Donald Trump doesn’t like Muslims. He has made this point quite clear with his new policy proposal which would ban all Muslims from entering the United States until “our Representatives figure out what the hell is going on”. I’ve already stated my belief that Donald Trump is a fascist, however I, unfortunately, have been placed in a position where I have to defend this intellectually bankrupt race-baiter. This is not going to be fun.
Let me make it perfectly clear that I am not endorsing Donald Trump’s position because it is a bigoted and irrational point of view. A defence of Trump’s ludicrous suggestion is not the premise of this article. The topic of this article is once again free speech. Specifically, the topic is the mechanism that the UK government uses to ban people they argue are engaging in hate speech. This whole discussion was spurred by a petition to the government calling on Trump being barred from entry, and attracted a large number of signatures in a surprisingly short amount of time.
On the BBC political show Question Time Labour MP Caroline Flint argued that Donald Trump shouldn’t be let into the country because of his hate speech against various sections of American society. Indeed later that evening on the BBC’s This Week SNP MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh argued that Donald Trump amounted to a hate preacher. Both of these people are showing themselves to not support freedom of speech, for one fundamental basis.
John Stuart Mill in his book On Liberty argued that there is to be only one limitation on freedom of speech: “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others”. I would now like to ask these two MPs, and all those who signed the petition to ban Trump: is Trump’s bigoted opinion harming anyone? Doing harm to others is not the same as causing offence. And if these people manage to convince me that it does harm others, my next question would be: given that his opinions are readily available online, how would banning him from the UK stop him harming other? Surely if these views are available online, people will see them whether or not he is allowed into the country?
There are some who agree with me that he is different to, for example, an Islamic fundamentalist because Trump is not calling for specific violence to be carried out against anybody. His remarks may imply hostility toward Muslims but do not outwardly call for Muslims to be harassed and bullied. Although these people, who are often on the Right, arrive at the same conclusion, I oppose their logical basis. The UK can ban people from entering the country in two ways: the Home Secretary can do so claiming it is for the public good, or the UK Border Agency can do so claiming their “character or associations would not be conducive to the public good”. Both of these criteria use the abstract term ‘public good’.
On the first point I do not believe that the Home Secretary should be able to arbitrarily decide who should be allowed into the country, especially given that this Prime Minister has said such Orwellian gems as “for too long we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens ‘as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone'”. Secondly, the UK Border Agency needs to have its definition changed because it includes guilt by association as a reason for exclusion, which is a thoroughly irrational principle. I’m not suggesting that people in no circumstances should bee banned, for example a convicted rapist shouldn’t be let in, but to ban people for what they say because it is offensive is in direct contravention of the freedom of speech that liberal democracies apparently pride themselves on.
If we use John Stuart Mill’s definition of free speech, the only people to face restrictions would be those who are going around calling for violence against specific groups of people or individuals. In the case of people like Donald Trump, although everything he has said when it comes to Muslims (and Mexicans and the disabled) has been almost impressively bigoted, he should be allowed into the country. It is only when he is inside the country that the overwhelming majority of people can look him in the eye and challenge his backward views for what they are: fascistic.