Once again, US presidential hopeful Donald Trump has made international headlines for all the wrong reasons. In a campaign that has seen him accuse Mexicans of bringing “rape and drugs” to the US, launch spiteful personal attacks on his fellow Republican candidates and propose that American Muslims carry special ID cards, he has somehow managed to top this vulgarity by coming out in favour of a ban on all Muslims entering the US, including Muslim American citizens who are currently abroad.
Naturally, these latest proposals have been met with strong condemnation from all sides. The White House condemned it, David Cameron condemned it, Republican candidate Jeb Bush called Trump “unhiniged”, former Vice President Dick Cheney said it “goes against everything we stand for and believe in” and even George Osborne remarked during Wednesday’s PMQs that Trump’s comments “go against the founding principles of the US”.
However, the Chancellor also made clear that he thought it would be wrong to use anti-extremism legislation to ban Trump from entering the UK, despite the fact a petition to do just that has now passed 200,000 signatures. It is hard to see what good would actually come from banning Trump from entering the UK.
First of all I must make it absolutely clear that I am far from being a Trump-sympathiser. His views on a number of things (not just Muslims) are abhorrent and even as somebody who normally supports the Republicans during American elections I would be very sad to see Trump win the presidency – Trump’s “values” are not something that either the Republican Party or the US as a whole should aspire to emulate.
Having said that, I am also a believer in the importance of free speech and while Trump’s proposal for a ban on Muslims entering the US is both insulting and idiotic (not to mention wildly counter-productive), this should not earn him a ban on entering Britain either.
Like the “No Platform” policy operated on many university campuses, the fundamental problem with banning or silencing someone because they hold offensive views is that said views end up going unchallenged. Furthermore, in banning Donald Trump we would only be reinforcing the view held by him and his supporters that the “establishment” are trying to silence him for his beliefs. On top of that, Trump would also be able to play the victim card and garner sympathy for his cause, something that populist campaigns such as his thrive on.
There is also the risk that in banning Trump from entering the UK we would be opening up a can of worms with regards to the classification of hate speech and what this might lead to in the future.
At present, it is rare for an individual to be banned from entering the UK and it is normally done so under exceptional circumstances. Examples of people banned from entering the UK include radical Islamist preachers and Ku Klux Klan officials. If Trump is to be put into this category then surely there are a whole host of public figures with unsavoury views who would then also have to be banned from the UK? Will this eventually lead to Twitter and Facebook checks on all people who wish to enter the UK?
There is no doubt about it, Donald Trump’s views on Muslims are ignorant. Preventing Muslims from entering the US wouldn’t just be punishing the vast majority who have nothing to do with terrorism but it also won’t do anything to prevent further attacks and will only damage the US’s reputation abroad. There are a plethora of reasons why Trump is wrong and the best way to combat such ignorance is through strong, reasoned argument and facts.
We have a proud history of free speech in the UK and people should be allowed to assert that right to the fullest extent under the law. To my mind, Trump’s comments are severely misguided and offensive but do not fall under the banner of outright hate speech.
To ban him from entering the UK because of those comments would not only be stretching the law but also perhaps a tad hypocritical in light of a recent YouGov poll which found that a quarter of British people surveyed thought that banning Muslims from entering the US was an “appropriate” policy.
Rather than using the judiciary to silence views we disagree with, the government should be working to inform people of the facts and help dispel such prejudices. Let us not shirk away from confronting ignorance but instead tackle it head on.
Ben is an I’m an international relations postgraduate from the University of Kent. Follow him on Twitter: @btharris93
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty