Thursday, 12 February 2009

Brown bottles it (again)

Geert Wilders called Gordon Brown the most cowardly man in Europe today, after the UK government refused to let the Dutch MP and film-maker into the country for a screening at the House of Lords of his film, Fitna, about what Mr Wilders sees as the connection between certain verses in the Quran and the violence and terrorism of some Islamic extremists.
I have no interest in defending Mr Wilders' views, but I think it is a shame that the government of a country such as Britain, with its tradition of free speech and political freedom in general, should be intimidated by the prospect of controversy and divisive debate and afraid of the possibility of protests and demonstrations, to the point where it would rather try to suppress the debate altogether.
Not only that, but, by using the excuse that Mr Wilders presence would potentially incite racial hatred, the government are, presumably, saying that criticism of Islam is to be construed as an attack on those races amongst whom Islam is the predominant faith. And by taking this stance the government are, by implication, making it clear that certain races are to be accorded the privilege of freedom from having their religious traditions criticised.
This government failed in it's attempt (a year or two ago) to get its proposed legislation against incitement to religious hatred passed through parliament. In true New Labour style, however, it seems to be pressing on regardless with the enforcement of policies for which it has no democratic mandate.

Update: 10:49pm
Just watched a discussion of this issue on Question Time. I was genuinely shocked by the fact that most of the panel (the Labour minister Liam Byrne - okay, I suppose he had to back the decision - the Tory shadow minister Justine Greening and even the Sun columnist Kelvin MacKenzie) while all claiming to believe in freedom of speech, believed that the government were right to ban Geert Wilders from entering the UK because his views were "unhelpful" and "offensive". Liam Byrne even said that, while he believed in free speech, this film was too "divisive" at a time when the country should be "all pulling together".
The celebrity gardener (Monty Don) very hesitantly suggested that probably "censorship doesn't really work" but the only panel-member who seemed to have any grasp of what freedom of speech is for and why it is so important was Salma Yaqoob, the leader of the left-wing Respect Party and, ironically, an adherent of the very faith that the government, with this latest ban, are so keen not to offend. Perhaps she is more able than the other panellists to think clearly about this issue because, as a non-white non-Christian, she has not allowed herself to be so distracted by the requirements of political correctness.

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