There is much to say about the trial and the full acquittal of Wilders. Yet, realistically speaking we need another day or so to read the full verdict and come to final conclusions.
It is possible though, to sketch what happend at the Court House today. Essentially two things happened:
- for quite a bit of Wilders behaviour, the Court found it denigrating, rude, schocking and so on; they gave him a thorough verbal reprimand in terms of regular human behaviour,
- by referring to the context of the discussions in earlier years, as well as Wilders repeated additions in public "I have no personal grudges against any individual muslim", the judges observed his behaviour to be directed to the ideology islam and not to humans. Thus they concluded that a full acquittal was in place.
I'm still pondering the consequences and implications. Here's my first thoughts.
1. If this approach is the recipe, it means you can come a long way in society by constantly throwing in this easy disclaimer: 'I don't have any personal issues or grudges against the individual people; it's merely their collective way of thinking that bugs me'. Thus, practically speaking, the court just provided a recipe for our society. Hatespeech allowed, if accompanied by a disclaimer that you don't mean harm to individuals.
2. The judges morally and verbally convicted Wilders in the loudest terms possible. They didn't use the word 'obknoxious' but their sentences and qualifications came essentially down to the biggest reprimand ever. So while Wilders may now claim that free speech is essential and he has won a victory, it may be a Pyrrhic victory. Every time that Wilders refers to the verdict of the court in his favour, anyone interviewing him can also quote the other parts of the verdict in which his behaviour is qualified as rude, schocking, seeking and on the border of the acceptable.
3. With the acquittal, Wilders no longer gets a stage for standing up as a symbolic freedom fighter or a martyr of democracy. He is none of the above, merely qualified as a rude politician that has sought the edge of the allowable. And that puts the ball back where it belongs: in the court of the civil society. Here in the Netherlands we may all take some time to reflect on the developments in our society that made it happen that such a rude, obknoxious man has gained so many followers.
4. I suspect that the claimants that have brought the case forward, may eventually seek to address their dissatisfaction with this verdict with the European Court of Justice. And my guess is that they do have a chance there. In the meantime, the trial has allowed us to ponder fundamental questions with respect to the limits of free speech in practice and has lead to a very clear qualification of Wilders behaviour. Both are a good thing and it is good to observe that as we speak, the national news bulletins outline both elements of the verdict of Wilders.