This past weekend, the United Kingdom showed every American why we should be proud to have thrown off their rule.
First, the British Home Office took the incredible step of banning American conservative activist Brittany Pettibone, who was detained along with her partner Martin Sellner at Heathrow Airport. What had Pettibone and Sellner done to merit such treatment? They were slated to deliver a speech on the subject of “threats to free speech in the modern world.” The speech itself was slated to take place at the famed “Speaker’s Corner,” a little part of Hyde Park that Parliament had set aside to permit unlimited free speech all the way back in 1872. And if the idea of only being able to speak your mind in a tiny park corner upsets you already, well, prepare to be shocked, because that’s just one side effect of living in a country without a First Amendment.
The reason British authorities offered for banning Sellner and Pettibone’s is that they were alleged to be “spreading racism,” presumably because one of the threats to free speech in the U.K. is an aggressive and violent Muslim population determined to silence all criticisms of their religion.
And yes, apparently the Muslim religion now counts as a race, because the British government is making policy decisions that only the human resources department at Google could love. Also cited is the fact that both intended to interview the U.K. anti-Islam activist Tommy Robinson, again, because apparently criticizing a religion equals racism now.
But wait, there’s more! Not satisfied with acting like a bunch of spoiled Oxbridge brats determined to “no platform” those nasty foreigners, British authorities then took the step of detaining and banning the Canadian conservative activist Lauren Southern from the country on Sunday, holding her and interrogating her in a detention facility for six hours before sending her to France. Fortunately, I happen to be friends with Southern, and so got a window into the experience from her.
Southern’s offense is that in late February, on another pre-ban visit to the U.K., she handed out fliers in London alleging that “Allah is a gay God.” She wanted to illustrate the absurdity and hypocrisy of similar articles that had been run about Jesus Christ being gay by showing how people would react if the name of the God being accused of homosexuality were switched. In short, Southern had distributed the “Allah is gay” fliers not to mock Islam, per se, but instead to mock liberal publications like Vice. That’s right: She was banned for mocking Islam in a segment that wasn’t even intended to mock Islam.
It gets weirder from there. During her interrogation, Southern apparently was questioned about being Christian, and how she felt about running over Muslims with a car. I pause to note at this point that Southern has not once endorsed violence against any religious group, of any kind, nor has she ever so much as mentioned people being run over with cars. This question appeared from nowhere. What’s more, she was detained under a law that is supposed to prevent terrorists from entering the United Kingdom, because apparently a slight blonde girl who does man-on-the-street interviews is now the equivalent of a terrorist in Old Blighty.
Now, one could easily point out that this sort of disgraceful behavior has been happening in the U.K. for some time. For example, one might reasonably mention the banning of American bloggers Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer in 2013 (an act carried out under the orders of then-Home Secretary Theresa May) as precedent for this. Indeed, given that May is a ghastly authoritarian on matters relating to free speech, period, a pessimistic observer might consider this par for the course.
A few things stick out about these particular bans, however. Consider that Pettibone’s ban notice lists her intent to interview Tommy Robinson, head of the English Defence League, as an offense. In other words, Pettibone was banned not so much for what she might say, but because she might amplify the message of a British citizen. For the British government to be so committed to suppressing the speech of one of its own people is surely extraordinary in its own right. Further, the other offenses listed all relate to Pettibone’s partner, Sellner, rather than to Pettibone herself. In other words, British authorities couldn’t come up with a reason to ban Pettibone, because there isn’t one, so they instead resorted to banning her by association.
Second, even by dismally low British standards, the grounds for banning Southern are absurd. I pause to note at this point that Southern is well regarded in American conservative media circles for her journalistic work on the plight of South African farmers, and has been featured on avowedly anti-alt-Right platforms such as Ben Shapiro’s The Daily Wire, Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze, and “Louder with Crowder.” Further, she has disavowed any connection to the alt-Right herself, which she has referred to as “stillborn.” As such, there is no reason to believe that the leaflets she previously distributed were anything but a part of the satirical stunt she describes, meant to illustrate the double standard applied by liberals in the case of Christianity versus Islam.
Say what you like about these kinds of tactics, but they have been a part of conservative apologia for Christianity for years, and should pass muster even in the sanitized environs of the U.K. For a figure as mainstream as Lauren Southern is to be lumped in with racists and interrogated about running over Muslims with cars is the kind of humorless nonsense that is indistinguishable from actual malice.
Which leads, inexorably, to a simple conclusion: if illustrating a generic conservative talking point is now grounds to be banned from Great Britain, then no right-of-center figure across the pond is safe. Indeed, President Trump is probably only permitted in the country by virtue of the high office he holds. For the country that gave us classical liberalism, this is a spectacularly ugly fall from grace, and a worse indictment of the so-called “conservatism” of Theresa May than even her toothless approach to Brexit.
Britain can and must do better, and America can and must expect better from its allies than to act as the very embodiment of the kind of illiberalism that should never characterize any part of the Anglosphere. Alas, when it comes to Great Britain, it appears that the call is coming from inside the house.
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