LONDON // The leader of a far-right Dutch political party, who was banned from entering the UK earlier this year for his anti-Islamic views, was finally allowed on British soil yesterday. Geert Wilders, the leader of the Freedom Party in Holland, had fought a lengthy legal battle to gain entry into the country after being turned away at Heathrow Airport in February after the government decreed that his views posed a threat to national security.
Mr Wilders, 46, whose film Fitna brands the Quran a "fascist book" and who is facing trial in his own country for inciting hatred, was allowed entry after a UK immigration tribunal ruled in his favour earlier in the week. Although the government could have appealed the ruling, a spokesman for Alan Johnson, the home secretary, said: "On this occasion the home secretary is not minded to recommend that Mr Wilders is denied admission to the UK.
"Clearly, Mr Wilders's statements and behaviour during a visit will inevitably impact on any future decisions to admit him." Mr Wilders, who has been invited to Britain by a member of the UK Independence Party in the House of Lords, described the decision to lift the ban as "a victory for free speech". However, the leader of the largest Muslim organisation in Britain warned that Mr Wilders's presence could only serve to boost the far right's aim of "sowing discord on the streets of Britain".
Mr Wilders told Sky News that, unlike the plan for his abortive trip in February, he was not going to screen Fitna on this visit but hoped to arrange a showing in the House of Lords at a later date. "They [the Home Office] thought I might be the cause of community disharmony and public security problems, which I found strange," he said. "I showed Fitna in the US Senate, I showed it in the Danish parliament, I showed it in Jerusalem. I'm also set to show it to the Czech parliament.
"And nothing happened in any of those countries. There was no violence. I'm non-violent, I just have an idea." The Dutch MP said that he hoped the film "might open some of the people's eyes that are not open to, as I see it, the threat of Islamism to western societies". He added: "I believe it is not so much a religion, as a totalitarian ideology aimed at dominating." Muslims themselves seemed divided over whether or not Mr Wilders should be let in. Mohammed Shafiq, a spokesman for the Ramadhan Foundation, favoured his admission but said that he should be closely monitored.
"The right decision was made to let him in because we believe in freedom of speech in this country, no matter how abhorrent someone's views are," he said. "But he has got to be monitored so that he doesn't say anything to incite religious violence. If you start attacking somebody's faith in the way that he has, they could react violently. "Islam is not above criticism, and criticism based on a mutual respect and tolerance is fine. But his hatred is no different to the intolerance that the BNP [British National Party] and the far right are preaching."
However, Mohammed Abdul Bari, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said that he objected to "the rapturous welcome he is receiving in the name of free speech". He added: "At a time of heightened tension, with the unprecedented rise of the far right, we must all pull together and focus on points of unity and cohesion. "Our unhealthy obsession with divisive figures only bolsters their objective to sow discord on the streets of Britain."