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19.2.09

Fred Phelps, inadmissible

I'm generally leery of immigration laws that seek to exclude bad people. Often, they just seem like they shuffle the badness around. For example, if a Mexican has committed assault in the U.S., it's reasonable to think they pose a higher risk of future assaults. But to deport them for it is protective only from a narrow nation-centric view -- it's saying "don't assault any more Americans -- go assault your fellow Mexicans instead!" I don't think it's right to put that kind of differential value on American versus Mexican lives.

The exception would be if there's a good reason to think that the offense in question is more likely to occur in one country than another. Thus, if a Yemeni al-Qaida sympathizer is arrested for planning a terrorist attack in the U.S., it would make sense to deport them, since al-Qaida's ideology does not hold that Yemen is the Great Satan and ought to be attacked, so the deportation will lead to a net decrease in terrorism.

So I was given pause by the news that Britain has banned Fred Phelps and Shirley Phelps-Roper -- of "God hates fags" fame -- from entering the country.

Melissa McEwan says the decision "recognizes the fundamental difference between speech and incitement to hatred." That's part of it -- if there were no incitement to hatred, there would be no grounds for exclusion*. But while incitement is a necessary condition, it's not a sufficient one. If the exclusion were simply on the basis of the Phelps' general propensity to incite hatred, then excluding them just shifts it around. If, say, the Phelps were just coming for a vacation to see Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, then barring them from entering Britain protects British LGBT folks at the expense of those in the Phelps' alternative vacation destination -- say New York City, which doesn't have the power to ban American visitors.

But the Phelps aren't coming to Britain for a vacation incidental to their hate mission. They're coming in order to organize protests against The Laramie Project, a pro-gay play at Queen Mary's College. Presumably nobody in the U.S. is putting on The Laramie Project or any other play comparably offensive to the Phelps -- otherwise they wouldn't have tried to travel to Britain to do their protesting. So in this case, excluding them will result in a net decrease in hatred incited, and thus is justified.

*I generally take a more expansive view of what things should be counted as free speech than most people who otherwise share my political opinions, but I agree that the Phelps frequently cross that line.

7 Comments:

Blogger Randal Cooper said...

Huh. They put on "The Laramie Project" ALL THE TIME around here. Of course, last time Phelps et. al. were in town they were picketing Isaac Hayes' funeral, and everyone KNOWS you don't cross a Scientologist who actually knows your name.

9:24 AM  
Blogger Robin Edgar said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:32 PM  
Blogger Robin Edgar said...

Is there a really good reason why you decided that my comment was "improper" and deleted it aka "memory holed" it Stentor? If so please be so kind as to share with me because I can't think of one.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Stentor said...

Robin: As I've explained to you in the past, your comment was completely off-topic, and I delete comments that have nothing whatsoever to do with the content of the post they allegedly reply to. If you want to tell me something that doesn't relate to any specific post, there's a "contact" link at the top of the page.

12:52 PM  
Blogger Robin Edgar said...

It is ridiculous for you to pretend that my comment was "completely off topic" Stentor. It had everything to do with the general theme of your blog post. You presumably censored it because it raised the issue of hate speech, or at least hateful speech. . . that "crosses lines" within the U*U religious community itself. I asked a reasonable question about how you would propose to deal with it and instead of responding you "memory holed" the question.

5:04 PM  
Blogger Alon Levy said...

Hatred isn't a chargeable offense. Hate crimes are, but to my knowledge nobody has proven any causal link between Fred Phelps and lynchings against gays. Merely saying a protected class of people is evil isn't enough - otherwise Michael Moore would be in jail, and there would be criminal investigations of both most major radical feminists and most major men's rights activists.

A better way to interpret the British government's attitude toward hate speech is as spillover from general authoritarianism. Over the last 5-10 years, Britain has adopted a lot of surveillance and censorship policies that used not to exist outside Singapore and failed states. I'm not sure why, but it's increasingly adopting Singapore's attitude toward speech the government deems unacceptable - that is, it bans it, and bans people who promulgate it from entering the country. I think most applications of these laws are about nativism - disaffected Muslims have rioted and committed terrorism in Europe, while disaffected gays haven't. Homophobia just suffered from spillover.

2:06 PM  
Blogger portmanteau said...

I understand your objection with regard to immigration and the differential regard for lives of citizens and non-citizens.
But the refusal to grant visas for inciters of hate crimes often serves symbolic value in home countries. For instance, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi was refused a visa to enter the USA for his complicity in the Godhra riots. To this day, he has not been prosecuted in his country, India, despite evidence gathered by credible non-governmental third parties. The US government's refusal to grant Modi the right to enter the US as visitor provides moral ammunition for those individuals and organizations who wish to see Modi tried in court. If not for international condemnation of the Godhra riots, this issue would be swept under the rug in India by powerful political interests. At least, this sanction on Modi alerts his strident supporters (who applaud him for his economic development focused agenda) to recognize that they may be supporting a heinous criminal.

11:49 PM  

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