On Jan. 18, on our nation’s holiday in celebration of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, the British parliament engaged in a three-hour debate on whether Donald Trump should be banned from entering the United Kingdom.
Such a debate is required to take place whenever more than 100,000 British citizens petition parliament to consider an issue of concern. This petition gathered 578,090 signatures.
The British government’s Home Office has occasionally banned people from the United Kingdom because it was reasonably believed that their inflammatory hate speech would result in violence. The signers of the petition felt that the statements of Donald Trump concerning Muslims and other minorities could likely have similar consequences.
This debate is fascinating to watch not only because of the strong arguments put forward on both sides, but also because of its tradition of cordiality, which allows people to disagree and still allows respect for one another.
The purpose of the debate was not to settle on new policy, but to provide guidance for the British home secretary in making a decision on whether to institute a ban.
Why should this debate be of concern to citizens of the United States? It is because Donald Trump is the leading contender to become the Republican nominee in the 2016 presidential election. In his oath of office, the next president will promise to defend our nation against all enemies foreign and domestic. If he alienates our closest allies and large groups within the U.S., our defenses are clearly weaker. The United States certainly has no closer ally than the United Kingdom.
While most members of the British parliament said that the principle of freedom of speech was sufficiently important that they did not want to ban Trump from entering the U.K., not one of them agreed with Trump’s call to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. One reason put forth for not banning Trump’s entry is that his campaign has used, time and time again, the notoriety of such actions to attract media attention to himself.
Muslim members of parliament spoke passionately about the fear that such hate speech engenders in members of the British Muslim minority population. One of the members said, “Donald Trump was free to be fool, but not to be a dangerous fool in the United Kingdom.”
Many believed that far from protecting the Western world from terrorism, Trump’s threatening of the Muslim world only feeds the propaganda that ISIS uses to recruit more members. It strengthens the belief that all Muslims are under attack by the Western world. One member of parliament said, “Trump needs ISIS, and ISIS needs Trump.”
Further, another member noted that the effectiveness of the British police in identifying and then stopping many acts of terrorism rested in large part on maintaining good relations with the Muslim community. Unless Muslims are willing to cooperate with authorities in identifying likely terrorists in their communities, it is extremely difficult for the police to discover them by other means.
The reckless rhetoric by Donald Trump has one of our most important allies confounded as to what to expect in dealing with him as possible future president. The debaters for the most part felt that Britain’s long history of free speech indicates that banning Trump from entering the U.K. was not the correct thing to do. Members of parliament felt that in the present state of tension between Muslims and people of the Western world that the inflammatory speech of Donald Trump could result in religious conflict.
Should not American voters be equally concerned?
Al Carroll has degrees in physics from Oberlin College and Harvard University. Along with his Oberlin College students, faculty, and other community members, he has helped to establish and support a peace and conflict studies program at the college.