Geert Wilders should not be banned from Britain
12 Feb 09

This article was originally posted on Comment is Free

How do you solve a problem like Geert Wilders?

The solution certainly doesn’t lie in barring him from entering the country.

Wilders’ film Fitna, for those of you who haven’t feverishly YouTubed it yet, is an unpleasant rant about Islam, and the Islamicisation of Europe. He follows the line that Islam, more than any other religion, is inherently violent. It’s a poorly made, poorly argued, diatribe.

But the poverty of the argument, and indeed the editing, is irrelevant. If we are to defend freedom of expression, then we cannot pick and choose what expression we defend. This point seems problematic for some liberals. Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne has previously – and rightly – argued against prosecution for Holocaust denier Frederick Töben, saying: ‘In Britain, we value freedom of speech too highly to see it sacrificed because of the racist views of an oddball academic.’

No such leeway for an oddball politician. Speaking about Wilders, Huhne said: ‘Freedom of speech is our most precious freedom of all, because all the other freedoms depend on it. But there is a line to be drawn even with freedom of speech, and that is where it is likely to incite violence or hatred against someone or some group.’

This is not in the least bit consistent. But the problem is not with Huhne. The problem is that a man who is legally entitled, as an EU citizen, to enter this country, has been barred from doing do because of his opinions.

This is bad enough, but it is made even worse by what the ban suggests.

I’ve spent the morning, in my capacity as news editor of Index on Censorship, debating the Wilders affair on various radio phone-ins.

Among many reasonable points made by callers, many, sadly, held the opinion that this was another sign of the government giving in to “the Muslims”.

This, of course, is precisely Wilders’ argument –– and it’s an argument that is reinforced by this attempt to censor him (nevermind that his film has been out for almost a year now).

Traditionally, censorship has been used in an attempt to quell dissent and opposition, and in large part of the world it is used against progressive movements. But when we seek to censor reactionaries, such as Wilders, the BNP, or Hizb ut-Tahrir, we allow them to see themselves, and portray themselves, as the dissenters, the truth-tellers. The notion of oppression, of suppression, is now almost essential to any political movement’s sense of self.

Censorship lends an air of legitimacy to arguments that may not necessarily warrant it. In this sense, it is as insidious when used against bad arguments as when used against good ones.

By Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms and a columnist for Index on Censorship. He has also written for The Observer, The Guardian, and The Irish Times.