Was Chris Huhne right to say Geert Wilders should be banned from the UK?

by Stephen Tall on February 12, 2009

As the BBC reports:

A Dutch MP who called the Koran a “fascist book” has been sent back to the Netherlands after attempting to defy a ban on entering the UK. Freedom Party MP Geert Wilders had been invited to show his controversial film – which links the Islamic holy book to terrorism – in the UK’s House of Lords.

But Mr Wilders, who faces trial in his own country for inciting hatred, has been denied entry by the Home Office. He told the BBC it was a “very sad day” for UK democracy.

Interviewed on this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, Lib Dem shadow home secretary Chris Huhne made clear his support of the Home Office’s decision to ban Mr Wilders:

Mr Huhne described the film Dutch MP Geert Wilders planned to show to members of the House of Lords as “revolting”, and said there was a clear dividing line, “complete freedom of speech up to the point where you threaten others”.

“Freedom of Speech is absolutely crucial. I don’t take lightly that you should ban someone coming into the country. I think though in any civilised society there is a dividing line between freedom of speech and incitement to violence, incitement to hatred. I’ve seen the film. It is revolting. It is inciting people into violence. I don’t think any minority should be out any position where potentially they could be harmed.

“The dividing line is very clear – complete freedom of speech up to the point where you threaten others. At that point society must step in, whoever you are, whatever your background.” (Source: PoliticsHome.com).

A number of bloggers have questioned whether Chris’s response is truly liberal. Here’s ‘Costigan Quist’, for example, at Himmelgarten Cafe:

Most famous for his hard-line anti-Islamic views, Wilders’ political philosophy blends libertarianism (small state, less regulation, lower taxation, less state welfare) with a tough line on crime (three strikes and you’re out) and on immigration. … if he wrote a column for the Daily Mail, it wouldn’t seem out of place. … on what grounds, precisely, does Chris Huhne think Geert Wilders should be banned?

I don’t know. I listened to Chris on the Today programme this morning and it left me none the wiser. He talked about there being a clear line between what’s acceptable and what isn’t in free speech (no there isn’t – there’s a staggeringly large grey area). He talked about Wilders crossing that line (how, exactly?) but he was very short on details.

This action by the Home Office is foolish, merely giving Wilders more publicity. Huhne’s cheer-leading is bizarre and misguided.

Tristan Mills at Liberty Alone is even less enamoured of Chris’s actions:

I hear that Chris Huhne was on the radio calling for suppression of speech today. I always thought he was an authoritarian at heart, and know I know it. … Its galling to be supporting such a bastard as Wilders. He is an authoritarian thug, but by banning him, especially due to threats, or the possibility, of violence caused by others, allows him to pretend to be the poor repressed western liberal who battles for free speech (something he opposes in reality, having sought to ban the Koran in the Netherlands for example). We are playing into his hands and the hands of the racists and bigots (on all sides).

And the ‘pro-libereration left’ blog Harry’s Place is seething:

Chris Huhne not only mistakes the Wilders affair for a free speech issue. He then seeks to defend the exclusion on grounds that are unsupportable. And he does it as a member of a party whose name, at least, contains the word “Liberal”.

What do LDV readers think of Chris’s statement – does it reflect what liberals and Liberal Democrats really think?

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205 comments

David Allen


The Orange Order used to have a clever trick of parading in pomp through Catholic areas while beating their deafening Lambeg drums. The liberal response, in my view, was not to rely on neutering any potentially violent response from the Catholic side, but to ban the “speaker”.

I disagree. The Orange Order have a right to disagree with Catholicism, to express their disagrement with it, and to commemorate those occasions on which freedom to worship in the Protestant style was established. The streets are free for everyone in the UK – Catholic or Protestant – it is outrageous to say “this is a Catholic area, the expounding of Protestant views is forbidden”. Just as Catholics have a right to express their support for their own religion where they like.

I remember as a child the open-air Corpus Christi procession we had through the main street of the town where I lived, with full Catholic pomp, singing Catholic hymns, past an evangelical chapel, close to a Baptist church and the Anglican church. Provocative? Well, maybe if they saw it that way.

Sinn Fein managed to wind up outrage over these things and turn them into an occasion for a fight. The liberal response is to tolerate the expression of views with which you disagree, and to tolerate also the celebrations of cultures with which one is not enamoured. Now, a once-a-week Orange Order parade would certainly be wrong, once a year is certainly not.

As a Catholic, I dislike the evangelical/pentecostal Christian groups who so often play music expounding their theology (which I despise, for I feel it to be a completely wrong interpretation of Christianity) and hand out pamphlets in the High Street where the church in which I worship stands. Is it offensive? Well, yes, actually, it is to me, it offends me that I think they have this thing wrong. I really do find the “prosperity theology” which is growing in these circles (pray to God and he will give you lots of material success) offensive.

But I have to accept they have a right to their own interpretation, and a right to promote it and celebrate it.

