This morning I engaged in a so-called "red-line" debate on Sky News about whether or not the right-wing Dutch Islamophobe and professional controversialist Geert Wilders is "welcome" in the UK. He is not. How can a man who views the faith of nearly two million British citizens and residents as a "totalitarian ideology" and a "retarded, dangerous one", and claims that "there is no such thing as 'moderate Islam'", be welcome in our multicultural, multiracial, multi-faith nation?
But what surrpised me was that the man I was debating -- who also happens to be the British parliamentarian who extended the original invitation to Wilders -- turned out to be Lord Pearson of Rannoch, the Ukip peer, and front-runner to succeed Nigel Farage as leader of the party. Pearson is an odious and reactionary Little Englander with Islamophobic leanings. He described, on air, "the problem with Islam", proclaimed his "fear" of Islam and claimed Islam was responsible for all the terrorism in the world.
And yet, regardless of that, I can't help but wonder what Pearson gets out of all this. Has Ukip gone from being a party of "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly" (to quote David Cameron), obsessed only with the European Union and issues of sovereignty and parliamentary democracy, to suddenly leading the neoconservative (and BNP-backed) campaign against the alleged "Islamisation" of Europe? Its endorsement of Wilders by extending an official invitation to him through its next leader is both strange and unpleasant.
On a side note, may I point out the most ridiculous part of the whole Wilders debate? It's the idea that this man is a champion of free speech and that allowing him entry into the UK exemplifies our commitment to free speech. Sorry. No. That's nonsense. This is a man who not only abuses free speech but also makes a mockery of it in his home country of Holland, where he has advocated the banning and outlawing of the Quran, which he ludicrously considers to be a "fascist" book. This is the man who hides his anti-Islamic bigotry behind the notion of free speech -- and campaigns against Muslims' own right to free speech by advocating the outlawing of the Muslim holy book. How ironic. And disgusting.