Geert Wilders to Glenn Beck: Europe needs a First Amendment

Five minutes from today’s interview, most of which unfortunately was devoted to rehashing his showdown with the Brits for the benefit of Fox viewers who hadn’t heard about it. Things get interesting near the end, though, when he floats the idea of a pan-European right to free expression. One problem with that: The European Convention on Human Rights already grants that right, albeit with caveats galore. In practice it’s simply subordinated to competing interests like, ahem, “community harmony.” Another problem is that the cultural tides are against him. Take five minutes and read Christopher Caldwell’s critique of Wilders in the Weekly Standard for more on that. Caldwell, to his credit, is willing to call Wilders on his own notable hypocrisy in this area but keeps his eye on the big picture:

Yes, there is increasingly a special regime for speech concerning Islam, or at least concerning religion. After the murder of van Gogh in 2004, the Dutch justice minister, Piet-Hein Donner, urged that blasphemy laws that had fallen into desuetude be revived to protect Muslims. He failed, but so did efforts to eliminate those laws, and Donner’s successor, Ernst Hirsch Ballin, has sought to strengthen them in recent weeks. Dutch elite opinion now leans towards the idea that one should try not to give the Muslim populations any cause for anger. In Britain, Muslims sought in 2006 a “law against incitement to religious hatred.” Before it passed, the House of Lords altered it to ensure that it would not chill critical discussion of any religion. Apparently they failed.

Yes, the British government has grown less interested in freedom. After the July 2005 transport bombings, and even more after the foiled airplane plot of the following summer, the government said so explicitly. “Traditional civil liberty arguments,” said Tony Blair, “are not so much wrong as just made for another age.” Since then, 270 people have been refused admission to Britain on grounds of sowing hate. Only four of these have been Europeans. This kind of disparate impact must leave Jacqui Smith feeling she has little to apologize for in banning Wilders.

The new European conception of freedom of speech, based on anti-racism, protects a lot less speech than did the old British and Dutch conceptions of freedom of speech, based on sovereignty. Maybe membership in the family of man relieves one of a certain amount of worry about the liberties of one’s fellow citizens.

Next stop for Wilders is Capitol Hill, to screen “Fitna” for the U.S. Senate at the invitation of Jon Kyl. Kudos to both of them. Exit question: Should we read anything into the fact that there was no snippet of “Fitna” shown here? Beck certainly has the stones to do it, but the Foxies conspicuously refused to show the Mohammed cartoons when that story was raging. Hmmm.