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Freedom of speech in the Netherlands: the case of Joke Kaviaar

When determining the limits of freedom of speech the issue of incitement is often invoked.  Free speech fundamentalists might argue that only the most direct kind of incitement – offering payment in return for murder being an extreme example – should be outlawed, whereas most people set the bar a bit lower, and worry about the effects of inflammatory discourse in the public domain.  Something can be highly inflammatory without directly soliciting violence of course.  I assume that this man did not directly call on people to attack Muslims – but the images he displayed would have been likely to stir up anger against them.

I’m no fan of Geert Wilders but I thought it was right he was acquitted for his comments about Islam, so I was interested to hear about another case in the Netherlands which also involves freedom of speech.   I first came across it here, where it was being invoked as a direct parallel to Wilders, a case of double standards.  The case concerns a woman called Joke Kaviaar, a poet and activist, and a fierce critic of her country’s policies on immigration.  Here it is claimed that “Joke Kaviaar [was] arrested for speaking out against the brutal Dutch immigration policies.”  Now – this really isn’t a very accurate summary of the situation.

Here is a post from Kaviaar herself over at Indymedia:

Companies such as BAM, now responsible for building the new deportation camp at Schiphol. Several small arson attacks took place over the past few months. During a similar campaign against a new deportation center at Rotterdam Airport, fire was set to the offices of the building company that were placed at the building site. Responsible politicians and directors of companies were visited at home, just to let them know: STOP.

It’s slightly oblique, but I infer that it’s not the arson attempts she is most anxious to STOP. Looking further at her writings, I found this comment aimed at the Immigration Minister Gerd Leers.

Not so long ago complained that actions Leers companies refrain from participation in the robbery freedom. He also claimed that IND employees would be endangered. ”Then get them to me!” He said. Good plan for change. It is time that we accept that invitation, but not to talk. It is difficult to talk about how people should be blackmailed, controlled, intimidated, detained and deported. There’s no talking to people who make laws and rules to torture and murder the semblance of legitimacy, to help them to keep the masks. Who is going to visit at Leers?

I suppose those statements are susceptible of different interpretations (and are of course translated) but I think those defending Kaviaar might view the case differently if she was a critic of Islam, rather than of the way immigrants are treated, and if the arson attacks she mentions had been against mosques rather than detention centres.  (Here is a fuller account of the various illegal actions taken by extremists from anarchist groups protesting against the country’s immigration policies.  Kaviaar is not accused of any involvement in such actions, but they are part of the backdrop to the case.) It may be that such protestors are right to be angry – but Wilders and his followers think they are right too, and neither camp should resort to violence and intimidation to further their political goals.