After all, I am becoming involved in this discussion and a posting might be preferable to responses on the discussion forum. This is cross-posted from the BrugesGroupBlog, which I run in parallel to my work on EUReferendum. As I explain elsewhere on it, the intention had been to make this blog a part of a structured research programme but that is not going to happen. So, it continues as a more or less personal political blog until I set up another one as part of a network Richard North and I envisage.
On EUReferendum my colleague, Richard North (often referred to by me as the boss) and I have expended a very large number of words on the Geert Wilders affair. It would, therefore, be seemly to call a halt to the flood and so I shall (albeit temporarily) as soon as I have discussed a couple of related issues.
My colleague has already written about the Conservative Party’s ridiculous reaction but there have been some developments there as chronicled by ToryBoyBlog, a.k.a. Conservative Home.
At first the Conservatives, laughably known as Her Majesty’s Opposition, kept quiet on the matter of a Dutch parliamentarian being stopped from taking up an invitation by two members of the House of Lords to explain his political views because another member of the House of Lords, who is waiting to be sentenced for dangerous driving that resulted in a death, was threatening violence. The threats were unlikely to have turned into reality but that is a separate issue. They were made.
Then, just as the questions of where were the Tories started to reach a noisy crescendo, a very quiet and understated statement was made by Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary (I think).
“We have consistently called on the Government to tackle extremists. If Geert Wilders has expressed views that represent a threat to public security, then we support the ban. But people like Ibrahim Moussawi, a spokesman for the terrorist organisation Hizbollah, have not been banned. The Government must apply the criteria governing entry into the UK consistently.”
In other words, the whole issue was made into a discussion of equivalence. Before making the statement Mr Grayling or one of his gifted researchers ought to have found out what exactly it is that Mr Wilders has said and what views he has expressed. They might have found that, though some of the views are debatable, many of his policies are free-market ones (and that maybe what our political class dislikes en masse) while others make a good deal of sense.
For instance, the idea of a five-year moratorium on immigration in a small, heavily populated country, which is finding it hard to “digest” a large group of people who are not prepared to become part of its society is not actually stupid or particularly offensive. The fact that they are not prepared to become part of that society is evidenced by the murder of Theo Van Gogh, the treatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the constant protection under which Geert Wilders has to live.
As for his call to ban the Koran in the Netherlands, just as “Mein Kampf” is banned, clearly that is one of the debatable points. In my opinion, neither should be banned and, in any case, how difficult is it to buy a copy of Hitler’s intolerably boring magnum opus and taking it to Amsterdam?
The point that Mr Grayling seems to be missing is that political views that might be controversial (and God forbid that any Conservative politician should have those) are not quite the same as calls for violence and terrorism. Nobody has produced a single example of Mr Wilders doing that. The person who has threatened violence is Lord Ahmed.
A little while later the Tory leadership woke up to the fact that their stand on the issue, which consisted of fence-sitting of the first order, was not particularly popular. Even on ConHome most of the comments were angry.
So up popped little Georgie-Porgy Osborne, who clearly does not have enough to do as Shadow Chancellor in the midst of a financial crisis, and told the Manchester Evening News, which has not, so far as I know, been bought by a Russian oligarch:
“My personal view is by banning him [Wilders] in such a public way, he has been given far more publicity than would have been the case. I am not sure how thought-through this really was.”
Still somewhat feeble and giving the further impression that the Conservative Front Bench is incapable of agreeing on anything of any importance. Furthermore, what Mr Osborne seems to object to is the backfiring of the stupid ban rather than its existence.
Some of the comments (most of which were still negative) suggested that the Conservatives are trying hard to win the Muslim vote or some of it and that is why they are not speaking out in favour of free speech. I can’t help thinking that this is a ridiculous calculation.
There is a greater tendency in the Muslim community than in others to vote en bloc, often at the instructions of the local imam or some other “community leader”. This tendency has been exacerbated by the loosening of rules on postal voting, about which the Electoral Commission refuses to do anything. This may or may not help the Labour Party but it is not going to give the Conservatives anything.
The only Muslim votes they are likely to get are from people who are trying to break away from the unhealthy stifling of political opinion that exists in those circumstances. Those Muslims are very unlikely to be impressed by this cravenness that supports a trampling of their rights as well as anybody else’s.
The second point I want to make is rather more serious than the well-being or otherwise of the Conservative Party. We are witnessing yet another example of a deliberate erosion of moral responsibility in public discourse.
“Violence”, according to this attitude, is a purely passive phenomenon. It is bad but it just happens. Nobody is responsible and everybody involved, the perpetrator and the threatener as well as the putative victim is equally guilty. Therefore, it does not matter who is punished, the one who threatens violence or the one who wants to have an open discussion. Since it is clearly easier to punish the latter, that is what we do.
We can see similar attitudes in various rather knotty international problems, whose solution remains unreachable because of this muddle in thinking and moral judgement, a muddle that has now completely overtaken our entire political class.
Cross-posted from BrugesGroupBlog