Geert Wilders, head of the third-largest party in Dutch parliament, has called for banning both the Koran and Muslim immigration to the Netherlands, and has ridden a wave of popular xenophobia to the height of his country's political scene. This week, Wilders is being tried for hate speech in the Netherlands. He faces up to a year in prison if convicted.
As Chris Beam points out today in Slate, Dutch xenophobia is much larger than a single individual, and has a lot to do with environmental and historical factors that no single person could control. But while changing the country's attitudes towards religious and racial outsiders is hard, prosecuting a figure as difficult to defend as Wilders is really freakin' easy. He's enough of a bogeyman to serve as a convenient and fairly unobjectionable scapegoat for Dutch racism.
In this case, scapegoating means more than simply criminalizing one person's freedom of conscience. One Dutch activist believes there is even a legal imperative to get Wilders to change his mind, not just his behavior:
Mohamed Rabbae, chairman of the moderate National Moroccan Council, said outside the court that he hoped judges would force Wilders to issue an apology for his past remarks.
"We are not for getting Mr. Wilders in prison. We are for correcting him," he said.
Wilders is definitely in need of correcting. But in a healthy country, that would be the work of the voters, and not the legal system.