Right-wing Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders has a shock of blond hair and words that shock to go with it. "Where Islam sets roots, freedom dies," he said in comments at Temple University in Philadelphia on Oct. 20-his first speech to an American university. He added that Muslims should not be allowed to immigrate and that Muslim women should pay an excise tax for wearing a hijab, which he has termed a "head rag tax."
Comments like those elicited condemnation from the British government in February when the home secretary banned Wilders from the country for inciting religious hatred, which is forbidden by law in Britain. Then on Oct. 13 a tribunal overturned the ban on Wilders, and he immediately flew to London, after spending about £10,000, or $16,600, on the legal battle. (Wilders had a Muslim lawyer.) The government has banned other pot-stirrers like radio host Michael Savage.
The judge heading the tribunal, C.M.G. Ockelton, said, "Substantial evidence of actual harm would be needed before it would be proper for a government to prevent the expression and discussion of matters that might form the opinions of legislators, policy makers and voters." He continued, "It was more important to allow free speech than to take restrictive action speculatively."
While the U.S. government hasn't banned Wilders from the country, various groups have attempted to block his scheduled lectures at two universities: at Temple, where he spoke Oct. 20, and Columbia University, where he spoke Oct. 21.
Temple's College Republicans originally offered to host Wilders for the speech but canceled the lecture after a storm of protest. A newly formed student group, Temple University Purpose, hosted him instead. Purpose's mission is to be "an open forum in which conventional and unconventional views are exchanged." The university's administration declined to intervene, saying the school values freedom of expression. Temple's student government passed a unanimous resolution of disapproval of Wilders' speech as well as Purpose.
Wilders showed his anti-Islam film Fitna, which displays passages of the Quran alongside images of terrorism, before his lecture and question-and-answer session with students. Students stood outside the tightly secured lecture hall with signs that said, "Hate speech isn't free speech."
Muslim Student Association president Monira Gamal-Eldin issued a statement protesting Wilders' lecture: "A person who has been tried in the Netherlands Supreme Court for his hate speech concerning Islam, banned from the United Kingdom due to the threat he poses to the community, and is concurrently being charged for violating anti-hate laws in the European Union should not be allowed to address the Temple community." She went on to say Wilders' presence would be "a breach of Temple University's pledge to ensure the wellbeing and safety of all students and faculty on campus."
But Wilders himself has to worry about his wellbeing; he lives under police protection because of death threats. He also lives in the shadow of Theo van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker who was critical of Islam and was murdered in 2004 by a Muslim, Mohammed Bouyeri.
Back in the Netherlands the right-wing Freedom Party, which Wilders founded in 2006 and leads, has grown in power in the Dutch Parliament. In the 2009 European Parliament elections, his party won the second-most seats of any Dutch party.