Presland: On Freedom of Speech and Tolerance and Powers of Surveillance

I don’t always see things the same as Greg Presland but he has a very good post at The Standard: On Freedom of Speech and Tolerance and Powers of Surveillance

I was shocked to wake up and read about the killing of staff at Charlie Hebdo and also the killing of two police officers, one of who, Ahmed Merabet, was reportedly of Muslim background.

We should suspend full judgment on what has happened until we have more facts.  Leaping to judgment has previously been shown to be a mistake.  Early speculation about the Sydney Siege was shown to be incorrect, not to mention damaging.

The report from one of the survivors suggests that the killers may have been French born adherents of the Muslim faith and Charlie Hebdo’s caricatures of the prophet Mohammed was clearly the cause of the attack which appears to have been well planned.  There are reports that the attackers claimed to be from Al-Qaeda in Yemen.  Suspects have been identified.

It is not as if acts of terrorism are unknown, it is just that acts of terrorism involving Muslims appear to receive extra coverage.  For instance the recent firebombing of NAACP offices in Colorado received little local coverage although admittedly no one was killed.  The killing of seven journalists during the recent Israeli attacks on Palestine received little coverage.  But any “Muslim” involvement seems to make the event that much more newsworthy.

There are three implications for our society from these events:

  1. Loss of Freedom of speech
  2. A break down of tolerance
  3. A push by the State to further increase the powers of surveillance.

As to the first there will be a chilling effect on the media.  But we need to protect their right to publish information, even upsetting information.  Satire has to be at the front of the list of what needs to be protected.

And murder is never an acceptable response to taking offence.

Some have suggested there should be a mass publishing of the offending cartoons.  But I do not know why.  I agree with Stephanie Rodgers that in terms of quality they are poor.  And why exercise the right of free speech just to offend?  While we should have the utmost right to say something this does not mean that we should use it to intentionally upset.

That’s a very good point that I agree with. I don’t like some of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, I think they get too offensive and provocative (and I don’t understand much about the French context). But they have a right to publish them as I have a choice to support the right but not republish their cartoons.

The “break down of tolerance” has been happening for a while.  Attacks by the extremist fringe of a particular society are said to be justification for condemning that society as a whole.  This is as nutty as blaming Christianity for the actions of the Klu Klux Klan.  But if we allow tolerance to break down then the terrorists are winning.  The best thing we can do is reach out to the various Muslim Communities to show that all we have interesting cultural differences there is so much that we share in common.

Accepting differences and promoting the good in different cultures and religions (and non-religion) is important, and far less dangerous than intolerance, abuse and provocation.

Finally, as for increased surveillance it is a given that the governments’ particularly the right wing varieties, will use this event to push for even further powers of surveillance.  But the question whether increased powers will ever improve things, let alone justify the loss of personal freedom, is never properly answered during these bouts of power grabbing.  After all the actions of a lone gunman in Sydney who pretty well published his nuttiness to the world via Facebook were not stopped.  Allowing even further powers of intrusion into our lives will help how?

That’s a very good question that we need to keep examining. We can never be 100% secure, nor 100% private. Finding a reasonable and reelatively safe balance will be an ongoing challenge.

Leave a comment


  1. Ian McKinnon

     /  9th January 2015

    Birds of a feather . . . Yeh right!

  2. kiwi_guy

     /  9th January 2015

    “far less dangerous than intolerance, abuse and provocation.”

    PG, now you are blaming the victims, maybe hanging out at the Labour Party online propaganda rag The Standard too much?

  3. FarmerPete

     /  9th January 2015

    Well Pete, I wouldn’t rate it as good. As usual with Presland he is not even handed with his analysis, and their are quite a few not so subtle sophistries in their.
    Just to pick up on a few points. firstly his analysis of of the implications for our society are quite limited. He forgot to include other outcomes (surprise!) such as further radicalisation of muslims, increased terror attacks, and further erosion of the our civil liberties such as travel restrictions. In other words loss of the way of life we have come tho cherish in our own country.
    Secondly, I was raised a catholic so I appreciate how difficult it is to identify say an IRA activist from the normal catholic population. But great pressure was put on the Catholic church to clearly separate itself from the IRA and rightly in my view. So I am not too sold on the idea that we should show increasing tolerance to the muslim community in general. I sympathise with their plight, and I accept them as friends and neighbours, but I feel the pressure should be ratcheted up on Muslim leaders to clearly distance themselves from the radical element in their midst, and too restrict the access of radical clerics to the youth. We protect young people from all sorts of hazards so why not from political extremists as well?
    I generally agree with your reluctance to publish offensive material, and I found the whole Christ and urine business very distasteful, but this is an actual physical attack on fundamental freedoms. Don’t muslims enjoy the unfettered right to publish anything no matter how objectionable about other religions? On this basis alone and so that reprisals against news organisations can be limited in the future I do favour mass publishing of the material so that every citizen can see it for themselves. It is not a case of exorcising free speech to offend but of clearly protecting the rights of free speech.
    It interests me to see what Greg Presland describes as a terrorist attack. I don’t know the details of the NAACP attack but on the surface this would appear to be a racially motivated crime and not a terrorist attack. equally, I would not describe collateral casualties (not matter how horrible) in response to initial tourist attacks as terrorism. And at the same time he describes the Sydney attack as not being terrorism. He can’t have it both ways.
    Just my thoughts on the matter.

    • FarmerPete

       /  9th January 2015

      Bugger! Pete an edit capability would be great. Auto correct has change terrorist to ‘tourist’ above.

  4. paul468

     /  10th January 2015

    We need to stop religious extremists from immigrating here. We need profiling before entry with a change of position to “NO unless” rather than “YES but”

  5. Brown

     /  10th January 2015

    No Pete you twit. The problem is Islam. Anglicans are not going around shooting people. Why can’t you see that?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: