Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Saturday 21 March 2009

George Galloway banned from entering Canada

I have conflicted views about this story; George Galloway MP has been told he will not be permitted to enter Canada because the Canadians allege he is a supporter of the Palestinian group Hamas, an organisation which is a banned organisation there. A Canadian government spokesman is quoted as saying:

"Our border security officials conduct an assessment of who's eligible to come to Canada and on the basis of that assessment, they concluded Mr Galloway would pose a national security threat to Canada."

He added: "Hamas is a banned terrorist organisation in Canada and this is an organisation that Mr Galloway has boasted in the past of providing support for."

- Mr Galloway says he will appeal against the ban, as he is due to speak in Toronto on 30th March at a public forum, Resisting War from Gaza to Kandahar.

One part of me thinks: "Good on you Canada, wish we could do the same and keep him out of Britain, too!" That was certainly my initial reaction. However, then I began to wonder. After all, Hamas is the elected 'government' in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza - how can it be right simply to pretend that a governing political party, elected by citizens of a territory, is persona non grata, however odious their policies may be? And by all accounts they certainly are an odious group. No quarrel there and it's not particularly unusual for one country to refuse diplomatic recognition to another - the US and Cuba or Iran and until some years ago the UK and North Korea, to cite just a few examples.

I have no doubt that Canada generally permits 'free speech', but obviously does not want a conference in one of their major cities to be used as a platform by this notorious demagogue so has had to find some mechanism for keeping him out. Of course, it's not so long ago that the UK declined to let a Dutch MP enter the UK to screen a film he had made and speak at a forum being held by the House of Lords.

On balance I think the Canadian decision is wrong and ill-conceived, although undoubtedly motivated by the most worthy of intentions, just as I think the UK government's decision was although I am less certain that the aims of our government were quite so 'worthy', because I'm afraid I take a very jaundiced view of our own dear Labour government. If freedom of speech is to mean anything then it has to apply to those whose views you do not like, just as much and perhaps even more than it applies to those whose views you favour. Incitement to violence, if such can genuinely be asserted to be likely, would be one of the few justifications for such a ban. However, people whose views one dislikes should be taken on in debate and their ideas shown up for the nonsense they are, not simply be prevented from speaking. I would far rather engage the bigots of the British National Party or the Muslim Council of Britain, or indeed the Roman Catholic Church in debate to try and demonstrate how wrong many of their ideas are, even if I would know from the outset that not everyone could be persuadable to my point of view; that's what democracy is, not shutting up people one does not like.

Finally of course one has to accept that Canada has the absolute right to decide who it allows into its territory, whatever anyone else may think.

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