Shut your mouth you’re committing an offence in the UK
This is hardly a satisfactory state of affairs, showing, yet again, that the Sceptred Isle can hardly be counted as an impregnable bastion of free speech and public dissent. “If people are not allowed to quietly, if offensively, protest against the proclamation of a king,” reflects O’Neill, “then clearly our country is not as free as we thought.”
Twitter, the platform was quickly dominated by a global outpouring of both grief and glee, a heated mixture of paeans to the queen’s 70-year tenure and angry denunciations of the British monarchy’s legacy of colonial violence and exploitation. Among the latter was Carnegie Mellon’s Uju Anya, an associate professor of second language acquisition. “I heard the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating,” Anya tweeted.
The Murdoch’s claim to be major supporters of “free speech” but only as long as it’s not directed at them it seems. Their company Fox News has never shown it was strongly critical of what occurred that day. In fact they have shown to be major supporters and in no way apologists for what had occurred. Stronger criticism of Fox News was certainly provided by much of American media and in stronger terms but they took no action. Why is Australia the place they are taking their Godzilla like legal stand?
Lachlan Murdoch has threatened online news website Crikey with legal action over an article that suggested he and his media mogul father Rupert Murdoch were responsible for the riots at the US Capitol in January.
Is it hypocritical to write an op-ed about my hatred of op-eds and how they are an outdated medium? Probably, but fuck it, hear me out, and I’ll explain why “I hate free speech in the marketplace of ideas.”
Hundreds of journalists killed or arrested, rising numbers of female media workers targeted, floods of misinformation and hate speech and ineffectual or hostile governments unable or unwilling to protect the public’s right to know. The 2021 press freedom index released recently by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) makes for grim reading. The report reveals that 488 journalists were detained in 2021 – an increase of 20% compared to the previous year – while a total of 46 were killed and 65 held hostage. Of those detained, 60 were women (33% higher than 2020). As you might expect, it tends to be autocratic regimes with dismal records for freedom of speech and human rights which crop up once again as the worst offenders.
Knowing the real history of the U.S., is essential to advancing the struggles of today to achieve a more just society for all the multi-racial, multi-ethnic people who live in a nation becoming more diverse every day. It undermines the rationalizations for suppressing the rights to vote and protest, and for protecting political and economic power for an entrenched white and corporate elite that continues to profit off structural racism today.
Last year public servant Josh Krook wrote a blog post in which he argued that Covid-19 benefitted big tech because forced social isolation would drive people to online platforms. He worked for the Commonwealth Industry Department that deals extensively with tech companies; he was fired because he refused to delete the post. This follows the firing of Immigration Department employee Michaela Banerji, who was dismissed over a series of Tweets, among other things, that were critical of Australia’s treatment of refugees. Banerji made 9,000 posts, mostly sent from her personal device outside of work hours. The High Court ruled Banerji’s dismissal was warranted because she had breached the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct which stipulates that public servants must act impartially and are prohibited from engaging in any forms of “harassment”. The 2019 High Court ruling (Comcare v Banerji) effectively said public servants could be sacked for comments they make on social media. And then we come to Geoff Philip Wade, a public servant employed by the Department of Parliamentary Services. Wade, who works as a researcher in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library, is one of Australia’s most prolific anti-China Twitter users. Wade has made 42,000 posts, nearly five times that of Banerji, a great number of which appear to have been sent from inside Parliament House. Often during his “working day” he will send out Tweets every five or 10 minutes. He has published photos, phone numbers and personal email addresses of people whose only crime is being Chinese or advancing views contrary to his own. The Department of Parliamentary Services refused to answer questions about Wade’s use of social media during taxpayer-funded work hours. A spokesperson cited “privacy considerations”.
Yet when we consider this news only a little, it does not bode well. To use the words of high-profile whistle-blower and current member of Parliament, Andrew Wilkie said four years ago, Australia is currently in a ‘pre-police state’. That sense has only grown over the years and now it is at decibels we have not heard. At the very least, it suggests an attack on the right to free speech, which we take for granted here. The Australian government today is instituting a regime that inhibits free speech through police intimidation, big money donation, and insidious legislation. The AFP going through underwear drawers? Dinners for $10,000 a head? Passing hate speech laws when no-one is looking? These actions represent a government emboldened and radicalised. It is changing our very discourse and threatens our democracy just as Hong Kong loses its independence, just like Kashmiri citizens are blinded, and all while the Brazil forest is burning. This is a free speech issue, and, it is fits with the global trend.
To realise his true goals, Cottrell never needed a conviction overturned. He needs the people to quite literally tear down any court system that would issue that kind of conviction in the first place. And then, to erect an authoritarian state construct in its place.
Cottrell’s star has waned but he is a persistent and nagging presence who still possesses a talent for grabbing the headlines, so it’s important we remember exactly what he is. Ignore the ongoing “freedom of speech” charade entirely.
