In ten days time parliament will debate the prospect of banning Donald Trump from the UK, after a petition advocating for the motion gathered over half a million signatures. Now while that might be a little funny, it’s also rather depressing. That is, it’s rather depressing that in the year 2016 and in a country which prides itself on being a liberal Western Democracy, such a large number of people support barring entrance to a person purely because of their views.
Of course the things which Donald Trump has said, and the policies that he has advocated, are both impractical and absurd. Indeed a lot of people would even call them “offensive”. However that being said, it thoroughly depresses me that a certain part of the British Left has seemingly forgotten the very concept of freedom of speech.
Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. When a bunch of demented lunatics shot up a satirical magazine with the intention of imposing a version of Islamic blasphemy law on free European citizens. The great crime of the cartoonists was drawing vulgar images of the Prophet Muhammad, something which, just like the remarks of Donald Trump, many people would call deeply offensive.
But here’s the thing. The right to freedom of speech includes the right to offend. As George Orwell so aptly put it, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”. Granted that is not a duty, but a right nevertheless. A right which is fundamental to a modern liberal society. Among other things, it is what separates this great nation of ours from the likes of Iran and North Korea.
Donald Trump’s mouth is a fountain of bad ideas, but fortunately he is merely a man and not a fire-breathing dragon. So far as I can tell, he does not present the people of Britain with any physical danger. Now as for his ideas, ideas cannot be stopped or censored, they can only be defeated through discussion and debate; and by the way, saying “I find this offensive” is not in any way an argument.
I think most of us agree that what Trump has to say is ridiculous, so instead of banning him from the country, why not invite him here to see first hand a nation where people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds can get along and live peacefully together. Why not use our own freedom of speech to prove him and his terrible ideas wrong? The whole point of living in a democracy is that you will occasionally hear things that you don’t necessarily agree with; and banning people based on their views, no matter how crazy they might be, pretty much destroys the entire concept.