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Banning so-called bigots from our shores lays waste to freedom of speech

By John Slater - posted Wednesday, 28 October 2015


It would truly be a shame if Australia became a place where your opinion on a controversial subject could disqualify you from entering the country. Yet the recent denial of visas to pro-life advocate Troy Newman and rapper Tyler the Creator along with hard fought attempts to ban Dutch MP Geert Wilders suggests this is less of an Orwellian musing than it is our new reality.

These chronically outraged wowsers who spend their days pressuring our immigration system to stop pro life activists, critics of Islam and degenerate rappers sound reasonable enough at first. But when you dig a little deeper, it can be tricky to see where the intolerance starts and ends.

Long time free speech pessimist Penny Wong remonstrated that "Mr Newman's public comments go well beyond what would be regarded as acceptable debate in this country." By exceeding the limits of 'acceptable debate,' one can only presume Wong meant that Newman challenges the feminist credo that to be pro life is to necessarily be a bigoted misogynist.

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Similarly, Perth based Iman Yahya Ibrahim seems to think that Geert Wilders, an outspoken critic of Islam, could seriously inflame fickle racial tensions. He implored the government to deter "Anything that is going to be divisive, split people up, on any lines," lest a couple of speeches upend the social fabric of Australia's multicultural society. To be sure, Ibrahim knows what he's talking about. Having previously called Jewish people "apes and monkeys" this impetuous Iman seems to know firsthand the risks of giving people with strong opinions a platform to speak freely.

The feminist razor gang over at Collective Shout used a little more melodrama in their attack, asking how "as a nation trying to fight against violence, which in 2015 is claiming the lives of two women EVERY week, how can we allow someone like Tyler the Creator in our country?" It's a good thing we have people like the moral guardians of Collective Shout to ensure Australia's consumption of popular music befits that of a right-minded, upstanding society. I mean, how else were we meant to know that the character of the musicians who tour Australia could be such a grim portent for how seriously we take the scourge of violence against women?

Predictably enough, the feminists, the Imans and the Labor Party moralisers have each framed their argument as being over the public good, not freedom of expression. And can you bet that if you asked them, they would all say they believed in free speech, but within 'limits' or some other mealy mouthed caveat.

Yet as defenders of free speech from Voltaire right through to Andrew Bolt have stressed time and again, the right to express views that are agreeable, innocuous or nondescript needs no defending. It is only opinions that elicit revulsion, ideas that provoke our most raw sensitivities where the question of free speech comes into play.

At this point we should dispense with a few misconceptions. Troy Newman has never advocated violence against abortionists. Rather, he has said that abortion is murder and that murderers should be subject to capital punishment. Extreme? Perhaps. But there's a difference between believing the law should be changed and rallying for vigilante justice.

Like many artists, including rock stars, poets and novelists, Tyler the Creator has written disparagingly about women in the context of his work. Unlike tens of thousands of Australians however, he has never been arrested for any act of violence towards anyone, including a female for that matter. It's also worth noting that since Tyler's songs have never been banned under Australia's classification system, they are perfectly legal despite their vulgarity.

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So let's be clear, banning someone from Australia because they make a living performing depraved two-bit rap songs or because they believe in no uncertain terms that life begins at conception is very much about free speech. Isn't it also a matter of keeping the public peace? Perhaps. But only to the extent that you think Australians are so dim witted and febrile that a few lone preachers of unsavoury ideas would be enough to turn us into a country of islamophobic, women-bashing Neanderthals.

Do we think that people are so brittle that they need to be cosseted from ideas that they might find confronting or offensive? Is social cohesion in Australia really so fragile that a lone preacher could upset the applecart badly enough to send race relations into a national tailspin? Are we really so puerile, indeed do we think women are so sensitive that we need to shield them from a perspective on abortion that challenges feminisms pro-choice orthodoxy?

Those campaigning to see Newman, Gilders and Tyler banished from Australia profess the noblest of intentions. But the assumptions that lie behind those intentions are at once paternalistic and condescending. They fundamentally don't trust Australians to reach sensible conclusions on controversial issues. And why would they? If they did, what need would we have for a professionally outraged class of moral guardians to stop undesirables from setting foot on our shores?

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About the Author

John Slater is the Executive Director of the H R Nicholls Society.

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