Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Geert out of here: Wilders, the House of Lords and censorship

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The right-wing anti-Islamic Dutch MP Geert "Swiss Tony" Wilders (pictured) has once again succeeded in taking centre stage in a controversy over censorship and free speech, and this time it involves the government and parliament of these very shores.

Wilders, as you may know, is the man responsible for the repulsive 17-minute film Fitna, which depicts footage of Islamist atrocities alongside lines from the Koran, thereby implying that Islam as a whole is a violent, dangerous faith (if you can stomach it, you can watch it here). In Holland, Wilders has campaigned for the Koran to be banned, comparing it to Mein Kampf.

Regretably, in the past year or so Wilders has become something of a poster-boy for freedom of expression. He's currently facing prosecution in Holland for "hate speech", and now a proposed showing of Fitna at the House of Lords tomorrow means Wilders-related controversy has come to Britain. The showing has been organised by Lord Pearson of Ranoch, an anti-EU life peer who defected from the Conservatives to the UK Independence Party in 2004, and fellow Eurosceptic Baroness Cox, who is a cross-bencher. Due to oppostion from Lord Ahmed and other Muslim politicians the showing has been on-off for a while now, but yesterday it was finally confirmed for Thursday in a press release from Lord Pearson.

But now for the latest twist. Pearson and Cox have invited Wilders to the showing, after which it is intended that he will take part in a Q&A with the media. But yesterday Wilders received a letter from an Irving Jones, acting on behalf of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, informing him that he would not be permitted entry to the UK:

Dear Mr Wilders, The purpose of this letter is to inform you that the Secretary of State is of the view that your presence in the UK would pose a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat to one of the fundamental interests of society. The Secretary of State is satisfied that your statements about Muslims and their beliefs, as expressed in your film Fitna and elsewhere, would threaten community harmony and therefore public security in the UK.

You are advised that should you travel to the UK and seek admission an Immigration Officer will take into account the Secretary of State’s view. If, in accordance with regulation 21 of the immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006, the Immigration Officer is statisfied that your exclusion is justified on grounds of public policy and/or public security, you will be refused admission to the UK under regulation 19. You would have a right of appeal against any refusal of admission, exercisable from outside the UK.

Yours sincerely,
Irving N Jones
On behalf of the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

Unsurprisngly, this latest development has captured the attention of the national media (just to give a few examples, the BBC, the Telegraph, Reuters and the good old Daily Mail) and it's caused outrage among proponents of free speech, who argue, as would we, that the barring of an elected politician from a fellow EU country on the basis of a film he has made and his, albeit inflammatory, political views is wrong and sets a worrying precedent. For his part, Wilders has announced on his website that he fully intends to fly into London tomorrow, challenging the government to have him arrested by immigration officials.

Personally I find this whole controversy regreattable, as it forces me, as an opponent of censorship, to take the side of someone I would hope to only ever argue against. Having watched Fitna when it was first excreted onto the internet, I find its sweeping generalisations as to the nature of Islam, and by extention Muslims, repulsive and of no intellectual value whatsoever. It's a piece of irresponsible propaganda produced by a right-wing, anti-immigration politician, purposefully designed to manufacture the kind of controversy on which that politician, and indeed his brand of politics in general, thrives. But do I think he has the right to produce such a film? Yes I do – because in the direction of restricting what people have to say and, perhaps even worse, restricting their movement because of that, lies totalitarianism.

Which brings me to the showing of Fitna in the House of Lords. Again, it would be to support censorship if I was to argue that the peers involved do not have the right to organise the showing, but it's hard not to feel uncomfortable with the message portrayed by two members of the British legislature inviting Wilders and his film into the heart of our polticial system. The main man behind the showing, Lord Pearson, describes himself as "a UKIP Peer with a special interest in the European Union, Islamism and education", a political view that, it seems fair to say, would not have any representation in our parliament if only we had an elected House of Lords (there are, after all, no UKIP MPs).

But really this is beside the point. In banning Wilders from travelling, and so displaying a disturbing readiness to block freedom of speech, the government simply plays into the hands of Wilders and the supporters he seems to have in the UK, as the press release I received from Pearson's office just now demonstrates:
"The subsequent action by the Home Office to try to deter Mr Wilders from coming to the UK has, we believe, been rightly condemned by the Dutch foreign minister, and is a further example of the appeasement policies of the British government in giving in to the threats of militant Islam. We intend to show and discuss the film with members of the British Parliament and the press as previously indicated, with or without Mr Wilders."
The showing and press conference is taking place tomorrow at 1 Abbey Gardens from 6-7pm. I'm hoping to attend myself, so will let you know what happens.


Kevin said...

Depressing quandary, isn't it? Certainly a big step beyond defending Salman Rushdie even while thinking The Satanic Verses was a rubbish book.

foolfodder said...

Would someone who had created a video equally critical of Christianity be treated in the same way? I doubt it.

Should Ben Stein be refused entry to the UK for blaming ToE for the holocaust? Nope.

Still maybe they're trying to ban him 'cos of the hair, and just using the Islamism bashing as an excuse.

Anonymous said...

That Daily Mail article reports that Wilders wants the Koran banned in the Netherlands.

So much for free speech.

Marthe said...

*sigh* I'm all for the right of free speech, and find unacceptable that Wilders will be denied to enter the U.K. But I'm getting a bit sick and tired of Wilders. I actually live in the Netherlands and we've had him and his ridiculous hair around for some time. Please see that Wilders and the few people stupid enough to vote for him do not represent the rest of the Dutch. Again, *sigh*

Wasp_Box said...

If you believe in Free Speech then you can't start saying that it's only free speech if I agree with you or start spouting rubbish about giving people you disagree with "a platform" (something, I'm afraid, we see too often).

Of course this man should be allowed to speak but Pearson should make certain that those with an opposing view are given an equal opportunity to express their views.

[gbg] said...

Doesn't the fact that his presence will pose a threat to "public security" kind of support the claims he was making in fitna?

can we please stop tip-toeing round islam in fear of them kicking off and rioting?

James D said...

I sincerely hope the Netherlands expels the British ambassador over this.

Anonymous said...

Foolfodder, I actually think that if someone created a Christian version they would be treated the same way in the UK - look at the Jerry Springer opera, and I think the fundamentalists have only got arseier since then. But I do find it hard to believe we would ban a European politician if they had produced it, you are right. It is always a good test.

Anonymous said...

"This meeting had been postponed after Lord Ahmed had previously threatened the House of Lords authorities that he would bring a force of 10,000 Muslims to lay siege to the Lords if Wilders was allowed to speak. To their credit, the Lords authorities had stood firm and said extra police would be drafted in to meet this threat and the Wilders meeting should go ahead."

So the House of Lords has got bigger balls than the Gov? Who'd have thought it.

Bibliophylax said...

There is a UKIP MP - Bob Spink, representing Castle Point in Essex. (He was elected as a Conservative, and jumped ship after squabbling with the Tories.)

leesparky said...

I'm a little upset that a secular blogger seems to miss one of the maine the points.

I'm glad you agree that Wilders should have been allowed to join Lord Pearson for the Q&A session after the 'Fitna' film was to be shown, and that he definitely should not have been deported, but, the Fitna film (while it does generalise) is simply a scathing critiscm of Islam - nothing more, nothing less.

What's wrong with that?

Anonymous said...

And Baroness Cox is a well known evangelical Christian!