Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Geert Wilders banned from the UK

Some thoughts:

1. It is right in principle that the UK bar entry to anyone the presence of whom it considers - on reasonable grounds - to pose a threat to national security, or be otherwise not be conduicive to the public good.

2. This power must be exercised consistently.

3. This is the first time an elected legislator in one EU jurisdiction - and one, it might be added, who has been convicted of no crime - has been denied entry into another, thereby denying him his right to free movement. That doesn't mean, to my mind, that the decision to bar his entry was automatically wrong; but it does mean that the test to be applied, which should be high in any event, should be even higher in this case.

4. The Home Office reasoning for barring Gilders in this case, as set out in the decision letter (pdf), is that "your statements about Muslims and their beliefs, as expressed in your film Fitna and elsewnere, would threaten community harmony and therefore public security in the UK." That is pretty clear-cut: Wilders is barred because of the reaction his presence might provoke. That is a pragmatic decision, but it is a deeply depressing one. On the same logic, a Dutch or French author who wrote a Satanic Verses-type novel could be banned. In other words, being banned does not depend on what you have said and done, and the inherent quality of that, but on how others react to it. Wilders is a nasty piece of work who would like to ban the Qu'ran, and so is an unatractive free-speech martyr. But you could be utterly blameless, judged by western, democratic laws and mores, and still be banned like him. This is a policy which can only be seen as a pre-emptive capitulation to the threat of unrest, placing 'community cohesion' over the right to free speech.

As I say, arguably pragmatic; but deeply depressing nonetheless.

5. And what about this from a 'Home Office spokesman'? -

'The Government opposes extremism in all its forms. It will stop those who want to spread extremism, hatred and violent messages in our communities from coming to our country.

Wilders explicitly links violent suras in the Qu'ran to terrorist acts committed by Muslims, suggesting there is a link between the two. (Not wholly unreasonably, as Islamist terrorists from Bin Laden down have quoted from the Qu'ran in support of their actions.) It would appear that the UK Government now classifies that as an act of 'extremism'. That is surely wrong.

We endorse the original condemnation of the film 'Fitna' by the Dutch Government, and feel that it serves no constructive purpose.

Since when did a film have to serve a constructive purpose to avoid condemnation by the state?

The British Government has absolutely no connection with any screening of this film that may take place in the House of Lords or anywhere else in the UK. It is a matter for the House of Lords or any other venue as to whether they choose to show it.

Fair enough.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental right, but one that must be used responsibly and not as a cover for causing offence and division.

This is genuinely deeply disturbing, illiberal stuff. Is the Home Office really saying that freedom of speech can and should be limited by the power of the state if it causes offence or creates 'division' (whatever that means)? For that matter, when did it become incumbent upon me as a British citizen to exercise my freedom of speech 'responsibly' (as opposed to lawfully)?

We fully appreciate the sensitivities around the portrayal of any religious figure or text.

But not around ill-thought through attacks on freedom of expression, apparently.

: interesting, and encouraging - an online poll in the Guardian/CiF on whether Wilders should have been allowed in is currently 83:17 in support of his being allowed in, on free speech grounds.

Update 2: magisterial piece by Philip Johnston in the Telegraph on all this. Money quote: It is simply not good enough to say that Wilders should not be heard because he might provoke a backlash from those who do not like him or his views. That is not upholding the law. That is appeasement. Oh, and of course it is inevitable that David Miliband felt able to condemn the short film at the centre of this, Fitna, without actually having seen it.

And Bruno Waterfield is worth quoting at some length on the politics of this:

Home Office officials deliberately, in my view, engineered this "hate speech" storm to play to the gallery and to present the government as a champion of the "Muslim Community", as it is officially defined by its self-appointed "leaders", who are usually deeply conservative.

In doing so, Miss Smith has further poisoned the well of public debate while damaging Britain's relations with an important European ally, the Netherlands, for short-term, sectional opportunism.

An elected European politician was invited by a British parliamentarian (albeit an unelected one) to speak in Westminster's House of Lords (albeit a chamber that should be scrapped).

There is a convention here, and it is an important one, that governments do not interfere in such contacts unless a threat to security is a clear and present danger.

Britain has smashed this convention to bits.

It frogmarched a foreign MP off to the cells to win cheap headlines to cement the government's multicultural credentials with a key constituency, Muslim "representatives" such as the unelected Muslim Council of Britain.


dNo said...

Stuck in the cultural wilderness that is Arizona (where a barista last night told me he thought it would be cool to live in England "cos we have all these recession things which you guys dont...")...
Could you fill me in on the difference between this ban and, say the EU wide ban on Mugabe and his shopping wife. He has never been convicted of anything, and is an (ahem) elected politician... should we ban him because we dont like his policies? After all, as a government we were happy to welcome other genocidal corrupt twats like Pinochet, Reagan and Kissinger...

Jonny Mac said...

I'll say this dNo, you get around...