Wilders' right to speak
The United Kingdom does not want to admit anyone to its territory that would threaten “community harmony and therefore public security.” This argument was used to deny member of parliament Geert Wilders of the populist party PVV entry to the country on Tuesday. Too high a barrier to the free movement of people and the freedom of expression has thus been erected. Besides the fact that the law of both the European Union and the Council of Europe seems to be violated by this, the political concept of a free European space has also been damaged.
Ironically, striving for freedom often entails the prospect of confinement. That has now occurred. The fact that the ban affects a member of parliament makes the decision political, in addition to symbolic. The British are concerned about a well-defined political program that is democratically legitimised in the Netherlands. Voltaire is often credited with pointing out that freedom of expression means defending someone’s right to assert that with which one disagrees. That certainly applies to Wilders, who gives plenty of occasion for disagreement. But his freedom to express such disagreeable sentiments should prevail all the more. As should the duty to defend that freedom. Moreover what is at stake here is political freedom, without which other freedoms are all but unthinkable.
Incidentally Wilders himself falls short as a politician when it comes to defending this freedom. On January 25 he urged in parliamentary questions that religious leaders of “radical mosques” be divested of Dutch nationality and deported. Limiting access to Europe and the Netherlands to all those to whom he objects is a main theme in his platform. The British entry criterion of “harmony in the community” should not sound unfamiliar to him therefore. It is however far removed from the fundamental right to express opinions anywhere in Europe that may “shock, hurt and disturb.”
On February 3 the European Court of Human Rights confirmed for example the right of Dutch abortion activists ‘Women on waves’ to moor a boat in Portugal. The decision by Portuguese authorities to deploy a warship was disproportional. The women were not planning anything illegal – Portugal certainly had less drastic means at its disposal to counter any disturbances to order. That is all the more true of Wilders, who wanted to show his film Fitna, at the invitation of the British Upper House no less. Would the security of the United Kingdom be threatened by what an outsider came to say in one of the world’s oldest parliaments? And by means of a film that was intended to provoke and which has long been available on the internet?
Extremists and radicals from all over the world used to find shelter in London. Russians, Chechens, Algerians, but also radical Islamic groups were able to settle there. Karl Marx fled there from Paris. Wilders will be buying a return ticket. That should be permitted, even with a tightened up entry policy.