Forward Thinking

Don't Ban Pamela Geller — It's Not Jewish Way

By Liam Hoare

  • Print
  • Share Share

The tradition of English liberty which runs through the political culture is a deep one, traceable back to John Milton’s Areopagitica, published in 1644, through Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason and John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. The nub of it was best put by Mill when he wrote, “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

It is with this in mind that the recent decision by the British government to pre-emptively exclude Pamela Geller from travelling the United Kingdom should be considered. Geller, it must recalled as often as possible, is a spiteful and malicious person. Founder of Stop Islamisation of America and proprietor of the Atlas Shrugs blog, she has used her public platform to minimise the Bosnian genocide, label secular, democratic Kosovo a “militant Islamic state in the heart of Europe,” and perpetuate the myth that President Obama is the secret love child of Malcolm X.

And then there’s Islam, about which she has said so much it’s hard to filter. “There are no moderates. There are no extremists. Only Muslims,” she said. “Devout Muslims should be prohibited from military service. Would Patton have recruited Nazis into his army?” she enquired on another occasion.

Geller has expressed support for Geert Wilders and the thuggish English Defence League, with whom she shares concerns about the so-called Islamisation of Europe, even nefariously calling upon Jews to stand up with them in this struggle.

But even considering the foregoing, or especially considering it, withdrawing Geller’s right to speak and address a rally organised by the EDL in the London neighborhood of Woolwich violated English liberal tradition. It is precisely this sort of application of state power to silence another that Mill deemed ‘noxious’ in any circumstance, whether “exerted in accordance with public opinion, than when in or opposition to it.” The state, rather, must protect against “the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them.”

Geller’s case would be especially troubling because the government not only proscribed her based on what she had said but what she might say. If she were to repeat her slurs against Muslims of the type previously exhibited, she would be “committing unacceptable behaviours”, the Home Secretary deemed. This type of prior restraint goes against the grain of English liberty. Mill questioned rightly what authority has the right to decide what words are appropriate or inappropriate, what behaviour is acceptable or unacceptable. “They have no authority to decide the question for all mankind, and exclude every other person from the means of judging.”

Indeed, by excluding Geller not only did the government take away the right of the people to hear, they also removed their right to listen and to judge, to be challenged or (far more likely) to re-establish first principles. “If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth,” Mill argues. “If wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

And the power of the truth to clarify and cut through ought not to be underestimated. In circumstances where “all the winds of doctrine [are] let loose to play upon the earth,” we do truth an injustice, Milton believed, by so “misdoubting its strength” as to censor other opinions. “Let her and Falsehood grapple,” he wrote, for “who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?”

In recent years, the most infamous example of truth’s victory was the appearance of the British National Party chairman Nick Griffin on Question Time, a BBC debate programme where the general public gets to pepper a panel of politicians, activists, and journalists. The BBC lending its imprimatur to Griffin was the subject of much chatter and uproar regarding the limits of free speech, with The Guardian arguing “a ratings-hungry corporation failed to defend the values embodied in its own equality policies” and that Griffin’s words might “provoke racists’ deeds.”

As it happened, in one hour Griffin was cut down. He was forced to say “I am not a Nazi” and was left unable to explain to a Jewish questioner among others why he had repeatedly denied the Holocaust. The audience labelled him “disgusting” and “an absolute disgrace” and even laughed when he said the Ku Klux Klan was “almost totally non-violent.” This was in 2009 – the BNP failed to win a seat in the general election the following year, and has been in perpetual decline ever since.

It is perfectly reasonable to think, therefore, that if Geller had been admitted to Britain and allowed to speak, the event would have passed without scandal and the truth might even have won out as her views were more widely disseminated. Her contention that the Bosnian genocide is exaggerated and the Serb-run concentration camps weren’t as bad as all that is insidious, but it is also stupid, false, and rebuttable. Similarly, her statements about Muslims and Islam do have the potential to incite, but there are so brazen that anyone ought to be able to see through her chauvinistic rhetoric.

Thus in denying Pamela Geller her right to speak – by failing to protect, as Rosa Luxemburg once termed it, the freedom of those who think differently – the British government did the nation a greater disservice than they could have imagined. They rejected Milton and Paine and Mill in the name of some amorphous public good. They fed into Geller’s own sad, self-pitying narrative that she’s some sort of victim and a radical, saying the things that must be said or cannot be said. But above all, they took away from Geller a tremendous opportunity to make herself look foolish.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: synagogue, toronto, pamela geller, muslim, jewish, great neck, britain

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.