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On balance, May is right to bar Spencer and Geller. But what about Abu Qatada?

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 19.41.31Such is the harm that Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller are doing to the struggle against Islamist extremism that they might as well be paid by the Muslim Brotherhood.  Although their views and outlook are not identical, both are either incapable or unwilling of making the vital distinction between Islam and Islamism - and thereby damage the combat with the latter.  Indeed, both are not so much toilers in the field as in guests in the TV studio: part of our old friend the right-wing light entertainment industry.

That said, there's no intrinsic reason why members of the right-wing light entertainment industry should be banned from Britain by Theresa May.  Spencer and Geller have the Home Secretary's letter explaining the reasons for barring him up on their websites.  She explains that both have brought themselves "within the scope of the list of unacceptable behaviours by making statements that may foster hatred that might lead to inter-community violence within the UK".  In short, she is saying that they are extremists.

I am the last person to deny that extremism is the soil from which violent extremism grows - which is why government should set out clear criteria for dealing with it.  Much though I detest Spencer and Geller, neither fall foul of those I set out on this site recently.  Neither oppose western liberal democracy.  Neither support attacks on British troops.  And neither back the deliberate targetting of civilians (at least, as far as I know).  Furthermore, supporters of free speech should be deeply uneasy about May's use of "may" (small m) and "might".

Incitement to violence is one thing; remarks that may lead to hatred which might lead to violence are another. And although May has cracked down on hate preachers who have made remarks that may lead to hatred that might lead to violence, it can be argued that some are still slipping through the net.  I see that the Commentator has raised the case of Muhammad Al-Arifi. But what swings the balance of the argument in favour of May's decision is the intention of Spencer and Geller of speaking at an English Defence League rally in Woolwich.

The EDL is hopelessly compromised by thuggery and violence: indeed, both are intrinsic to it.  I suspect that in the Home Secretary's judgement Geller and Spencer's intention of speaking at the Woolwich event made incitement to violence probable.  It will be claimed that this is an insufficient grounds for banning either or both.  But neither are British citizens.  May is under no obligation to admit them.  She is entitled to consider the public interest in doing so - or the lack of it, as in this case.

But there is a sting in the tail.  It was not in the public interest to let Abu Qatada into Britain, either - and his case is far worse than that of either Spencer or Geller, neither of whom are terrorists.  And it is not in the public interest to keep him here.  While there is no guarantee that withdrawal from the ECHR would provide a cure-all for his case, it's worth noting that our courts have twice gone along with efforts to deport him.  If the Government is to ban the specks that are Spencer and Geller, it must expel the beam that is Qatada.


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