Rolling back the clock

Regular readers know I can't stand Michael Savage, who I think is an opportunistic provocateur who devotes his time to giving conservatism a bad name. But I would unhesitatingly defend his First Amendment rights, and even though there is no First Amendment in England, the fact that Savage has been banned from entering the country is a pretty sad commentary on the lack of freedom there.

As Philip Johnston notes, in banning visitors, the government is supposed to look at " whether the individual in expressing his views would threaten public order":

The list of people banned over the past six months includes a former member of the Ku Klux Klan, a neo-Nazi, a Hamas MP, a Baptist pastor and his daughter barred for homophobia and a Jewish extremist. Oddly, it also contains the name Michael Savage, a US "shock jock" talk-show host whose views on Islam, rape and autism have stirred controversy in America. By all accounts, his views are pretty offensive; but is that reason enough to ban someone? The test usually is whether the individual in expressing his views would threaten public order. This is the justification given for refusing entry to the American political leader Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam. But to ban a radio presenter from a democratic country where he is allowed to broadcast freely is a new departure, as was the decision to refuse entry to Gert Wilders, the Dutch MP, a few months back for wanting to show a film about the Koran to British parliamentarians.

The Government claims Savage engages in unacceptable behaviour by seeking to provoke others to serious criminal acts and fostering hatred which might lead to inter-community violence. But is not the real reason he is barred because he preaches dislike of other groups rather than violence against them?

Home Office officials say Michael Savage, real name Michael Weiner, holds abhorrent views on immigration, Islam, rape and autism, which have caused great offence in America. That may be so. But are we now banning people because we don't like what they think or say; or are we accepting that anyone who responds violently to a view of which they disapprove can effectively veto other people's right to free speech?

Under this test, Congressman Tom Tancredo could be banned, simply because a bunch of activists have responded violently to his speeches and shut him down. So could David Horowitz, Michelle Malkin, or Ann Coulter (all of whom are regularly targeted by violent demonstrators). Such a policy effectively allows violent activists to set policy, and determine who gets to speak.

The lesson here is that activists get their way and violence works.

Ironically, the British authorities might imagine themselves to be enlightened (by "pre-empting violence"), but what they're really doing is rolling the clock back to the pre-enlightenment days.

It can't happen here, right?

posted by Eric on 05.06.09 at 08:01 AM


This is an almost perfect setup for libel tourism: Savage can sue for libel in an English court, where the odds are stacked in favor of the plaintiff. The Government will have a rather hard time *proving* that what they've said about Savage is true, which is what they need to prevail.

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