Twenty years ago, Andres Serrano put a plastic crucifix in a glass of urine, photographed it and called it art. Conservatives in particular weren’t pleased: not with Mr. Serrano, not with his picture, and not with the National Endowment for the Arts, which had forked over $15,000 in taxpayer money to support this uretic gesture.
This anniversary comes to mind following the British government’s decision last week to ban Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders from British soil as an “undesirable person.” Mr. Wilders is also being prosecuted for hate speech in his native Holland, where he faces up to 16 months in prison if convicted. His alleged crime involves making a short film called “Fitna,” which draws a straight line between Quranic verses and acts of Islamist terror. Mr. Wilders has also called for banning the Quran, which he labels a “fascist book” on a par with Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.”
Whatever else might be said about Mr. Wilders’s travel ban and prosecution, it helps put into context the events of 1989. In the case of Mr. Serrano, liberal Americans went into a lather about defending his rights to artistic expression and freedom of speech against the parochial leaders of the religious right, men like Jesse Helms and Pat Robertson. Never mind that the worst of their threats involved withholding public funding; fundamental things were said to be at stake.
What’s remarkable is that his most serious detractors — those that aren’t themselves Islamists or spokesmen for supposedly mainstream Muslim organizations — tend to fall to the political left. In Holland, leaders of both the Socialist and Labor parties support the prosecution. In Britain, it’s the Labour government of Gordon Brown that has enforced the travel ban. In Germany, the leftish Der Spiegel calls Mr. Wilders “pushy” and accuses him of making “hate-filled tirades.” Elsewhere he is described as a “racist,” an “Islamophobe,” and so on.
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