By Mark Simmons

Today is International Human Rights Day, and 370,000 people have now signed a petition calling on the UK to ban entry to Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump.  

Apparently he wants to ban Muslims from entering the USA until politicians – whom he wants to lead – can figure out what to do next about the terrorist threat.  

Mr Trump’s remarks have been roundly condemned by the UN’s Human Rights Commissioner as “grossly irresponsible”, but others, including some in the UK, think he has a point.  Parliament considers for debate all petitions with more than 100,000 signatories, and yesterday the issue was raised at Prime Minister’s Questions.  The Deputy Prime Minister criticised Mr Trump’s views, while claiming that banning him from entering the UK is not the appropriate response. I tend to agree.  

I sympathise enormously with those who have signed the petition to register their disgust at Mr Trump’s remark – and indeed other similarly offensive and ill-informed remarks he has made throughout the campaign.  

After all, more people have been killed in the USA since 9/11 by toddlers accidentally firing parents’ guns than by guns fired by terrorists – and that includes terrorists of all backgrounds.  

But I am concerned that we do not become so over-zealous in our criticism of him that we ourselves become guilty of limiting the right to free speech which we value.  

Just because we disagree with someone does not mean that her/his voice should not be heard.

There is also a legal question: although the list of “unacceptable behaviours” which justify a visa ban is not exhaustive, it would appear to require Mr Trump to speak in public in the UK in a way which would provoke others to terrorist acts or foster hatred which might lead to inter-community violence.  This would require the British public to take anything Mr Trump says seriously, which seems a far-fetched notion.

This is our quandary on Human Rights Day.  

To what extent can, or should we, defend the right of an individual to speak up for what s/he believes when we know that her/his view is, for want of a better word, wrong?  At the beginning of 2015, the world stood up for free speech in the wake of an attack in Paris – or at least, that was the intention behind the support expressed for Charlie Hebdo even though that may have been misguided.  Now, in the wake of a further attack, we risk denying free speech on the grounds that we do not agree.

One great thing about allowing free speech is that it allows us the opportunity to disagree.  Mr Trump’s comments provide a fabulous opportunity for the vast majority who disagree with him not just to point out that he is wrong but to stand up and express their support and love for their Muslim friends, neighbours and colleagues.  

We may not always agree with those of different faiths and none, but we should honour their right to believe.