If someone were to say to me do I “oppose it” or “condemn it”, I would have to ask what they mean. In the sense that I disagree with its message, I oppose it. But I do not know what “condemn” might mean? That I wish them to suffer some penalty for pushing this message that offends me? No, in that sense I do not condemn it.

by Matthew Huntbach on February 22, 2009 at 10:28 pm. Reply #

Matthew,

Bet you didn’t grow up in Northern Ireland, then!

Admittedly nor did I – though it’s where my mother came from and her sisters lived. They were Protestants (so you and I seem to be on opposite sides, yet again…!)

During the Troubles, Orange marches were, rightly, often permitted. They were permitted in places like city centres, including majority Catholic cities, where the Orange had every right to stand up for their beliefs and their strength. A line was (often) rightly drawn in banning deliberately provocative coat-trailing when the Orange picked on ghettoised Catholic estates to march through.

It’s never easy to decide where to draw that line, but it’s vital not to shirk the task, or take the ultraliberal view that you never ban anything. Fortunately Mosley didn’t get a free hand when he tried to march throught the Jewish East End. I don’t know my 1930s history that well, but I suspect there were plenty of German ultraliberals around who thought Hitler’s brownshirt activities should never be banned.

by David Allen on February 23, 2009 at 11:46 pm. Reply #

David,

While I did not grow up in Northern Ireland, I have followed the news on this, and it seems to me that Sinn Fein – a political party I regard as every bit as contemptible as the BNP (or more, given its direct endorsement of violence) – has quite deliberately wound up the provocation issue in order to play the usual “beat the moderates” game. While I appreciate if one lives in Northern Ireland one has to deal with Sinn Fein endorsed thugs, I hope that if I did I would have the courage to follow my Christian and liberal principles on this matter.

As a Christian the message is “turn the other cheek” and refuse to respond with violence. As a liberal the message is freedom of speech. If the response to any attempt by the Orange to provoke me and claim that I am not a Christian is to refuse to be provoked and to act in the way my Christianity tells me to act, what a magnificent response that would be, and how the wind would be taken out of the Orange Order’s sails.

Winding up provocation, provoking back, and pretending to act as the “defenders” of the community against the provocation one has oneself helped inspire is the standard trick in the terrorist/extremist rule book. You then denounce the moderates on your own side who don’t get so wound up and who condemn the violence and extremism as “traitors”, “cowards” etc. That is how Sinn Fein came to win the majority of the Catholic votes in Northern Ireland, something of which as a Catholic I am deeply ashamed.

With any sort of parade, of course the route has to be sensible. So while deliberately parading around backstreets to cause provocation should not be allowed, the main road between two churches which sponsor the parade most certainly should be allowed. Pragmatically, of course I accept the necessity to disallow a parade either because opponents to it threaten violence so overwhelming it cannot be policed against, or because the parade in the past has involved actions by its participants which is beyond mere promotion of views and celebration of their own heritage. But the pragmatic ban here would quite clearly be on the grounds of the illiberal behaviour on either side rather than because the expression of views with which others disagree is not to be allowed.

So I am not saying never ban anything, but I am saying banning because of the threats of violence from opponents brings shame on those opponents, banning because of violent behaviour by the paraders brings shame on the paraders.

This clearly has a direct relevance to the Muslim issue. How dearly I wish that those with influence in the Muslim communities would react in a sensible and liberal way to those who criticise Islam. How much I fear that instead the game of the extremists amongst Muslims enjoying the provocation and using it to squash decent liberal people on their own side is being played, and if played as successfully as it was by Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland will lead to horrible and divisive consequences.

by Matthew Huntbach on February 24, 2009 at 9:56 am. Reply #

“Winding up provocation, provoking back, and pretending to act as the “defenders” of the community against the provocation one has oneself helped inspire is the standard trick in the terrorist/extremist rule book. You then denounce the moderates on your own side … That is how Sinn Fein came to win the majority of the Catholic votes in Northern Ireland”

Yes indeed, and it’s also how the Paisleyites supplanted the more moderate Unionists.

The ultraliberal never-ban-anything approach (which neither you nor I entirely support, Matthew) has the big drawback that it plays into the hands of these extremists. A more repressive approach of course has its own drawbacks, but may be justified if it is racist rogues that a government has to deal with.

by David Allen on February 24, 2009 at 11:08 pm. Reply #


“Winding up provocation, provoking back, and pretending to act as the “defenders” of the community against the provocation one has oneself helped inspire is the standard trick in the terrorist/extremist rule book. You then denounce the moderates on your own side … That is how Sinn Fein came to win the majority of the Catholic votes in Northern Ireland”

Yes indeed, and it’s also how the Paisleyites supplanted the more moderate Unionists.

Not only that but the “more moderate” Unionists who were supplanted had themselves risen to dominance over more moderate Unionists by the same means. Northern Ireland shows a depressing pattern of this process being repeated and repeated on both sides of the unionist/nationalist divide.

by Matthew Huntbach on February 25, 2009 at 9:31 am. Reply #

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