This question, which carried unfortunate echoes of the right-wing myth that Muslim sensibilities are treated with a respect not accorded to the “indigenous” Christian population, summarised the confused thinking of those who have opposed Jacqui Smith’s admirable decision to exclude the Dutch far-right racist from the UK.
First of all, if an Islamist extremist were to visit the UK to promote a film whose aim was to incite hatred against Christians among Muslim communities, the Home Office would undoubtedly impose a ban on that individual just as readily as they did on Wilders. And rightly so. Freedom of movement does not include the right to enter this country in order to poison relations between our diverse communities.
Kirsty Wark’s argument also missed the obvious point that Christianity is the religion of the majority white population in the UK, whereas Islam is the faith of a predominantly non-white minority community. Attacks on Christianity may be offensive to believers, but they do not serve as a cover for the incitement of racial hatred. In the hands of far-right provocateurs like Wilders, attacks on Islam are used for precisely that purpose.
A more appropriate question to ask is how we would respond if a far-right politician made a film misrepresenting Judaism as a violent, barbaric religion in the same way that Fitna misrepresents Islam.
The film would perhaps feature footage of the Israeli army’s devastation of Gaza, with the bodies of dead children lying among the rubble that used to be their homes, followed by clips of Zionist extremists applauding the killing of Palestinian civilians and conservative rabbis opposing women’s rights and gay sex. Over these pictures are projected verses from the Old Testament that celebrate the Lord raining down burning sulphur on Sodom and Gomorrah and killing all their inhabitants, or that call for adulterers and homosexuals to be put to death. The film goes on to claim that Jews are taking over Europe and concludes with an appeal to defend western civilisation against the insidious expansion of Jewish influence.
Does anyone seriously think that those who currently defend Wilders on the basis of “freedom of expression” would support the right to promote a vile, antisemitic film like that? Would such a film conceivably be allowed a showing at the House of Lords? The reality is, if this film were to be shown anywhere in the UK, those responsible would undoubtedly be prosecuted under the racial hatred laws.
With the exception of the fascist movement and a few right-wing cranks like the Libertarian Alliance, nobody these days would argue that freedom of expression should include the right to incite hatred against the Jewish community. Antisemites are not treated as the standard bearers of free speech, but as hate-filled bigots whose racist propaganda has no place in a civilised society. It is time that the same treatment was applied equally consistently to Islamophobes like Geert Wilders.