Freedom of Speech or Freedom to Hate?

Submitted by LAMA on July 17, 2018

They call themselves the Free Speech Coalition.

The leading lights of this group are:

Dr. Michael Bassett – Former Labour Party Minister and critic of all who question the free market reforms of the 1984-1990 Labour Government.
Dr. Don Brash – Former leader of the [Centre-Right] National and [ultra free-market] ACT Parties, and former Governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand who has refused to recognise those earning under $40,000 a year and Maori language speakers as real New Zealanders.
Ashley Church – CEO of the Property Institute: an organisation that defends the right of landlords to discriminate against the poor and non-white tenants as well as slumlords.
Dr. David Cumin – Senior Lecturer University of Auckland who is noted for silencing critics of Israel by accusing them of anti-Semitism.
Melissa Derby – University of Canterbury Academic, a Maori academic who opposes hate speech laws to protect Muslims because she reckons it would discriminate against Maori.
Stephen Franks – Lawyer whose campaign teams vandalised political opponents billboards and posters when he was campaigning for ACT.
Paul Moon – Historian and a Professor, Auckland University of Technology, who is unique for actually being opposed to hate speech laws regardless of who they target because they violate freedom of speech.
Lindsay Perigo – Broadcaster who has routinely abused people and cut them off when they say anything he doesn’t like on his talk show.
Rachel Poulain – Writer and far right conspiracy theorist involved with the alt-right website wrongthink.
Chris Trotter – Political Commentator.
Jordan Williams – Lawyer who has abused writers like Eleanor Catton and Colin Craig for having the gall to criticize National.

In short the ‘Free Speech Coalition’ is a rag tag collection of hypocrites, alt-right wackos and academics who think that preaching hatred is acceptable when it’s Muslims, Asians or refugees who are the targets. Thus, when I went to the Free Speech Coalition rally at Parliament in Wellington on July 14th I had little doubt as to what sort of people I would be encountering. Sure enough, I saw the same old fascists in attendance, including Kerry Bolton (formerly of the National Front and the NZ Union of Fascists), and a number of younger faces. The days of the skinheads were well and truly gone, though. The bulk seemed to be conventional in appearance, with a sprinkling of the curious and one or two people who looked lost.

I had typed up a piece about my general objections to these so-called “freedom of speech” protests before taking part. I left a few gaps so I could add some numbers and my reflections on what I expected to be a decent sized protest. In reality I found a pathetic assortment of fifty-odd people gathering to listen to Lindsay Perigo rant about Muslims and Marxists silencing freedom of speech in Auckland. This left me with one of those rare cases of ethical conflict.

I have generally believed that if we allowed these bigots to speak it helps bring them out into the open. I had thought this exposure was probably a good thing and would help make tackling them an easier task. More recently, especially after Donald Trump became President of the United States, I began to ask myself if emphasis should contrastingly go on the devastating consequences of allowing these types of people to preach their hate.

I was also reminded of what happened in Rwanda. Between April 7th and July 15th, 1994, around 800,000 Tutsis were butchered by Hutu bigots whipped up into a frenzy of hatred by the media, the Catholic Church and the Hutu-dominated government of Rwanda. It would take too long to discuss the complexities of the tribal conflicts that plagued Rwanda since this country became independent in 1962. However, in the immediate period prior to the unleashing of the genocide the media embarked upon an unprecedented campaign of hatred against the Tutsis, accusing them of all sorts of things including trying to impose a Tutsi monarchy, being “anti-Christian” and planning to enslave the Hutus. Using the shooting down of a plane carrying the Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira (a Hutu) was used as the pretext to justify an orgy of mass slaughter that shocked the world.

