Who’s afraid of a couple of cranky bloggers?

Message to UK liberals: if you’re campaigning to bar two right-wing US bloggers from Britain, you’re no liberal.

Patrick Hayes

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Topics Politics

Like, I’m sure, most of the British population, I hadn’t heard of Pamela Geller or Robert Spencer before their names appeared in the UK press at the weekend. Apparently, they are right-wing bloggers from America, who are planning to visit Britain to speak at a rally organised by the right-wing English Defence League (EDL). Cue much censorious fulminating from Britain’s misnamed liberal commentariat, who want the bloggers kept out.

Earlier this year, the UK anti-fascist organisation Hope Not Hate (HNH) adopted a refreshing new stance (commended by spiked): it declared that ‘No Platform’ – the practice of denying people on the far right a public platform to express themselves – was ‘outdated’. When it comes to combating far-right groups, said HNH, it’s better to do it through ‘argument’ and to ‘expose their ideas’.

Yet now, HNH has reverted to its earlier ‘No Platform’ stance: it has been at the forefront of a campaign calling on UK home secretary Theresa May to bar Geller and Spencer – who write the Atlas Shrugs and Jihad Watch blogs, and who were behind a New York subway ad campaign implying Muslims are ‘savages’ – from entering Britain. The pair are due to speak at an EDL rally in Woolwich, scene of the recent ‘jihadist’ knife attack, on Saturday.

In a petition to May, signed by 2,000 supporters in the first 24 hours alone, HNH writes a sentence that must surely be a shoo-in for Doublespeak of the Year: ‘We believe in freedom of speech and the rights of people to hold and express different views. However, in a democracy there have to be limits on people abusing these freedoms to incite hatred, and we believe that Geller and Spencer are seeking to do just that.’

In the strange minds of HNH campaigners, it seems you can believe in free speech yet lobby to ban individuals from entering your country to speak freely. You can believe in the right of people to hold and express different views, except views you personally dislike. And you can do all this in the name of democracy, presumably because the UK public itself, the demos, is so volatile and manipulable that it has to be sheltered from the poisonous views of Geller and Spencer.

The fear of the public becoming a big, ugly lynch mob seems to have led even Liberal Conspiracy blogger Sunny Hundal, who helped organise the Convention on Modern Liberty in 2009, to abandon any pretence at liberalism. He has uncritically plugged HNH’s censorious petition – at the cost of isolating his readership. Under his HNH plug, a commenter cites a 2011 article in which Hundal defended a controversial Muslim preacher’s right to come to Britain regardless of what he planned to preach. ‘I’ve always been for having a consistent approach on this issue’, Hundal wrote in 2011. ‘Either you ban people who preach any form of hatred – from homophobia to religious segregation – or you only ban those that say things that would be illegal under our laws. I prefer the latter approach, because I believe that people should be allowed to make up their own minds on issues.’ Under this quotation, the commenter simply writes: ‘Hypocrite.’ Quite.

The only principles these censorious campaigners accept are those imposed by the EU. Anders Gravers, a leader of the group Stop the Islamisation of Europe, has also been invited to speak at the EDL rally, but he has not been named in the HNH petitions ‘because he is an EU citizen’ and therefore it seems must be allowed to travel freely throughout European Union counties. This rather gives the lie to the idea that these ‘incendiary’ speakers are genuinely a threat that must be stopped. If these various cranky bloggers and campaigners really were capable of causing moral mayhem in Britain, surely Gravers would be kept out, too? Perhaps HNH is only interested in keeping out vulgar American savages, in the same way right-wingers campaign to keep hot-headed Muslim preachers away from the UK.

Home secretary May is currently considering the proposals for a ban. If she concedes to HNH’s demands, it won’t be the first time she has used someone’s unpalatable views as a reason to bar them from entering Britain. In 2011, she disallowed Mumbai-based televangelist Dr Zakir Naik from giving a series of lectures in the UK, because of his ‘unacceptable behaviour’ (he instead conducted some talks by satellite link). May was following in the ban-happy footsteps of her New Labour predecessor Jacqui Smith, who at her height in 2008 was barring five people a month from entering Britain on the basis that their presence would not be ‘conducive to the public good’.

The EDL, of course, has no licence to play the free-speech card. It makes no bones about calling upon the state to outlaw the speech of ‘extreme’ Muslim preachers and it wants to ban poppy-burning protests. And neither can it plead an open-borders case for allowing its speakers to come to Britain: it routinely calls for the forced deportation of radical Islamists from the UK. But that is what you would expect from a nationalist organisation of the far right. Is it also now what we should expect from British liberals?

Patrick Hayes is a columnist for spiked.

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