Over the past few years online petitions have gained great popularity within the UK. The scheme of collecting signatures in order to achieve change and justice has proven successful on several occasions. For example, in the case of Sudanese Meriam Ibrahim, who escaped a death penalty with the help of over one million signatures.

Whereas such petitions highlight injustice and give a voice to the unheard, some collections of signatures can be seen as rather controversial.

Recently, two petitions have incited an uproar concerning US presidential candidate Donald Trump and American pick-up artist Daryush Valizadeh, better known as Roosh V. The petitions seek to ban the personalities from entering the UK, in light of both Trump and Valizadeh’s highly concerning and racist statements.

Should controversial public figures be banned from the UK, or are we invading the right of freedom of expression through such petitions?

Current issues regarding the wave of refugees coming to Europe and the ongoing war in Syria concern politicians worldwide. Unsurprisingly, these topics are highly discussed in the 2016 US presidential elections, and each opponent uses the so-called crisis in their favour.

Many Americans find their man in Donald Trump, the embodiment of a narrow-minded and fearful culture. Trump began his campaign as a laughing stock, being smiled at by his opponents and frankly, by the rest of the world.

But a few months into the election campaign Trump has gained popularity. A man who shamelessly voices that Muslims should be banned from entering the US, who dares to suggest special identification cards for Muslims, has turned into a leading candidate for the Republicans.

No longer is the billionaire with visions a laughing stock but a potential threat to America and the rest of the world.

Undoubtedly, a petition that bans him from coming to the United Kingdom will not interfere with his election campaign, nor will it stop him from making racist and irrational statements. Even less will it hold him back from entering the UK.

In fact, the UK government replied to the Donald Trump petition by saying that it will not comment on individual exclusion decisions. However, the statement also stresses that the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary disagree with Trump and view his comments on Muslims as ‘divisive, unhelpful and wrong’.

If the petition failed, are our hands tied against the hate speech of men like Donald Trump and Daryush Valizadeh? Valizadeh calls himself a ‘neo-masculinist’ and enters the stage with the same egomania as Trump.

He calls out for legalising rape on private property and views men as superior to women. Hard-earned progress gets destroyed within seconds by such men who suffer from an inferiority complex.

Alarmingly, both men have an increasing network of supporters who glorify the personalities – and their wrongful thinking. Their offensive statements are too shocking to let lie; they demand action.

A single voice who speaks up won’t harm either of them. A collection of voices however, puts a public figure under pressure.

Nevertheless, petitions which urge to ban controversial figures from a country should not be understood too literally.

Rather, they can be seen as a symbol of unity and resistance against wrong-thinking members of society. In the case of Donald Trump the petition is a sarcastic answer to his plan of banning Muslims from US entry.

Statements of racism and hatred do not justify a ban from entering a democratic state. However, both petitions state that the true message behind their demands is to spread awareness on controversial figures who publicly promote racism and hate speech.

Although the government did not ban the personalities from entering the UK, both petitions collected so many signatures that the issues got addressed in the UK parliament. The petition against Roosh V exercised such pressure on the artist that he eventually cancelled all his events in the UK.

The public successfully pointed at two personalities that had to be reprimanded. We have to understand the deeper meaning of such petitions: the voice of citizens, the call for justice and democracy. Donald Trump and Daryush Valizadeh might still come to the UK and promote their views, but they now know that they aren’t welcome. Petition succeeded.

 

Theresa Rappold

Image: Peter Stevens

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