Several words come to mind when I hear the name Donald Trump; none of them complimentary. The man is a spiteful, intolerant fool who, in my opinion, is using the Republican Primary as a platform to spread prejudiced and hateful ideas. I couldn’t dislike the guy more.
This evening Parliament debated a petition calling for the Republican candidate to be banned from the UK. The petition has gained well over 500,000 signatures since Trump’s (frankly outrageous) comments in early December, suggesting that Muslims should be banned from the US. He claimed that until ‘we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses’ there should be ‘a total and complete shutdown’ of American borders to Muslims.
The petition is a symbolic, and important, rejection of these ideas. They have no place in Britain, just as they should have no place in America.
But, and this is a big but, I don’t think we should ban Trump from the UK.
I completely understand the intentions of those who signed the petition calling for Trump to be prohibited. His comments incite racial hatred, and there are limits to free speech and how we should use it.
Words are powerful, and should not be used to spread prejudice, fuel violence, or cause certain groups to feel unsafe or isolated. The argument for banning Trump thus follows that if a person is doing just this, and his words are not conducive to the public good, there are ground to prohibit them from entering the country.
Indeed, 84 people are currently banned from the UK for unacceptable behaviour which was deemed to generate terrorism, provoke other acts of terrorism, encourage serious criminal acts or foster hatred that might lead to community violence.
But in the case of Donald Trump, I don’t think such an approach would achieve anything – indeed, I’m not 100% convinced that Trump’s comments fall into these categories. The idea of preventing Muslims from entering the country has cultivated anger, frustration and disbelief – and it is such ideas that encourage many young people to turn to groups such as ISIS – but I don’t think that Trumps ideas alone have, or will, generate terrorism.
Banning the guy and calling it a day isn’t a solution, for Trump’s comments are born out of fear: fear of immigration; fear of terrorism; fear of the uncontrollable. He is not the only person to share such fears, and sadly he also isn’t alone in making generalised and uninformed comments about Muslims as a result.
Therefore, in order to beat him and his misguided ideas, it is necessary to engage in debate and demonstrate why such suggestions are flawed, immoral and downright ridiculous.
During the debate in Parliament, Labour MP Naz Shah, a Muslim herself, commented that ‘what I will do is challenge that [rhetoric] with goodness. Because hatred breeds hate and that is not something I will tolerate.’
I couldn’t agree with her more; in the words of the Clinton campaign, ‘love trumps hate.’
By banning Trump, we would be adding fuel to his ludicrous ideas rather than directly challenging them. If anything, it would be a huge boost to his campaign. Back in 2004 The Guardian encouraged readers to write to voters in Ohio encouraging them not to vote for Bush; the Republican then carried the state.
If we were to ban Trump, the outcome would be similar. The politician would frame the move as a demonstration of the credibility of his ideas, and the necessity to elect somebody willing to say it how it is, whatever the outcome.
But, more than just the practical consequences of such an decision, I do, perhaps controversially, believe that banning Trump would be contrary to free speech. Free speech certainly has limits, as I have mentioned already, and the businessman-come-politican pushes the boundaries. Yet ultimately, I think his comments fall on the insulting side of the line, rather than the inciting terrorism side.
Sir Keir Starmer said during the debate this evening that free speech is not intended to protect good speech. He went on to suggest that the test of our commitment to the principle of free speech comes when considering offensive speech. I agree. The widespread debate calling Trump out on his comments demonstrates that hundreds of thousands of people, myself included, find his comments offensive and rude, but unfortunately he had a right to say them.
The best way to beat such ideas isn’t by banning them, but by engaging with them, challenging them and demonstrating why they’re fundamentally flawed. It might not be the easy option, but all things considered it’s the best one.