Free speech and hatemongers

There have been attempts to attack and diminish free speech here by hatemongers in the past, and some individuals try at times to shout/shut down speech the don’t like or disagree with, but that’s not what this is about, it’s about free speech generally (but comes back to being relevant to here).

The Listener: How to deal with New Zealand’s racist hatemongers

It’s tempting to be relaxed about the issue of hate speech in this country, when the sort of racist extremists who are a scourge internationally can muster only a half-dozen miserable specimens for a protest at Parliament.

Our so-called National Front may be risible. But the same weekend its feeble protest was drowned out by anti-racism demonstrators…

This raised questions about whether drowning out and driving away people who had a legal right to conduct a protest is a reasonable response. Free speech should provide a capability to speak in opposition, not to shut others up.

…Iranian Embassy first secretary Hormoz Ghahremani was reported as giving an inflammatory anti-Israel address at a mosque meeting at which others called for the annihilation of Israel and denied the Holocaust.

It is hard to be relaxed about this. The meeting in Auckland was intended to remain private; an unsanctioned YouTube posting was subsequently deplored by the speakers. But it’s not the first time hate speech has been outed in our Muslim community, and the tenor of these comments is always a gut-punch to the New Zealand ethos. We are not immune to the many varieties of racist extremism that cause so much tragedy abroad.

Like moon-landing deniers, anti-Semites ballast their hate speech with allegations that, although they cannot withstand factual scrutiny, are nevertheless readily believed by a rump of society.

You can’t force people to believe in things or not believe in things.

It’s tempting to ban or deport such hatemongers, but that would only strengthen their followers’ conviction that they’re martyred messiahs. More importantly, the suppression of views, however noxious, compromises democratic freedom. Freedom of speech should have as few exceptions as possible. Unless someone actively incites violence or acts of hatred, society is better off hearing their views than not. Inflammatory speech can radicalise people, but at least if we all know about it, we can counter it.

The mosque speakers must now be left in no doubt that an overwhelming majority of New Zealanders deplore their views and would oppose any enactment of them.

I hope an overwhelming majority of New Zealanders deplore their views, and the views of the National Front, but there is a danger in assuming that an overwhelming majority agrees with your own views like this.

Chillingly, Trump now attacks the principle of free speech for others when he demands African-American NFL players be fired for exercising their right to protest during the national anthem.

Trump didn’t just attack their right to speak and protest, he tried to inflict financial damage on sports franchises that didn’t ban protests as he demanded. Deplorable from a president.

Increasingly, overseas universities are the testing grounds for the boundaries between free speech and hate speech. Controversial speakers are typically vetoed by student or faculty activists, or rendered silent by bellicose protest and logistical disruption.

Apart from minor examples we fortunately don’t seem to have much of a problem with this sort of thing here in New Zealand – yet.

It’s perhaps grounding to return to the summation of Voltaire’s philosophy by his biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Let’s vigorously, loudly and unfailingly deplore hate-speakers – but let’s also accept that banning or over-shouting them will not silence them, let alone change their views. Only free speech, goodwill and truth can do that.

People we disagree with, and whose speech we may deplore, shouldn’t be silenced – any tend not to have their minds changed much either.

But free speech – not unfettered free speech, but free speech that doesn’t compromise free speech, is an important principle to abide by.

This is why one of the primary reasons for moderation here, to protect free speech from those who try to shut up and drive people away by attacking them personally.

I also like to discourage attacking many for the speech or actions of a few (and sometimes just one).

Free speech works two ways – if you want it you also have to allow it for others, even if you don’t like what they say. Personal attacks can be attacks on free speech – and they leave what is disagreed on unresolved.

The most effective response is to debate what you disagree with, armed with facts and reasonableness.

By all means hate what they may say, and argue strongly against it, but don’t hate people you don’t know.

27 Comments

  1. Corky

     /  November 4, 2017

    ”The most effective response is to debate what you disagree with, armed with facts and ‘reasonableness.’

    That’s always been my aim. Admittedly, like many bloggers, sometimes I fail muster.But it’s a simple matter to see who is trying to proffer a debate, and who is trolling.