Heed instead the words of the man that threatened:
The first thing whistleblowers learn upon blowing the whistle is that speech is not really free. Freedom of speech depends on what you say. The truths that expose corruption come with a price. Whistleblowers pay that price.
Freedom of speech has been discussed more in recent times as a result of three unrelated issues:
the Israel Folau case; the ‘Review of Freedom of Speech in Australian Universities’ by former Chief Justice Robert French; and the raids by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) on offices of journalists involved in the “2017 Afghan Files” stories.
These issues are unrelated but are connected. They all relate to how freely we can speak.
It seems to me there is a concerted right wing push to take us back to the intellectual Dark Ages under the guise of Free Speech reasoned or unreasoned there is no difference. They believe the lecture hall need to be thrown open to debate whether or not Andrew Bolt is an Indigenous Australian. That every aspect of campus life need be deregulated and privatised and a free market reducing Sydney University to a a precinct for shouting babble in which the loudest and most powerful win. So much for the Ramsay Center and why it ought have no place on or in a multicultural campus.
Courses in Western Civilisation already exist on campus along side studies on Nazism Islam and Revolution. None of which demand the structure within which they are taught needs dramatic changing or any takeover by assimilationists of Right-Wing Culture. The ideas on the benefits of coal and CO2 are already present on Campus as are their opposites. The fact that they have a larger say and want an even greater one is the very reason the tail wagged and keeps on wagging the Liberal Party dog ensuring Australia has no effective government.(ODT)
“Sydney University is a global centre of religious superstition that would make the Spanish Inquisition look like a model of tolerance and empiricism,” Cameron says.
“Free speech would be exhibit A.”
Unsurprisingly, Spence rejects this. It is not clear the two men will ever be able to “disagree well”. But there might be a way to settle things.
Cameron wants to book Sydney University’s renowned sandstone Great Hall and deliver a public lecture on why Trump may be the greatest US president since Abraham Lincoln.
The university says that would be absolutely fine – as long as Cameron pays the venue hire fees, including the costs of any extra security.
Almost all the instances the right raise as attacks on freedom of speech are not free speech issues at all. The right cynically crow about their free speech persecution in the pages of national dailies, from the screens of nightly news programs and the lecterns of university lecture theatres.
But the left’s response to the right’s hypocrisy shouldn’t be the adoption of a relative position to freedom of speech. We need to rescue it from the right, which means fighting for the expansion of the right to free speech, not restriction.
Inevitably, calling for the restriction of freedom of speech means calling on the state or some other stand-in authority (such as university administrations) to restrict that right on our behalf, since only they have the power to effect it. And as is evident with the recent passing of various anti-protest measures at state and federal levels – including the arming of Victoria Police with so-called less-than-lethal weapons explicitly for the purpose of ‘crowd control’ – it’s never too long before the authorities turn their repression towards the left.
As a recent US study showed, the real targets of increasing censoriousness on campus has been progressives. But such is the topsy-turvy period we live in where the right have positioned themselves as the enemies of censorship and the champions of free speech. With the growth of the far right internationally, coupled with an increasingly authoritarian state, the left needs to recapture its democratic spirit – because if our project for social transformation is to be an emancipatory one, then the fight to retain and expand democratic participation is essential.
A letter to Andrew Bolt from Julia Baird and it’s polite. What Bolt calls “free speech” is privatized product and locked in contracted speech. The merger of Ch 9 and Fairfax will concentrate media into 2 companies controlling 82% of our media and consolidating speech supporting less than 5% of the nation who can afford to buy the advertising space and skewed to content supporting the LNP. We need the ABC more than ever and the LNP are intent on insuringthe demise of the public broadcaster. The only broadcaster devoted to the principle of free speech and questioning the veracity of those making it. Tony Abbott put the nail in the coffin of Radio Australia the once heartbeat of the Pacific by cutting ABC funding by $200mill and 1985 levels. Since then with our disintersest in Foreign Aid we have simply given that space to China and are now blaming the Chinese for what was obvious in order to retain some domestic votes at the expense of what was a once positive relationship. Turnbull is the highest paid PM in the world nothing but the best for he and the LNP spells nothing for Australia. (ODT)
It would be far better if think tanks were legally required to reveal all funding, so we can best assess contributions to public debate. This includes the likes of the Australia Institute, the McKell Institute, the Centre for Independent Studies and the Sydney Institute, as well as the IPA.
The Australian media landscape is increasingly spotted with large silos and part of the reason for that is the fact that a large number of prominent conservative commentators – like Chris Kenny, Ross Cameron, Rowan Dean – have exclusive contracts with Sky and will not appear elsewhere.
