By John Hudson
In a letter obtained by Foreign Policy, two Democratic members of Congress are urging President Barack Obama’s administration to ban a Dutch lawmaker from entry into the United States due to his controversial views on Islam.
The Dutch lawmaker, Geert Wilders, is scheduled to speak at a reception on Capitol Hill this month at the invitation of Tea Party firebrand Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). In recent years, Wilders has becomeinternationally famous for his bombastic broadsides against Islam, which include calls to ban the Quran in the Netherlands and to arrange for the removal of Moroccan immigrants from his country. In 2010 and 2011, Wilders was formally charged in the Netherlands with inciting hatred and discrimination and is currently facing charges for hate speech.
“We respectfully request that the U.S. government deny Mr. Wilders entry due to his participation in inciting anti-Muslim aggression and violence,” wrote Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and André Carson (D-Ind.) in the April 23 letter. “Mr. Wilders’ policy agenda is centered on the principle that Christian culture is superior to other cultures.”
The letter, addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, calls on the officials to deny Wilders entry under the authority of the International Religious Freedom Act, which empowers the State Department to ban the entry of a foreign leader responsible for severe violations of religious freedom.
The somewhat obscure 1998 law has only been used to deny the entry of a foreign official once, when Narendra Modi, the current prime minister of India and former chief minister of Gujarat, was accused of failing to protect Muslims during communal rioting in 2002.
Wilders has called Islam the “ideology of a retarded culture,” and his writings were favorably cited by Anders Breivik, the Norwegian white supremacist responsible for murdering 77 people in the Oslo area in 2012. He was most recently in the news for recording a two-minute video titled “No Way,” in which he tells migrants not to come to the Netherlands.
While foreign-policy hands on Capitol Hill widely view Wilders as an obscene bloviator, some aides questioned whether banning him from entering the country violates basic principles of free speech.
“It’s a pretty heavy-handed use of that law,” said a Democratic congressional aide who oversees foreign relations issues. “And if you’re going to start banning people for saying offensive things against Islam, you’re going to have to deport half the Republican caucus.”
The letter anticipates such criticisms and attempts to justify banning Wilders on account of his alleged incitement to violence.
“In the U.S., freedom of speech is a bedrock principle that distinguishes free societies from ones living under oppressive regimes,” wrote Ellison and Carson. “Freedom of speech, however, is not absolute. It is limited by the legal and moral understanding that speech that causes the incitement of violence or prejudicial action against protected groups is wrong.”
Gohmert’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
The letter signed by Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, and Carson is available here.