It must come as shock to be aggressively banned from visiting a weird little country when you weren’t planning to anyway. You’re sitting there, maybe having breakfast, and the telephone rings. “Sorry,” says a voice, “but you can’t go to Burundi.” But I don’t want to go to Burundi. “Good,” says the voice. “Because you can’t. And neither can Myra Hindley.” Click.
This, in essence, is what has happened to the US “shock jock” Michael Savage with his inclusion on a list of people banned from the UK by Jacqui Smith. He hasn’t been here for 20 years, and wasn’t planning on coming back. Why are we keeping people out, when they don’t want to come in? God knows. Easier, I suppose. Fewer appeals. Savage is now talking about suing the British Government for libel as they bundled him together with a bunch of even nastier people. He claims he has ten million listeners (1 in 30 Americans? Seriously?) and is calling for them to boycott the UK. And yet, albeit bizarrely and probably by accident, I think Ms Smith might have a point. It’s just that she’s so spinelessly useless at making it.
“Of course,” she’ll bleat, “we’re not against free speech, but…” Stop it. Grow some balls. Yes you are against free speech. Almost all Brits are. It’s in our nature. I first realised this a few years ago, watching one of Louis Theroux’s many documentaries about rural American Nazis. He was quite charming, this Nazi, but that didn’t stop him climbing up on a stage, giving a Hitler salute, and screaming “nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger!”. Blimey, I thought. We wouldn’t stand for that at home. And we wouldn’t have to. Because we don’t have free speech. Good.
Savage’s career is based almost entirely on saying things on US radio that he wouldn’t be allowed to say in the UK. It’s your proper, old-school, spittle-flecked stream of bile. He’s not “just expressing opinions”, he’s hating minorities, loudly, and he’s asking his listeners to hate them too. We don’t do that. Even Nick Griffin and his BNP don’t do that. Not any more. They’re not allowed to. They’d get locked up.
Personally I’m quite proud that Britain won’t put up with this sort of thing. And that’s just me. I barely believe in anything. So what’s wrong with Ms Smith? Did you hear her on the TV news? A morass of drivel. “Fallen into the category of blah blah, intercommunity waffle waffle.” And this from a woman who has supposedly devoted her life to the progressive Labour movement. Where’s the passion? Where’s the fire? Where’s the courage in her supposed convictions? Where’s the bit where she thumps her chest and says, “yes, this man is vile, damn right we’ll turn him away at passport control”? Or at least we would if he wanted to come here. Which he doesn’t. At all.
I doubt that Savage will sue Ms Smith in the end, partly because it would probably involve coming here, and he can’t. Still, if he does, her lawyers might like to consider the following.
It’s him on Muslim immigrants. He has just conceded that they’re not all terrorists, which is big of him, but is still wondering why the US would let in people with (he says) values from the 15th century: “Why would a nation that is as evolved as America, and as liberal as America, want to bring in throwbacks?” he asks. “What is the societal benefit? Why would you want to bring them into the country? Isn’t that common sense?”
Do you get it, legal eagles? You just need to substitute the UK for America, and remind Mr Savage that he’s a throwback too. Just a suggestion. No fee.
To Russia with love
To Moscow at the weekend where I suspect that, if translated, Mr Savage’s radio show could do rather well. Everybody I met was lovely, but when probed, ragingly xenophobic in a terribly matter-of-fact way. What, I asked a woman, did people think of all the Russians in London? “Not Russians,” she told me. “Jews.” I’m Jewish, I told her. “Well then,” she said, as if this proved her point. Later she told me a Holocaust joke. When I didn’t laugh, she just sighed.
A.A. Gill once wrote that visiting a country was a lot like interviewing a person. You stick together all the scraps, the off-hand remarks and the semi-hidden traits, and mesh them all into an overall picture.
Russia, in this respect, left me baffled. Nothing stacked up. Among young Russians, one man told me, the most popular authors were Irvine Welsh and J.R.R. Tolkien. They’d rather drink whisky than vodka, found Borat deeply offensive and are nostalgic for communism. They’re worried about Western hostility and they’re mad about Hugo ChÃ¡vez. All of their pop is novelty. For fun, they go paintballing or on historical battle re-enactments with guns that fire plastic ballbearings. It’s a great weekend, said one girl, if you get shot by a really good-looking boy. None of it made any sense to me at all. I’d love to go back.