Joan Smith: Free speech has to be for all, Home Secretary

We have to nothing to fear from listening to Wilders

Sunday 15 February 2009 01:00 GMT

Let's start by getting a couple of things clear: Jacqui Smith is an idiot for banning Geert Wilders, and even more of an idiot to do it after the Government was lobbied to ban him by Lord Ahmed. The Home Secretary's argument for refusing to admit Mr Wilders again (he was here in December) is feeble; the only way his presence might threaten public security is if there was an intemperate reaction by people who don't like his views. Demands for a ban are based on the same perverse reasoning that led to Salman Rushdie's being accused of having "blood on his hands" – by Lord Ahmed – because some idiots chose to respond violently to his novel The Satanic Verses. According to this sophistry, it isn't someone's fault if he loses his temper and hits me; it's mine for upsetting him in the first place.

It's got so bad that when Channel 4's documentary Undercover Mosque showed imams preaching hate in British mosques, the Crown Prosecution Service and the West Midlands Police began investigating the film-makers, coming to their senses only when they found themselves on the wrong end of a libel action. I don't like Mr Wilders' politics, but he doesn't advocate killing people, unlike Sheikh Qaradawi, who was allowed into this country until someone belatedly noticed that he supports suicide-bombing. Nor does Mr Wilders have criminal convictions, unlike the boxer Mike Tyson who was allowed in despite his conviction for rape.

Until last week, Mr Wilders was a little-known Dutch MP who had placed himself in the illogical position of championing free expression while calling for the Koran to be banned. Now, thanks to Ms Smith, he is a free-speech martyr whose cause has been taken up by the BNP leader Nick Griffin. Additionally, Ms Smith stands accused of giving in to pressure from Lord Ahmed and the Muslim Council of Britain, an organisation whose leader refuses to condemn the practice of stoning. For a measured Muslim response to Mr Wilders' proposed visit, I recommend listening to Ed Husain, co-director of the Quilliam Foundation, who condemned Mr Wilders' politics and the Home Secretary's refusal to allow him into the country. "Drop the ban and start the debate," Mr Husain wrote last week.

In the past, Lord Ahmed has shown himself to be a selective friend of free speech, hosting a book launch at the House of Lords in 2005 for a notorious anti-Semite who calls himself Israel Shamir. Last month, a Pakistani press agency reported that a screening of Mr Wilders' short film Fitna at the House of Lords had been called off after Lord Ahmed and representatives of the MCB met government leaders. When Lord Ahmed discovered that the screening was to go ahead, he said he had received threats and asked the Government not to allow Mr Wilders into the country.

I told Lord Ahmed years ago that you can't demand respect for your religion and claim to uphold free speech. He and his friends are no more innocent than Mr Wilders, insisting on free expression for some with rebarbative views, while trying to limit it for others. This is tit-for-tat provocation: populist against populist, demagogue against demagogue. What a shame a Labour Home Secretary wasn't smart enough to see it.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in