My hands are tied. This, in essence, is the response that Chris Bowen, the Minister for Immigration, has given to questions in Parliament this week about why he granted a visa to an Islamic fundamentalist, Taji Mustafa, who spoke over the weekend at a conference organised by Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group notorious for religious intolerance, disdain for Western values and sympathy for jihad.
“Hizb ut-Tahrir has not been proscribed in Australia and nor has it been proscribed in the United States or the United Kingdom,” Bowen told Parliament on Monday. “This entry permit was issued in accordance with the normal procedures for British nationals.”
So Taji Mustafa came, spoke, and, by unfortunate coexistence, the weekend was marked by a violent demonstration by a group of rabidly anti-Western Islamic fundamentalists in Sydney.
What nobody knew was that at the same time, the minister had been sitting on a visa application by a member of the Dutch parliament who is an outspoken opponent of Islamic fundamentalism in the Netherlands and Belgium.
More than three weeks ago, the Dutch MP, Geert Wilders, applied for a visa to visit Australia. Visa applications by his support group of police and staff were granted within three days. Wilders is still waiting. He applied in August.
Wilders is scheduled to give two speeches in Australia in October. Because of his parliamentary obligations, if Bowen continues to sit on the application Wilders will have to cancel the trip. That may be Bowen’s intent.
Wilders has already paid a high price for his willingness to confront religious fundamentalism in his own country. He lives under 24-hour police protection. He has had numerous threats on his life.
Being a prominent critic of Islamic fundamentalism is highly dangerous in the Netherlands, which has a large Muslim population. The most conspicuous critics of Muslim extremism in Holland, prior to Wilders, were a film director, Theo Van Gogh and another member of the Dutch parliament, Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Both were subject to numerous death threats. Van Gogh was stabbed to death on a street in Amsterdam. Hirsi Ali was subjected to several assassination attempts. She was forced to live in secret locations. She left the country permanently and now lives in the United States.
Now Wilders, by condemning Muslim extremism, is himself condemned to live with menace, which proves his point.
Wilders is controversial. As the head of the party holding the balance of power, the PVV, Wilders recently triggered a national election when he withdrew his support for the government over the issue of staying in the eurozone.
His stand was costly, causing the PVV to drop from 24 to 16 seats.
Bowen is much more fearful. He is concerned that, in denying a visa to an Islamic fundamentalist, he would expose the government to legal liability.
Answering another question in Parliament, he said: “I conduct myself, in relation to the character test, in accordance with my responsibilities under the act. To do otherwise would be to open the Commonwealth to potential overturning of the decision and a potential very serious compensation case.”
Thus a sympathiser for jihad is allowed into the country as part of the “normal” process of British applicants, and an opponent of jihad, a man never convicted of a crime and a member of the Dutch parliament, is blocked from coming, thus far.
If Bowen drags the process on for another week he will have stopped, via the back door, a conspicuous parliamentarian and opponent of Islamic fundamentalism from visiting Australia.
This is a perfect metaphor for a government whose policies have caused the cost of processing asylum-seekers to blow out to more than $1 billion a year, and the numbers of illegal arrivals to surge, while at the same time tightening the restrictions on legal immigration.
If this pattern repeats itself with Wilders it will not play well in an electorate that is clearly offended by religious fanatics who use Western democracy to attack Western democracy.
This is a hot button for Australians judging by the thousands of people who reacted to the demonstrations seen on TV. The large reaction was far more significant than the small demonstration.
Normally a small group of radicals – and this was a demonstration by no more than 200 people – are consigned to the idiot fringes in the way that Trotskyite groups are largely ignored despite their attempts to gain attention via protests.
It would have been much healthier for the media and the public to similarly ignore this idiotic fringe group last weekend. But judging by the viral and visceral reaction of the public, there is a feeling that too many people have been murdered, assaulted, threatened or intimidated in the name of Islam.