Page last updated at 16:29 GMT, Friday, 16 October 2009 17:29 UK

Wilders' world of protest and publicity

By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News

After successfully overturning a ban on his presence in the country, Geert Wilders was never going to slip quietly into the UK.

Geert Wilders and Lord Pearson
Geert Wilders was at the centre of a media scrum

The controversial Dutch politician sent a text message to Associated Press as he cleared customs at Heathrow to ensure the world's media had got the message.

But even he cannot have anticipated the scenes waiting for him in Westminster, as he swept into a side street opposite the Houses of Parliament.

His plan to stage an open-air news conference around the corner on College Green had to be abandoned when about 40 protesters arrived on the scene chanting "Wilders go to hell" and waving placards saying "Sharia for the Netherlands" and "Islam will be superior".

The MP, who is an outspoken critic of Muslim ideology and has called for the Koran to be banned, was bundled through a gate in the high stone wall surrounding Abbey Gardens, an outpost of the House of Lords which was to be the venue for his hastily rearranged conference.

The young Muslims outside, held in check by a line of police officers, chanted "Wilders running scared" and "Wilders come out" - but they were far outnumbered by reporters and photographers, many from the MP's native Netherlands, who seemed even more desperate to get into the overcrowded venue.

Insulted

They also proved an eager audience for the protesters' claims that "the Muslims will be dominant" and "we want Sharia law".

The protesters' main complaint against Mr Wilders was that he had insulted the Prophet Muhammad.

I think being here today in the UK is a victory
Geert Wilders

The group dismissed suggestions they were playing into his hands with their chants of "free speech go to hell", arguing they had a right to counter his "rubbish". Asked if they were representing the views of other Muslims, one replied: "It is not about representing Muslims. It is about representing Islam."

But Sayful Islam, who was leading their anti-Wilders chants, said he believed Mr Wilders' views on Islam were shared by "every Western government".

"He is just the open voice of the Western governments. This is exactly what they wish to follow," he said.

Muslim protesters
Protesters were held back by a line of police officers

Mr Islam told reporters Mr Wilders was a "dog" who should be "tried by an Islamic court" for insulting the Prophet but he refused to say what he thought the MP's punishment should be. "I am not silly," he grinned, hinting that he was aware where the media were trying to lead him.

"Do your research," added another protester.

Asked if he was representing a particular group, Mr Islam smiled again and said: "I am with the Muslims, man."

After about half an hour, the protesters disappeared as quickly as they had arrived, their point seemingly made.

'Voice of reason'

Meanwhile, inside the building, Mr Wilders was telling reporters: "I think being here today in the UK is a victory. It's not so much a victory for myself. I am not that important. It is a victory for freedom of speech."

The Freedom Party MP then did his best to sound like the voice of reason, saying that although he would have preferred to stage his news conference on College Green as planned, he was pleased the young Muslims had exercised their democratic right to demonstrate, something he said would be denied them in an Islamist state.

Pressed further on the purpose of his visit to the UK, given that he was not going to screen the film that had caused him to be banned in February, he said it would allow him to speak to his lawyers and friends face-to-face rather than over the internet but really it was a "token of victory".

You can be as rude as you like about Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, anything you want and you do not inspire the violent hatred
Lord Pearson, UK Independence Party

He was quizzed about his views on Islam and his unsuccessful attempt in the Dutch parliament to get the Koran banned, using the same laws under which Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf was outlawed. He had been defeated in a vote, he said, and as a democrat he had accepted that.

There was then a heated exchange with reporters standing on chairs at the back of the room, craning to get a look at him over the forest of microphones, about whether he should also have called for the Bible to be banned, given that some Christians were terrorists.

That was not his argument at all, he told the reporters, although his attempt to elucidate further was drowned out by more questions.

He denied his call for the Koran to be banned had been an affront to free speech.

"Even in the United States, where they have a first amendment, there is one red line, which is the incitement of violence and this was exactly my point," he told reporters.

His host, the UKIP peer Lord Pearson claimed that if Mr Wilders had called for the Bible to be banned, "none of this would have happened".

"You can say ban the Bible. You can be as rude as you like about Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, anything you want and you do not inspire the violent hatred which is coming from them towards us. We do not hate them. We do not hate them. We fear them."

Did the peer also want to outlaw the Koran?

"I don't agree with that at all. I want the Koran discussed very much more and I want it particularly discussed by the 98% or whatever it is of the Muslim community who are mild, peace-loving people.

"But what I want them to do is to get up off their bottoms and take on their violent co-religionists who do base these acts of evil on the Koran."



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SEE ALSO
UK's ban of Dutch MP criticised
13 Feb 09 |  UK Politics
Dutch MP refused entry to Britain
12 Feb 09 |  UK Politics
Islam film Dutch MP to be charged
21 Jan 09 |  Europe
Dutch Muslims condemn MP's film
24 Jan 08 |  Europe
Profile: Geert Wilders
15 Oct 09 |  Europe


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