Don’t turn Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer into free speech martyrs

The anti-fascist campaign group Hope Not Hate (HNH) has started a petition to prevent two American bloggers from being given permission to enter the UK.

The anti-fascist campaign group Hope Not Hate (HNH) has written to the home secretary Theresa May urging her to stop Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer from entering the UK to speak at an English Defence League rally on Saturday 29 June.

Largely unknown in Britain, Geller and Spencer have carved out a reputation in the US as vehement anti-Muslim campaigners. They head up an organisation called Stop the Islamization of America, best known for its opposition to a proposed mosque near Ground Zero.

They are not, however, in the sense of Richard Dawkins or the late Christopher Hitchens, anti-religion – they are anti-Muslim. To cite just one example of their prejudice, Spencer does not believe a distinction should be drawn between violent jihadists and the majority of peaceful Muslims:

“There is no distinction in the American Muslim community between peaceful Muslims and jihadists. While Americans prefer to imagine that the vast majority of American Muslims are civic-minded patriots who accept wholeheartedly the parameters of American pluralism, this proposition has actually never been proven.”

As for Geller, she has claimed that Barack Obama secretly revealed to the Egyptian foreign minister that he is a Muslim. In the same article, Geller remarked that:

“This is devastating news, and yet no media is covering it (emphasis original). A stealth jihad on the White House’, adding that ‘This is akin to an SS officer getting elected president during WW II” [sic].

Geller is also a prominent genocide denier. As One Law for All put it in their brilliant report on the far-right, Enemies not Allies:

“Geller has defended Radovan Karadzic, and likened his war crimes trial at The Hague to a ‘Sharia court’. She has also asserted that Bosnian Muslims killed themselves during the conflict in question in order to ‘manipulate media coverage’. Further, Geller has published and endorsed articles by Julia Gorin, which in their criticism of Karadzic’s trial refer to the ‘8000’ Muslims supposedly executed by Serbian forces’ [sic], and place scare quotes around the word ‘genocide’ when discussing Srebrenica.”

You perhaps have an idea, then, of why the English Defence League might like them.

Banning them from entering Britain, however, would be counterproductive. These people already self-pityingly style themselves as a silent majority whose opinions are repressed by the state. Every time one of their number talks you can set your watch because it is a certainty that at some point they will claim they are “not allowed to talk about Islam/Muslims/immigrations etc”.

Do we really want to provide them with such easy ammunition to throw back at us?

No, Britain is a sufficiently mature nation to reject the extremism of people like Geller and Spencer. There has been no ‘wave’ of anti-Muslim bigotry on the back of the Woolwich killing of Drummer Rigby. Those incidents that have occurred appear mostly to have involved those, like the EDL, who were simply waiting for an excuse to legitimise their bigotry.

In the age of the internet preventing people like Geller and Spencer from speaking at a rally is also fairly inconsequential, anyway. Their videos can be found all over youtube if that’s your thing.

To put it in free speech terms, other people should also be free to hear what Spencer and Geller have to say just as those of us reading this article are – and free to reject their twisted reasoning, if you can call it that.

Banning them for what they might say is also dangerous territory. Free speech within the law should be paramount. If they break British law then they should be asked to leave.

The worst thing to do would be to allow them to portray themselves as free speech martyrs. As Nick Cohen recently phrased it, if you can’t defeat idiots like this with rational argument move out of the way and let people who can.

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43 Responses to “Don’t turn Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer into free speech martyrs”

  1. David Lindsay

    Ordinarily, I would be all in favour of keeping Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, among numerous other people including Mohammad Al-Arefe, out of the United Kingdom.

    But in the present climate, by all means let in Spencer, at least. He makes great play of his Melkite affiliation and of his Middle Eastern roots. Let him be asked, therefore, about the treatment of Arab Christians in general, and of Melkites in particular, by the invaders of and insurgents in Syria. Let him be asked about the treatment of Arab Christians in general, and of Melkites in particular, in the Holy Land.

    He might also be asked to explain those situations to the undoubted star of last week’s Question Time, Melanie Phillips. She complains, not without cause, that in 1982 a colleague on The Guardian referred to the war between Israel and Lebanon as “your war”. Yet in 2013, she left us in no doubt what she meant by “Western interests”. She referred to Israel as “us”. Twice.

    It was very sad to watch. How long has she been doing this? And yet she insulted the audience. She is losing it. She may already have lost it. And I have defended her in the past. Not because I agreed with her, but because of the explicit misogyny and implicit anti-Semitism of some of her more abusive critics. I still think that on many domestic policies, hers is an important voice. As she demonstrated against Russell Brand when the topic for discussion was drugs.

    In relation to Syria, she also talked about a current actor called “the Soviet Union”. There can be no denying that there are those for whom this one has the lot: the chance to attack all five of Iran, the beating heart of pan-Arabism, the defenders of Lebanon’s southern frontier, the ancient indigenous Christians of the Levant (and of Iran), and the power against which they themselves harbour an ancestral bitterness which during the Cold War became bound up with Trotskyism and thus made a doubly important contribution to the emergence of neoconservatism.

    Thus did the Ramshackle Nasty Empire, which was always going to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions, and which was never a viable or even an aspirant military threat to the West, become the Evil Empire, like something out of Star Wars.

    Those overlapping hostilities towards Iran, pan-Arabism, the Great Lebanese Experiment, Christianity both in the region and in general, and Russia, are most emphatically not “Western interests”. Those who hold such attitudes are most emphatically not “us”. Are they, Robert Spencer? Well, are they? Just this once, come over here and tell us.

  2. bear on the peaks

    I am a gay male. I would be killed in most Muslim countries in a horrible fashion including in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Mauritania and Yemen. Yet all you leftist sellouts keep defending and making excuses for Islam. You consider yourself progressive yet you support a belief-system that would torture and kill me for who I am, and now some of you suggest it would be better to censor the voices of people (Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer) who disagree with you? No wonder the far right keeps growing. And growing.

  3. SarahAB

    I agree with the post. I don’t think G and S (who are not so very well known here) are particularly likely to inflame things further. Not that this is something I am likely to fall out with people about.

    @bear on the peaks – I think it is possible to be a leftist, be against Geller and Spencer, yet certainly have no truck with anyone who thinks you should be tortured and killed, Qaradawi, Haddad or whoever.

  4. Rashida

    You are not in a Muslim country. You are in Britain. And the vast majority of Muslims within Britain would not advocate killing of LGBT people.

  5. Rashida

    Ignoring a cancerous poison does not make it go away. The same goes for the aforementioned figures quoted in the article.

    Far-right and fascist sympathising menaces must not be allowed to legitimise their far-right agenda. In doing so they will drag political discourse further to the right. This must be stopped. HNH was correct in pursuing the action it did in order to prevent racists from whipping up hatred against Muslims.

    You don’t make them look like martyrs by banning them. You send them a clear-cut message. Racism will not be tolerated.

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