The British Home Secretary, Theresa May, made the right decision on Tuesday (25 June 2013) in banning the two prominent US anti-Islamic activists, Pamela Gellar and Robert Spencer in entering the UK. The English Defence League (EDL) had invited both Geller and Spencer to speak at a rally to mark Armed Forces Day in Woolwich on the 29th June in a memorial to Lee Rigby.
In a joint statement published on their respective websites 'Jihad Watch' and the 'Atlas Shrugs' blog they wrote: 'In a striking blow against freedom the British Government has banned us from entering the country...The Nation that gave us the Magna Carta is dead.'
Indeed, Geller also took to twitter to tell her 33,941 followers (at the time of writing) that; 'Banned in UK for opposing violence, for advocating individual rights, for opposing oppression, genocide...jihad and sharia.' There are numerous reasons why banning Geller and Spencer was the correct decision. Below are just some examples of why Geller and Spencer's controversial stance on Islam sits uncomfortably with those of us who promote and understand that Islam is a religion of peace and not hate.
Both Geller and Spencer are the co-founders of the American Freedom Defence initiative. Geller's rise to notoriety came when she conducted a New York poster campaign which critics argued had described Muslims as 'savages'. The notion of using these posters in subways in New York were clearly designed to be provocative, inflammatory and risked igniting hatred and whipping up a sense of fear and Islamophobia.
Moreover, in a recent anti-Muslim protest in Tennessee in June 2013 an animated Geller told protestors 'And I will tell you that freedom of speech is a line in the sand because, without freedom of speech peaceful men must resort to violence...and we don't want to!' Interestingly it's not those comments that the Home Secretary used to refuse her entry to the UK. On her blog page 'Atlas Shrugs' Geller posted a copy of the Home Office letter of refusal. The letter states; 'you are reported to have said the following: 'Al-Qaeda is a manifestation of devout Islam...it is Islam.'
And this is the real problem for far right activists like Geller and Spencer who just don't get the true picture of Islam. There misinterpretation of the word Jihad is both alarming and worrying. For example, Spencer's blog entitled 'blogging the Quran' does nothing but add more heat than light. What he fails to understand is that word Jihad itself comes from the Arabic root term Jahada which means to 'strive and struggle.' Islam refers to this 'striving and struggling' as a metaphor to be a good citizen.
Their speeches and blogs only play into the hands of far rights groups such as the EDL. As Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee argues 'it is clear the location, motivation and attendees at this march will incite hatred.' My research into counter terrorism issues had shown that there is a fine line between a person's right to free speech and inciting harm and hatred which Geller and Spencer clearly are doing.
Geller and Spencer now join a long list of people banned in the UK such as far right activists and hate preachers like the American Baptist pastor Fred Waldron Phelps Snr, Omar Bakri, Nasr Javed, and Sami Al Qutar to name but a few. Don't forget if the UK had allowed other preachers like the hard line Christian pastor Terry Jones a platform in the UK it would have caused irreversible damage to community relations. He also was invited to talk at an EDL rally.
The decision to ban Geller and Spencer should be welcomed as there is a real sense of anxiety that their presence in the UK would be counterproductive. Their hosts for the rally the EDL posted an article on their website entitled 'Beneath Contempt' arguing that 'Pamela and Robert believe as we do, that the likes of Mr Vaz are wrong about Islamic extremism...they don't like to argue about Islamic extremism and how best to defeat it.'
Maybe that's where we should start by having a debate about all forms of extremism. The tragic death of Lee Rigby should not be used by the far right or anyone else hoping to capitalise on this incident. Evidence from Tell MAMA (Measuring anti-Muslim Attacks) clearly shows that Muslims across the UK are becoming victims of violence since Woolwich. As mosques are petrol bombed, graffiti is scrawled against mosque walls and women's head scarves are being pulled off, Geller and Spencer's presence in the UK would only have stirred up more hatred, religious intolerance and animosity.
Perhaps the Home Secretary should now take another bold and brave decision by banning groups like the EDL who's and abhorrent and incendiary views are not helping improve community relations and instead risk stoking up more hatred and perpetuating Islamophobia by inviting speakers like Geller and Spencer.