Geert Wilders is coming to Australia in February. Get excited, freedom lovers. Strap on your liberty clogs and dance around the maypole of justice, cause you’re all about to be treated to a righteous burst of straight talk. After it looked like he’d be denied entry to the country last year – joining the ranks of Snoop Lion and people who refuse to relinquish their mangoes – Chris Bowen finally buckled to the will of the people and approved Wilders’ Visa.
Which is just as well, because an awful lot of people saw his ban on entry as a violation of even the most basic concept of free speech in Australia. They’re probably right, too. Personally, I welcome Mr Wilders to our shore, if for no other reason than Bob Hawke probably wants his hair back. (BOOM, WILDERS, TASTE MY ZINGER. HOW DO YOU LIKE FREE SPEECH NOW?!)
Fans of the Dutch Windmill of Truth are right to point out that while his views are unpopular and politically incorrect, this does not mean he should be denied an opportunity to espouse them. And so, after some embarrassing to-ing and fro-ing, our Immigration Minister approved his visit.
Which puts the whole thing to rest, right? Now that Wilders can enter the country, he can begin his national tour – like whatever the exact opposite of the freedom rides was.
But it seems that those wanting to be whipped into a frenzy of righteous terror have another hurdle to get over, as chronicled by Paul Sheehan in the SMH. The promoters of his speaking tour have run into a problem – no one wants to touch the controversial politician with a barge pole. They can’t find a venue that will take them, nor can they find an outlet for their ads, or even a bank that will process online ticket sales. One Christian venue said they wouldn’t accept the booking for $4 million. (To be clear, it seems like this venue was speaking figuratively, which makes me wonder why they picked such a weird, specific number.)
This is a complicated issue dealing with freedom of religion, freedom of speech and multiculturalism, so it’s a relief they got Sheehan to write about it.
It’s telling of the sheer amount of mental gymnastics required to maintain the world-view of Paul Sheehan that he describes Wilders in the following way:
‘A supporter of democracy, freedom of religion, feminism and gay rights’
This guy sounds great! It’s a miracle he’s not opening for Ani DiFranco.
Of course, what Sheehan is leaving out is Wilders’ extreme and inflammatory views on Islam. You know, the thing he is known for. This is as disingenuous as describing the Queen as ‘Dog owner and crown enthusiast.’
Paul, it must be dispiriting, having to write a sentence like that and then having to spend the next couple of minutes convincing yourself that it’s not misleading in the absolute extreme, and that such a glaring and startling omission is not, in some major way, indicative that even you find your position on this issue quite appalling and not a little insane. It must be tough to force those thoughts from your mind in the quiet reflective moments, when all the furore and noise has died away and you’re left in the cold glow of a computer screen staring at your own reasoning in a kind of bemused horror. Or you might have become accustomed to it, because you also paint Debbie Robinson, the woman trying to find Wilders a venue, as:
‘A small business operator who describes herself as an ordinary citizen.’
Again, what you have omitted – and this time it’s far more sinister because this, unlike Wilders’ views, is much less readily apparent – is that while Robinson may well describe herself as an ordinary citizen, a better description for her by, say, someone claiming to be a fucking journalist, is that she is the Deputy President of a group called the Q Society. The Q Society is, unfortunately for everyone, an anti-Islamic organisation (rather than, as I’d hoped, a group who provide the lunar right with ingenious hate gadgets.)
Is there anything wrong with the fact that Robinson is Deputy President of such a group? Not really – it’s just powerfully deceptive of Sheehan to omit this fact. For someone so concerned with the freedom of speech, Mr Sheehan seems awfully reluctant to exercise it.
As with a lot of what he writes, it’s difficult to tell precisely what he’s angry about or what his argument actually is – it’s possible that Sheehan is just putting this on paper so he doesn’t have to yell it on the bus. It’s clear that he believes – and believes firmly – that there has been a miscarriage of justice somewhere along the way, that double standards are in play, and that Westpac is in all likelihood a front for the Chinese Commies.
I think what’s happened to Paul Sheehan and the Q Society is that they’ve found themselves in possession of a point of view that is unpopular. You can use whatever euphemism you want for this: it’s politically incorrect, it doesn’t gel with the political class, it’s edgy – but the upshot is the same, a lot of people don’t like it. Only problem is, there’s really nothing you can legitimately complain about on this front – he’s been let into the country, it’s just that no one wants to host the man.
Sheehan and Q argue that this is because of fear of violent reprisal from the Islamic community, which is an awfully convenient position to take – given that it at once make you seem less like a pack of unstable fringe-dwellers and your opposition seem more like, well, a pack of unstable fringe-dwellers.
And of course, following the violent demonstrations in September of last year in the Sydney CBD, venues may well be wary of hosting something with the potential to inflame the more extreme edges of the Islamic community – but is it fair to blame, as Sheehan and Robinson do, the lack of enthusiasm solely on this fear?
Of course it isn’t. Is it so inconceivable that a venue would wish to distance itself from a man like Wilders? Are these people so blind to the unpopularity of their views that they cannot allow for the possibility that media sellers, venues and financial institutions might just not want to associate itself with this movement for any other reason than fear of violent Muslims?
Sheehan puts it pretty well when he says:
‘People are entitled to loathe Wilders, or shun him. They’re also entitled to support him or hear him’.
So where’s the problem? How’s this for a solution – find somewhere that’ll host him, you go hear him, have a lovely time with your crazy friends and if you need me I’ll be somewhere else entirely eating a delicious sandwich. I’m unclear as to what, precisely you’re asking people to do. Freedom of speech, obviously, cuts both ways – if it’s fine by you, I – and the overwhelming majority of the Australians you and the Q Society believe you’re defending – will go for the shun and loathe option.