Update: British authorities blocked Geert Wilders from entry into the U.K. on Thursday and put him on a flight back to the Netherlands, drawing accusations of cowardice from the anti-Islamist lawmaker and a protest from the Dutch Embassy. A government statement handed to Wilders at Heathrow airport said that he was considered to pose a “a threat to public security.”
(CNSNews.com) – Dutch anti-Islamist lawmaker Geert Wilders planned Thursday to defy a ban on traveling to Britain, where he was invited to attend a screening at the House of Lords of his provocative film linking the Koran to extremism and terrorism.
The British government this week barred the right-wing parliamentarian from entering the country, charging that his views “would threaten community harmony and therefore public security.”
The ban triggered outrage from Dutch politicians across the political spectrum, including some of Wilders’ leading critics. Travel between European Union member states is usually unrestricted.
Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen called the British decision “highly regrettable,” and said in a statement he had discussed the matter with his British counterpart, David Miliband.
Speaking in Tbilisi, Georgia on Wednesday evening, Verhagen said the Dutch ambassador to Britain would be present at the airport in London in Thursday in case Wilders should need assistance.
Wilders called the move a “cowardly act” that would be expected from the government of a country like Saudi Arabia, not Britain.
The ban is the latest in a string of controversies surrounding Wilders and his documentary, Fitna, including earlier campaigns by Muslim critics to block screenings both in London and at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
A Dutch appeals court last month ruled he should stand trial on charges of “inciting hatred and discrimination,” a decision that saw a jump in popular support for his Party for Freedom (PVV).
About six percent of the population of the Netherlands – one million out of a total of 16 million – is Muslim, mostly of Turkish and Moroccan origin. Islamic radicalism has become an issue of concern for many in the traditionally liberal country, where a Muslim extremist in 2004 shot and stabbed to death a filmmaker critical of Islamism.
Wilders, who has been under police protection since 2004, caused an uproar for calling in 2007 for the Koran – which Muslims believe to have been divinely revealed to Mohammed – to be banned in the Netherlands.
He made the appeal in an open letter to a newspaper, after an Iranian-born Dutch politician, who had set up a support group for people who had renounced Islam, was violently attacked by Muslims.
Last year, Wilders released Fitna, which juxtaposes images of deadly terror attacks and radical Islamists inciting violence with translations of verses from the Koran. He urged Muslims to repudiate verses that inspired or encouraged violence.
Viewed by millions on the Internet, the film was widely condemned in the Muslim world, sparking protest demonstrations and boycott threats, and lending new impetus to a drive by Islamic states to have the United Nations outlaw “religious defamation.”
The Dutch government repeatedly distanced itself from Wilders’ views, while defending his right to express them.
‘Weak and useless’
Wilders was invited at attend the House of Lords screening by Lord Malcolm Pearson, a member of the U.K. Independence Party, who said after the ban was announced that the film would still be shown as planned on Thursday, followed by a debate.
“I was very surprised the British government should have become so weak and useless that it denies a European member of parliament the right to free speech in the mother of parliaments,” Pearson told Dutch television.
Pearson also released a joint statement with another peer, Baroness Caroline Cox, accusing the government of “appeasement” and asking whether it would have blocked entry to Wilders if he had called for the Bible to be banned.
The two lawmakers said they disagreed with Wilders’ call to ban the Koran but were promoting freedom of speech.
“We don’t want it banned but discussed – particularly by the majority Muslim community; and specifically as to whether it may promote or justify – or has promoted or justified – violence.”
Pearson and Cox said militant Islamists “react in fury and menace to our intention to show the film … the threat of intimidation in fact increases the justification for the film to be shown and discussed in parliament and by the British and international press.”
The official letter informing Wilders of the exclusion decision says that the relevant government minister believed that his presence “would pose a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat to one of the fundamental interests of society.”
“The Secretary of State is satisfied that your statements about Muslims and their beliefs, as expressed in your film Fitna and elsewhere, would threaten community harmony and therefore public security in the U.K,” it said.
A spokesman for the Home Office, Britain’s interior ministry, said in a statement “the government refuses entry to our country to everyone who disseminates extremism, hatred and violent messages in our community.”
The government last October tightened regulations to make it easier to deny entry to such individuals, including those who are citizens of European countries.
According to a Home Office statement released at the time, the measures “create a presumption in favor of exclusion in respect of all those who have engaged in fostering, encouraging or spreading extremism and hatred.”
Ironically, the regulations were designed largely to block entry to what the British government calls “preachers of hate” – Muslim clerics who espouse extremist views, of the type who feature prominently in Wilders’ film.
Protests about Wilders’ visit have been spearheaded by Lord Nazir Ahmed, a Pakistan-born Muslim peer.
The BBC quoted Ahmed as welcoming the decision to ban him, saying “this man’s presence would cause hatred … when Muslims are attacked obviously you will see people react to that.”
The Quilliam Foundation, a think tank formed by Muslims last year with the stated aim of combating the influence of extreme Islamist ideology, disagreed with the ban, however, saying it was “not the solution.”
“Wilders has evidently been convinced by the words and actions of Islamists and jihadists that Islam is inherently violent and intolerant,” said foundation director Maajid Nawaz. “We therefore challenge him to an open debate in which we will argue that Islam is not an inherently violent religion and that, contrary to what he apparently believes, Muslims are not a threat to Europe and its values.”