by DONALD HOPKINS
On October 20th 2009, Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician, visited Temple University, in hopes of giving a talk on "free speech." Geert Wilders is a member of People's Party for Freedom and Democracy and a well known right wing politician. His political positions include:
1. An immigration ban of five years for immigrants from non-western countries. Foreign residents no longer shall have the right to vote in municipal elections.
2. A ban of five years on the founding of mosques and Islamic schools; a permanent ban on preaching in any language other than Dutch. Foreign imams will be forbidden to preach. Radical mosques will be closed; radical Muslims will be expelled.
3. Banning the Koran as well as a $1500 excise tax on headscarf wearing.
Mr. Wilders also produced a controversial film called Fitna which argues that Islam is a political ideology that advocates violence and terrorism against non-believers. He was invited to Temple University by two Student organizations: The Temple College Republicans and Temple University Purpose—a social work organization supposedly devoted to social justice and presenting unconventional viewpoints. The David Horowtiz Freedom Center originally proposed his visit to the Temple Republicans, offering to pay for the talk.
Upon the announcement of his impending visit, many Temple Students were angered by the visit of a well known hate preacher. The Temple Muslim Association expressed its anger with a letter to the David Horowitz Freedom Center, which responded by publishing an article called "Jihad at Temple" which claimed that the Temple MSA supported Hamas and proceeded to print personal contact information of the President of the Temple MSA. The decision was made by a coalition of progressive student groups, including Temple’s YDS chapter: The Temple Democratic Socialists, to form a counter-protest in response to Geert Wilders visit. We proceeded to embark upon a massive awareness campaign throughout the campus, attempting to get as many of the progressive student organizations involved, as well as having a strong presence at the Temple Student Government meeting (who proceeded to pass a resolution condemning the visit).
The David Horowitz Freedom Center, perhaps sensing a heavily publicized political battle was afoot, decided at the last minute to send David Horowitz to the talk. The night of his visit, we showed up in force bringing a large crowd of protesters including members of Temple Democratic Socialists, Queer Student Union, Temple University All Sides, Students for Justice in Palestine, The Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, and of course The Temple Muslim Student Association. We made a very rigorous effort to make sure the protesters remained peaceful and calm, aware that if things got out of hand, Horowitz and his goons could easily portray us as a bunch of violent “Islamo-fascists.”
When the event began the opposition to Geert Wilders was clearly the majority in the room. Wilders proceeded to present his film (a movie not only intellectually fraudulent but badly produced as well) and then began his talk on free speech. He informed the audience that Islam was threatening Europe’s “Judeo-Christian” heritage. Islam, he maintained, was a fascistic political ideology that threatened freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and Europe’s “Western Civilization.”
Then came the question and answer period. To Geert Wilders (and Horowitz’s) dismay, the questions were not particularly friendly. Students, who had received copies of Wilders’ article where he argued that the Netherlands ban the Koran (printed and distributed by us), demanded to know how he could advocate for free speech and yet want to censor books and how he could call Muslims fascists when he himself argued for authoritarian policies in his home country. An attempt was made to present Mr. Wilders with a gift copy of the Koran, presented by Temple’s progressive student leaders, but we were informed we would not get a chance to speak at this “free speech event.”
As it became more and more obvious that the crowd did not appreciate his presence, the organizers announced that the event would be ending an hour early, as our unfriendly questions were apparently making Mr. Wilders uncomfortable. The crowd, who had been told that this event was supposed to be about free speech, were not pleased that they were not being given a chance to speak. As Geert Wilders hurried away to give interviews to the media and David Horowitz’s face began to turn a shade of red that I did not know existed, the message of our counter-protest became abundantly clear: Fascists are not welcome at Temple University.