Hate preachers anonymous

Bubble bubble, toil and trouble.

That's what seemed to be brewing in the land of Shakespeare when it became public knowledge that British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith had banned 22 people from entering the country (only 16 are named). Apparently the drawbridges against the "least-wanted" have been raised since October, but Smith only just made the decision to publish the list, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

What's the religion angle here? Well, a number of the folks on that list are identified with extremist branches of a denomination, or, like American "shock-jock" Michael Savage, have had controversial encounters with Catholics, Islamic groups and Jews.

Others include a Lebanese who killed four Israeli soldiers, and a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

None of the articles I saw did an in-depth job of explaining the religious angles, and a few were simply misleading -- possibly understandable on a day when Smith's comments and Savage's threat to sue Smith for defamation were so compelling.

Here's a lede from a story on the Independent website:

Sixteen people banned from entering the UK were "named and shamed" by the Home Office today.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she decided to make public the names of 16 people banned since October so others could better understand what sort of behaviour Britain was not prepared to tolerate.

The list includes hate preachers, anti-gay protesters and a far- right US talk show host

What is a "hate preacher"? Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church and his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper apparently fit that bill. Phelps is identified in this article as an "American Baptist." Yes, he is American, and yes, he is a Baptist, but he certainly is not a member of the liberal mainline American Baptist Churches, USA (nor of the Southern Baptists).

Later in the same story, "Jewish extremist" Mike Guzovsky is named, without any explanation of his nationality or why he is on the list. Although apparently the government provided few details, the Los Angeles Times was able to come up with a few of its own:

Among those named were Yunis al-Astal, a radical anti-Western Islamic cleric and Hamas member in the Gaza Strip; Mike Guzovsky, an Israeli Jewish extremist said to be involved in militant training camps; and Artur Ryno and Pavel Skachevsky, Russian skinheads who, as teenagers, boasted two years ago of killing about 20 members of ethnic minorities.

Overall, CNN did a better job of exploring the angle probably most interesting, and most controversial to American readers -- including Michael Savage on a list with murderers. It also gives a fuller picture of Fred Phelps and his daughter. However, it doesn't explain why the Islamic clerics were included -- and what kind of "hate" they were preaching.

Outspoken Kansas Rev. Fred Phelps and his daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper, are also listed for "engaging in unacceptable behavior and fostering hatred."

Phelps and his followers at Westboro Baptist Church oppose homosexuality. They picket the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq, saying their deaths are God's way of punishing the United States for supporting homosexuals. They have expressed similar views about the victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks and Hurricane Katrina.

The church's slogan is "God Hates Fags."

The story does have a slightly farcical element, always appealing to the British press. According to the Times of London, most of the people on the list hadn't applied for permission to visit Britain anyway. Two of them are serving 20-year sentences in Russian prisons.

So many questions here -- can you legislate appropriate speech? Isn't there a difference between a Savage, a Phelps, and a skinhead? A discussion of what it means to "preach hate" in a free society, when the right to free speech infringes on someone else's rights, and what can be done to counter "hate speech" would be instructive -- but will probably get subsumed in media chatter about Labor Party strategy and whether Michael Savage, "shock-jock" extraordinaire, will be able to win the lawsuit he is planning agains the woman he calls a "witch." And by witch, I doubt he means Wiccan -- although we might be hearing from them soon, too.

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