Today's decision by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to ban Geert Wilders from entering the UK is spectacularly inept.
Not only is it wrong in principle (I thought we were meant to have freedom of movement in the EU?), it's also been counter-productive. The decision has ensured far more publicity for Wilders' views than he would ever have got if he'd been allowed in.
Like many people, I looked on the net to see what all the fuss was about and watched Fitna, the video at the centre of the controversy. And, having watched it, I am clear that it does NOT incite violence or hatred against Islam as a whole. It is extremely critical of Islamic extremism, often in quite a graphic way, but there is nothing in it which I think would be likely to incite violence.
That makes Smith's decision to ban him in my view utterly ludicrous. And it also makes Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne wrong to support her decision. I was a supporter of Chris during both recent leadership elections, but I think he's got this one badly wrong.
Wilders' views on Islam are, I think, both wrong and fairly repugnant. And, if you Google for "Geert Wilders video" you will find not only the film itself, but also several refutations of it, which indicate that Wilders has based his views on Koranic translations which may be false and taken out of context.
For me this does raise a question about how we tackle extremist views of all kinds. Banning Wilders from entering the UK is certainly counter-productive and it means that the arguments against his position haven't really been put.
But there is also an issue about how we tackle some of the extremist Islamic views which Wilders highlights in his film. And one of the problems of this whole affair is that the voices of moderate Muslims have been drowned out - both by those Muslims for whom Wilders' presence was a problem and by Wilders himself.
If we are to tackle the very real threat of Islamic extremism, then in future we have to avoid creating sympathy for extremist voices such as Wilders by banning him. But we also have to strengthen moderate Muslim voices, to avoid the sort of fears that people like Wilders play upon.
UPDATE: Lib Dem Voice also has a discussion on the subject, on which I've also expressed my views. It includes a link to something Chris Huhne has previously said on a similar subject. Can we have the old Chris Huhne back please?
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