The raging Free Speech debate
Over the last few weeks New Zealand got obsessed with the issue of “Free Speech”. It was triggered by some obnoxious Canadian alt-right racists. Nobody outside the far-right scene had ever heard of them before. It is bizarre how much exposure they got with their business model of provocation and controversy (just watch recent YouTube clip from Australia). It worked like a charm.
Of course they need opponents the louder the better. These were mostly supplied by the anti-racist anti-fascist “Left”. To fuel the controversy there are right-wing supporters styling themselves as the defenders of Free Speech plus the media.
Guy Body’s view NZ Herald 13.8.2018
The debate should have been about the acceptability of deliberately hateful and hurtful speech against indigenous people and racial and religious minorities. Instead it was skillfully turned into a debate over the sacred Principle of “Free Speech”.
None put the case more pointedly than Voltaire when he said: “I wholly disapprove of what you say—and will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Who would dare to question that ? The debate got very heated even between friends as I can personally attest to.
As to be expected the “Right” was almost united in support of these racist provocateurs. As also to be expected the “Left” was fighting among themselves. The one prominent left-wing member of the instantly formed Free Speech Coalition lamented in his blog “How The New Zealand Left Transformed Southern And Molyneux (the Canadian white supremacists) From Unknown Rightists Into Free Speech Heroes.” To late. He was labelled an “useful idiot” in another left-wing publication for joining the Coalition as the “representative” of the principled Left.
I must admit that initially I was ambivalent on the speaking rights of these Canadian shit stirrers. Who could disagree with the principle of free speech not only for those we agree with.
But then I listened to one right-wing speaker for the Free Speech Coalition on the radio who showed his colours by not only defending their right to speak but defending some of their positions. This same male white upper middle class Christian ex-MP New Zealand lawyer in a TV debate had to listen to an articulate brown Muslim New Zealand woman describing the insults and hurt inflicted upon them by such speech, which had to stop. His response left me gob-smacked. He felt “threatened” by her (views). That tipped the balance. What I had suspected from the outset hearing the names of the main protagonists of that coalition was confirmed. I as a supporter of the principle would not want to be associated with that group in any way. They smell to much like their white supremacists Canadians brethren.
Free Speech vs Hate Speech
The real issue we should be focusing on is Hate Speech. The Free Speech purists have a big problem with its definition. Let me try to help without quoting New Zealand statutes.
Free Speech (first amendment 1791 : Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . .) is the holy cow of the US constitution. Many Americans believe that not some old wise men of the late 18th century have written their constitution but is was given to them by God and is therefore sacrosanct. The wise men would turn in their graves if they knew what the Supreme Court would make out of Free Speech like the right of corporations to spend unlimited amount on politicians and buying elections. So anything goes and nothing will change.
Germany is the only country, which had to and did learn from her dark history. It is a crime to deny the Holocaust. The German judiciary doesn’t muck around. Recently the German Constitutional Court (equivalent to the US Supreme Court) decided that Holocaust denying was not covered by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression. The 89 year old woman is serving a two year prison term for repeatedly saying “that the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi occupied Poland was just a work camp”. The court found that knowingly spreading proven falsehoods “cannot contribute to forming opinions and as such is not covered by the freedom of opinion”. It found that denying the Nazi genocide constitutes “disturbing the public peace”.
People inciting racial, religious, xenophobic prejudice and hatred with the intend to destroy our liberal multicultural democratic society do not deserve the free speech protection liberal democratic societies are built on. They might not be put in jail as a matter of course but they definitely must not be given a venue and stage owned by the citizens of New Zealand in this case an Auckland Council owned theatre.
Former Australian Human Rights Commissioner Prof Gillian Triggs told of a successful prosecution under the Australian Racial Discrimination Act of a notorious journalist over his articles about “Fair Skinned Aboriginal Australians”. The court found that the journalist had no freedom of expression defence because he had his facts wrong and was acting in “bad faith”.
In summery : If you deliberately hurt people, incite prejudice and hatred based on lies you are acting in bad faith and don’t deserve the protection of the law. That is Abuse of Free Speech.
Dr Hans B. Grueber
PS : A friend familiar with the fact that in some jurisdictions Holocaust denying is criminal offence asked me an impossible but nevertheless interesting question :
Imagine 20 years ago when the evidence had become undeniable Climate Change denying would have been made a crime. What would the world look like now ? Would we all use public transport or drive electric cars ? Would we have preserved the rainforest ? Less drought in Australia ? Less wildfires all over the world ? Less wild weather events and floods ? No climate refugees from Africa perishing in the Mediterranean Sea ?
Just imagine !