A member of the Dutch Parliament who was banned last week from entering the United Kingdom because of his inflammatory anti-Islamic views is about to be welcomed to the United States by some notable conservatives.
Geert Wilders—who has publicly compared the Koran to "Mein Kampf"—is scheduled to make public appearances in Washington next week, including a Feb. 27 press conference at the National Press Club. Wilders is seeking to promote his movie "Fitna," an incendiary short documentary film that depicts Islam as a religion of terrorists.
The chief sponsor of Wilders's National Press Club event is Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan administration Pentagon official who now runs the Center for Security Policy, a prominent neoconservative think tank. Others who hope to meet with Wilders include David Horowitz, a well-known conservative activist who promotes campaigns to fight Islamic extremism.
But Wilders's U.S. tour seems to be testing the limits of free speech even among hard-core conservatives. Some seem to be keeping their distance—apparently fearful of associating with a right-wing political figure widely seen in Europe as a dangerous extremist and self-promoter. The organizers of next week's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington—a splashy gathering with prominent speakers like GOP Chair Michael Steele and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee—have yet to decide whether Wilders will be welcome to speak.
"People are afraid to deal with him and the issue [of Islamic extremism] in general," said Robert Spencer, who runs a blog called Jihadwatch. Horowitz said he was disappointed that Wilders—or somebody allied with his cause—had not been booked on a panel at the CPAC meeting. "How is it possible that a conservative conference does not have a single panel on the threat from radical Islam?" he complained to NEWSWEEK.
David Keene, the president of The American Conservative Union and an organizer of the conference, at first told NEWSWEEK that he could not accommodate Wilders because all the speaking slots were booked. But after conferring with Gaffney over the weekend, he said he would seek to find time for a brief presentation. "If we can free up five or 10 minutes, we'll see if we can let him speak," Keene said.
Wilders could not be reached for comment.
As an example of what he sees as the timidity of conservatives, Spencer—who wrote a book called "The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World's Most Intolerant Religion"—said that an article he recently coauthored with Wilders was turned down by a number of conservative publications before it was eventually posted on National Review's Web site.
Spencer said it's not that conservatives are afraid of being targeted by Islamic extremists. Instead, he contended they were fearful of being accused of being anti-Islamic or racist for associating in any way with the Dutch lawmaker.
That is not an unreasonable fear given Wilders's history. The leader of a right-wing Dutch political faction called the Party for Freedom, Wilders has transformed himself into a political performance artist, pursuing a high-profile, high-risk personal crusade against what he asserts are deeply rooted violent tendencies in Islam. When Theo van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker (and descendant of the painter) was murdered by an Islamic extremist in 2004, Wilder used the crime to rail against Islam and Muslim immigrants. He received death threats and claims he was forced to go underground, and once even sought temporary refuge in a jail cell.
Two conservative British politicians had invited Wilders to screen his "Fitna" film last week at Britain's House of Lords. But before he departed for Britain, he received a letter from British immigration authorities advising him that the Home Secretary, Britain's internal affairs minister, had banned him from entering the U.K. on the grounds that his presence "would pose a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat to ... community harmony and therefore public security in the U.K."
Despite the letter, Wilders flew into London's Heathrow Airport last Thursday—accompanied by a group of journalists he'd apparently tipped off—only to be turned away. He was put on the next plane back to Holland. His rejected efforts to enter the United Kingdom—along with the threats against his life—have prompted some conservatives to champion Wilders as a martyr for free speech.
But critics say it is the height of irony, if not hypocrisy, for Wilders to present himself as a champion of free speech given that he has openly called for banning the Koran. In a recent New York Times op-ed, the writer Ian Buruma, who wrote a book about the Theo van Gogh case, said that Wilders has brought much of his trouble on himself by crossing the line from criticizing the radical elements within Islam to insulting one of the world's largest faiths. "If Mr. Wilders were to confine his remarks to those Muslims who do harm freedom of speech by using violence against critics and apostates, he would have a valid point," Buruma wrote. "Mr. Wilders, however, refuses to make such fine distinctions. He believes that there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim."
Buruma's recommendation: Rather than hailing Wilders as a courageous free-speech champion, or prosecuting him (as a Dutch court recently threatened to do), the best approach is far simpler: Ignore him.