PHILADELPHIA – Amid tight security and a large turnout of protesters, Dutch right-wing lawmaker Geert Wilders told an assembly of Temple University students that Europe and America must fight an ongoing "stealth jihad" that threatens democracy and free speech.
"Where Islam sets roots, freedom dies," Geert Wilders told the students during his 30-minute address organized by a new student group called Temple University Purpose and funded by the California-based David Horowitz Freedom Center, a foundation that promotes conservative scholarship.
His remarks were met by a mixture of applause and boos, and occasionally gasps — particularly when he stated that "our Western culture is far better than the Islamic culture and we should defend it."
He decried as a "disgrace" a resolution co-sponsored by the U.S. and Egypt, and backed by the U.N. Human Rights Council earlier this month, deploring attacks on religions while insisting that freedom of expression remains a basic right. Wilders also criticized President Barack Obama for his efforts to extend a hand to the Islamic world, saying that such appeasement marks "the beginning of the end."
If the spread of Islam continues unabated in the Western world, "you might at the end of the day lose your Constitution," he told the assembly. "Wake up, defend your freedom."
He also touched on common themes in his speeches, including calling for an end to Muslim immigration and referring to the Muslim holy book, the Quran, as "an evil book" that promotes violence and intolerance.
A question-and-answer session was cut short after the tone of the event began to turn nasty, when some in the crowd of several hundred students began shouting jeers. Wilders' security detail quickly ushered him from the room.
"In order to improve our understanding of others, we need to learn," said Alvaro Watson of Purpose, the student group. "We can't fight for something if we only know one side."
Before his remarks at Temple, a public university serving about 34,000 students, Wilders showed his 15-minute anti-Islam film, "Fitna," which juxtaposes passages from the suras, or chapters, of the Quran with images of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, beheadings, shootings and speeches from clerics advocating violence against non-Muslims.
"I think it's completely wrong that someone who promotes racism and intolerance should be given a platform at this university," said Temple student Josh Rosenthal. "It's hate speech disguised as free speech."
Another student, Joseph Rodrigues, said that being able to voice unpopular opinions is a freedom not to be taken lightly. "I might not like what he said, but I think it's important that he be allowed to say it," he said.
Temple officials issued a statement saying the university "is a community of scholars in which freedom of inquiry and freedom of expression are valued."
"We respect the right of our student organizations to invite people who express a wide variety of views and ideas," the school said in a statement.
British officials once banned Wilders from visiting for fear it would spark violence. He successfully sued the government and visited Friday.
Wilders is scheduled to speak at Columbia University in New York on Wednesday.