While England Dithers

An online petition in England obtained over 450,00 signatures meaning the proposal will be considered in their House of Commons.  This petition asks that the government ban Donald Trump from entering the country over recent comments he made regarding Muslims and vetting Syrian refugees.  To provide some background, the petition was instigated by the same person who fought against Trump’s golf course in Scotland.  Right away, we have to question the motive.

According to Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, a member of the House of Commons from Scotland, if allowed into England Trump would “attract an audience.”  Imagine that- a speaker attracting an audience!!  In reality, this is a not-so-disguised attempt to stifle free speech that involves a message a portion of the English population does not want debated.  To be sure, Europe is less tolerant of free speech than we are in the United States.

The head of the British Home Office is responsible for immigration and public safety.  They have, in the past, banned speakers from entering the country for alleged hate speech.  That list has included a member of the Dutch Parliament, a Muslim televangelist from India, a white supremacist from the United States and even Snoop Dog.  However, the recent leader of the Home Office has expanded the definition of “unacceptable behavior” to deny an increasing number of people from entering England.  Often, it includes people with no link to any violent action or terrorism.

Instead, “unacceptable behavior” simply means someone who may say something that may be insensitive to some subgroup of the population, or someone who utters something that may be considered politically incorrect.  The problem is that there is no objective set of criteria to make these determinations, instead being at the whim of the particular occupant of the head of the Home Office at any given time.  Worse, it risks stifling free speech.  It is akin to what is happening on many American college campuses in recent years with speakers, only on a grander national scale in the case of England.

And if one thinks seriously about this, a travel ban to England is ludicrous against someone who “speaks.” Donald Trump, or even a terrorist (a/k/a the real bad guys) can “speak” to the people of England.  Technology has made travel bans obsolete.  At the click of a mouse, a Trump speech or a jihad call to arms is there on a computer screen.

Perhaps a better way for the English to show their alleged displeasure with Trump’s speech is to allow him his day in England and to protest him there.  Open his speech and comments to debate and scrutiny.  Most experts will tell you that is the best way to combat alleged “hate speech,” although one could even debate whether what Trump says or said rises to the level of “hate speech.”

One should be careful when comparing Trump to someone like Hitler, but American civil liberties lawyer said it best:  “The world did not suffer because too many people read Mein Kampf.  Sending Hitler on a speaking tour of the United States would have been quite a good idea.”  Another Canadian legal scholar described the British (and Canadians) as not subscribing to a marketplace of ideas.  They are less tolerant of free speech.  They also readily admit that Americans are more tough-minded than their British/Canadian/Australian/European counterparts.

The United States has not been immune to these tendencies at times.  The Alien and Sedition Acts are one example as was the banning of certain speakers during the Cold War.  In the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration banned some Muslim scholars from entry into the United States.  In the Cold War and the Bush examples, these were often people advocating the overthrow of the American government or, in the latter case, the destruction of America itself.  Trump’s comments certainly did not come anywhere near this.

Trump’s comments may have been misguided, rude, or just plain silly statements made in the heat of passion after a terrorist attack in the midst of a highly charged political campaign, but they certainly were not hate speech.  They certainly were not worthy of banning his travel to England.  And if it were, one would have to ask the British what they really are afraid of.  If they answer that question truthfully, then the terrorists have won.