis-a-vis the mainstream
And that’s the tip of the iceberg. The main problem is that because of the nature of politics many of these issues are neatly reduced into catchphrases. Muslim populations in Europe complaining of racism neatly neglect that black Africans who are not Muslim probably experience as much racism, but are not the locus of social unrest or panic, in part because they don’t pose a coherent challenge to Europe as it is. Anti-immigrant voices neglect the fact that even if all immigrants left tomorrow Europe would still be facing massive structural problems because of the reality of their demographics, as fewer and fewer young people are supporting large populations of economically inactive older pensioners.
(Since I was one of the people who asked Razib to comment on the ruling by the Dutch court, I have his permission to copy the post here.)