Dutch businesses warned on Saturday that they would consider suing far-right lawmaker Geert Wilders if his anti-Islam film led to a commercial boycott of Dutch goods, while police said cars were set ablaze and graffiti called for Wilders to be killed.
“A boycott would hurt Dutch exports. Businesses such as Shell, Philips, and Unilever are easily identifiable as Dutch companies. I don’t know if Wilders is rich, or well-insured, but in case of a boycott, we would look to see if we could make him bear responsibility,” Bernard Wientjes, the chairman of the Dutch employers’ organisation VNO-NCW, told the Het Financieel Dagblad newspaper.
Malaysia’s former prime minister Mahathir Muhammad on Saturday suggested a boycott of Dutch goods.
“If Muslims unite, it will be easy to take action. If we boycott Dutch products, they will have to close down their businesses,” he told reporters.
The media in Jordan has also called for such a boycott.
Two days after the Internet release of the long-awaited 17-minute documentary “Fitna”, Muslim nations, including Malaysia and Singapore, and the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned it. Although there were no mass disturbances in the Netherlands, two cars were set ablaze in Utrecht overnight, with a slogan calling for the death of Wilders. Police said they could not say with certainty that it was connected to the release of “Fitna”.
The inclusion of the mention of cars being set afire seems pretty tangential to me, especially since it was isolated incidents and not widespread.
At first glance, a boycott seems rather harsh since the ordinary Dutch people - including obviously all Dutch muslims - were steadfastly opposed to Fitna and yet they would bear the economic brunt of a boycott far more than the jafi minority like Wilders and his cohorts.
However, in a free country a boycott is a legitimate instrument for applying social pressure, a form of speech in its own right. Just because you have the right to do a thing doesn't mean that there aren't reasons, of civility and honor, to refrain. If Fitna results in economic harm by voluntary (and legitimate) boycotts of Dutch goods from muslim countries then that is part of the price that the Dutch have to pay for their freedom. Wilders had every right to make his movie, irrespective of the harm it could have caused others, and muslims have every right to respond peaceably via boycotts.
And Dutch businesses suing Wilders over it seems rather just a comeuppance, doesn't it?
UPDATE: anyone inclined to argue that a boycott is unfair would do well to consider the alternative:
DAMASCUS, Syria, March 29 -- Islamic and Arab leaders denounced a Dutch film Saturday that portrays Islam as a ticking time bomb aimed at the West, calling for international laws to prevent insults to religions.
So not gonna happen!
Obviously Arab governments, being largely autocratic, would advocate criminalizing speech sine that is what they routinely do. Speech truly is dangerous, after all, and autocracy has reason to fear it. But the case of Fitna also shows that free nations also have reason to fear speech, and the corrective is applied not through government intervention but rather the power of the market.
The best answer to bad speech is more speech. But that doesn't mean that bad speech doesn't have consequences of its own, regardless of whether you live in a free ocuntry or not. There is no such thing as cost-free speech - rights come responsibilities, as well.