Geert Wilders in New York - and a critical historical note
Geert Wilders is brave. Despite death threats, he continues to say what he thinks. On September 11th Wilders spoke at the former site of the World Trade Center in New York.
. . .New York stands for freedom, openness and tolerance. New York's Mayor recently said that New York is "rooted in Dutch tolerance". Those are true words. New York is not intolerant. How can it be? New York is open to the world. Suppose New York were intolerant. Suppose it only allowed people of one persuasion within its walls. Then it would be like Mecca, a city without freedom. Whatever your religion, persuasion or gender is, in New York you will find a home. In Mecca, if your religion isn't Islam, you are not welcome.
We who have come to speak today, object to this mosque project because its promoter and his wealthy sponsors have never suggested building a center to promote tolerance and interfaith understanding where it is really needed: In Mecca - a town where non-Muslims are not even allowed to enter, let alone build churches, synagogues, temples or community centers. So why should we do that?
Ordinary Americans object to the mosque project because currently no fewer than ten major multi-million dollar mosque projects are being planned in the United States as well as dozens in Europe, while not a single church is allowed in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, while Jews are not even allowed to move their lips in prayer on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, while the oldest Christians in the world, the Copts, are not free to renovate their churches, let alone to build one in Egypt.
We would like to offer the following history in response to Geert's speech.
1657-1664 Flushing Remonstrance Defends Religious Freedom in New York
The Dutch were not that tolerant. Thirty Englishmen in the Long Island village of Flushing protested Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant’s arrest, torture and expulsion of a Quaker preacher who had defied Stuyvesant’s ban on all religions but Dutch Reformed Protestantism. Defying repercussions, the 30 Englishmen signed and delivered the Flushing Remonstrance to Stuyvesant.
They asserted that “If any persons. . . Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker. . . come in love to us, we cannot in conscience lay violent hands upon them.” They asked that “the law of love, peace and liberty . . . [extend even] to Jews, Turks and Egyptians . . .”, and declared, “Let every man stand or fall to his own Master.”
The Remonstrance enraged Stuyvesant. He forced the signers to retreat. Nevertheless the Remonstrance was never forgotten, and was an inspiration for the religious freedom clause in the US Constitution.
The old Bowne farmhouse. Image: Gotham Gazette
In 1662 Stuyvesant arrested and exiled Flushing citizen John Bowne, who had allowed his house to be used by Quakers. Sent to Holland to be tried, Bowne took his case to the board of the Dutch West India Company. Bowne made a principled argument and also a persuasive one - tolerance is more profitable than intolerance. The next day the Company released Bowne, and sent him back across the Atlantic with a letter to Stuyvesant, who was told to allow full liberty of conscience in New Amsterdam. In 1664 New Amsterdam fell to the English and was renamed New York. It has been prospering ever since.