    Where I disagree with majority consensus, is I don’t have a problem with hate speech. Hate speech allows you to identify subversive elements in society. The problem is people find it hard not to have an emotional response to hate speech. That gives it power. Ignoring it takes that power away. That leaves hate speech proponents with only one option that’s also an emotional response, and that’s to physically act against the target of their hate. That’s when society should crush haters out of existence.

    Society doesn’t do that though. In fact society has a mish mash response to hate speech.

    • Gezza

       /  November 4, 2017

      The problem is people find it hard not to have an emotional response to hate speech. That gives it power. Ignoring it takes that power away. That leaves hate speech proponents with only one option that’s also an emotional response, and that’s to physically act against the target of their hate. That’s when society should crush haters out of existence.

      While initially I thought this was a good argument – and in some ways it is – when the hater group is tiny – (why give them oxygen?) – surely the Nazis are a classic example of where it might have been better to shut them down as soon as they started with the hate speech?

      • alloytoo

         /  November 4, 2017

        Nazi’s are classic example of socialists shutting down free speech.

        • Free speech is the ideal, but how far should it go ? What about incitement to hate crimes ? It can be argued that people don’t have to respond to the incitement, of course.

          What if someone here (and none of the regulars would, I know) said that they’d like to do all sorts of sex things to Jacinda Ardern or some other famous person and went into graphic detail ? They haven’t said that they intend to, just that they’d like to. Is that free speech as it would be if I said that I think that JA is a useless PM ?

          • patupaiarehe

             /  November 4, 2017

            What if someone here (and none of the regulars would, I know) said that they’d like to do all sorts of sex things to Jacinda Ardern or some other famous person and went into graphic detail ? They haven’t said that they intend to, just that they’d like to. Is that free speech as it would be if I said that I think that JA is a useless PM

            The great thing about this ‘little community’ that we are a part of Kitty, is that someone could say that here, but would get a ‘slap’, even before Pete removed their comment.

            • It was a serious question; how far does one take freedom of speech ? I would find it utterly abhorrent if anyone DID say anything disgusting like what they would LIKE to do to someone, but is their right to say it greater than mine not to hear it (or read it, of course) ?

            • patupaiarehe

               /  November 4, 2017

              Their right to say it doesn’t outweigh your right to be offended by it.You both have equal rights to your own opinions.

            • I hope that this one will never be put to the test !!!

        • Gezza

           /  November 4, 2017

          They were self-described National-Socialsts, but in fact they weren’t socialist at all. It was a straight out alt right / far right right wing white supremacist dictatorship where everybody in the chain of command from top to the civilians at the bottom owed blind allegiance to the Führer at the top & any intermediate leaders immediately above them – & they hated communists & socialists and any other form of political system apart from fascism with a vengeance. They operated economically by co-opting, & then, where necessary, coercing big & small business.

  2. Blazer

     /  November 4, 2017

    So long as people remember never to mention Jews or Israel in less than a complimentary light,things should be…O.K.

    • Corky

       /  November 4, 2017

      Sadly, probably over half the globe ain’t hearing you, Blazer.

    • alloytoo

       /  November 4, 2017

      You can say what you like about Israel, just don’t whine if your factual if accuracies are challenged.

    • Trevors_elbow

       /  November 4, 2017

      Attack Israel or Zionist Blazer and I’m sure many wont object… attacking Jews is a different kettle of fish altogether

  3. David

     /  November 4, 2017

    Having a right to free speech was not under attack from Trump but the NFL players should do it on their own time, no one has the free speech right to rock in to work, down tools and start protesting about this that and the next thing, do it on your own time.

    • So Trump should only protest in his own time and not on the job?

      • David

         /  November 4, 2017

        Absolutely, if Trump took a knee during the bugle playing at Arlington Cemetery to protest at the appointment of a special counsel he should be called out on it and I would suggest many would call for him to be fired for doing so.

        • But he IS trying to rule the justice system and expressing rage that he can’t. Just what sort of power does he think that a president should have ? Total control ?

          • David

             /  November 4, 2017

            America has a constitution, to change an article in that constitution is near impossible and Trump gets it, expressing frustration is perfectly just when you are being persued based on false allegations from your opponent on things they are brazenly doing themselves.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  November 4, 2017

              He seems to think that he should be able to do what he wants-from what he says. Why is he expressing rage and surprise that as the president he can’t have anything to do with justice or the FBI ?