Islam vs. Islamism


Charles Krauthammer caused grave unhappiness among some of his admirers last month when, speaking on Fox News, he attacked the Dutch politician Geert Wilders. At issue was Wilders's campaign against the "Islamization" of Europe, particularly in the Netherlands. "What he says," Dr. Krauthammer charged, "is extreme, radical, and wrong":

    He basically is arguing that Islam is the same as
   Islamism. Islamism is an ideology of a small
   minority which holds that the essence of Islam
   is jihad, conquest, forcing people into accepting
   a certain very narrow interpretation [of
   Islam].
      The untruth of that is obvious. If you look at
   the United States, the overwhelming majority
   of Muslims in the U.S. are not Islamists. So, it's
   simply incorrect. Now, in Europe, there is
   probably a slightly larger minority but, nonetheless,
   the overwhelming majority are not. 

Dr. Krauthammer's was not the only voice on Fox News condemning Wilders last month. Glenn Beck hauled out the "F-word" describing Wilders as "fascist" while William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, warned that Wilders was a "demagogue."

So: Geert Wilders is a fascist demagogue who is extreme, radical, and (what's more) wrong. Strong words. Are they justified?

A little background. As we write, Wilders, the founder and head of the Dutch Party for Freedom, is being prosecuted by the Dutch government for "hate speech," "discrimination," and similar outrages against political correctness. (He has also been indicted by Jordan for "inciting hatred.") If he loses in Holland, he could face a two-year jail sentence. In the meantime, he lives with round-the-clock security in the face of numerous death threats. This is, remember, the country where the filmmaker Theo van Gogh was brutally murdered by jihadists in broad daylight.

What is the exact nature of Wilders's tort? Well, in 2008 he wrote and sponsored a short film called Fitna, which juxtaposes verses from the Koran with contemporary images of violence perpetrated in the name of Islam. In its opening minutes, for example, the film flashes the text of Sura 8, Verse 60: "Prepare for them [i.e., for us] whatever force and cavalry ye are capable of gathering to strike terror into the hearts of the enemies." The cavalry in question was United Airlines Flight 175, which is shown plowing into the South Tower of the World Trade Center as crowds of terrified people scramble to escape the carnage. Other verses are accompanied by images of Islamic violence against Jews, women, and apostates from Islam ("seize them and kill them wherever ye may find them," Sura 4, Verse 89).

Wilders has also been vocal in his opposition to Islamic immigration and the institutionalization of Islamic law (Sharia) in the Netherlands. At the same time, he has campaigned vigorously for free speech, especially the freedom to criticize ideologies whose spread would stifle freedom. The New York Times sniffed that Wilders's demand for free speech was a "bit rich" since he has also called for restrictions on the circulation of the Koran. A contradiction? Not necessarily. In the first place, defending free speech includes guarding against those who would deploy free speech only in order to abolish it. ("There is," said Chesterton, "a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped.") Secondly, as Wilders has explained, his call to restrict the circulation of the Koran mirrors the official Dutch restrictions on Mein Kampf, the sale of which is illegal in Holland. The whole idea of "banning" books is anathema to most Americans. But Wilders's point is that if Hitler's incitement to hatred is restricted in Holland (as it is in some other parts of Europe), why not the Koran?

Two points about Dr. Krauthammer's charge that Wilders fails to distinguish between "Islam" (the faith of 1.4 billion to which we are not supposed to object) and "Islamism" (the bad or perverted form of Islam to which only "a minority" subscribes). …

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