A War on Tolerance

For populists in Europe and America, widespread fear of Islam has provided a new outlet for provincial rage against cultural and political elites. Their success is based on the sense that tolerance is not only weak, but an act of betrayal.

AMSTERDAM -- When “tolerance” becomes a term of abuse in a place like the Netherlands, you know that something has gone seriously wrong. The Dutch always took pride in being the most tolerant people on earth. In less feverish times than these, no one could possibly have taken exception to Queen Beatrix’s speech last Christmas, when she pleaded for tolerance and “respect for minorities.” But Geert Wilders, leader of the right-wing, anti-Muslim Freedom Party, was so disgusted by the Dutch queen’s “multi-cultural rubbish” that he wanted her to be stripped of her constitutional role in the government.

Wilders, a popular rabble-rouser whose party occupies nine seats in the Dutch parliament, compares the Koran to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, wants to stop Muslims from moving to the Netherlands, and thunders that those who are already in the country should tear up half the Koran if they wish to stay. Tolerance towards Islam is cowardly appeasement in his eyes. He thinks that Europe is in peril of being “Islamized.” “There will soon be more mosques than churches,” he says, if true Europeans don’t have the guts to stand up and save Western civilization.

Notwithstanding his call to ban the Koran, Wilders and his admirers claim to believe in unfettered free speech as a Western birthright. Beatrix stated that the right to free speech does not automatically mean the right to offend. Wilders disagrees. No criticism of Islam, however offensive, should ever be hampered by political correctness.

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