- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2009

LONDON | Britain barred a far-right Dutch lawmaker from entering the country Thursday because of his anti-Islamic views, touching off a wide-ranging debate about the limits of free speech.

The British government has said Geert Wilders was not welcome because he posed a threat to “community harmony and therefore public security.” A letter from the British Embassy in the Netherlands this week informed him that he would not be allowed into Britain, but he criticized the travel ban as an attempt to stifle freedom of speech, and traveled anyway.

Mr. Wilders said he had no regrets about the trip, attacking what he called “the cowards in the U.K. government” and accusing British Prime Minister Gordon Brown of having a servile attitude toward Islam.

Mr. Wilders said by telephone that it was “a sad day for Britain and freedom of speech.”

“You would expect something like this to happen in Zimbabwe or Jordan,” he said.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told the British Broadcasting Corp. that Mr. Wilders was guilty of “extreme anti-Muslim hate.”

He said Britain supported freedom of expression, but “there is no freedom to cry ‘fire’ in a crowded theater; there is no freedom to stir up racial and religious hatred.”

The Dutch Embassy in London later issued a statement saying it “deeply regrets” that the British authorities denied Mr. Wilders entry.

“The Netherlands believes that a Dutch [member of parliament] should be able to travel freely throughout the EU,” the embassy said.

Mr. Wilders is being prosecuted in the Netherlands for hate speech after calling for a ban on Islam’s holy book, the Koran.

He was invited to Britain by a member of Parliament’s upper house, the House of Lords, to show his 15-minute film “Fitna,” which juxtaposed verses from the Koran with images of violence by Muslim fanatics and calls on Muslims to “tear out the hateful verses from the Koran.”

The film sparked violent protests around the Muslim world last year for linking Koranic verses with footage of terrorist attacks.

The refusal to let Mr. Wilders into the country has sparked debate in Britain.

“Banning Geert Wilders insults Muslims, diminishes freedom and cheapens Britain,” Conservative European lawmaker Daniel Hannan wrote on the Daily Telegraph’s Web site. “Being obnoxious is not a criminal offense.”

Manzoor Mughal, the chairman of the Muslim Forum, told the BBC that Mr. Wilders was peddling hatred under the cloak of free speech. “His film propagates hatred and poisonous lies, and therefore it should be banned.”

But the Quilliam Foundation, a Britain-based Muslim think tank devoted to fighting extremism, said he should have been allowed into the country so that his views could be challenged “through debate and argument.”

“Freedom of speech should be protected - so long as people do not use this freedom to call for violence against others,” the foundation said.

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