Wednesday 6 May 2009

Smith, Savage and free speech

What to make of Jacqui Smith's little list of people who have been barred from entering Britain, which in addition to assorted terrorists and sponsors of terror, includes American talk-show host Michael Savage?

A few points to make:

Firstly, Savage does appear to be a particularly extreme right-wing nut-job with repulsive views on immigration, homosexuality, etc.

He also seems pretty mixed-up - a West Coast Jewish herbalist and homeopath (real name Michael Alan Weiner) who in recent years has metamorphosed into a mouthpiece of the guns 'n' Jesus wing of the Republican party.

However, unlike most of the other people on Smith's list, I'm not sure Savage has physically attacked anyone, or funded anyone else to do so.

Then again, I don't think Savage has actually applied to come to Britain, which means that Smith's list is a pre-emptive one, indicating the people the government would be likely to refuse entry to, if they applied. In which case, why only 16, and why this 16? Couldn't they think of any more terrorists or tyrants to include? And this raises the question of why exactly someone like Savage has been singled out from a world stuffed full of nasty and vicious characters...

On which point: Smith's explanation of why Savage has been subject to pre-emptive exclusion is mealy-mouthed but revealing:

This is someone who has fallen into the category of fomenting hatred, of such extreme views and expressing them in such a way that it is actually likely to cause inter-community tension or even violence if that person were allowed into the country.

A similar argument about the threat of 'inter-community tension' and 'violence' was used to justify the recent ban on Geert Wilders. In that case, it was obvious that the 'threat' came not from Wilders himself but from Islamic extremists in Britain who promised to create merry hell if the Dutch MP were to set foot in the country. And in the case of Savage, it would seem that it's his views on Islam that have got the British government all hot under the collar. 

Other religions are clearly missing a trick here. If I were a Scientologist (say) and I wanted to make sure that critics of my peculiar sect weren't given a platform in Britain, all I'd need to do is threaten a bit of 'inter-community tension', and hey presto, they would make it on to Jacqui Smith's hit list. Even better, it would look like my enemies were the extremists and fomenters of violence, not me.

Does it need saying that angry and easily-offended believers shouldn't be given this kind of implicit veto over who gets to visit Britain? You get the impression that the government just doesn't want the bother of dealing with the ruckus that would be stirred up by 'community leaders' if a vocal critic of Islam were to dare to approach these shores - or maybe they just don't want to risk losing the Muslim vote?

Perhaps the worst consequence of this latest illustration of Jacqui Smith's and the Brown government's casual attitude to free speech, is that it gives ammunition to those hysterical right-wing commentators (including Savage's supporters in the conspiracy-theorist blogosphere, as well as our own home-grown examples) who claim that Britain is turning into some kind of politically-correct totalitarian state.

The government should make crystal clear its grounds for deciding whether individuals are excluded from Britain: I believe the main criterion should be evidence of committing or supporting violence, rather than expressing particular beliefs or attitudes, however extreme. In addition, each exclusion order should be subject to the due process of law, and able to be challenged in the courts, rather than being the whim of a government minister.

1 comment:

TNC said...

Another great post. Since you got back from vacation, you have been on a roll.

I do not listen to Savage’s show often, maybe two or three times in the last year. He is extreme and incendiary and I do not enjoy listening to someone go on a two hour rant against “illegals,” the liberal media, leftists in the academy, and the collapse of Western Civilization. He is full of hot air and himself, providing far too much heat and very little light.

But, to the best of my knowledge, he has never called for violence against peaceful groups or individuals. He may call them traitorous, criminal, or what have you, but he has never advocated violence against these people. As far as Islamist extremists, or, “Islamo-fascists” as he calls them, Savage says they should be opposed with whatever tools we have at our disposal.

Controversial? Yes. But I imagine far more hateful rhetoric and dangerous ideas are being promoted in the radical mosques of the UK.