It took eight months, nearly $16,000 in legal fees, and the perseverance of a Muslim lawyer, but the British government has been overruled in its notorious decision this February to ban Dutch politician Geert Wilders from entering the country.
In a decision with important implications for free speech, London’s Asylum and Immigration Tribunal yesterday ruled that the British Home Office, under the authority of former home secretary Jacqui Smith, was wrong to turn Wilders away when he arrived in Heathrow airport this February to screen his anti-Islam documentary, “Fitna,” for the British parliament.
Depicting Wilders as a threat to the public, the Home Office had used a 2006 law that allowed for the exclusion of those who represent “a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat affecting one of the fundamental interests of society.” At the time, Wilders protested that his expulsion was an outrageous violation of free speech and vowed to fight the ban. With the support of his legal team – including a British Muslim lawyer, Arfan Khan – and the backing of the immigration tribunal, Wilders seems to have won the fight.
Banned in the UK: Wilders after being turned away at Heathrow Airport.
The ban was always a scandal – and a hypocritical scandal at that. While the Home Office claimed that Wilders’s presence had the potential to “threaten community harmony and therefore public safety,” the unspoken but deeply relevant reality was that the threat came not from Wilders but from Islamic extremists who already resided in the UK.
For instance, the Muslim Council of Britain, the UK’s largest Muslim organization, applauded the Home Office’s ban, calling Wilders “an open and relentless preacher of hate.” But the charge was more appropriate when applied to the MCB: The group has repeatedly boycotted Holocaust Remembrance Day, while supporting the entry into Britain of Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the anti-Semitic Egyptian cleric whose support for suicide bombings has kept him from setting foot in the United States since 1999.
The Home Office ban was also greeted with approval by another Muslim leader, Labor Party peer Lord Ahmed. Ahmed warned that allowing Wilders into the country “would certainly cause problems within communities around Britain.” Yet his concern for public order did not deter him from threatening to march 10,000 angry Muslims to physically prevent Wilders from entering the House of Lords.
Even as the British government indulged Muslim spokesmen who met the prospect of civil debate with unhidden hostility, it closed the country’s door to the elected leader of European democracy who was campaigning against religious extremism. Compounding the blatant act of capitulation was the Home Office’s shameful rationale for the ban – a rationale to which it clung even in the wake of yesterday’s reversal. A government spokesman insisted that Wilders was banned because the British government “opposes extremism in all its forms,” as though there were any credible comparison between Wilders and the Islamic terrorists who pose a genuine security threat. Even more shamefully, the Home Office suggested that Wilders had to be banned so as to avoid “inter-faith violence.” But of course there was never any danger of Wilders engaging in violence. It took the radical voices in the British Muslim community to make that threat credible.
Disturbing the Peace: Wilders’s Muslim “critics”
If the British government supposed that its ban would marginalize Wilders and diminish the influence of his Islamo-skeptic message, it got things exactly backwards. Not only did even political adversaries in his native Netherlands defend Wilders against the undiplomatic snub of a fellow countryman and elected official, but the simple fact that British authorities felt forced to ban a critic of radical Islam rather than risk a confrontation with its adherents served as powerful proof of Wilders’s longtime charge that Europe no longer had the will to defend its laws and culture against Islamic extremists.
Within weeks of Wilders’s ban, his Freedom Party (PVV) had surged to become the second most popular polling party in the Netherlands. The PVV translated popularity into political success this June, when it outperformed expectations to become the second largest Dutch party in the European Parliament. Polls have since shown that the PVV could become the largest or second largest party in the Netherlands. Wilders himself remains at risk. Death threats from Islamic militants have become a routine part of his life since he became an outspoken critic of Islam. But his party’s fortunes have never been better.
Now Wilders has won another victory. He has already promised to visit Britain the coming weeks. That means he will have another opportunity to screen a film whose disgraceful censorship by the British government should never have occurred in the first place.
A Note To Readers:
On Thursday, October 22, Geert Wilders will be appearing at the Union League Club in Philadelphia, PA, in an event hosted by the David Horowitz Freedom Center–Philadelphia . To register for the event, “Defending Free Speech and Geert Wilders,” please click here. For more information, please contact Mike Finch at the David Horowitz Freedom Center at firstname.lastname@example.org.