Donald Trump is, to put it bluntly, a twat. His controversies include trying to ban all Muslims from entering the USA, the view that Mexican immigrants are rapists and drug dealers, that its dem dere dirty immigrants what's to blame. I do not defend any of his views - I distance myself completely from the man. Yet - yes, there is a yet - the petition to ban him from entering the UK, now with over 400,000 signatures is, in my opinion, wrong.
It is deeply ironic that the statement that people in this country are most opposed to, his desire to ban Muslims from entering the US, has ignited in them a desire to....ban him from our country. It doesn't make sense. Freedom of speech is an inviolable right and we should not sacrifice it, even if it is for people like Trump or Anjem Choudary. Trump is accused of being a 'fascist', and there is much evidence to support that, and one of the most insidious aspects of fascism is the desire to suppress views. So why fight fire with fire? If you object to Trump on the right grounds - that freedom of movement is a good thing, that people shouldn't be made to wear I.D. badges - then why on earth are you trying to ban the man?
In 2009 Nick Griffin went on BBC's Question Time. There was much trepidation about this: what if he incites a riot, what if he says something hateful, what if (whisper it quietly) people agree? And of course, none of this happened. Indeed, Griffin went on Question Time, was subjected to rigorous intellectual debate and was roundly trounced and shown to be the idiot that he undoubtedly is. And where is he now? He has disappeared into the primordial sludge from whence he came, never to be seen again, and the BNP with him. This is what happens when you give people a platform, even if you do hate what they are saying with every fibre of your being.
What has happened to political debate and discourse? This petition is symbolic of the restriction on freedom of speech advocated by the angry, self-congratulatory mob of the internet which can't bear to hear anything different. We have people attempting to No Platform Germaine Greer for holding different views on transgender people, a Yale professor being forced out of his job for daring to question the sensitivity of Halloween costumes, a bloody yoga class being banned on grounds of cultural insensitivity. To tell people what they can say, what they can do, what is allowed, is to lead to the very politics that you hate.
When you silence a view, you drive it underground and it becomes more hateful, more extreme, more direct. This is basic human nature. If you feel your friend is being an idiot, except you can't tell him that he is being an idiot because of his thin-skin, then the fact that you think he is an idiot will grow larger and fester in your mind until all you can think about is how much of an idiot that person is. Yet, if you say 'I thought you were being an idiot then' and they say 'well actually for the following reasons I wasn't being an idiot', you can say 'oh yeah'. Of course, my analogy doesn't work if you don't think people are capable of saying 'oh yeah' but I am a humanist and I hold a fundamentally positive view of people - perhaps naively so - and I think that even those who hold extremely racist, sexist, or homophobic views are capable of having them changed.
Donald Trump is not a nice man. He is mean-spirited, entitled, crass, a bludgeoning buffoon. But the more frightening thing is that his views are shared by a large portion of the American population and a large portion of the Western world (see the rise of Marie Le Pen and UKIP). So, to just ban him, to shun him, to say his views are wrong, wrong, wrong, la la la I can't hear you, only gives rise to those views. Banning him from this country won't mean he gets any less votes and it's likely to confirm in his supporter's minds that everyone is indeed out to get them. So why are you doing it? Do you honestly think it is going to make a difference, in a way that actually matters?
It wouldn't be an article on freedom of speech without a quote from some intellectual titan. So here goes. Oscar Wilde, one of our greatest and most erudite writers, said "I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself." There is not a more apt quote when it comes to Mr Trump. Don't shriek, don't wail, don't be scared. Instead, let people like Mr Trump say their piece, safe in the knowledge that your superior intellect and argumentation will win out in the end. Because I genuinely believe it will.