Wilders should be kept out

Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician notorious for making an anti-Muslim film called Fitna which was essentially a montage of all the worst stereotypes of violent Muslims, has been banned from entering the UK to attend a showing of his film at the House of Lords. Even after hearing that he was to be banned, he got on his flight to Heathrow only to be taken aside by two British immigration officials and sent back a couple of hours later. This incident has provoked a controversy about freedom of speech, not for the first time in this country given the government’s reaction to the 2001 and 2005 terrorist atrocities.

To be fair, this film was a low-profile showing in a high-security venue, so its potential as a security threat is limited. The decision is, however, consistent with the history of this country which keeps people out on the grounds of not being “conducive to the public good”. They kept Louis Farrakhan out, quite rightly, as well as Yusuf al-Qaradawi, whose threat to public order is considerably less severe than Farrakhan’s or Wilders’. We can do without letting any more of this particular breed of mendacious, malevolent liberal bigot that the Netherlands have been producing a lot lately, particularly when the economy is in difficulty, which has typically been what allows extremists to flourish.

All this talk of freedom of speech is hypocrisy. This country has passed a number of laws since 2005 which restrict free speech, notably the ban on “glorifying terrorism” passed to stop the vexatious “Magnificent 19” press conferences given by al-Muhajiroun, which were vexatious only because the media made them into a scandal in order to sell papers. In the UK, “breach of the peace” laws already criminalised swearing in public, and there is also a law which makes it a crime to advocate replacing the monarchy with a republic (passed at a time when the French Republic was in turmoil). The UK has no constitution, which means that the legislature can pass laws restricting freedom of expression without much hindrance, unlike in most other democratic countries, even if we do not have the same laws banning specific ideas, particularly Holocaust denial, that exist in many countries in Europe.

To be honest, I was surprised that Wilders made a bee-line for Heathrow after being told he was not welcome in the UK. Any fool knows that if you find the front door locked, or you’re told it’s locked, you go round the back way. There are plenty of back ways into the UK; if you don’t succeed when trying Norwich airport or the ferry from France or Belgium, there’s always the various unguarded road crossings from the Irish republic. Perhaps none of these options would have got him here in time for his film showing at the Lords, if that couldn’t be put off by a couple of days. Did he intend to make a spectacle of his deportation, or was he just too thick to try the alternatives? Perhaps his refusal was justified on the grounds that he might forget how to put one foot in front of the other, and end up requiring hospital treatment, or breaking a paving stone, either way costing the taxpayer.

It’s also disappointing, but not surprising, that the Quilliam Foundation support allowing this man into the country on their usual “let’s have a debate” grounds (some unknown from “British Muslims for Secular Democracy” appeared on Channel 4 News earlier spouting a similar line). People who spout this nonsense should get wise to the fact that bigots are liars, and if you prove them wrong, they will simply repeat their lies as soon as they have a new audience. There is no debate to be had with these people. Fitna is widely available on the internet; its author has no need of a foreign parliament to show it. Free speech is not a valid argument, since if restrictions on free speech are acceptable for Muslim bigots, they are acceptable for Wilders and other anti-Muslim bigots.

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