THE HAGUE, Netherlands – A right-wing lawmaker should be prosecuted for inciting racial hatred with anti-Islamic statements that include calling the Koran a "fascist book," a Dutch court ruled Wednesday.
Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders made headlines around the world in March 2008 with his film "Fitna," which juxtaposed Koranic verses against a background of violent film clips and images of terrorism by Islamic radicals.
In 2007, Wilders called for a ban on the Koran "the same way we ban 'Mein Kampf."' He said both Adolf Hitler's work and the Muslim holy book contain passages that contradict Western values.
The Amsterdam Appeals Court called Wilders' statements in his film, newspaper articles and media interviews "one-sided generalizations ... which can amount to inciting hatred."
The court's ruling reverses a decision last year by the public prosecutor's office that said Wilders' film and interviews were painful for Muslims but not criminal.
Wilders told Dutch media it was a "black day for myself and for freedom of speech."
The decision set the stage for what will likely be a highly charged trial touching on the declining Dutch tolerance toward a large immigrant population from Muslim countries, mainly Morocco and Turkey. Dutch attitudes shifted markedly after the 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a radical Dutch Muslim.
Wilders, whose party has nine lawmakers in the 120-seat lower house of Dutch Parliament, has built his popularity largely on tapping into fear and resentment among Dutch voters of Muslim immigrants.
"I've had enough of Islam in the Netherlands; let not one more Muslim immigrate," he wrote once in national newspaper De Volkskrant. "I've had enough of the Koran in the Netherlands: Forbid that fascist book."
The three judges said they had weighed Wilders' anti-Islamic rhetoric against his right to free speech, and ruled he had even gone beyond the normal leeway given to politicians.
Because Wilders has not yet been charged, it is not clear what maximum penalty he could face if convicted.
While judges in the Netherlands generally are loathe to become involved in public debate, the court said it was making an exception in the case of Wilders' comments about Islam.
"The court considers this so insulting for Muslims that it is in the public interest to prosecute Wilders," a summary of the court's decision said.
Gerard Spong, a prominent lawyer who joined Islamic groups in pushing for Wilders' prosecution, welcomed the decision.
"This is a happy day for all followers of Islam who do not want to be tossed on the garbage dump of Naziism," Spong told reporters in Amsterdam.