Limiting speech in the U.K.

geertwildersfintaNews coverage in this country tends to focus almost exclusively on American happenings. A review of the Religion Newswriters Association's top 10 stories from 2008 confirms this. Still, I'm surprised that a religion story coming out of the United Kingdom this week yielded -- near as I can tell -- virtually no mainstream media coverage over here.

The story relates to Geert Wilders, a member of Dutch Parliament who is known for his vocal criticism of Islam. This week, he was slated to screen his film Fitna before the U.K.'s House of Lords.

Fitna is a 17-minute film that blames the Koran -- and not, say, a misreading of the Koran -- for Islamic terrorism. The foreign press covered the story, including this brief bit from the Reuters religion blog FaithWorld:

Geert Wilders -- martyr for free speech or public safety threat?

Right-wing Dutch MP Geert Wilders, who is being prosecuted at home for anti-Islam remarks, has been barred from entering Britain.

He had been invited to show the House of Lords his film "Fitna," which argues that the Koran incites violence, but was told his opinions could "threaten community harmony and therefore public safety" and sent back home again when he arrived at Heathrow.

Defending the decision to bar him, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said: "A hate-filled film designed to stir up religious and racial hatred in this country is contrary to our laws."

But Wilders called Gordon Brown the biggest coward in Europe and added: "I think a discussion is always better than barring people or turning people away."

Speech laws in the U.K. and throughout Europe are very different from here (although it's not entirely certain whether or how Wilders would fare under those laws). But it's still interesting to see multiculturalism in action in another country. It seems like this would be a great way to discuss freedom in general, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, rights against being offended, etc. I know that we tend to navel-gaze stateside, but this lack of coverage is unfortunate.

And as for the foreign press, it would be nice to know a little bit more about how routine it is to ban someone (particularly an elected official) from another country because of disagreement with their views on religion. For instance, are officials from Saudia Arabia banned because of their refusal to protect religious freedom to non-Muslims? I assume they are not banned, but I haven't seen discussion in stories on the Wilders affair. What about representatives and spokesmen of groups who call for the murder of Jews, the destruction of Israel or other incendiary ideas? How often are people banned for political or religious speech? Who makes the decision? How is the decision made?

Incidentally, that Reuters FaithWorld blog is a great site to visit for a quick update on religion news in the rest of the world. Current stories include a warning from Church of England bishop about anti-Christian intolerance, some fascinating updates on the Society of St. Pius X excommunication liftings, and the decline of liberation theology in the Amazon. Just some good stuff about religion beyond American borders.

Also of note, today is the 20th anniversary of the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini against British Indian novelist Salman Rushdie.

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