Sanity Prevails… But Is It At The Cost Of Free Speech?

Alt-right activist Laura Southern has been barred from speaking at Auckland City venues in a move PAT PILCHER applauds. But ALASDAIR THOMPSON argues its censorship – and that ain’t good. Both sides lay out their arguments in a Witchdoctor exclusive.

PAT PILCHER Says: Sanity Prevails…

Fun fact. Today two years ago, I visited Auschwitz. Five years ago, I visited Hiroshima. They were very much on my mind as I watched the Twitter-sphere erupt into yet another ideological based shit-slinging session. This time, social media pyrotechnics were happening after Auckland Mayor Phil Goff weighed into what was to be an ‘alt-right’ event held in Auckland.

Controversial Canadian activist, Laura Southern was to speak at Auckland’s Bruce Mason Centre in August, and many felt that her speech could prove divisive and fuel hatred towards ethnic and religious minorities in New Zealand.

Southern has worked as a journalist for several alt-right media outlets and nowadays she publishes videos on YouTube. She was banned from the UK after showing flyers that read “Allah is a Gay God” and “Allah is trans”. She claimed that the flyers were a publicity stunt aimed at highlighting homophobia in Islam, yet at other speaking events she has promoted what many say are racist and divisive perspectives.

At one event, she asked the audience if they thought Australia will continue to be a “victim of multiculturalism”. She has also been quoted as saying “Do you want to retain your culture? Do you want to retain your borders? Family? Identity? Or will the boats keep coming?”.

With Southern set to speak in New Zealand, feelings ran high. Online flames were further fanned as Goff said Southern was not welcome to speak at any Auckland Council venues.

Goff was quoted by Newshub as saying: “I just think we’ve got no obligation at all – in a city that’s multicultural, inclusive, embraces people of all faiths and ethnicities – to provide a venue for hate speech by people that want to abuse and insult others, either their faith or their ethnicity… These individuals who want to incite hatred against others are, in my view, not welcome here,”

Goff’s barring of Southern from any council venues, saw Auckland Live quickly descend into a political bun-fight. Like sharks detecting blood in the water, politicians sensing political capital could be gained got busy.

Judith Collins chimed in saying, “No idea how Phil Goff has the authority to ban free speech.”

In typical Collins fashion, Judith wasn’t letting the facts or possible outcomes get in the way of giving her followers what they wanted to hear. The reality is that neither Goff nor anyone has banned Southern from speaking. Even though her hate-based rhetoric may, in fact, run afoul of the Human Rights Act, she is still free to spew forth her hate. Perhaps Collins knew this, but it didn’t matter. The online fracas was well underway, with some saying that this was censorship while others opined that perhaps that it wasn’t.

Here’s the thing: it is one of the ironies of living in a tolerant multi-cultural, diverse society like New Zealand that intolerance should never be tolerated. Prejudice destroys tolerance. History is filled with examples of this  – just look at 1938 Berlin if you have any doubts.

A particularly wise friend commented on the issue, saying that, “it should be social, not legal, pressure brought to bear. We need to make sure we don’t tolerate intolerance. That’s the burden of the tolerant society”. To which I add: ‘Damn straight!’

To be entirely clear, this is not a political issue. It is a moral and social issue, regardless of what politicians and their followers may say.

I congratulate Goff for taking a stand. This is what separates New Zealand from other less enlightened nations. Auschwitz and similar atrocities happened because of apathy and ignorance. No one with enough clout stood up when they could and stopped it. The flames of irrational race and religious hatred ignited a bonfire of fascism that ultimately led to the detonation of the world’s first atomic weapon used in war in Hiroshima. This cannot and should never be allowed to spark back into existence again.

Thankfully, sanity prevailed and in the end, the situation ended not with a bang but a whimper. The Auckland Live event was cancelled with promoters citing “security concerns” around the “health and safety” of presenters, staff and patrons. Thank goodness for that.

