Terry Jones, the pastor of a less-than-50-member religious outreach center in Gainesville, Florida, made daily headlines last year when his suggestion of holding an “International Burn a Koran Day” incited international controversy and outrage. He’s since left the media spotlight, but now returns after the UK Home Office issued a statement on Wednesday banning him from entering the country after he accepted a request to speak at a rally for the right-wing group England is Ours.
In its statement, the Home Office explained that Mr. Jones could not enter the country because the government “opposes extremism in all its forms.” “Numerous comments made by Pastor Jones are evidence of his unacceptable behaviour. Coming to the UK is a privilege not a right and we are not willing to allow entry to those whose presence is not conducive to the public good,” said a spokesperson. “The use of exclusion powers is very serious and no decision is taken lightly or as a method of stopping open debate.”
I will be the first to agree with the fact that Terry Jones is not someone whose ideas I agree with, but I will also be the first to say that prohibition of a person because of words deemed indecent, obscene, or harmful is the least effective way of preventing those words’ proliferation.
John Stuart Mill, perhaps my favorite Brit of all time, wrote that “the assumption of infallibility…is the undertaking to decide [the answer to a] question for others, without allowing them to hear what can be said on the contrary side.” By resorting to censorship, the UK government is sliding into an assumption of their own infallibility. It seems to me that opposing and trying to censor extremism is an act of extremism in itself.