Free speech for all – even neo-Nazis
In a move that insults the intelligence of the British public, the UK Home Office recently decided to prevent US neo-Nazi Matthew Heimbach from entering the UK. Heimbach, a barely known anti-Semite and president of a white nationalist organisation called the Traditionalist Youth Network, was banned on the basis that his presence would not be ‘conducive to the public good’.
While at university in Maryland, Heimbach founded the White Student Union, a group which hosted events with white supremacists and carried out night patrols to target ‘black predators’. On Twitter, Heimbach frequently quotes Goebbels, says ‘international Jewish propaganda’ is promoting a ‘lifestyle’ of homosexuality, and bemoans the fact that the White House isn’t run like the Third Reich.
Heimbach may well be a moronic racist, but UK home secretary Theresa May clearly has too much time on her hands if she bothers worrying about people like him. Banning white supremacists from entering the country certainly won’t eradicate white-supremacist views. Aside from being a token gesture to please the PC crowd, this kind of policing is futile, only provoking the kind of people it tries to censor and encouraging their vitriol.
But the Home Office’s stance isn’t just illogical; it’s patronising. It treats citizens like weak and unintelligent children who need protection from ‘offence’, and are incapable of passing judgement on ideas for themselves. What does May expect to happen if Heimbach arrives in the UK? Will a few words from Heimbach about Lebensraum being a great idea suddenly prompt thousands to start goose-stepping through the streets of Chipping Norton? May is clearly grossly out of touch if she thinks that the overwhelming reaction to Heimbach would be anything other than ridicule.
The issue at stake here is free speech. In the same year prime minister David Cameron publicly declared ‘Je suis Charlie’, his government is now banning one very sad man from entering the country because he holds controversial views. Discriminating against those, like Heimbach, with certain ‘offensive’ or unpopular ideas, while apparently championing freedom of speech, reeks of hypocrisy.
The government seems to have forgotten that free speech is a universal principle. Its universalism demands that we defend the right of those with unpopular beliefs to speak their minds, and not just those we agree with. Otherwise, we are not defending free speech, but privileged speech. So, we must dismiss the thought police, tolerate other viewpoints, allow our own viewpoints to be challenged and allow ourselves to be offended – even by the likes of Heimbach. Only then can we clarify our own values and begin forging a truly open, progressive society founded on the free exchange of ideas.
Joe Arthur is a spiked intern.