When the far-right Dutch MP Geert Wilders came to the UK to promote his brand of Islamophobia last year, he made it only as far as Heathrow before being unceremoniously turned away and flown back to his native country.
Yesterday, after a wait of more than a year, he returned to screen his anti-Islamic film in the House of Lords, but unlike his earlier visit, which provoked a storm of debate about the right to free speech, this time few people seemed to notice.
The politician's flowing locks of swept-back blond hair have led some to nickname him Mozart. So it was unfortunate that Mr Wilders was forced to address the world's media yesterday in a tiny room with a piano prominently displayed in one corner.
On the wall behind him was a portrait of Peregrine Bertie, the Duke of Ancaster and Kesteven, whose 18th-century wig bore more than a passing resemblance to Mr Wilders's hairstyle. The Duke's expression remained calm throughout, a remarkable feat considering the events which unfolded in front of him.
The hot and cramped venue was selected for two reasons: its proximity to the House of Lords, where Mr Wilders had finally succeeded in screening his controversial short film Fitna, and its security. Only one person from each media organisation was permitted, and all bags were searched.
Here, under the watchful eyes of his three earpiece-wearing bodyguards, the 46-year-old leader of the Freedom Party told a tense and sometimes heated press conference that Islam was a "fascist ideology" and that the Prophet Mohamed was "a mass murderer, a barbarian and a paedophile". He said: "I have nothing against Muslims, but I have a problem with the Islamic ideology, which I believe is a totalitarian ideology to be compared with other totalitarian ideologies like communism or fascism. I believe Islam is a violent and dangerous religion and even a retarded culture. I think we should stop the Islamisation of our society. Islamism and democracy are incompatible. The more Islamism we have, the more freedom we will lose and this is something worth fighting for."
He added that if his party was elected at the Netherlands' general elections in June, he would attempt to halt all further immigration of Muslims into European countries, and would deport Dutch citizens with Moroccan or Turkish parentage "as soon as possible".
Mr Wilders' film Fitna, an Arabic word meaning "strife", is an incendiary anti-Islamic piece of propaganda which the Dutch Prime Minister once said served "no purpose other than to offend". In the 15-minute movie, sections of the Koran are read out alongside footage of the 11 September terrorist attacks. Disturbing images of lynchings and executions are shown, as is the beheading of the British civil engineer Ken Bigley in Iraq in 2004. No facts or figures are quoted other than a graph showing the increase in the number of Muslims living in Europe over the past century. Even to be sitting in front of the cameras in central London marked an important victory for Mr Wilders, who is awaiting trial in his home country for discrimination and fomenting hatred. If convicted, he faces 16 months in prison, but the trial has been suspended until after the Dutch elections, at which his party is tipped to become the second-largest in parliament.
He has been waiting to screen his film in this country for more than a year. In February 2009, he was detained at Heathrow and ordered to return to the Netherlands. The then Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, used EU laws to prevent his visit, describing Mr Wilders as an "undesirable person" whose presence would "threaten community harmony and therefore public safety". But his ban was overturned at an asylum and immigration tribunal, allowing Mr Wilders to claim a victory for free speech and misquote George Orwell.
"Even if you don't subscribe to my views, I'm able to come here and to speak out my mind," he said. "Like George Orwell once said, the right of freedom is especially to listen to somebody who says something that you do not want to hear."
He was invited to Britain by Lord Pearson, the leader of the UK Independence Party, and the cross-bencher Baroness Cox, who said they did not subscribe to Mr Wilders's views but felt it was important he was given the chance to air them. Lord Pearson described Mr Wilders as "a very great man" who lived with the constant threat of assassination.
But the Ukip leader was forced to admit that only six MPs and peers had attended the screening, and that most of the audience had been made up of parliamentary staff. "Don't forget it's Friday," he said. "The important thing about this debate is that it took place."
On his way to face the media, Mr Wilders drove past protesters against British far-right groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and the British National Party (BNP). Their placards read: "EDL + BNP = Nazi racist thugs". Jonathan Dodds, a 26-year-old student, said: "There's been a huge rise of far-right groups across Europe, which is extremely alarming. That we're giving a platform to fascists like this is scary."
But there can be no denying that Mr Wilders is a far more impressive speaker than other far-right party leaders. After 45 minutes of questioning he had not come close to being ruffled. And shortly after Lord Pearson declared: "We're got to go, we're going to be late for lunch", the politician known as Mozart climbed into his bulletproof car with his bodyguards and set off once more for the House of Lords.
It was, if nothing else, a virtuoso performance but one that may well have been avoided had Britain allowed his entry in the first place.
Not welcome: Banned from Britain
*Since 2005 hundreds of people who promote hatred, terrorist violence or serious criminal activity have been banned from entering the UK. In May last year the Government published a list of 16 "least wanted" people.
*Those excluded in recent years include religious extremists, neo-Nazis, animal rights activists, rap artists and lifestyle gurus. But banning people based on their political views is rare.Reuse content