The language used by the Hutu to describe Tutsis at the time is little different from the rantings used by Canadian far-Rightists Ms Southern and Mr Molyneux, (whose attempts to hold meetings in Auckland served as the pretext for these rallies) to describe Muslims, LGBT people and immigrants. It is easy to just dismiss what happened in Rwanda with the usual “We’re not a Third World country in Africa, we’re a developed nation” line but it’s worth remembering that the nation that unleashed the Holocaust – Germany – was regarded as one of the most culturally, scientifically and socially advanced nations in the world. Equally important is that both Germany before the Nazis took over and Rwanda before the genocides, allowed extreme right wingers to rant in the media about how vile particular groups in their respective countries were. In the case of the Nazis it was the Jews. In the case of the Rwandans it was the Tutsis. These things have historically started on a small scale and expanded if not actively countered. Words lead to actions.

The tribal hatreds in Rwanda that led to the 1994 genocide had been building up for decades. In contrast, the Alt-Right and Co are trying to whip up fear and hatred of groups in a country where most people from those groups are refugees who have fled from the very religious fundamentalism that they’re accused of trying to impose upon New Zealanders!

We can’t afford to be complacent. These so-called “freedom of speech” protests are being organised by people like Lindsay Perigo, who only believe in defending free speech when it’s people advocating opinions they agree with who are being told they can’t use ratepayer funded venues. Many commentators have asked very pointed questions about where these people’s concerns about freedom of speech were when Nicky Hager, an investigative journalist, was being harassed by the police for writing books critical of the last National-led government? Where were these people when property magnate Sir Bob Jones launched a spate of law suits to silence his critics? Where were these people when Ian Slater (otherwise known as Whale Oil) was using information supplied by Cabinet Ministers to harass and abuse government critics during the 2008-2017 National-led government? They were silent.

It would be wrong of me not to mention that this so-called “Free Speech Coalition” only sprang up because, according to Radio New Zealand (July 6th, 2018), “Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, who are best known for their far-right alternative views on everything from feminism, gender and immigration to Islam, were set to perform at the Bruce Mason Centre on 3 August.However, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff tweeted that venues should not be used to stir up ethnic or religious tensions and that Ms Southern and Mr Molyneux would not be speaking at any council venues.”

Did Phil Goff do the right thing by banning far right libertarians from speaking at their venues? As an anarchist I’m not really a big fan of politicians of any kind. Goff in particular is a long-term power player and as one of the architects of neo-liberal measures in the 80’s, not a friend of the Left. No doubt though, he genuinely dislikes racist demagogues and facilitating their speeches in NZ’s most multi-cultural city wouldn’t have been a good move. At any rate, he took action.

What I’m more immediately focused on is less the deeds of a mainstream politician but what the Left itself should do. The Left must not allow these alt-right and fascist groups to hold these misleadingly labelled “free speech protests” outside Parliament or elsewhere in New Zealand (mainly Auckland) without at least making our presence and objections known.

This is not something that I find easy or comfortable to say but I was disgusted by the fact the Left was nowhere to be seen at the protest outside Parliament. We collectively dropped the ball on that one.

Obviously many liberals and fellow Leftists haven’t learned one of the most bitter history lessons of the last century: The people who condone, preach or practice tolerance towards the intolerant are the first to be destroyed by them. It’s often forgotten that the Left were among the first victims of the Nazis, in addition to the disabled, homosexuals and Jews. Donald Trump openly campaigned on a policy of bigotry against women, people of colour, the LGBT, migrants and other minorities. He has since introduced laws that have allowed families to be torn apart, people to be snatched off the streets and deported with no right of appeal and for children to be detained in cages in so-called detention centres. Nazis and alt-right thugs have now began to march in the streets of the United States with impunity. This has even resulted in the death of people like anti-racist protestor Heather Heyer in Charlottesville. Muslims are now effectively banned from entering the United States if they come from the “wrong” parts of the world.

Any suggestion that allowing bigots to push their hatred does not have serious consequences is rubbish. One only has to look at the United States in the present day, Rwanda in the 1990s and Germany in the 1930s to see what happens when these movements are allowed to say what they want with no meaningful opposition. The fact the events of July 14th here only attracted a small bunch of oddballs is no reason to be lazy minded or inactive. To think similar outcomes couldn’t happen here is a naïve disservice to all those who deserve a life free from racism, xenophobia and prejudice. Which is to say…everyone.