The controversial far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders appeared at the House of Lords today to screen an anti-Islam film and denounce the religion as “totalitarian” and incompatible with democracy.
The visit, which was originally planned for last year, sparked demonstrations from anti-fascists and a show of support from the far-right English Defence League.
Wilders, 46, who leads the Freedom party, was banned from the UK when Jacqui Smith was home secretary. She said his presence had the potential to “threaten community harmony and therefore public safety”. Wilders succeeded in getting the ban overturned and told a press conference that he had screened his film in the Lords and discussed it afterwards in what he termed a “victory for freedom of speech”.
This afternoon he repeated the views that have angered Muslims in Europe and across the globe, saying Islam was a “fascist ideology”, “a violent and dangerous religion and a retarded culture”. Wilders, who visited the Lords at the invitation of the UK Independence party leader Lord Pearson and the crossbencher Baroness Cox, said: “Cultural relativism is the greatest disease we face in Europe today.”
Lord Pearson denied suggestions that Wilders’s visit had been a publicity stunt designed to woo those on the far right, saying it was a multi-party event. Asked how many people had attended the event in the Lords, he said “about half a dozen”, adding that he was not aware of any objections or boycotts.
300 EDL demonstrators began marching towards Parliament Square just before 2.30pm. Flanked by mounted officers and escorted by a thick police line, the EDL members wore shirts bearing the names of their divisions – Glossop, Blackburn, Oldham, Stockport, Merseyside – and carried placards reading: “Gert [sic] Wilders, England Salutes You” and “England needs a Gert [sic]”.
The point of the march appeared to have been lost on at least one EDL member. Spying a Dutch tricolour carried in salute to Wilders, he asked his fellow demonstrators: “What you got a French flag for?”