Opinion: Wilders’ Contradictions

The proclamation by Geert Wilders, as he was being detained awaiting deportation yesterday, that he was being denied his inalienable right of freedom of speech as a citizen has unfortunately provoked many members of the Liberal grass roots to his defence. I say unfortunately because Wilders’ freedom of speech is nothing more than a rhetorical trojan horse to allow him to propagate an ideology that runs so contrary to anything that may be called liberal or free.

Wilders himself is certainly no believer in freedom of speech. A 2007 article for the Volkskrant, a Dutch daily paper, called for a ban on the Koran, comparing it to Hitler’s Mein Kampf. And so the book burner has now become the defender of freedom of speech.

Apart from his own taste for censorship, Wilders’ 10-point plan for the Netherlands published in 2003, states amongst other things, “fighting terrorism stands above personal privacy”. Subsequent political writings, including his Political Manifesto of 2005 and party program of 2006 have called for a ban on Muslim head dress, the use of the army in public spaces, and the removal of the first article of the Dutch constitution which gives Dutch citizens equality before the law and non discrimination. This is Wilders, the ‘defender of freedom’.

A further absurd contradiction to this whole affair comes from Lord Pearson of Rannoch, who invited the Dutch MP to show his film Fitna. During the screening of the film in the House of Lords, Lord Pearson attempted to have journalists removed from the room.

Furthermore it should be remembered that Lord Pearson, a UKIP peer, spends much of his time fighting against the adoption of European rules that would remove the border between Britain and other EU member states that are part of the Schengen Agreement, and would have made the refusal of Wilders’ entry an impossibility.

The film itself is an affront to intelligence as well as an affront to Muslims, The underlying argument is that all adherents to Islam are murderous barbarians, and it is nothing more than a crude and poorly constructed argument for religious discrimination. Perhaps the most unpleasant element of this affair is the idea that a representative of our country, a member of the House of Lords, should think it appropriate to show something so offensive to our fellow citizens in the seat of our democracy.

The real issue in this episode is not freedom of speech, or any type of freedom at all; in power, these men would destroy the most basic rights of citizens living in a free country. The real issue is whether affording liberties to such proponents of authoritarianism and persecution endangers freedom itself.

Our freedom is based on the premise that we alladhere to rules which guarantee these freedoms. If one party does not adhere to these rules we cannot afford them such freedoms. This is not a radical idea – after all, do we not incarcerate murders because they have broken the sacred covenants that allow us to live? It seems clear that, as Wilders himself has no attachment to freedom of speech or the rights of citizens, he himself should have those rights curtailed.

It is with this belief, that I can only support Lib Dem shadow home secretary Chris Huhne in his support of the Government’s actions yesterday.

* George Turner is a former Liberal Democrat member, now living in Italy: “I am however, still very much an adherent to the party and its ideals.”

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25 Comments

  • Liberal Neil 13th Feb '09 - 1:36pm

    “The real issue is whether affording liberties to such proponents of authoritarianism and persecution endangers freedom itself.”

    This is exactly the right question to ask and your answer to it is completely wrong.

    We absolutely should afford freedom of speech to those who we believe do not themselves believe in freedom of speech.

    To do otherwise is to allow the authorities to decide who is and who is not entitled to freedom of speech, and that is the start of a dangerous and slippery slope.

    I do not want my freedom of speech to be limited by what some Minister believes might offend someone else.

  • Defending freedom of speech will only ever involve defending people’s right to say unpleasant things, that’s what freedom of speech means. The mainstream is uncontroversial, and doesn’t need special effort dedicated to its protection.

    That’s why it ultimately takes a lot of political bravery to defend it as a principle- bravery that our spokesperson seemed (uncharacteristically, to be fair) to lack in this case.

  • “It seems clear that, as Wilders himself has no attachment to freedom of speech or the rights of citizens, he himself should have those rights curtailed.”

    As Meatloaf’s girlfriend once said, “Stop right there”!

    Freedom of speech doesn’t mean you can’t call for censorship and bans. That’s sort of the point really.

    As Jefferson said “We’ll tolerate any sort of stupidity as long as reason is left free to counter it” (except he put it better 🙂

  • I hand over to persons more qualified than myself for comment –

    “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty, than those attending too small a degree of it.” – Thomas Jefferson

    “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” – John F Kennedy

    “If you’re in favour of free speech, then you’re in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favour of free speech.” – Noam Chomsky

    “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” – George Orwell, Animal Farm

    Freedom of speech is about defending the right of an individual to say what he or she believes, even if it goes against every instinct. It’s why Shami Chakrabarti took up TalkSport DJ Jon Gaunt’s case, despite what he had said about her in the past (and much to his great surprise.)

  • There is no liberal justification for this ban as the above posters have shown.

