February 12 was a black day for Britain. A democratically elected, law-abiding member of the Dutch parliament was treated like a criminal, seized at Heathrow airport, and sent home. A man who has not preached a word of violence, but has himself received death threats, was summarily ejected from this country in an uncivil and in every way uncivilized fashion, by a Home Office that welcomes criminals and terrorists with open arms. Why? Because his film Fitna tells uncomfortable truths about Islam. The expression “Churchill would be turning in his grave,” sometimes hyperbolically trotted out in reaction to a banned piggy bank or halal pizza parlor, now fits.
The story of the British government’s gutless appeasement has been eloquently told at this site by Andrew Ian Dodge and Mike McNally. The government’s cowardice is beyond dispute, and I have little to add to what has already been said on that subject here and elsewhere. It is the unthinking haste of the decision that I wish to consider, specifically what this shows about how the government sees Muslims.
The capitulation is all the more craven because it was reflexive and practically instantaneous. Foreign Secretary David Miliband admitted that he had not even seen Fitna, but claimed he didn’t need to because he “knew what was in it” — just as the barely literate book-burners of Bradford “knew” what was in Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. His consideration of the matter went no further than “nasty about Muslims — must be stopped.”
And what of our home secretary, the frivolously named “Jacqui” Smith, who has the ultimate responsibility for the ban? There is no evidence that Ms. Smith took time out from her busy schedule to watch a seventeen-minute film. After all, how could the future of Britain, the cradle of democracy, be more important than exploiting loopholes in her already overgenerous expense allowance?
It is most unlikely that Ms. Smith had given Geert Wilders or his views much thought until two days before his planned visit. Wilders, now branded a threat to “public security,” had lunch in the House of Lords in December 2008. If he is dangerous now, he was dangerous then. So why ban him all of a sudden? Did the home secretary seriously think that any danger to public security would come from non-Muslims? From women, perhaps, whipped up into a frenzy at the sight of Geert Wilders’ hairstyle? Of course not. She believed it would come from Muslims, ten thousand of whom Lord Ahmed threatened to muster when the screening of Fitna was first advertised. This attitude assumes that the reaction of Muslims is a given, like a force of nature, about which we can do nothing and to which we must simply accommodate ourselves. The decision is the equivalent of telling women that they must not venture outdoors because to do so will lead, as night follows day, to rape.
Geert Wilders has been accused of portraying Muslims as a monolithic seething mob. But is it not Jacqui Smith and her supporters who see Muslims in this way? Geert Wilders, on the contrary, sees Muslims as individuals who may, and must, be reasoned with. Wilders’ quarrel has never been with individual Muslims, but with the ideology of Islam. Nowhere does he suggest that all Muslims are terrorists; he merely draws attention to those violent verses of the Koran that have been used to justify terrorism. Far from advocating violence, Wilders calls on Muslims to remove the violent verses from the Koran, an approach to reform advocated by the admirable group Muslims Against Sharia. He may have doubts as to whether Islam can be reformed. It is a challenge, certainly — a Koran without the violent verses would be a very short Koran. Perhaps it cannot be done and an irredeemably violent Islam must be jettisoned by Muslims in the West. But if Islam is to be reformed, it can only be by confronting those violent teachings in the Koran — and the Hadith and the Sira — not by pretending they don’t exist. In Fitna and elsewhere, Wilders warns non-Muslims of the dangers of Islam in its current, unreformed state, but he also invites Muslims to debate those dangers and to find a way forward.
By demanding that Muslims take responsibility for their religion and confront the violence within it, Wilders treats them as his fellow men. In contrast, the cringing Jacqui Smith treats them as you would a savage beast or a forest fire. I hold no brief for Islam and have little confidence that Wilders’ reasonable attitude will be reciprocated by many Muslims, but it makes his expulsion doubly unjust.
Can anything be salvaged from this sorry affair? Perhaps. The screening of Fitna went ahead in the House of Lords, albeit as Hamlet without the prince. As pointed out at the New English Review, polls in the Daily Mail and even the Guardian, editorials in our newspapers, and related readers’ comments have been overwhelmingly against the ban. I hope that the events of the past few days will serve to deepen the contempt of the British people for this government, and that Wilders will successfully sue it and win an appeal against the decision. Above all, I hope that those — a majority, surely — who had not heard of Geert Wilders, have now and will watch Fitna and learn from it. Learn we must, if this is to be Britain’s darkest hour. As things stand, I am ashamed of my country, which has proved pitifully unworthy of the faith that Geert Wilders placed in it.