Why I signed the “Keep Trump Out” petition

Update: for a powerfully argued expression of the counter-view, see https://kenanmalik.wordpress.com/2015/12/21/trump-namazie-islam-free-speech-and-the-left/

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/114003 (you need to be a UK citizen or resident to sign). Well over half a million signatures to date.

After all, aren’t I supposed to be an advocate of free speech?

Here’s why:

“The United Kingdom is trying hard to disguise their massive Muslim problem. Everybody is wise to what is happening, very sad! Be honest.”
“We have places in London and other places that are so radicalised [by Muslims] that the police are afraid for their own lives. We have to be very smart and very vigilant.” [The Metropolitan Police, and Boris Johnson MP as Mayor of London, have both denounced this inflammatory falsehood]

These remarks are not merely disconnected from reality, but cross the line into hate speech, illegal in the UK. I do not think it should be, short of provocation of violence, but we do not have to provide a platform for it.

The counter-argument, however, also deserves respect: It would not be the UK as an entity but whoever invited Trump (if only himself), who provided the platform. It would be censorship to prevent him from mounting it. Trump, of course, is himself ill-placed to use such an argument, since he would ban all Muslims from entering the US, but that is not really the point.

I leave readers to choose between these two mutually exclusive positions. Each has its own set of problems, and there is no way to split the difference.

One final argument. To quote the petition itself:

The UK has banned entry to many individuals for hate speech. The same principles should apply to everyone who wishes to enter the UK.

If the United Kingdom is to continue applying the ‘unacceptable behaviour’ criteria to those who wish to enter its borders, it must be fairly applied to the rich as well as poor, and the weak as well as powerful.

And that. for me, is the clincher. Even if you think that governments should not be barring visitors with unpalatable and inflammatory opinions, they do. As long as such powers exist and are used, they should be used in this case also.

About Paul Braterman

Science writer, former chemistry professor; committee member British Centre for Science Education; board member and science adviser Scottish Secular Society; former member editorial board, Origins of Life, and associate, NASA Astrobiology Insitute; first popsci book, From Stars to Stalagmites 2012

Posted on December 11, 2015, in Politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I must disagree with you. The presence of a law permitting something does not make that thing right or moral. When these things are immoral, for example slavery (which had laws defining its legality), it is our duty to oppose them. This is no less the case with freedom of speech. Fairly applying an unjust law does not make the law right, at best perhaps less bad, but never right. Hard as it may sound the important thing is to defend the free speech of those you disagree with, so even though he is an odious braggard and bigot he must be permitted to come and speak. I am very sure, were he to do so, even fewer people would fall under the sway of his ideas. Indeed banning him will play to many on the far-rights victim narrative and possibly boost his cause.

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    • There is much in what you say, and I tried in my post to make that clear. On the matter of principle, let me give you an analogy. There is a provision in the most recent UK budget that illogically penalises some landlords. But even though the law is bad, it is important that it should be evenly applied; it would be shocking if the powerful and well-connected were able to evade this penalty. Regarding consequences, given Trump’s position, and possible future position, his effect on UK public opinion is considerably less important than the effect of so forceful an expression of UK public opinion on him and his candidacy.

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      • I can see the logic in what you say, though I do think principle trumps pragmatism. However, I am fairly confident we don’t have to worry too much that Donald will succeed (Mind you, I didn’t think that Reagan had much of a chance)

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