The age of entitlement is not over, it is alive and well, kicking and screaming its way through our nation’s universities. When students from Socialist Alternative shut down the ABC’s Q&A there was little concern from the panel. The token comedian on the program Mark Trevorrow stated he was thrilled with the protest, while panellist and human rights lawyer Pallavi Sinha paid homage to the nuisance adding, “the youth are our future.”
Perhaps this protest was little more than a harmless irritant. However, emboldened by the naive approval from more reasonable minds, radicals have upped the ante. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop found herself jostled and shoved by angry students at Sydney University. Days later, former Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella found herself in a similar situation at Melbourne University, as members of Socialist Alternative and the Melbourne University Education Collective attempted to rush and violently grab her. This was a somewhat bizarre follow up, considering Mirabella is no longer an elected official, and therefore her input into the Liberal Party’s recent budget was roughly proportionate to that of Bill Shorten.
Last Thursday they were again out in force at Sydney University. This time the crowd attempted to violently break into a private Liberal party event which Education Minister Christopher Pyne was attending.
The typical retort against criticisms of such behaviour is that individuals have a right to protest, and by definition this is necessarily disruptive. This is true, and protest can be a valuable means of instigating social change, and can involve disruptive activity. However disruption and violence are fundamentally distinct. We recently saw what peaceful protest should be, as eight religious leaders protested against the government’s asylum seeker policies, through staging a sit-in at the Prime Minister’s electoral office. The scenes surrounding Bishop and Mirabella are no example peaceful protest or civil disobedience. This was a mob. Angry, violent, and intent on making a display of physical force.
Socialist Alternative’s Ridah Hassan offered words of defiance to these accusations the mob assaulted Julie Bishop, stating “she got what she deserved.” Curiously, Hassan followed this statement by declaring “we deserve an apology.” Such words are instructive of the hysterical unreasonableness on the extreme left, in that they can simultaneously behave egregiously, yet feel aggrieved.
The protests against Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop reportedly involved less than thirty individuals, many of them the same familiar faces. The protests are pitifully small and reveal the individuals involved for what they are, extremist radicals who do not represent the views of their fellow students. Calling for the “revolutionary overthrow of capitalism,” the Socialist Alternative is no mainstream student organisation. They are the fringe on the edge of a fringe. To compensate their small numbers, violence and intimidation are used to amplify the message.
Of course these kinds of angry protest are not exclusive to the far left. The largely conservative protests against the carbon tax spring to mind. Yet even amid the deeply personal and offensive placards attacking then Prime Minister Julia Gillard, there was no threat of physical violence.
This new wave of protests indicates the game has changed. With only weasel words of criticism, the aggressive protests proceed undaunted. The result is that these extreme organisations have been given political oxygen previously unimaginable. Now the Socialist Alternative’s Hassan and others are invited onto the ABC and Sky News for interviews to criticise the government, ostensibly legitimising the group’s behaviour. Granted, Labor’s education spokeswoman Kate Ellis has condemned the attacks as “absolutely inappropriate,” and she should be commended for doing so. However overall, the criticism has been largely muted.
Perhaps these demonstrations reflect the totalitarian inclinations of the far left, and its intolerance of dissenting views. More likely however, is that beneath the visceral anger of the professionally outraged, there lies a deep uneasiness with their own position. Extremism in political discourse frequently conceives issues within a simplistic black and white dichotomy. “No cuts, no fees, no corporate universities!” The words of the Socialist Alternative hammer away like drum beats in the night. The complexity of issues such as maintaining economic growth, falling terms of trade, and a growing budget deficit introduce shades of grey into their simplistic paradigm.
There is a woeful incapacity to see ideas from an alternative point of view, or express counter-arguments without resorting to demagoguery. “Politicians who hate ordinary people! Politicians who hate students...they hate everyone!” screamed Hassan to her frenzied fellow students, as they prepared to confront Julie Bishop. What is striking is not the words themselves. It is the inability for a group of highly educated students to conceive that an alternative position to their own could be held. It is a mindset heavy with the arrogance of youth, and thick with groupthink and ego-centrism.
Reason, it seems, has no place here. Primacy is afforded to emotion, because in the world of extremist ideologies, emotion is power. Here, political beliefs are seen in simplistic moral terms, and thus their opponents are not merely holding an alternative position, they are evil. An opponent demonised and caricatured is easier to oppose, and confers on fringe groups an enjoyable if superficial sense of moral superiority. In confronting this imagined evil, the ends justify the means, hence the casual acceptance of violence against women in politics.
The manner with which the recent protests have been delivered, share no comparison with the concept of peaceful demonstration. Physically attacking members of public office is not democratic. It is a bastardised form of political discourse. It should be objected to. It should be condemned. In the most uncompromising language, and in no uncertain terms.
The right to free speech, association and protest are woven into the very fabric of our democracy. We should never cower in fear of our leaders, or blindly accept the perceived wisdom of government. However our dissent must be done in an appropriate manner, lest we become an evil greater than that which we oppose.