Free speech advocate unwelcome on college campuses

Dutch politician Geert Wilders speaks at Temple University on Oct. 20 in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr.)

How many times have you heard someone say: “I’m totally supportive of free speech and the First Amendment, but …”?

A couple of days ago, Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders spoke at two universities, Columbia and Temple, and got precisely that reaction. The question and answer session at Temple was cut short when the crowd turned ugly and Wilders’ security team had to usher him out of the room.

Wilders is the maker of a film called “Fitna,” which juxtaposes quotes from the Quran with images of terrorism, beheadings and speeches of Islamic clerics calling for violence against non-Muslims.

Wilders lives under 24-hour police protection because of threats resulting from the making of his movie and speeches critical of Islam. He faces prosecution in his own country. He was barred from entering Britain until recently.

He was invited to Columbia by a campus Republican organization that felt obligated to apologize for Wilder’s speech afterward.

“We didn’t invite him to talk about his views on Islam,” the Republican students wrote in a statement, noting that the club “does not in any way endorse” his views.  “We find the fact that he spent so much of his speech talking about those views regrettable, but he did explain that those views play a part in his concern for free speech.”

In a Columbia campus newspaper, Adel Elsohly, a graduate student and adviser for the Muslim Students Association, penned an op-ed endorsed by a dozen student groups, including the campus Democrats club.

He first made the obligatory homage to free speech, but then wrote, “Wilders’ speech, while beginning as a discussion of free discourse, soon devolved into little more than an open, vicious attack on Islam and Muslims, claiming that the ultimate goal of Islam is to conquer the world and forcibly impose itself on the conquered.”

He concluded: “Don’t we all deserve freedom from fear?”

Freedom from fear? When, just perhaps, there is something to fear?

In the Temple student paper a Josh Fernandez wrote, “It’s not that Temple students didn’t want Wilders to exercise his right to ‘tell people what they do not want to hear,’ but they didn’t want to hear hateful rhetoric, which — instead of proposing a diplomatic solution — proposed the eradication of a religious group.”

I can't find anywhere Wilders calling for eradication. Containment, perhaps.

I could not find a transcript of Wilders’ recent speeches but I did find one from earlier in the year in California. He paints an interesting picture of what results when one exercises “free speech” in Europe these days.

“Whether or not I end up in jail is not the most important issue,” he says in his speeches. “I gave up my freedom more than 4 years ago. I am under full-time police protection ever since, because of death threats from Muslims and terrorist groups linked to Al Qaeda. In the last few years, I lived in different safe houses, army barracks and yes, even in prison cells in order to be safe. But it’s not about me, it is not about Geert Wilders. The real question is: Will free speech be put behind bars?

“We have to defend freedom of speech. I propose the withdrawal of all hate speech legislation in Europe. I propose a European First Amendment. In Europe we should defend freedom of speech like you Americans do.”

Toward the end he launches into this Churchillian admonition:

“My message to those who oppose our fight for freedom is as follows: We will never compromise on freedom. We will never compromise on liberty. We will never appease to Islam. We will never give in, never give up, never submit to totalitarianism again.”

But those words are not welcome on U.S. campuses, where multiculturalism reigns, where any strong language is labeled “hate speech,” even if it is true.

Wilders at Columbia: