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For Geert Wilders, Free Speech is a One-Way Street
By Nihad Awad
WORD COUNT: 695
[Nihad Awad is national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties group. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org]
In a recent online commentary (“Why I am In America Fighting for Free Speech”), anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders defended himself against criticism of his recent claims that “Islam is not a religion” and “the right to religious freedom should not apply to Islam.”
Wilders made these inflammatory remarks at a Florida conference hosted by Rep. Adam Hasner, the head of that state’s House Republicans. In his address to the so-called “Free Speech Summit” Wilders also said: “Islam [sic] heart lies at the Quran, and the Quran is a book that calls for hatred, that calls for violence, for murder, for terrorism, for war, and submission…We should also stop pretending that Islam is a religion.”
He now bizarrely claims that his freedom of expression is under attack because the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and others criticized his hate-filled rhetoric and called for Rep. Hasner to be removed from his leadership post for supporting Wilders’ bigotry and intolerance.
Throughout Wilders’ self-pitying commentary, he somehow failed to note that CAIR never demanded that he not be allowed to speak. He also decided not to mention that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued a statement condemning his “message of hate against Islam.” The Jewish group’s statement called his remarks “inflammatory, divisive and antithetical to American democratic ideals.”
In calling for a principled response from the Jewish community, CAIR said: “Members of the Jewish community know all too well what happens when a religious minority is demonized by demagogues. Wilders uses the same scurrilous attacks on Muslims and Islam that the Nazis used against German Jews and Judaism in the 1930s.”
Wilders also accused CAIR of “seeking to impose what amounts to Shariah blasphemy codes.” That false claim flies in the face of CAIR’s often-repeated defense of First Amendment rights to free speech.
CAIR did not support the British government’s decision to ban Wilders from entry because of his extremist rhetoric. We also criticized a similar ban on an American “hate radio” talk show host who has in the past vilified CAIR, Muslims and other minority groups.
British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith recently published the names of 16 people banned from that country for fostering extremism or hatred. Among those banned was talk show host Michael Savage, who has called the Quran "a book of hate.”
CAIR did not support Savage’s ban even though it is part of an interfaith coalition that challenged his on-air bigotry and despite the fact that he has called on lawmakers to institute an "outright ban on Muslim immigration" into the United States.
In response to Smith’s announcement, the San Francisco Chronicle quoted CAIR Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper saying: "[A]s a matter of principle, we don't support such bans. They tend to be selective, in that only popular speech is allowed and unpopular speech is not allowed."
It is ironic that Wilders claims to be a champion of free speech, while at the same time calling for the Quran, Islam’s revealed text, to be banned in Holland.
In another grand display of hypocrisy, Wilders called for the resignation of a Dutch diplomat in Indonesia for delivering a “pro-Islam speech” in Jakarta. The diplomat’s offense - he gave a lecture entitled “The Global Political Trend and the Role of Islam: The Academic Responsibility of Muslim Scholars.”
“In doing this, he has lost all credibility,” said Wilders, presumably with a straight face.
Polemicists like Wilders are self-serving hypocrites, publicity seekers and free speech opportunists. They are desperate for the limelight and are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their moment of fame, no matter how much harm their rhetoric causes to interfaith relations and civil society.
But instead of focusing on the hate spewed by these people, mainstream members of all faiths and societies should band together to build mutual understanding and trust.
The Wilders of the world thrive on sensationalism, false information and hypocrisy. They should be repudiated by all people of good will in every faith and culture, and then treated in the way that they least prefer. They should be exposed using factual information and then they should be ignored.