The British government has banned a Dutch MP from entering the country for fear his incendiary beliefs would incite racial hatred against Muslim populations.
The MP, Geert Wilders of the Dutch Freedom Party, had been invited to Britain by UK Independence Party peer Lord Pearson to show his controversial film which links the Koran to terrorism and in which he labels it a “fascist book”.
Before leaving his native country he received word from the British Embassy in the Netherlands informing him that he would not be granted permission to enter the UK.
Mr. Wilders has called the move by the Home Office “cowardly” and the UKIP Lord who invited him has been equally vocal in labeling the decision as ‘appeasement’ of extremists. Those defending the ban, such as Labour’s Lord Ahmed have claimed that Geert Wilders presence in the UK would “create more incitement, and racial violence”.
The Home Office has defended the ban, citing EU law enabling member states to exclude anyone whose presence is deemed to threaten public security.
I do not believe that this includes Geert Wilders. The the first thing that must be made clear is that this man is a vile, reprehensible bigot whose beliefs range from the ill-informed to the vehemently racist.
He faces trial in his own country for inciting hatred, and he speaks endlessly on the threats that immigration pose to his country, consistently condemning what he refers to as an "Islamic invasion".
He refers to the Islamic founder as a “terrorist” and a “war criminal” and he compares the Koran to Mein Kampf for its "incendiary content". He then goes on to demand an outright ban on the Koran.
Yet I still believe it is the wrong decision to prevent this man from entering Britain.
His views clearly have no place in the modern and tolerant British society Labour has envisioned in the past decade. Yet it is a mistake to ban this unsavory individual from entering the country for several reasons.
We have laws preventing the incitement of racial hatred – and if he should overstep this mark at any point whilst in this country I would hope that our authorities would deal with him rapidly and severely. However, until that moment let us prompt him to defend his ideas and debate his beliefs openly. We as a mature liberal democracy should feel able to put on display for all to see the intellectual bankruptcy of his beliefs.
By stifling his words we simple magnify them and empower him with a martyr status unbecoming of the man and of the beliefs.
Of course we must protect people in society from all those who seek to fuel division and distrust, but wherever possible and within recognised limits, we must always be on the side of free speech and free expression.
We must also establish a consistency in whom we deem undeserving of entering this country to air detestable views. Some have questioned the hypocrisy of the decision to ban Mr. Wilders when visas have been routinely granted to performers who have regularly incited gun crime and murder.
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has claimed that "the Home Secretary regularly grants visas… to Jamaican reggae singers who openly incite the murder of lesbian and gay people”.
"It is double standards to ban Geert Wilders and not [this performer].”
So let us challenge Geert Wilders to defend his baseless views and misguided beliefs in a court of public opinion and open scrutiny. That is the only way we can tackle bigotry and hatred; pushing him underground only gives him a perceived legitimacy that he could not hope for nor gain when confronted candidly.