WildersÂ Â is labelled, while his critics have their own radical agendas politely obscured.
The fear around Wilders demands we hear him out
Shame, shame on the ABC yesterday.
You see, I had lunch yesterday with Dutch political leader Geert Wilders.
His chief message is that Islam as an ideology is a danger to Western values and freedoms, and particularly to our freedom to speak our minds.
But his life is a more powerful argument than anything he can say. It is an argument that demands a hearing.
Around us as we ate at a place north of Melbourne were some five or so Dutch police who help guard him day and night to prevent his assassination.
He has lived under guard now for nine years. He could not tell me, even in private, where in Holland he lived. At one stage he was housed in a former jail for his safety.
He has been the target not just of death threats, but of actual assassination plots by two Muslim fundamentalists arrested after a siege in 2004.
Two weeks ago a friend of Wilders, Danish journalist, historian and critic of Islam Lars Hedegaard, was shot at outside his home by a man he took to be Muslim, and is now living under police guard.
Many of those who in any way aid or host Wilders also feel fear. I am not allowed to identify the restaurant which hosted him yesterday to protect it from reprisals.
I and other guests were told the venue only very late the night before, again for security reasons.
Many venues which were booked for his visit cancelled when they heard who it was for, more in fear than in disapproval. This also happened with the original booking for our lunch.
I heard one guest tell Wilders to his face that he’d planned to write an article in his defence in a Melbourne newspaper but was talked out of it by his nervous wife. The man apologised.
Because of this fear,Â the Q Society which is hosting WildersÂ keeps its members’ name secret.
Journalists and others attending Wilders’ speech in Melbourne tonight have been instructed, again on security advice, not to approach him without clearance first.
Wilders’ tour here was postponed last year after the Immigration Minister for two months stalled on granting him a visa, despite having earlierÂ waved in a Muslim hate-preacherÂ whose organisation’sÂ websiteÂ exhorted: “Oh, Muslim armies, teach the Jews a lesson after which they will need no further lessons” and “purify the earth of their filth”.
You may agree with Wilders or you may disagree, but the danger to his life and fear of so many people to be seen to be helping or meeting him should tell even the deaf that Islam does indeed threaten free speech – and threatens also your right to hear whom you like and decide for yourself.
On that last point there should be no disagreement: the threats to Wilders and those who wish to hear him are disgraceful. Astonishing. A stain on our free society.
And they are testimony to the intolerance of Islam. No one critical of Christianity need feed for their lives or business in Australia. But attacking Islam can be life threatening – at least in Europe.
That, as I see it, are the key points in the visit of Wilders, who in person is eloquent, rational, pleasant and in no way the wild-eye extremist painted by people who have never met him and rarely read him.
But now to theÂ 7.30Â report on Wilders last night.
I would have thought that with so many attempts to silence Wilders,Â 7.30Â would have thought it both important morally and interesting for its audience to let him speak. Test him, sure, but let him speak.
Instead, the show vilified him with some preemptive and largely false labelling, and drowned out the few things Wilders was allowed to say with a barrage of vile abuse by some rent-a-mob of radical activists meeting in some concrete corner.
Wilders at least has a constituency, leading a party with 16 seats in the Dutch parliament and coming second overall in recent polls. The protesters found by the ABC to abuse Wilders represent virtually nobody.
What we got was simply another attempt to howl down Wilders, not to listen or even counter with arguments.
LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: To some, right-wing Dutch MP Geert Wilders is a courageous campaigner. To others, he’s just a racist bigot. And tomorrow he begins a speaking tour of Australia. Mr Wilders is here to warn about what he calls the dangers of Muslim immigration.
So who’s bankrolling his visit? A secretive group called the Q Society, an anti-Islamic organisation that hopes the Wilders world-view will catch on. Here’s Hayden Cooper.
HAYDEN COOPER, REPORTER: Most of Melbourne doesn’t yet know it, but there’s a newly-arrived tourist in this town and he just happens to be one of the world’s most divisive political figures. The Dutch right-wing anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders.
GEERT WILDERS, PARTY FOR FREEDOM: Australia can learn from our experience to stand up, to fight for who we are, for our own identity and never, ever we should become an Islamic society.
HAYDEN COOPER: He hasn’t even spoken in public yet, but he’s already causing a furore.
Like the introduction. Wilders need to live in constant and heavy security, but he’s painted as the one being “divisive” and “causing a furore”. He’s the one called “right-wing” and possibly “racist”, backed by a “secretive group” – although the group is secretive only because its members have a well-founded fear of threats and vilification of precisely the kind the ABC is dishing out.
JASMINE ALI, SOLIDARITY: This man is an extremist, he’s an Islamophobe and he shouldn’t be welcome. He’s not welcome.
YASEMIN SHAMSILI, STUDENTS FOR PALESTINE: I think Geert Wilders is a racist Islamophobe. And I think his visit to Australia is actually an attack on Muslims everywhere.
Solidarity is actually a Trotskyite outfit with a miniscule membership andÂ an authoritarian plan for AustraliaÂ far more threatening to our democracy and our freedoms than anything Wilders could ever dream of. Students for Palestine has helped to organiseÂ the disgraceful and – in my view – racist and violent protests against Jewish chocolate shopsÂ to help enforce a boycott of things Israeli. These protesters, in my opinion, do not represent the good but the bad. Yet nowhere does the ABC identify their true nature or label them as savagely as it did Wilders.
