Ravian Ruys: Without trust, free speech suffers

This is the sixth of a series of posts written by members of Index on Censorship’s youth advisory board.

Members of the board were asked to write a blog discussing one free speech issue in their country. The resulting posts exhibit a range of challenges to freedom of expression globally, from UK crackdowns on speakers in universities, to Indian criminal defamation law, to the South African Film Board’s newly published guidelines.

Ravian Ruys is a member of the Index youth advisory board. Learn more

Ravian Ruys is a member of the Index youth advisory board. Learn more

“Haat imam” is a man whose life solely depends on the complete destruction of western values and interests, or so one would think if you were reading or watching the Dutch media.

It is a word used whenever we are talking of an imam whose views are considered either too conservative or too radical. In most cases, when someone is labelled a haat imam, they are subject to protest or no-platforming. In 2015, there have been three known cases of events being cancelled because some of the speakers were labelled haat imams. In these incidences, the individuals involved were investigated by Dutch security services and considered safe, meaning they were found to have no known links to terrorist organisations.

All this has led the Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), a political party currently in power, to advocate a blacklist for radical preachers. The party warns that this blacklist should not only include those Muslim preachers who have known links to terrorist organisations, but also those who spread hate.

This means public pressure leads to the narrowing of freedom of speech for one specific group of people. It has also created a feeling of persecution surrounding young Muslims, made even worse by the deputy prime minister quoting flawed scientific research stating that 80 per cent of young Dutch-Turks support ISIS.

If you are a Muslim in the Netherlands, you are now in an environment where you feel you must be the nicest Muslim anyone has ever met or you can’t be trusted. Perversely, this lack of trust is often quoted as one of the things that drives young Muslim  men and women into the arms of extremist organisations. Consequently, a policy trying to protect us against extremist propaganda works in favour of the extremists.

The Netherlands has a great reputation when it comes to freedom of speech and we should keep it that way. This means creating a fair and equal space for Muslims in our country to debate their religion on their terms. We might not always like what we hear, but we cannot intervene directly unless a direct threat is made against innocents. If we do not trust those involved, in other words, if we do not trust our fellow countrymen, how can we expect their trust in return?

Without trust, politics and civil society become a bloody mess.

Ravian Ruys, The Netherlands

Muira McCammon: GiTMO’s linguistic isolation
Jade Jackman: An act against knowledge and thought
Harsh Ghildiyal: Defamation is not a crime
Tom Carter: No-platforming Nigel
Matthew Brown: Spying on NGOs a step too far
About the Index on Censorship youth advisory board
Facebook discussion: no-platforming of speakers at universities