Things are happening on the political scene in Britain which even a few short years ago would have been unthinkable. Police have entered the House of Commons to arrest a Conservative Member of Parliament. The Home Secretary, one Jacqui Smith, is revealed to have claimed a six-figure sum for expenses in her home when she is living all the while in her sister’s house, and this enormity is apparently within the rules parliamentarians have drafted for themselves. And now Geert Wilders, a member of the Dutch Parliament, and therefore an elected democratic politician, has been refused entry at London airport and deported back to the Netherlands. He is, Jacqui Smith’s Home Office pretends, nothing less than a threat to “public security.”
How so? Wilders was invited by a member of the House of Lords to show their lordships his film Fitna, all seventeen minutes of it. Among the meanings of this Arabic word in Wehr’s Dictionary are “sedition, riot, discord, dissension, civil strife.” The film is out to show that the Qur’an contains verses that encourage these bad outcomes, setting Muslims against themselves and others. This is a serious argument, even if clips of terror outrages make the film deliberately sensational, even lurid. Unfortunately, the acts of terror are real, and readings from the Qur’an bear upon them.
Free speech has been a particularly English glory since Milton first argued that it was a principle of freedom itself. Dissidents, rebels, and freedom fighters from Karl Marx and Mazzini to Stalin and Salman Rushdie have had the opportunity to say what they wanted, whether or not anyone disapproved. Now thanks to one Jacqui Smith, so comfortably padded by the taxpayer, this principle of freedom is suspended.
There is more. Lord Ahmed is a Muslim born in Kashmir and put into the House of Lords by Tony Blair. Two years ago, Lord Ahmed invited Mahmoud Abu Rideh, a Palestinian previously detained on suspicion of fundraising for groups associated with al-Qaeda, into the House of Lords. It was his parliamentary duty, he told critics, to listen to what Abu Rideh had to say. Evidently it’s that self-same parliamentary duty to ban and suppress Wilders. It is reported that he warned the authorities that 10,000 Muslims would bring real Fitna to the streets by demonstrating in the event that the film was shown, though he denies this. But clearly intimidation has trumped free speech. “Public security” is just humbug. This is not a minor issue. On his way out, Wilders openly called the English “cowards.” Losers, he might have added, shamed and shaming, people untrue to themselves.