Friday, February 13, 2009

Geert Wilders and Freedom

The summary banning of a Dutch MP from Britain is defended because his presence at a meeting at the House of Lords might stir up trouble. And indeed it might, not least because a Labour peer has promised to send the boys round and cause that trouble if he doesn't get his way. (He denies that specific accusation). There's a deep understanding of democracy for you.

The central concern here is not directly about freedom of speech. The government has stopped Geert Wilders from travelling to and speaking in Britain because it is afraid of the people who hate him, not because he himself is a danger or because it necessarily thinks he should not be allowed to say certain things. He continues to state his views, offer suggestions for the advancement of Holland and to represent his constituents. It is the Dutch government that has decided he cannot speak at all. The British government merely wants him to do it somewhere else. But it is indirectly very much about freedom of speech- the government has banned him because of what it thinks he is going to say. This is not good.

But it is important for Geert Wilders to be able to speak, for an EU MP to be able to travel at least as freely as the rest of us, and for their Lordships to invite whoever they wish to their house. Anything else is the government interfering where no one wants it, which is of course what governments do, but they should always be challenged.

If I am not free to say something you don't want to hear, then I am not free. Larry Flint (I think) used to say of his claiming First Amendment protection, "If it protects me, you can be damn sure it'll protects you." Quite right, too.

So who is Geert Wilders? He is a democratically elected member of the lower house of the Dutch parliament, and leader of the third largest opposition party, the Party for Freedom. He has made a film pointing out how the teachings of the Koran are manipulated by bloodthirsty tyrants. He has not incited violence against anyone, nor caused anyone to suffer by damaging their good name with falsehoods. Nor has he shouted fire in a crowded theatre, despite what some idiot called Milliband seems to think. No violence has resulted from his words at any time, and he does not wish it to; any violence arising from his expression of his opinions is likely to be directed against him, not against the people he is criticising. There is no legitimate reason to criminalize his speech.

You hear of lot of, "His opinions are loathsome but he should be allowed to express them." That would be an excellent position in the mouth of someone who actually knew what his opinions were, as most people who are commenting about this clearly don't. So, go and see the film, read what he says, and what his party stands for, and come back and comment here. Or elsewhere. We welcome communication in general, and constructive abuse in particular.

Maybe you won't like what he says, or the film he has made. Good. Then say so. And be thankful that you can.

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