Dutch Muslims want anti-Islam lawmaker convicted

AP News
Posted: Oct 18, 2010 12:43 PM
Dutch Muslims want anti-Islam lawmaker convicted

Muslim witnesses said Monday that a Dutch lawmaker's anti-Islamic comments had led to attacks and intimidation, and they pleaded with judges to convict him and give him a symbolic fine of one euro ($1.40).

Geert Wilders is facing charges of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims for statements that include comparing Islam with Nazism and calling for banning the Quran and taxing Muslim scarves, which he calls "head rags." His trial has been seen as testing the limits of free speech.

Prosecutors last week acknowledged they have failed to prove the case against him and called for his acquittal. But the judges may disagree, and their verdict is expected Nov. 5.

"Arson. Attempted arson. Vandalism. Disturbances. Incivility to people attending mosques. Obscenities. Intimidating behavior _ they have all become everyday occurrences" as a result of Wilders' public remarks, said Mohammed Enait, speaking for an alliance of Dutch mosques that had asked to testify as victims in the case.

Wilders denies inciting hatred of Muslims, and says he criticizes Islam because it's an ideology that rejects Western values. He says it is not a crime to state what many Dutch voters believe.

Enait said Dutch Muslims have suffered tangible damage as a result of Wilders' repeated negative remarks about Islam. He said there are countless incidences of "children being cursed at while they walk. Stories from women ... who are spit upon, mocked because they wear headscarves."

Enait, who is from Rotterdam, said the mosque he attended as a child had been burned down.

Dozens of mosques in the Netherlands were burned in 2004 in apparent retaliatory attacks after the killing of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an Islamic radical who is now serving a life sentence.

Since then, such burnings have become less common but other incidents continue.

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance found that there has been a "dramatic increase in 'Islamophobia' in the Netherlands" since 2000.

Several prominent Muslim organizations have asked the new government, which took office last week, to examine the problem, citing an incident earlier this year where a dead sheep was left on a site where a mosque is being built in the city of Roosendaal. Last month, a mosque in Groningen was burned in an arson attack, and as recently as last weekend, a bullet was fired at a mosque in the city of Dordrecht. No one was injured.

The conservative minority government relies on the support of Wilders' Freedom Party to pass bills in parliament. It has not reacted to the request from the Muslim groups.

The Anne Frank House, which monitors racism in the Netherlands, says anti-Muslim incidents have risen in recent years but it isn't clear that the situation has worsened since 2008.

Wilders' trial is being closely watched in many European countries, where immigration has created a backlash of anti-Muslim sentiment and boosted nationalist parties that are outspokenly negative toward Islam and Muslims.