Lucky US

A British Member of Parliament and a former Dutch exile tell us why we’re blessed to reside in the United States of America.

British MP Daniel Hannan:

Tea partiers don’t get much positive press here in Europe. They are generally portrayed either as a gaggle of stump-toothed Appalachian mountain men or as a KKK lynch-mob. A typical column in Britain’s Guardian newspaper last month described them as “a movement most of whose emergent stars would appear to be better suited to prison or lunatic asylums.”

If tea partiers perform well in next month’s election, most opinion-formers will put it down to American particularism, by which they mean an almost demented conservatism. We Europeans, they will say, are more balanced. We understand that you can have a free market and a decent welfare system at the same time…

My constituents don’t like high taxation any more than Americans do—or, far as I can tell, anyone else. The BBC World Service recently polled 22,000 people in wealthy and developing countries. In 21 out of the 22 states surveyed, respondents said they wanted lower taxes rather than higher spending.

So why are there no tea parties in Brazil or Pakistan? It won’t do to put the difference down to culture. Culture is not some numinous entity that exists alongside political institutions; it is a product of those institutions.

What makes the U.S. truly unique is not some undefined cultural singularity, but the way it selects its candidates for public office. In most European democracies, “party-list” systems mean, in effect, that the leader and his clique get to choose every candidate.

European legislatures thus exclude entire currents of popular opinion. European voters are habituated to being taken for granted. “It doesn’t matter how I vote, nothing ever changes” was the response I heard on doorstep after doorstep before the recent U.K. election. Why bother with a tea party when you know in your bones that your leaders will ignore you?

Lurking behind the Euro-sophism is an uneasy sense that, if there were open primaries on this side of the Atlantic, voters might start demanding all sorts of unreasonable things—might, in other words, start behaving like tea partiers. Open primaries ensure that legislatures remain diverse, independent of the executive, and responsive to public opinion. They make a spontaneous antitax campaign possible.

You don’t know how lucky you are to have them, my friends.

Geert Wilders


And Dutch ex-patriot Ayaan Hirsi Ali:

Imagine if a leader within the tea party movement were able to persuade its members to establish a third political party. Imagine he succeeded—overwhelmingly—and that as their leader he stood a real chance of winning the presidency. Then imagine that in anticipation of his electoral victory, the Democrats and Republicans quickly modified an existing antidiscrimination law so that he could be convicted for statements he made on the campaign trail.

All of this seems impossible in a 21st-century liberal democracy. But it is exactly what is happening in Holland to Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders…

Article 137C of the penal code now states that anyone “who publicly, verbally or in writing or image, deliberately expresses himself in anyway insulting of a group of people because of their race, their religion or belief . . . will be punished with a prison sentence of at the most one year or a fine of third category.” It continues: “If the offense is committed by a person who makes it his profession or habit, or by two or more people in association, a prison sentence of at the most two years or a fine of fourth category will be imposed.”

And so since Oct. 4, Mr. Wilders has filed into court to defend himself in this blasphemy trial. If he loses—and the chances are high, given that the presiding judges haven’t been subtle about their bias against him—he will face fines or time in jail…

How is it possible that a mature European liberal democracy is prosecuting an elected member of parliament for his political opinions on the most pressing issue of the day—namely, Islamic fundamentalism? There are three main reasons.

First, there is the matter of traditional politicians’ discomfort with Mr. Wilders. Historically, the Netherlands has insisted on the idea of “consensus.” Though on paper this means compromise, in practice it has meant conformity of thought and a refusal to rock the boat on controversial issues.

No issue has tested this comfortable consensus more than the ascent of Islam, first presented by immigrants from Morocco and Turkey in the 1960s and 1970s, and then by asylum-seekers and refugees from various Muslim countries beginning in the 1990s. Most elites responded by preaching “tolerance.” Give Muslim immigrants benefits and wait until they voluntarily integrate, their argument goes. Even if that process would take generations—even when it became apparent that some Muslims practiced female genital mutilation and honor killings, and imams openly urged their congregations to reject Dutch culture and law—citizens were not to criticize Islam.

A growing segment of the population—including Mr. Wilders and me, when I was a member of parliament from 2003 to 2006—doubted this facile and dangerous idea of “tolerance.” This upset politicians, professors, journalists and other opinion-makers who tried to make us untouchables…

The second reason Mr. Wilders is on trial is the electoral power of Muslims in the Netherlands’ four major cities. During local elections in March 2006, Muslim immigrants for the first time acted as an unofficial power bloc that could make or break a major Dutch party.

The supposed victims of Dutch discrimination were now a force to reckon with. Thus, major parties including Labor and the Christian Democrats—dominant since World War II—now support policies like increased immigration from Muslim countries and welfare benefits for Muslim voters. And they turn a blind eye to the implementation of informal Shariah law, particularly concerning the treatment of women.

Third, there are the efforts of countries in the Organization of the Islamic Conference to silence the European debate about Islam. One strategy used by the 57 OIC countries is to treat Muslim immigrants to Europe as satellite communities by establishing Muslim cultural organizations, mosques and Islamic centers, and by insisting on dual citizenship. Their other strategy is to pressure international organizations and the European Union to adopt resolutions to punish anyone who engages in “hate speech” against religion. The bill used to prosecute Mr. Wilders is the national version of what OIC diplomats peddle at the U.N. and EU.

The implications of this trial are enormous. In the short term, it could bring the simmering tensions between Holland’s approximately one million Muslims and the 1.4 million voters who elected Mr. Wilders to a boil. The Netherlands has seen its share of Islamist violence before and could well see violent confrontations again.

On a more fundamental level, this trial—even if Mr. Wilders wins—could silence the brave critics of radical Islam. The West is in a war of ideas against political Islam. If free speech is not protected in Europe, we’re already losing.

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