NYT: No Free Speech Defenders for Criticism of Radical Islam
The same disheartening passivity the Times showed by criticizing Dutch cartoons which depicted the Prophet Muhammad in unflattering guises appeared in reporter Gregory Crouch's "Saturday Profile" from The Netherlands, "A Dutch Antagonist of Islam Waits for His Premiere."
Saturday Profiles are generally positive features, but not so this weekend, as Crouch insulted Dutch Parliament member and anti-Islamic activist Geert Wilders' hairstyle while all but calling him an extremist for his harsh criticism of radical Islam. (The Times rarely calls even terrorist groups like Hamas "extreme," but Crouch's report twice suggested the epithet applied to Wilders.)
Geert Wilders's bleached-blond hair goes to the root of his character.
For more than two decades, Mr. Wilders, the controversial anti-Islam member of the Dutch Parliament, has dyed his hair a provocative - some say extreme - platinum blond.
The color makes him stand out in a crowd, not terribly practical for someone facing periodic death threats from Muslim extremists.
But Mr. Wilders has built a career - and a new political party - on a risky and defiant outlandishness that encompasses everything from his hairstyle to his anti-Islamic rhetoric.
Days away from releasing a much-anticipated film critical of the Koran, Mr. Wilders recalled in an interview the advice he received years ago from political leaders about how to get ahead.
"First, you have to moderate your voice about Islam," he remembered their telling him. "Second, change your stupid hair."
He has refused to do either.
"If people push me, I do exactly the opposite," he said.
Mr. Wilders, 44, is in the news here these days for a 10-to-15-minute film he says he has made depicting the Koran as the inspiration for terrorist attacks and other violence. Having failed to persuade a single Dutch television network to broadcast the film in its entirety, he said he planned to release it on the Internet by the end of this month.
Crouch doesn't mention anything about Islamic threats that may have intimidated the television networks into silence. Without raising an eyebrow, Crouch casually brought up the suppression of free speech, a puzzling position for a journalist to take:
Some here see Mr. Wilders's film - titled "Fitna," Arabic for civil strife - as a potential hate crime and have already filed police complaints in various Dutch cities, concerned that his past statements and the film will polarize religious groups and foster discrimination.
His supporters say he protects traditional Dutch values. His critics, and there are many, say he is an out-of-control, right-wing extremist risking his country's good name for his own political gain. Others are even harsher; one former trade union leader called Mr. Wilders "evil."
"Of course I am not evil," Mr. Wilders responded, looking a little annoyed. "Do I look evil to you? Maybe I do, but I'm not."
Mr. Wilders, who lives under constant police protection in an undisclosed location, is undeterred by threats from the Taliban to escalate attacks against Dutch soldiers in Afghanistan if the film is released.
Crouch blamed not radical Islam, but the admittedly over-the-top Wilders, for possible violent reaction to a film which no one has even seen yet.
Nor is he moved by Dutch expatriates abroad who, remembering the fallout from the Danish cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad, worry that the film may make their lives harder, or even dangerous.
Maxime Verhagen, the Dutch foreign minister, told a public television reporter that he found it "irresponsible to broadcast this film."
"That's because Dutch companies, Dutch soldiers and Dutch residents could and will be in danger," Mr. Verhagen said.
Such statements spur Mr. Wilders on, and in his opinion unintentionally prove that Islam is a rigid, intolerant religion whose followers try to muffle criticism, often violently. Framing himself as a defender of free speech, Mr. Wilders said there would not be such a fuss about his film if it were about the Bible.
Mr. Wilders, who is married and has no children, was raised Roman Catholic, but is no longer religious. The youngest of four children, he traveled and worked his way through the Middle East for two years after his high school graduation. Since then, he said, he has visited Israel at least 40 times and maintains close contacts there. But he has no real connections from his time in the rest of the region, admitting he does not have any Muslim friends.
His claims to the contrary, some Muslims believe that Mr. Wilders's animosity toward Islam extends to them.
Near the end Crouch returned to Wilders' hair color:
Since no one has actually seen Mr. Wilders's film, some here have started wondering if it is as fake as his hair color, a clever publicity stunt devised to prove his point that Islam and freedom of speech cannot coexist.