YOU WIN SOME, you lose some. Last week, in this space, we expressed the opinion that the State Department's policy with regard to visas for Northern Irish visitors was either confused or based on a double standard. Confusion arose because the department had denied a visa to a Catholic extremist member of the British Parliament, Owen Carron, while continuing to honor one issued to his Protestant counterpart, Ian Paisley. One need not approve of either man's philosophy, rhetoric or politics to urge that both be admitted temporarily to this country. They should be.
On Monday, the department announced that the double standard would be abandoned and that Ian Paisley's visa would be invalidated forthwith. Mr. Carron and Mr. Paisley will now receive equal treatment. Both will be excluded. But why? The department's complete statement on the Paisley case consists of the following three sentences: "Because of our grave concern about the divisive tone of Mr. Paisley's actions and statements in recent weeks, the department initiated a review about three weeks ago to determine whether anything Mr. Paisley had said or done recently had made him ineligible for a visa under our laws. We have concluded that Mr. Paisley's presence in the United States would be prejudicial to the United States' public interest, and his visa has been invalidated. He may not enter the United States." What it all boils down to is this: "We just don't like the guy."
Well, we don't like him either, but we're not afraid to let him--or Mr. Carron--come in and speak his mind--as long as neither disturbs the peace. A lot of people may decide they don't like Mr. Paisley's colleagues Peter Robinson and John Taylor, either. Yet these two men will be allowed to come. Still others might not like to hear what Bernadette Devlin McAliskey said on her recent visit to New York, yet she was allowed entry. Where is this line drawn?
A British official was quoted Monday expressing his disappointment with the State Department's decision. "We quite honestly thought it would be useful to have the Americans see the kind of thing we are up against." Those Americans who take pride in the fact that our society protects the right to express even extreme views would agree.