Where free speech ends and race hate begins
The eternal struggle between satire and censorship is a beautiful thing, but nobody has the right to provoke hatred, says Richard Ferrer, Editor of the Jewish News
Was Britain's Home Secretary right to ban Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala from entering the UK this week? The answer hinges on whether you think the controversial Frenchman is a comedian or preacher of hate.
The performer planned to visit London in support of footballer Nicolas Anelka, who faces a Football Association ban for performing Dieudonné’s reverse Seig Heil ‘quenelle’ – widely seen as anti-Semitic – during a Premier League match in December.
The FA charged the West Brom player for making the shabby little salute – which has also been performed at Jewish sites across Europe including Auschwitz and the Anne Frank House.
The Home Office has been unpredictable when it comes to banning pernicious individuals from these shores. In 2009, Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who branded the Koran “a fascist book”, was barred, as were Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, co-founders of anti-Muslim lobby group Stop Islamization of America.
But last month Theresa May ignored calls to proscribe Gabor Vona, leader of the Hungarian far-right Jobbik Party, who arrived in London on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day.
While notorious in their own right, none of these agitators possess the capacity for generating the sinister media circus that would have greeted la grande rabble-rouser’s UK arrival. The quenelle might have been as ubiquitous as twerking.
The six-times convicted anti-Semite, self-styled anti-Zionist and accomplished self-publicist would have posed a public safety risk to the Jewish community here in the UK. The latest anti-Semitism figures, released on Thursday by the Community Security Trust, reveals there were 529 reported attacks – from verbal abuse to acts of extreme violence – against the Jewish community in 2013.
Freedom of speech provisions are fundamental to our democratic life. Artists must be encouraged to push boundaries, challenge convention and, yes, offend. But this privilege, however sacrosanct, has its limits – and freedom of expression ends when it incites intolerance.
The eternal clash between satire and censorship is a beautiful thing, but nobody has the right to provoke hatred.
The Home Secretary should be applauded for taking a tough line. Dieudonné’s uniquely destructive brand of hatemongering is something this country can well do without.
Richard Ferrer is the Editor of the Jewish News. He’s also worked at the Daily Mirror, Daily Mail, and edited the Boston Jewish Advocate. Follow him on Twitter @RichFerrer
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