Vive Charlie Issue 19 - Page 33

Wilders and Weston are considered controversial perhaps primarily because they have strong views on immigration. Immigration discussions are not possible without “racism” accusations – think making an omelette without breaking eggs.

The LSS has no position on immigration. The views of LSS members and other secularists on immigration will differ widely; there will even be disagreement as to whether the issues of immigration and secularism are connected. But people need to keep their focus: this event is not a round-table discussion of immigration policy. It’s an exhibition of Mohammed cartoons. Duh.

In any case, some secularists are now discussing these traditionally taboo subjects. For example, the National Secular Society has blogged about demographics, birth rates and the “free movement of people” (a slicker, legal-sounding term for immigration) in the context of Islam. The LSS has never done a blog post like that and I shudder to think what names we would be called if we had. But again, we must keep our focus: Wilders’ and Weston’s views about immigration, and those of LSS members, shouldn’t determine the LSS’s approach to a crucial event about free speech.

The LSS used to regularly share a platform with an open communist, Maryam Namazie, until she refused to work with us anymore because we shared a platform with a member of Ukip (for those who are unfamiliar with the sometimes eccentric secularism movement, sharing a platform with Ukip is considered worse than committing genocide with the aid of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons).

Strangely, given all the times we shared a platform with Namazie the LSS never once had to deflect accusations that we were communists or that we supported communism’s aims and atrocities. (How many tens of millions are dead because of communism? Is anyone even keeping track of the body count anymore?) We were never charged with “guilt by association” with Namazie’s communist views. The same reasoning should apply now. Or do these childish rules only apply to some people?

The LSS is not even formally associating with Wilders and Weston. We’re just sharing a platform with them, for a crucial free speech event, on one day.

If you want to get yourself all shook up about the formal associations of secularist organisations, look no further than the National Secular Society, who proudly boast at having as one of their current “Honorary Associates” a certain Dr. David Starkey.

As those with long memories will recall, in the aftermath of the 2011 London riots Starkey remarked that “the whites have become black.” Hmmm. Nice, er, “honorary associate” you got yourselves there, NSS!

But that’s not all. Starkey also believes, even as a gay man himself, that Christian B&B owners should have the right to turn away gay couples. This is a position fundamentally at odds with that of the National Secular Society, of the Lawyers’ Secular Society, of the principle of secularism and equality before the law generally and, I would guess, of the vast majority of secularists (including me).

The LSS is nowhere even near this rather awkward NSS and Starkey analogy that I have presented. We are not granting Wilders and Weston “LSS Honorary Associate” status. We need to get a grip, we need to keep some perspective, and we need to stop worrying so much about pathetic “guilt by association” accusations. In short, secularists need to start growing up.

There will be further “guilt by association” accusations against the LSS concerning the alliances that Wilders’ Party for Freedom has with other European parties. But what are the rules here? Should the LSS never share a platform with any Labour politician because one of its current leadership candidates, Jeremy Corbyn (who is tipped by many to emerge as leader), describes the murderous, terrorist and anti-Semitic Hamas and Hezbollah as his “friends”? Do these lines of association only ever get connected on the right of the political spectrum?

The identity of Wilders and Weston is very significant itself for this event. In 2009 Wilders was banned from entering the UK because of his views on Islam. In 2014 Weston was arrested for quoting Churchill’s views about Islam. These incidents should be of huge concern to legal secularists and they provide a very sound basis, even aside from all the other arguments, for sharing a free speech platform with these individuals. As legal secularists we should be more concerned about these two incidents, and infringement of the freedoms of Wilders and Weston, than what people might say about us for sharing a platform with them.

Other things which should concern us more than names we might be called are why Wilders needs constant police protection and why the venue for this event must be kept strictly confidential. These are the truly important – and relevant – issues for secularists and indeed for anyone who claims to support free speech while expecting to keep their personal integrity.