UK Trump debate: ‘Neocon paternalism’ or way to show US what world thinks about them?

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. © Gretchen Ertl
Is the British parliament debate on whether to ban US Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump from the UK over his comments about Muslims justified or is his rhetoric purely an American issue?

Journalist Salman Shaheen and Joel Cohen, from the Institute of Ideas, discussed Monday’s British Parliament debate, on banning US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump from the UK over his ‘offensive’ speech on Muslims. 

RT: The debate in the UK Parliament has already prompted a strong reaction from Donald Trump's camp, saying that parliamentary time was being wasted to debate a matter that's part of the American presidential election. What's your response to that?

Salman Shaheen: It is not at all a waste of Parliamentary time. I would like to go on the record to say that I do not advocate the banning of Donald Trump from the UK. As we’ve been hearing from our government, anyone who is able to speak English should be allowed to come here, and if Donald Trump can prove it – he is indeed able to speak English – then I think that he would pass the test.

What is the importance of this debate – is that it shows to the Americans quite how toxic Donald Trump’s views are played on the other side of Atlantic – in Britain, which is the key US ally, and the rest of the world. Donald Trump is loathed by the world and the Americans need to know this…

RT: The debate was prompted by a public petition signed by half a million people meaning parliament was obliged to discuss it. What's your reaction to the discussion?

Joel Cohen: I have no problem with it being debated in Parliament. What I think it is problematic is what has just been said – is that it is a neo-colonial paternalism to think that we, the British people and our representatives in Parliament might be able to come in and tell the Americans how to run their own electoral races.

What is going on in America today as a very important process by which they go about choosing their leaders now. Of course there are things that are we can pick apart in the reasoning and the actions of the debates that go on in America, but fundamentally we’re interfering too much here in a democratic process. .. The American people aren’t stupid; there are quite a lot of them. It is quite patronizing to think that those who do support Trump don’t do so for better reasons that just a PR campaign - it is quite disingenuous of us to absolutely disregard those opinions of someone who is engaged in a democratic process.

RT: One of the British MPs suggested that Trump incites racial hatred. If Donald Trump does enter the US presidential race as the Republican nominee, and if there was no debate about this, wouldn’t it just be giving approval to religious intolerance?

JC: I don’t think hearing someone’s opinion is necessarily giving approval to them. We as individuals make up our own minds. What we think about things – and if in the world there are people or ideas who we think are worth challenging, I think we should get on with the business of doing that, rather than a kind of bureaucratic activity expecting our state to police our opinions for us, and deciding who can and can’t come into our country. I think this is a kind of very technical way of having a very serious debate and much the detriment of it.

© UK Parliament

RT: Salman, what do you think about the fact that we’re even having a debate about something that was purely American issue. Are there even any grounds for banning a man who is just giving his own opinions?

SS: There are grounds for banning people on hate speech and hate actions even to the level of Trump’s seniority. We look at the atrocities that [Narendra] Modi was a party to in India, and how he was banned from the UK for many years. Of course Trump’s actions and his words are nowhere near on the scale of what Modi is accused of doing. But it is important to remember that America is not a bubble, America is the most powerful nation in the world, and what its presidents do and say affects the world. And it is important to the American political system to remember what the rest of the world thinks about them.

Just to give one example of that: George W. Bush ran roughshod across the world alienating billions of people, starting flames all over the Middle East; and it has taken Obama eight years of hard diplomacy to undo much of that damage. If Donald Trump is elected then he will redo all of that damage and worse, and it is right to the world to have its opinion on that.

RT: Why is there even a conversation about what Trump said?

SS: …Personally, much like Joel, even though we are taking opposite sides in some ways in this debate, I am an advocate of the freedom of speech and I do believe that sunlight is the best disinfection for Donald Trump’s views – should be aired and should be debated as we’re doing now.

JC: Are you not jumping the gun then? The man is not elected, he doesn’t represent the American people, and he is going through the process of democratic debate? Why is it that you think this is in any way immediately applicable to the lives of British people?

SS: It is not immediately applicable, but the fact is that Trump is going through the scrutiny of the incredibly long American electorate process. And that’s scrutiny - because of America’s position in the world - has been opened up to the world, and therefore its right that we can voice opinions on that.

RT: And what if he becomes president, presumably Britain shot itself in the foot in terms of special relationship, hasn’t it?

SS: A special relationship may come into a bit of trouble if Donald Trump doesn’t become president, not least because a great many political leaders in this country, including David Cameron, have gone on record to say how wrong his comments were, and it is good that they can be firm in that regard. But, to be honest, I think the world will have a very sore foot if Trump becomes President.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.