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Why Britain Should Never Have Banned Geert Wilders

No one even pretends that a person expressing views similar to Wilders' with regard to Christianity or Judaism would be banned from entering the UK. (Also read Phyllis Chesler: Free Speech Under Siege in Britain, Canada, America, and India.)

by
Mike McNally

Bio

February 14, 2009 - 12:00 am

For the last couple of years I’ve been holding out against those who claim the spread of Islamic extremism in Britain, the reluctance of the government to combat it forcefully for fear of offending Muslims, and the reluctance of the media, legal, and political establishments to even discuss the issue spell doom for the country. My argument was that while such appeasement and cultural self-loathing make it difficult for us to win the war against the extremists, we could never lose it.

Unfortunately, it looks like we just lost. Following the government’s decision to ban the anti-Islamist Dutch MP Geert Wilders from entering the country on the grounds that his presence might endanger “public security,” it now only remains to be seen what form the post-war settlement will take. The Islamists, I’d reasoned, could never defeat us with terrorism. But defeat us they have. Not by destroying buildings and subjugating the British people — but by destroying our values and subjugating our freedoms. Not since Munich and Hitler has a British government caved in so completely to the demands of extremists.

Our long and proud tradition of tolerance and free speech is in tatters. It’s doubtful that many of the ministers and officials involved in the decision to ban Wilders have even seen Fitna, the Internet film that shot him to notoriety. Foreign Secretary David Miliband, wheeling out the trope that “the right to free speech doesn’t include the right to yell ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater,” claimed the film contained “extreme anti-Muslim hate.” If Miliband has seen the film, then he’s lying; if he hasn’t seen it, he’s guessing. There’s extreme hate, for sure, but it’s all coming from Muslims. Fitna uses the words of Muslims themselves, in the form of verses from the Koran and video clips of extremist preachers, juxtaposed with footage of terrorist attacks.

One person who certainly hasn’t seen the film is Labour MP Keith Vaz, who appeared on  the BBC’s Thursday night edition of  Newsnight to condemn the film, but then rather foolishly admitted that he hadn’t got round to watching it  — even though, as the presenter reminded him, it’s only 17 minutes long. Undeterred, Vaz insisted that he didn’t need to see it in order to condemn it, and from the government’s point of view he’s quite right, because the ban has nothing to do with anything Wilders has said.

Although they won’t admit as much, government ministers banned Wilders not because they thought he would incite violence, but because they feared that Muslims enraged by Wilders’ views on Islam might react violently to his presence. And like the jittery saloon owner in countless Westerns, they don’t want no trouble, mister.

The government had reason to be worried after Muslim leaders made veiled (no pun intended) threats if Wilders was allowed to attend a screening of  Fitna at the House of Lords. The Muslim peer, Lord Ahmed, reportedly claimed he would mobilize 10,000 of his co-religionists in protest. And, as we saw with the recent demonstrations against Israel, “peaceful” protests involving large numbers of young Muslim men, invariably supported by their hard-left allies, have an unfortunate tendency to end in violence and the destruction of property.

The proper response to these threats would have been for the government to put measures in place to ensure Wilders’ safety, and to deal firmly with anyone who attempted to cause trouble. However, as this government has proved time and again, faced with the prospect of lawlessness, it prefers to take the easy way out by eliminating all risk of an offense being committed rather than dealing with criminals. So, for example, in response to growing alcohol-related violence on Britain’s streets, the government proposes not to deal more forcefully with the troublemakers, but to ban “happy hours” and other drinks promotions. Everyone is to be punished for the behavior of an unruly minority, because the government has calculated that this is cheaper and easier than enforcing the existing laws of the land: why pay for all those policemen, courts, and prisons when you can simply proscribe any activity which carries with it the potential for trouble?

Because a few young people can’t handle their drink everyone has to suffer, and because Muslims can’t stomach a free discussion about the way in which their beliefs are used to justify mass murder, others must lose their right to free speech and freedom of association. And so Wilders — the presumed target of the violence — is punished rather than those threatening the violence. It’s the ultimate manifestation of the nanny state: we’ll all live happier and healthier lives if you just keep your mouth shut.

No one even pretends that a person expressing views similar to Wilders’ with regard to Christianity or Judaism would be banned from entering the UK. That’s because the people who might take issue with such sentiments tend to write angry letters, rather than blowing themselves up on buses. While the government has banned some of the more outrageous purveyors of Islamist ideology, others, such as Hezbollah spokesman Ibrahim Mousawi, have been allowed to enter Britain. And Lord Ahmed himself has, in the past, had no problem with inviting extremists to speak at the House of Lords — just so long as they’re his kind of extremist.

Meanwhile, on the streets of London and elsewhere, radical Muslims routinely call for Jews and British soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan to be murdered, while the once respected British bobby stands there twiddling his thumbs. The double standard is clear and the implications for free speech and other liberties are chilling: If you threaten violence, you will be appeased. If you call attention to extremism, you will be silenced. If you practice tolerance, you will be trampled on. As Mark Steyn writes, two decades on, Britain seems to have learned nothing from the Salman Rushdie affair.

The country that exported democracy to much of the world has given up the fight to preserve its own freedoms, and the manner of its capitulation should serve as a warning to American and other civilized nations. And anyone who thinks Britain’s demise is not their problem should bear in mind that the UK remains a base from which Muslim terrorists continue to plot attacks on the U.S. and other countries.

No amount of feigned outrage by Muslim leaders will change the fact that Islam is the only religion in the name of which hundreds of people are murdered, jailed, and tortured every day in dozens of countries around the world. Pretending otherwise undermines the moderate Muslims who are the West’s best hope for combating the extremists, and kicks the problem down the road for the next generation to deal with.

There’s nothing wrong with shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater if rows A through F are already ablaze.

Mike McNally is a journalist based in Bath, England. He posts at PJ Tatler and at his own blog Monkey Tennis, and tweets at @notoserfdom. When he's not writing about politics he writes about Photoshop.
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