Certainly, some people foster extreme views that should not be tolerated. And that is the point of the GB blacklist – GB does not wish to welcome into England those who espouse hard line, extremist views. I sympathize: who would want some of the people on this list to come calling and spout off their hateful nonsense? Not I! If some of these folks came to San Francisco, I would shudder. Why should I or anyone else have to tolerate extremists who espouse hate – sometimes to the point of murder?
But it’s one thing to ban those who incite others to violence and who commit crimes themselves, it’s another to ban those who are voicing ideas that many others find repugnant and ill founded. Can you really ban stupidity?
The issue then becomes: who decides? And how much censorship are you willing to allow?
Clearly, Artur Ryno of Russia, who at 17 was convicted of 37 murders and who lead a skinhead gang that committed 20 racially-motivated murders is an easy call – stay out! And stay out of the U.S. too! But this fellow is a criminal– so the censorship, the banning, is easily justified.
US pastor Fred Waldron Phelps, also on GB’s list, is a homophobic, hateful little man. This guy believes and preaches that God hates gays, that aids cures fags, and 9/11 and some of the natural disasters we’ve experienced in the past several years are evidence of God’s wrath at those who tolerate or promote homosexuality. Phelps is off the deep end.
As much as I find Phelp’s doctrines to be hateful, intolerable, and intellectually deficit, I cannot support banning him. Let him speak. Let him protest. As long as he doesn’t break any laws, he has a right to speak out. But Phelps could easily cross the line - his hate speech could easily incite some to violence. But the tightrope between free speech and illegal conduct is just that – a tightrope. If Phelps shows up in San Francisco, I’ll attend his rally – sporting my own sign and protesting his views. That’s my right. And my responsibility. That’s how we deal with those whom we find intolerable – not by shutting them up, but by challenging their ignorance.
Also banned: Talk show host Michael Savage. Now this charming fellow spurts forth unbridled, passionate bigotry and ignorance over the airwaves. But he too, has committed no crime, though again, he walks a fine line – and one day his virulent bigoted outbursts might provoke some violent incident. Savage deserves a muzzle. I muzzle him by turning him off – or rather, by not turning him on.
As much as I see both Phelps and Savage as intolerable extremists void of any rational logic, I wouldn’t support the U.S. government if it banned him. Until these fellows commit a crime, citizens need to enforce their own ban, their own muzzle on such extraordinarily deficit human beings. We do that by challenging their assumptions, engaging in legitimate debate (arguably difficult to do with folks that have no reason) and by turning them off. Democracy demands this of us – if you don’t like what you’re hearing, turn it off or challenge the ideologue. Fight back with your intellect, with your words.
Great Britain doesn’t have something akin to our First Amendment. Maybe they’re better off without such a thing – maybe sometimes we carry our First Amendment rights too far. How much easier public debate would be if we saw things as simply black and white, good or bad; if we could compile a simple list of those who can speak and those who cannot.
When it comes to Phelps and Savage, I find sticking to my values quite difficult for I’d love to shut them up. Nonetheless, I’ll stick to my liberal values: I’d rather keep things messy and complex – and err on the side of too many rights than too few.