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?