ALASDAIR THOMPSON Replies: Free Speech And Debate Is A Human Right

Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, who most of us have probably never heard of, apparently hold obnoxious views on immigrants, gender and feminism. They were booked to speak at the council-owned Bruce Mason Centre in Takapuna.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff put paid to that last week, announcing the pair would not be allowed to speak at publicly funded venues and citing their propensity to ‘stir up ethnic or religious tensions’. Under what authority the mayor acted is unclear and some are now questioning if he overstepped the law.

Twitter and Facebook went ballistic.

Most supported the mayor’s action and referred to Southern and Molyneux’s patent ‘bigotry’.

No one seemed to defend the pair’s views but many defended their right to express them and they even got challenged for that.

Of course the mayor had not taken the right to free speech away from Southern and Molineux. They theoretically may have been able to book another private venue.

However, Southern’s right to free speech in New Zealand was denied her by the Government as she was not granted a visa to enter the country.

David Pellowe of Axiomatic Events then cancelled the visit to New Zealand and the booking at the Bruce Mason Centre.

Human rights criminal lawyer, Craig Tuck, says the pair should have been able to come to New Zealand. ‘This sort of discussion is alive whether we like it or not’, he said.

Tuck acknowledges that ‘they’re individually racist but that doesn’t mean we should ban them’.

After all, free speech and debate is a human right? Right?

Freedom of speech is a democratic ideal that dates back to ancient Greece. It is enshrined in the United States of America’s First Amendment to its constitution. It is provided for in laws of all democracies.

But, as in all democracies, some limits are placed on free speech. Typically these include obscene, plagiarised, libellous, threatening speech or speech inciting illegality.

What about hate speech? And what exactly is hate speech?

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 gives everyone the right of freedom of expression, but hate speech is prohibited under section 61 of the Human Rights Act. However, there remains no clear definition of what constitutes hate speech. Examples can be given or proffered but the precise legal definition is unclear.

Southern was also denied entry to the United Kingdom in March 2018 and this week was denied a visa for Australia, where she was also due to speak. In 2017 she was detained by the Italian coastguard for hampering the rescue of refugees in the Mediterranean Sea.

Molyneux has allegedly claimed that IQ is tied to race and that women are to blame for violent men due to traumatic childhood experiences.

Perhaps it is no wonder that Marama Davidson, MP, co-leader of the Greens, took to Facebook in support of Goff’s decision.

Davidson has since retrieved a deleted response she got to her Facebook post in which she says she was threatened with rape or death including threats against her children. She says she will give the threatening Facebook post to the police.

Why anyone would want to go and hear Southern and Molyneux is moot but free speech is important. It is one way that bigots identify themselves and we get to know who they are. It gives us the chance to challenge their bigotry.

Social media abuse can vary from mild to extreme. There are many bad mannered, foul mouthed, angry, bitter, bigoted, intolerant or highly judgemental people tweeting.

Some politically motivated people were peeved at all the nice free publicity Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern got for being only the second national leader in modern history to become pregnant and give birth to her baby girl while in office. Their negative tweets did little for their political cause. But their right and everyone’s right to free speech must be protected.

3 Comments

  1. She’s a hate preacher even if she is a cute 23yo holding guns and can get a lot of attention. But hate is hate. She can stay home. Thanks.

  2. Free speech is necessary for a robust and healthy civil society. It doesn’t mean ‘free speech for everything I agree with’ but ‘free speech for everyone’.
    The implications of Phil Goff’s mayoral ‘ban’ is far-reaching and suggests flawed decision-making within our civic leadership. As a western democracy, we already have laws that limit excesses in this area and Alasdair highlights these well in his article; To repeat; Libel. Slander, False advertising and Directly inciting specific violence are all prohibited under law.
    When opinions are silenced, then I am deprived of the right to hear, consider and decide if a person’s argument has any validity. I certainly do not trust any politician to do this on my behalf thanks!

  3. Rodney Fletcher

    Pat Pilcher has the better argument.

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