HAYDEN COOPER: Ahead of the Wilders arrival in an unassuming Melbourne courtyard on Saturday afternoon, a small group of activists met to plot their protest.
ACTIVIST II: Maybe something like “Refugees are welcome, fascists are not,” or, “Refugees are welcome, Geert Wilders is not,” or something along those lines.
HAYDEN COOPER: These people come from a handful of different protest groups. They’re gearing up for the Dutch MP’s first Australian speech here on Tuesday, a speech they object to.
JASMINE ALI: The way that Geert Wilders hides behind the argument of free speech is really about him trying to promote what are I think very quite coercive and violent ideas, and in that regard I think it isn’t a debate about free speech; it’s very much a debate about hate speech.
So far the unelected, unrepresentive protesters for radical far-Left groups have had five times more time from the ABC than Wilders himself. Somehow it’s more important for us to hear their opinions on Wilders than for us to hear Wilders himself and make up our own minds.
Next follows a brief interview with a representative from the Q Society to explain why it brought out Wilders. Then, finally, the man himself:
HAYDEN COOPER: Our meeting with the Dutch MP is held outside Melbourne in a secret location. We’re told not to identify the venue for fear of reprisals.
Under tight security, Mr Wilders’ every move is watched by his own protection team from Holland.
GEERT WILDERS: It’s something you don’t wish your worst enemy to have, but if this is the price to speak out and warn people about the threats they are facing, then it’s worth it.
HAYDEN COOPER: The threat, as he sees it, for both Europe and Australia, is Muslim immigration.
GEERT WILDERS: We should stop the immigration from Islamic countries. I have nothing against the people. I have nothing against Muslims. I travelled through almost every Islamic country and I found often very friendly and helpful people, but they are all prisoners in this – well, this ideology called Islam and it’s pure terror by which they are ruled.
That just a bullet-point position statement, with no chance for Wilders to put his argument, so that an apparently dramatic statement is given context.
Back to a grab from the Q Society about the difficulty of booking venues, with 30 refusals, and then one last word with Wilders – not to put his arguments about Islam but just his confronting conclusion and how he’s a pariah.
GEERT WILDERS: People are afraid. People are afraid to be connected to somebody that really is not me and I hope by speaking in Australia I can show people that our concern is their concern and that my message is a positive message for Australia: make sure you don’t make the mistakes that we made in Europe…
I understand it’s election time now in Australia, so even some of my old friends like your Liberal senator Cory Bernardi, who I met in Holland, now decides not to meet me. And I can even understand it; I am a politician. It’s sad, but I understand that.
Then there’s the uncorroborated allegations of one Muslim activist about what someone who went to a Q Society meeting allegedly said, so that Wilders is made to seem the as much a threat as the threatened:
HAYDEN COOPER: Geert Wilders is determined to support the fledging Q Society, an organisation that’s secretive about its membership and meetings. But one insider can take us behind the curtain.
ANONYMOUS MUSLIM MAN: Very extreme, very paranoid, very unsettling.
HAYDEN COOPER: This Muslim man attended undercover a meeting of the Q Society at the North Sydney Leagues Club.
ANONYMOUS MUSLIM MAN: They’re a group of people who are stridently anti-Muslim who are trying to generate fear in the Australian society about what Muslims really are. I mean, for example, I was in a meeting at one stage and there’s this woman sitting next to me, and she was talking to us, just an interchange about some fellow who was speaking a couple of rows in front of us. And I just leant over to her and said, “I think that man’s a Muslim.” And she said, “How would you know?” And I said, “Well he seems to know a lot about the Koran and the Hadith.” And her face just screwed up and she said, “I wish I had a knife. I’d stab him.”
We do get a word of support for Wilders from the Reverend Fred Nile – not so helpful – and a defence of the Q Society by Robert Spencer, before Wilders is slagged off again, this time linked to some alleged incidents he never incited and would deplore – and all this when he still hasn’t had a chance to explain his position:
HAYDEN COOPER: For these protestors, the mere presence of Geert Wilders in Australia is offensive, and for those who are Muslim, the message he brings is deeply personal.
JASMINE ALI: You know, I hear stories all the time about relatives, family friends of mine who have had their hijabs ripped off their heads walking on the streets of Sydney. These are the sorts of consequences that these ideas bring. So in that sense it’s a very personal issue. And that’s what people actually have to get across as well, that this isn’t just some abstract debate about ideas. They have real consequences for people’s lives.Â
This is a moral inversion of the reality, with Wilders fitted up as the demon and radical fringe group presented as our conscience. It works because Wilders is kept muzzled, while protesters can let rip. He is labelled, while his critics have their own radical agendas politely obscured.
This is not presenting a debate.Â It is fixing it. Shutting it down.
The obviously gay interviewer seems to be oblivious that homosexuals are to be killed under Islamic law:
Certainly not a friendly interview from the SBS, but the difference is that Wilders is at least allowed to put his argument. Viewers can decide.