The controversial politico was met with protests and opposition when he addressed a packed lecture hall in Anderson Hall.
Students crowded in front of Anderson Hall last week to protest a presentation – almost canceled due to the controversy it brought – delivered by Dutch politician Geert Wilders.
Wilders, whose controversial views resulted in a ban from the United Kingdom, traveled to Temple to discuss his opinion on radical Islam, calling it “more an ideology than a religion.”
Prior to the event, tensions were high – marked by police presence, strict rules prohibiting backpacks and an air of hostility amid the crowd outside the building.
“I’ve been verbally assaulted,” said Erik Jacobs, a freshman journalism and political science major actively supporting the event, after handing out flyers promoting free speech on campus.
Others said the event posed a threat to the security of Temple’s Muslim students.
“The reason All Sides is protesting this event is because we see it as decreasing the peace on Temple’s campus,” sophomore Jewish studies major and All Sides President Bryan Mann said. All Sides is a peace-oriented student organization that protested the presentation.
After waiting outside for several minutes, students in the audience were patted down and ushered into the lecture hall. After a brief introduction by TU Purpose, the group that hosted the event with funding from the David Horowitz Freedom Center after the College Republicans dropped their sponsorship, Wilders took moments to appear in front of the lecture hall.
After the front two rows were cleared for security purposes, Wilders approached the microphone to a mixture of claps and boos.
He then proceeded to show his film Fitna to the audience, a 15-minute documentary about Islam and its presence in Europe.
The film itself is a collection of intensely violent images accompanied by verses from the Quran, which Wilders described as “an evil book.” It argues that the spread of Islam to Europe and the rest of the world is dangerous and needs to be stopped.
Some attendees expressed disapproval of the way Wilders presented the film.
“You can take any religion and take pictures of violence and things blowing up and put them together and get people angry,” Mena El-Turky, a senior business law and political science major, said.
The presentation then turned into a speech, which Wilders opened with a joke, thanking the United States police for allowing him into their country.
Wilders focused on what he perceived as the threat of Islam becoming too strong of a force in Europe.
“Europe is in the process of becoming Eurabia,” he said. “Islam has attempted to conquer Europe before.”
Despite his predominately anti-Islam views, Wilders acknowledged that not all Muslims are extremists.
“The majority of Muslims in Western Society are law-abiding people who want to live peaceful lives,” he said.
The audience responded to Wilders views intermittently with booing, clapping and gasping.
“Our Western culture is far better than the Islamist culture,” Wilders said during the middle of his speech, prompting a particularly mixed and intense reaction.
When he insisted that constitutions be based on Judeo-Christian values, one student laughed loudly and walked out, met with applause by the audience.
The atmosphere remained civil until the question-and-answer session, which some students used as an opportunity to express their dissent.
The question-and-answer session quickly became heated, ending after remarks accusing Wilders of being one of the same fascists who he’d visually compared Islamists to in his documentary.
Most Temple students opposed Wilders’ views immediately following the event.
“I think the most hypocritical part of his argument was that he was fighting intolerance, but he’s fighting intolerance with intolerance,” Amanda Young, a junior English major, said. “I don’t understand what kind of reaction Temple Purpose expected.”
TU Purpose was founded this year to “attempt to bring social cohesion to the campus through awareness,” said President Alvaro Watson, a senior social work major. “We wanted this to be an overall educational experience for everyone.”
Watson said he hoped Wilders’ speech would be an opportunity for Temple students to learn something from what he had to say, even if they did not agree with it.
“We provide an open forum for conventional and more importantly, unconventional views,” he said. “We are not forcing Mr. Wilders’ words down anyone’s throat.”
He said the night was an overall success, despite the unruly behavior of a few individuals.
“We should be proud as Temple students that we were able to be part of this.”
Abe Rosenthal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.