Banning so-called bigots from our shores lays waste to freedom of speech

by on 22 October, 2015

It would truly be a shame if Australia became a place where your opinion on a controversial subject could disqualify you from entering the country. Yet the recent denial of visas to pro-life advocate Troy Newman and rapper Tyler the Creator along with hard fought attempts to ban Dutch MP Geert Wilders suggests this is less of an Orwellian musing than it is our new reality.

These chronically outraged wowsers who spend their days pressuring our immigration system to stop pro life activists, critics of Islam and degenerate rappers sound reasonable enough at first. But when you dig a little deeper, it can be tricky to see where the intolerance starts and ends.

Long time free speech pessimist Penny Wong remonstrated that “Mr Newman’s public comments go well beyond what would be regarded as acceptable debate in this country.” By exceeding the limits of ‘acceptable debate,’ one can only presume Wong meant that Newman challenges the feminist credo that to be pro life is to necessarily be a bigoted misogynist.

Similarly, Perth based Iman Yahya Ibrahim seems to think that Geert Wilders, an outspoken critic of Islam, could seriously inflame fickle racial tensions. He implored the government to deter “Anything that is going to be divisive, split people up, on any lines,” lest a couple of speeches upend the social fabric of Australia’s multicultural society. To be sure, Ibrahim knows what he’s talking about. Having previously called Jewish people “apes and monkeys” this impetuous Iman seems to know firsthand the risks of giving people with strong opinions a platform to speak freely.

The feminist razor gang over at Collective Shout used a little more melodrama in their attack, asking how “as a nation trying to fight against violence, which in 2015 is claiming the lives of two women EVERY week, how can we allow someone like Tyler the Creator in our country?” It’s a good thing we have people like the moral guardians of Collective Shout to ensure Australia’s consumption of popular music befits that of a right-minded, upstanding society. I mean, how else were we meant to know that the character of the musicians who tour Australia could be such a grim portent for how seriously we take the scourge of violence against women?

Predictably enough, the feminists, the Imans and the Labor Party moralisers have each framed their argument as being over the public good, not freedom of expression. And can you bet that if you asked them, they would all say they believed in free speech, but within ‘limits’ or some other mealy mouthed caveat.

Yet as defenders of free speech from Voltaire right through to Andrew Bolt have stressed time and again, the right to express views that are agreeable, innocuous or nondescript needs no defending. It is only opinions that elicit revulsion, ideas that provoke our most raw sensitivities where the question of free speech comes into play.

At this point we should dispense with a few misconceptions. Troy Newman has never advocated violence against abortionists. Rather, he has said that abortion is murder and that murderers should be subject to capital punishment. Extreme? Perhaps. But there’s a difference between believing the law should be changed and rallying for vigilante justice.

Like many artists, including rock stars, poets and novelists, Tyler the Creator has written disparagingly about women in the context of his work. Unlike tens of thousands of Australians however, he has never been arrested for any act of violence towards anyone, including a female for that matter. It’s also worth noting that since Tyler’s songs have never been banned under Australia’s classification system, they are perfectly legal despite their vulgarity.

So let’s be clear, banning someone from Australia because they make a living performing depraved two-bit rap songs or because they believe in no uncertain terms that life begins at conception is very much about free speech. Isn’t it also a matter of keeping the public peace? Perhaps. But only to the extent that you think Australians are so dim witted and febrile that a few lone preachers of unsavoury ideas would be enough to turn us into a country of islamophobic, women-bashing Neanderthals.

Do we think that people are so brittle that they need to be cosseted from ideas that they might find confronting or offensive? Is social cohesion in Australia really so fragile that a lone preacher could upset the applecart badly enough to send race relations into a national tailspin? Are we really so puerile, indeed do we think women are so sensitive that we need to shield them from a perspective on abortion that challenges feminisms pro-choice orthodoxy?

Those campaigning to see Newman, Gilders and Tyler banished from Australia profess the noblest of intentions. But the assumptions that lie behind those intentions are at once paternalistic and condescending. They fundamentally don’t trust Australians to reach sensible conclusions on controversial issues. And why would they? If they did, what need would we have for a professionally outraged class of moral guardians to stop undesirables from setting foot on our shores?

Their outlook is also more than a little self-regarding. Multiculturalism and state subsidized abortions might today be treated as preconditions for any decent and progressively minded society. But at what point do we say an opinion is accepted enough for a contrarian to be silenced? If you a believer in free speech – not a fair-weather supporter but a true believer – the answer is simple. Never.

What’s more, the finer points of race relations, abortions and the censorship of lurid music are all issues on which reasonable minds can differ. They’re the kinds of issues where no one person has a pipeline to universal moral truth. And for that reason, we should be loathe to censor anyone, irrespective of how subjectively offensive their views may strike us. As John Stuart Mill famously pointed out, the fact that an idea is wrong or bad gives no grounds to have it silenced. We can all benefit and learn from bad ideas, even if only by appreciating what makes them wrong helps deepen our understanding of what makes the good ones right.

This is why we should resist the lynch-mob mentality of do-gooders who want to co-opt the immigration system to give their views ascendancy over society at large. The principle really has nothing to do with abortion, misogyny or racism. No amount of noise-making or confected outrage from activists should be allowed to prevent an otherwise eligible person from gaining entry into Australia.

The word bigot is now the go-to pejorative label for figures like Wilders, Newman and pretty much anyone whose views fly in the face of whatever happens to be the progressive-minded wisdom of the day. The irony is that bigotry’s actual meaning – an obstinate belief in the superiority of one’s own opinions – is far more befitting of those who wish to see the force of law silence their opponents than someone who happens to think that terminating a pregnancy is the wrong thing to do.

Those who wish to see Newman, Gilders and Tyler the Creator banished from Australia all act as though their cause is about protecting civil society. Yet the fact that these self-anointed moral guardians want to adjudicate which views are acceptable for consumption by mainstream Australia reveal just how little faith in civil society they actually have.


2 thoughts on “Banning so-called bigots from our shores lays waste to freedom of speech

  1. People don’t care about being hypocrites. Society is even more Orwellian than you think: with many people happy to hold to contradictory thoughts at the same time a la ‘doublethink’. You point it out and they dismiss what your saying rather than trying to analyse what was said and seeing the contradiction.

    Pointing out the ridiculous notion of Western ‘free speech’ is, actually, pointless. Try a different tactic.

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