With thanks to Suzanne Kelly.
Hate speech and prejudice take a beating as Parliament’s Petitions Committee schedules 18 January for a debate on a proposed Donald Trump UK ban for hate speech. An unprecedented 580,000 people have signed an online petition started by Aberdeen Voice contributor Suzanne Kelly.
At 10,000 signatures the government made a response which can be found on the petition website.
Kelly welcomed the strongly-worded response, and replied to it as follows:
“I welcome the Government’s affirmation that it rejects attempts to create division, and that coming to the UK is a privilege which can be denied to those who seek to harm our society and who do not share our basic values.
“Much has happened since the petition was lodged on 28 November. When Trump came out with the astonishing statement in early December that Muslims should be barred from entering the US, it justified the need for this petition. At the time of writing, 567,000 people are asking for the ban.
“Freedom of any kind comes with responsibility; this includes free speech. Freedom of speech is not the freedom to engage in hate. Words can wound and can be a rallying cry to violence. If anyone doubts that speech can cause harm, reflect on how many physical fights start with verbal provocation, and how much harm is caused by verbal bullying in schools and in domestic situations.
“The reality of hate speech’s ability to incite violent acts is why the UK’s laws have stopped some 80 individuals from entering the UK to date. Trump has never, as far as I know, apologised for any of his verbal attacks.
“I am not someone known for wanting to ban one thing or another. Over the years I have fought to stop books and artwork being banned. However, there is a saying- ‘your right to swing your arm ends where my nose begins’. In other words, freedom is not freedom to cause harm to others, and from the facts I personally conclude Donald Trump’s words are demonstrably causing harm. I do not see how the government can do other but ban his future entry.
“An educated person may laugh off Trump’s diatribes, and wonder why any action is needed. Unfortunately not everyone who hears prejudicial, hate-inciting speech stops to question or analyse what they hear.
“Our government believes hate speech is illegal, witness the many who have been barred UK entry. Most of these banned people were hardly household names, so how much more weight might hate speech carry when it comes from someone who is a television personality, and would-be US president?
“Trump has money, celebrity and influence. We know that people listen to celebrities; our advertising industry spends millions of pounds on sponsorship because of it. Donald Trump’s fame is helping to spread his hate-filled rhetoric.
“If the UK government needs evidence that Donald Trump’s hate speech can encourage violence, sadly this can be provided.
“The New York Times and other media have documented the surge in violence in America directed at Muslims since the tragic ISIS / fundamentalist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino  – and since some high-profile politicians have used these incidents as fuel for hate speech which can escalate problems. Some respected academics are greatly concerned by this trend .
“There are cases which link Donald Trump’s influence directly to violence. Californian William Celli attempted to make a pipe bomb with the intention of attacking Muslims. Celli is a huge Trump supporter. Celli said he would ‘Follow Trump to the end of the world.’ The end of the world might well be where they wish to take us. But I for one am not intending to follow them there.
“As I said, my petition predates Donald Trump’s remarks about Muslims; here is the story of a man I had in mind when lodging it: A homeless Hispanic man was attacked in Boston by men who openly say that they were inspired by the words of Donald J Trump. They beat the man with metal poles. They broke his nose. “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported,” is what one of the accused said to the police.
“There is no further proof required that hate speech carries consequences and that Donald Trump’s hate speech has directly caused violence.
“George Osborne made a statement to the effect we will not ban Donald Trump. I think the decision is not his alone, and his premature words call for comment. Osborne may feel that “The best way to defeat nonsense like this is to engage in robust and democratic debate, and to make it clear his views are not welcome.” – but that is little comfort to victims of Trump’s hate speech.
“I doubt anyone willing to hit another person with a metal pole because they are homeless and Hispanic is open to persuasion by ‘robust and democratic debate’. Perhaps Mr Osborne wants to change the laws on hate speech that saw the previous bans; but at this point in time, banning Mr Trump is the government’s clear responsibility.
“It will take more than a few harsh paragraphs from the UK’s Prime Minister to send the right message. We need to ban Donald Trump from bringing his violence-inspiring vitriol here.
“Donald Trump is also widely – chillingly – promoting the idea of killing people whose relatives are involved in terrorism. His own words testify why he should be banned from the UK: “…with the terrorists, you have to take out their families.” He did not say they need to be arrested and tried by a recognised court; he said ‘you’ have to ‘take out their families’. It is remarkable a would-be president has such little knowledge and/or respect for international law and conventions.
“Does his statement sound like an incitement to murder? I believe there are those for whom this message could well have violent repercussions. I note that have not heard Trump call for ‘taking out’ the family of Celli, the would-be terrorist pipe bomber who intended to target Muslims. What kind of message shall the UK send back to Trump for his rallying cry for executions?
“If Mr Trump had said he wanted to ban anyone with links to militant violent organisations including ISIS, then that would have been a fairy reasonable statement. But he placed every single Muslim into a group which he says needs to be barred from US entry and monitored. He is perhaps the highest-profile promoter of Islamophobia there is in the entire world.
“As a brief aside, anyone who preaches hate and violence, whatever their reason or religion, is an enemy of the stability which the world desperately needs now. There are serious global issues that require international cooperation, understanding and attention; we cannot allow anyone, even Mr Trump, to fan the flames of hatred. I hope his supporters will think again.
“In 2007 there were between 2 to 7 million Muslims citizens or residents of the United States. What the United Kingdom does with regard to my petition is not just about one man, Donald Trump; it will be sending a message to Trump’s targets, his opponents and his supporters.
“I do hope the UK government will consider all of the repercussions of Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim statements, as well as all of the sexist, racist, and nationalistic remarks he continues to make. The United Kingdom has in this petition an opportunity to say that anyone, even a billionaire, cannot mock people with disabilities, cannot disrespect women or label all Mexicans as drug dealers and rapists and call for them to be walled into Mexico, and still be welcome here.
“Many people will be watching this debate closely. Those who oppose banning Trump will need to explain their decision – not to me – but to 567,000 United Kingdom citizens. Banning Trump may well make us more secure; it would also send a message that there is not one law for the powerful, and another for the poor.
“In opening this petition I ran the risk of being ridiculed, but I have found that half a million people feel as I do. Groups have organised events and other petitions to show support for people being persecuted because of their faith. It is reassuring to see people from different backgrounds coming together to denounce hate speech.
“I am well aware how many problems and how much hatred exists around the world. I am also aware that within living memory an accomplished speaker’s words took the entire world to war and millions died as a result. No one thought that man would get into power. Donald Trump wants to be arguably the most powerful man in the world. If there is a chance that Trump could get into power, then the trajectory of his hate speech and its stated aims cannot be laughed off or dismissed as simple ‘free speech’.
“If the UK government is serious about its stated aims, then this is arguably the strongest, most clear-cut case for banning it has ever had before it. Please side with the half a million strong who make this request as a small step towards a more tolerant and peaceful United Kingdom – and a less hate-filled world.
“I thank the Petitions Committee; the administrators of the petition, the Home Office and the Government for considering this petition; I do not see how this request, made by so many, backed by fact and precedent, can do anything except succeed.”
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