Contrary to what those at the ironically named David Horowitz Freedom Center have been claiming, Geert Wilders was not planning to travel to Philadelphia from the Netherlands solely for the purpose of informing Americans about terrorism. The notion that a politician from the Netherlands needed to travel to a city less than two hours away from Ground Zero to inform us about the nature of terrorism or the challenges we face from it in the future would be laughable if it were not such a grim indicator of the state of the world today.
So, we must wonder, what then was the real motive for the Dutch politician’s planned visit? Based on Wilders’ record, it is clear that the purpose behind the speech was to convince Americans that Islam as a religion is the root cause of terror and that the United States must seriously consider curtailing the civil liberties of its Muslim population if it wishes to survive as a free nation. We need only to look at some of the many previous comments Wilders has made to come to this conclusion.
“It is not a coincidence that every terroristic act, almost every terroristic act, aimed and based on this fascist book, the Koran, and this wrong ideology, Islam, unfortunately has been done by people from Islamic [background]”
“I don’t believe in a moderate Islam. I don’t believe in what some people call a European Islam. I don’t think there will be [a moderate Islam] and if there will be, in time, it will be in two or three thousand years.”
“Madam Chairman, this country has an excise tax on petrol and diesel, it has parking permits and a dog tax, it has an airline ticket tax and has a packaging tax, so why not tax the headscarf? A Head Rag Tax.”
We were fortunate this time around that students and the administration at Temple University were informed of Wilders’ nefarious agenda by the commendable efforts of the Muslim Students Association on campus and his slanderous speech (which is not protected by the First Amendment) was canceled before it could take place. Rumor has it though that Columbia University has decided to hold the speech instead. One can only hope that they too come to the realization that slander is not a right acknowledged by the First Amendment nor is it a form of speech worthy of being granted a position at the podium of an institution of higher learning.
To understand why Wilders’ words should be considered as slanderous, we have to take a few steps back and look at the big picture. Slander involves the speaking of false words that damage the recipient’s reputation (luckily for Wilders, one can not be sued for slandering a religion or ideology). Wilders’ claim is that there are elements intrinsic to Islam itself that promote acts of terror against civilians. To support his position he has crafted a youtube-sized video that cleverly juxtaposes carefully selected passages from the Quran and speeches by terrorist leaders with acts of terror. Ignoring the fact that anyone with more than a cursory knowledge of the Quran could show that the passages Wilders [and his intellectual brethren in Al Qaeda] chose are taken out of context, Wilders has forgotten the very basic of all rules of statistics. Correlation does not imply causation. The significant number of Muslims involved in terrorist actions does not mean that Islam is the cause, nor do most Americans follow that crass logic.
How can Islam as a religion be culpable for causing terror if terror itself has had such a long history of being practiced by people of varying faiths and no faith? When Native Americans attacked and killed all of the inhabitants of Jamestown, what was it but terrorism? When President McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz, what was it but terrorism? When the Zionist group, Irgun, bombed unarmed Palestinian and British civilians, what was it but terrorism? Any argument that attempts to assert that Native American beliefs, or anarchist beliefs, or the Zionist movement, intrinsically promote terror against civilians is absurd and patently false. Similarly, any argument that claims that Islamic scripture promotes terror simply because Islam is the religion practiced by most terrorist today is just as absurd and just as patently false.
There are more than one and a half billion Muslims in the world today. If Wilders’ assertions about Islam were correct, one in four people would be attempting to kill the other 3 people. Were this to happen, global civilization would quickly disintegrate as we faced a level of warfare that would make World War II look like nothing more than a rough game of beach volleyball. Since this is clearly not the case, we are left with the possibility that the vast majority of Muslims who have condemned terrorism have misunderstood their religion and that Geert Wilders, great scholar of Islam that he is, has uncovered Islam’s true message. Once again, this would be a laughable notion if it were not such a grim indicator of the current realities of political thought.
The unfortunate truth is that terrorism is simply a tool used by peoples who have exhausted all others means of resistance. Fanaticism and terrorism by a people who have had their lives and liberties attacked from every possible direction is a deplorable yet predictable phenomena that is independent from any particular set of religious or ideological beliefs. In the last century alone, those living in the the “Muslim World” have had to face challenges stemming from the decline of formal religious institutions, the abrupt end of colonialism, the imposition of forced dictatorships, the creation and failure of arbitrary nation-states, and the existence of occupying foreign armies on their land. The combined effect of these forces has unfortunately resulted in a rise in the number of people who see acts of terror as the only means by which they can establish a system of social justice that they believe will give them the freedoms they desire. Islamic scripture is used as a way to rationalize the approach these individuals have chosen to achieve their goal, similar to the way Christian scripture was used to rationalize the political and financial ambitions of the papacy during the Crusades.