    Anyone who saw Vaz on Newsnight last night should be ashamed by our country and our government – he was an affront to democracy and liberty.

    The best thing now for Chris Huhne to do is to admit he got it wrong and call for an end to the sinister Stalinesque ‘banning orders’

  • Paul Webbewood 13th Feb '09 - 2:36pm

    Surely the most unpleasant aspect of the affair is that another member of the House of Lords, Lord Ahmed, has threatened to use physical force to stop people seeing this film and making up their own minds about it.

  • I’m afraid this is a very weak effort at trying to justify Huhne’s inherently contradictory position. His decision to defend the rights of Holocaust-denier Dr Frederick Toben, but not those of Geert Wilders, shows the complete lack of depth to his liberal beliefs. This film is deeply unpleasant, but let’s not pretend that Geert Wilders presence in the country would “endanger freedom itself.”

    Frankly I’m appalled that the party would take this line on a fundamental issue of free speech. Huhne has got this one completely wrong, and if he took the time to read most liberally minded people’s reaction, he’d know it.

  • “I abominate your opinions, but I will go to the stake for your right to express them.” was how it was put even before liberals knew they were liberals.

  • Beth freethink.org 13th Feb '09 - 5:12pm

    ”Freedom of speech doesn’t mean you can’t call for censorship and bans”

    That is precisely what freedom of speech means – anybody should be allowed to say what they want, no matter how abominable their opions might be. The only way to show why such opinions are objectionable is to engage in debate not silence it completely.

    As Johann Hari said in his excellent article in today’s Independent ”The answer to the problems of free speech is always more free speech”

    It is a sorry state of affairs when the Liberal Democrats refuse to passionately defend this stance.

  • David Morton 14th Feb '09 - 6:45am

    This is most unremittingly,unequivocally,uncompromisingly illiberal article ever to appear on this site. Gladstone once described Naples ” as the negation of God errected in a system of Government.”

    Your article is the negation of liberalismerrected into a ystem of government.

    Put simply you argue that because wilders enies others freedoms we should deny his.

    Enter stage left the “enemy combatants” and the Cuban Gulag of George Bush.

    Enter the death penalty because after all they didn’t respect others right to life.

    Enter what ever totalitarian nonsense you want because some where some one doesn’t like freedom and now we ca taear up ours in the name of defending it.

    As for the rest of the article. you effectively say Fitna can be banned becuase its not very good ?

    What next ? the return of the Lord Chamberlain ? I know you live in Italy but do you know what would hapen to British culture if we banned things that weren’t very good ?

  • George Turner 14th Feb '09 - 12:00pm

    Thank you all for your many many comments, there have been a lot of good points made to counter my argument.

    For those who charge that I am not a liberal or even a fascist, I feel I should say that my point really is that I dont believe liberty means anarchy, a return to a Hobbesian natural state, I believe that liberty does involve some adherence to a social contract, a contract that can be broken by either party. This indeed for me is the difference between liberalism and libertarianism, and I am a liberal and not a libertarian.

    Now Liberal Neil makes a very good point in that if we are to have such rules, who is to decide them? Indeed the danger of living in a society bounded by laws is that the power to decide these laws will become detached from society and become a tyranny, and which is why of course liberty cannot exist without democracy. Free speech is also crucial to guaranteeing liberty, as it allows for the free exchange of ideas and progress in our cultural and intellectual lives.

    But my second point, perhaps expressed poorly is that this whole issue is not about freedom of speech. Contrary to the comment of David Morton, I dont think Fitna should be banned, I call for that in no part of my article. In to banish any doubt from your minds about my views, I will post the link to Fitna, here: http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=216_1207467783

    I believe in freedom of speech, the issue here for me however is not freedom of speech, Geert Wilders can have his views heard, you can watch them on liveleak.com the issue here for me is incitement and provocation. Whether Geert Wilders actions do indeed constitute incitement to violence, and whether his provocations are serious enough to warrant being refused entry into the country are for me all difficult questions, I do have some sympathy with the view that by stopping his entry at the border we only gave him more publicity and made the situation worse. After some thought my personal belief is that Wilders is not himself inciting violence against muslims, but he is deliberately provoking a violent reaction from muslims, for his own political benefit. Either way, the result is a deliberate provocation of violence

  • George Turner 14th Feb '09 - 12:02pm

    Oh and @David Morton “I know you live in Italy but do you know what would hapen to British culture if we banned things that weren’t very good ?”

    🙂

  • “This is most unremittingly, unequivocally, uncompromisingly illiberal article ever to appear on this site”

    Hear hear.

  • Brett Harrison 20th Feb '13 - 10:16am

    Mr. Turner has made a very dangerous argument for taking away the freedoms of people just because we might disagree with what they might say. This is not democracy, and certainly not “liberal” in any sense of the word.
    He should have paid more attention in school.

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