Michael Savage, the number three most popular talk radio host in the US with a weekly reach of 10 million listeners, has been banned from entering the UK. Not that he wanted to visit the UK, but his name is on a list of 16 unwanted people, including radical muslim clerics, neonazi's, white supremacists, murderers and terrorists. Jacqui Smith, the British Home Secretary, explains the decision:
"This is someone who has fallen into the category of fomenting hatred, of such extreme views and expressing them in such a way that it is actually likely to cause inter-community tension or even violence if that person were allowed into the country."
In a first reaction, Savage announced that he will sue Jacqui Smith.
"My opinions are more in keeping with the mainstream I am closer to the heartland of America than this woman. The whole point of the First Amendment was to protect offensive speech, not polite speech. And, I want to remind you liberals, whatever happened to your famous sayings from the sixties, 'I may disagree with you but I will fight to the death your right to say it?"
Here's what he had to say to Sky News:
A spokesperson for Talk Radio Network compared Savage to Winston Churchill and Jacqui Smith to Neville Chamberlain:
"Winston Churchill claimed that in the years leading up to World War II, he was banned from the BBC for a period of up to eight years. He was put into political exile where he was labeled ‘an extremist’ at a time his voice and free speech was needed most. This attempt at marginalizing Savage and Savage’s free speech is no less egregious than what Churchill experienced in the hands of Chamberlain’s government. It simply validates how history does repeat itself when history’s lessons are not learned by leaders of the modern age".
Michael Savage is not your mister nice guy. While Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, the numbers one two on talk radio's popularity ranking, have close links ties with the Republican Party, Savage rejects any political affiliation. His motto "borders, language, culture" summarizes his conservative and nationalist viewpoints on immigration and social issues.
Savage has turned provocation, exaggeration and anger into an art form. You don't have to agree with what he says to appreciate and enjoy his program. Here's my story of how I got to know Michael Savage. I was in the US at the time in 2001 when Chinese military held 24 Navy crewmen in custody after a US spy plane was forced to land after a midair collision. On my car radio, I heard Michael Savage plead for nuclear bombardments on Chinese hydroelectric dams, to "put that country back into the stone age for a few decades". I immediately realized that in my country, Belgium, any person uttering such language on the radio would be subject to legal action for "hate speech", and such a person would surely be fired from his radio station. Was Savage's call for nuclear retaliation a call for violence? Not really, since it was merely a call for a democratic debate on whether the state should use its monopoly on legitimate violence in order to defend its interests against the actions of a hostile country. There's no illegal violence in that. Sure, his call was rude, provocative, repulsive but most of all, thought-provoking. I admired a country where freedom of speech was not only protected by the Constitution, but could be seen and heard at work like in the radio programs of Michael Savage. To me, his program was proof that the First Amendment was not some theoretical clause in some law book, but a fundamental driving force of American society.
A country that tolerates provocative speech (called "hate mongering" in European newspeak) like that of Michael Savage, and where such provocative speech does not provoke violent actions, has in my opinion reached a higher level of political and societal maturity than a country that deems it necessary to prohibit speech considered "likely to cause inter-community tension". Freedom of speech is intended for offensive speech, not for polite speech. Polite speech generally does not need protection. Prohibiting offensive speech does not solve any problem, it only hides problems from the public eye. What happens to people like Michael Savage, in the US or in a European country like the UK, is a litmus test for free speech and for liberty in general. If a country is not willing to tolerate the savage verbal provocations of a man like Michael Savage, it does not deserve to be called a free country.