Until Geert Wilders is able to demonstrate that Islam, and not the numerous other factors that have historically played a role in cultivating terror, is the actual cause for terrorism today–a task as unachievable as it is absurd– his claims amount to slander and defamation and should be treated as such. Temple University was right to rescind their offer to have Wilders speak and Columbia should follow suit. Slander has no place in a free and just society; especially slander that utilizes hate speech to promote discrimination.
Editor’s Update: Temple University has decided, under pressure it seems to allow the Temple University Purpose to go ahead with the Geert Wilders speech. After initially signalling that it would not be permitted they are going ahead with it in the name of “free speech,” an argument we addressed above. However, aside from leading administrators it seems the whole University, consisting of the student body and the faculty have indeed “rejected” Wilders.
The Student Senate has joined ranks with several organizations decrying a student group’s invitation to Dutch politician Geert Wilders, known for anti-Islamic and anti-immigration beliefs, to speak on campus.
In an overwhelming vote yesterday, the governing body passed a resolution denouncing Wilders for “intolerable, disgraceful and prejudiced slandering of the Islamic faith.”
Student Senate President Jeff Dempsey said he couldn’t support the decision to invite Wilders and hoped that the university would pull the plug on the program at the last minute.
“I’ve never been ashamed to be a Temple student,” Dempsey said, adding that university-sponsored dollars were not used to fund the event. “Our proud embrace of diversity and inclusion is tarnished by this man’s provocation of hate.”
Wilders was invited to speak by a new group on campus called Temple University Purpose.
Before the meeting, about a dozen students held signs with phrases including “Temple U. Does Not Condone Hate” and “Hate Speech [does not equal] Free Speech.”
Among the demonstrators was Megan Chialastri, vice president of All Sides, an organization that seeks to promote peace between Israel and Palestine.
“We feel student groups should not bring people on campus that jeopardize the safety, or just the way people feel on this campus,” she said.
In a letter issued last week, Monira Gamal-Eldin, president of the Muslim Students Association, criticized the university for being the first in the United States to allow Wilders to address students.
“The Muslim population at Temple feels attacked, threatened and ultimately unsafe that Mr. Wilders has been invited to voice his hate-driven opinions,” she wrote.
“The decision to allow Mr. Wilders to share his viewpoints is a danger not only for the public safety of Muslims and the honor of the core principle of Islam, but also for academic integrity and objectivity on campus.”
Nonetheless, the event will go on as planned, said university spokesman Ray Betzner. “We respect the right of our student organizations to invite people who express a wide variety of views and ideas,” he wrote in an e-mail yesterday.
David Horowitz, of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, which funded the event, issued a letter asking university officials to disregard the concerns of the Muslim students.
“The Temple community should reject the call by the MSA to censor free speech on the Temple campus, and should recognize it for what it is – an assault on the right of all Americans to have a democracy that is inclusive, tolerant and respectful of the rights of others,” he wrote.
The event is not intended to offend any group, but to provide a forum for students to discuss sensitive subjects, said Brittany Walsh, president of Purpose, a social and political group that organized the event. She added that her group does not share Wilders’ views.
“I respect their opposition to it,” she said of the Muslim students. “The purpose of TU Purpose is to hash out unconventional views . . . to promote freedom of speech and give students an education opportunity of a lifetime to raise concerns and issues with a prominent international figure.”
But Barry Scatton, whose College Republicans organization had co-sponsored the event but now condemns it, said that discussion shouldn’t come at the expense of others.
“It’s caused so much personal trauma to a lot of students,” he said. “That is not the goal for me or my organization.”
As a precaution, Temple officials will dispatch university police for crowd control, a security official said. The event is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in Room 17 of Anderson Hall, on Berks Street between 11th and 12th.
Wilders, a leader of the Party for Freedom, in the Netherlands, has made headlines for a string of controversial actions.
In 2008, Wilders escaped prosecution in England for allegedly inciting hatred of Muslims after releasing his short film “Fitna,” in which Quran verses are shown alongside images from terrorist attacks.
Before that, Wilders had called for bans on the Quran – likening it to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf – and the burka, the Muslim women’s garment that covers most of the body.