Muslims protesting have been accused of wanting to deny freedom of speech. Proposals for restrictions on vilifying Islam brought to the UN General Assembly meeting in September were dismissed by US President Obama, who said, “I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day. And I will always defend their right to do so.”
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen justified the decision to allow Dutch far right politician Geert Wilders to visit Australia in February in similar terms. Wilders has built a career on hate speech and provocation, such as his calls to ban the Koran or for a “raghead-tax” (a thousand euro fine for wearing the hijab). He labels Islam a “fascist ideology”.
Bowen claimed, “the way to deal with Mr Wilders is to defeat him with the force of our ideas”. But it is hard to imagine Chris Bowen, who has whipped up racism against refugees and added to the anti-Muslim backlash following Sydney’s Muslim protest, being a force for anti-racist ideas.
Politicians and the mainstream media have helped legitimise the ideas of people like Geert Wilders through their own relentless anti-Muslim racism. We can expect the media to give Wilders non-stop coverage when he arrives, just as they did Pauline Hanson. The dominance of right-wing and anti-Muslim voices in the mainstream media show there is no genuine “freedom of speech”. That’s why we need protests against Geert Wilders to combat his ideas.
Geert Wilders and other Islamophobes use the idea of free speech to justify their efforts to vilify Muslims. But free speech should not be without limits. When racists and the far right abuse free speech to whip up hatred against blacks, Muslims or Jews the result is always an increase in racist violence.
Fascist and organised racist groups aim to build violent movements that set out to terrorise and attack racial and ethnic minority groups. In Greece, the fascist group Golden Dawn, now with seats in parliament, is systematically organising violent attacks at night on immigrants. Often they are protected by police.
Simply using free speech to argue against a racist mob will not stop them using violence to injure and kill people.
Socialists argue that such threats must be countered by building mass anti-racist movements to isolate and if necessary confront organised racists on the streets. It was exactly such a movement which stopped Pauline Hanson recruiting and building One Nation, when protests shut down her meetings.