It also means that some of the loudest critics of the ABC can’t or won’t come on the flagship daily panel show (The Drum) just to discuss ideas. Some conservatives ask for money to appear. Some will say privately that they don’t want the attack, that there is little incentive to cross silos just to be abused on Twitter.
Some examples: in recent months, Kenny and Cameron, we’ve asked Janet Albrechtsen – who politely declined – Rita Panahi – who said The Drum was a “terrible show” – and Gemma Tognini- who has a contract with Sky – to come on the show. I won’t name them all as our door remains chocked open (Gerard Henderson, I am looking at you).
Silos are about gathering armies, about attack, and the casualties are civility and persuasion. It’s taking more and more muscle to carve out public spaces for argument, not antagonism, and for talking, not trolling.
If you have only conviction without persuasion, you won’t convince anyone.
It seems the The Turnbull LNP is and will continue to take the oxygen from the Abbott LNP just as he once did to One Nation in the Howard years. It means Democracy in this country is clearly being eroded. ( Old Dog Thought)
Trigger Warning: the following column contains offensive remarks about a racist asshole who recently died. Michael Brull explains. Bill Leak was a racist asshole. Take a look through his cartoons, and you’ll see how boring his work was. Hardly a day went by without him loyally repeating the day’s talking points at the Australian. TakeMore
I have written about free speech, hate, racial discrimination and the state of our democracy on many occasions and these questions will not leave me. Why is it, in ‘the name of free speech’ that we need to enshrine, the right to abuse each other, in law? Or conversely ‘’what is it they want to…
The only way for media to report on public disturbances is to get involved, to go there and talk to people involved, and so on. That is now becoming riskier in the United States, historian Martin McCauley told RT.
ITHACA, NY—In the hours since the Republican nominee’s stunning election to the nation’s highest office Tuesday night, reports have confirmed that, regardless of circumstance, it is not even remotely close to okay to act like Donald Trump. “Just to be perfectly clear, speaking or behaving in a manner similar to President-elect Trump is just as unacceptable now as it has ever been,” the reports stated, adding that in zero percent of cases is it even borderline permissible to conduct oneself either personally or professionally in a fashion akin to Trump, and that has not changed in the past two days. “In fact, acting like Mr. Trump does for even a moment will result in a wide range of negative social—and in some cases, criminal—consequences for you personally. Put simply, you should not be engaging with the world in any way comparable to Mr. Trump. This was true before he was elected, and it will be true long after he’s gone.” At press time, the reports’ findings were being summarily dismissed out of hand by roughly 45 percent of the nation’s population in a manner identical to that of Donald Trump.
Over the last week, as Donald Trump faced disappointing poll numbers and continued to spawn a series of never-ending controversies on the campaign trail, Fox News’ Sean Hannity — who has perhaps been Trump’s biggest cheerleader in the media — has devoted large chunks of his Fox News program to engaging in baseless conspiracies that Hillar
The recent election has had serious consequences in taking this country backwards in many ways, not least of which is the bolstering of the numbers of xenophobic bigots in Parliament. Adding to the racist ramblings of One Nation and the Islamophobia of Christensen and Bernardi, we have a significant push to make hate speech legal,…
Tuesday 9 August 2016 With the advent of a racist red-head and a human headline, together with other assorted prejudiced misfits being elected to the Senate, the subject of free speech has again entered the Australian political arena. Both Pauline Hansen and Darren Hinch seem determined to raise the spectre of changing 18c. Why you…
In the west, free speech is often seen as a sacred right, but how can that be balanced with the need to protect minorities from hate? Scott Stephens, Waleed Aly and political theologian William Cavanaugh discuss.
I have written about free speech, hate, racial discrimination and the state of our democracy on many occasions and this question will not leave me:
Why is it, in ‘the name of free speech’, that we need to enshrine, the right to abuse each other, in law?
You would think that an enlightened progressive free thinking society would want to eliminate it not legislate it.
It is not a question that requires great philosophical, ideological or even theological debate. It is a black and white question.
Supposedly we live in an age of enlightenment, a period where the world has made enormous technological advances, but at the same time our intellects have not advanced with the capacity to understand simple tolerance.
Indeed, if we were truly enlightened we would treat our fellow human beings, with respect love and faithfulness. We would do unto them as we would expect them to do unto us and we would strive to do no harm. We would love life and live it with a sense of joy and wonderment.
We would form our own independent opinions on the basis of our own reason and experience; and not allow ourselves to be led blindly by others. And we would Test all things; always checking our ideas against our facts, and be ready to discard even a cherished belief if it did not conform to them. We would readily admit it when we are wrong in the knowledge that humility is the basis of intellectual advancement and that it is truth that enables human progress.
And of course we would enjoy our own sex life (so long as it damages nobody) and leaves others to enjoy theirs in private whatever their inclinations, which are none or your business.
We would uphold the principle that no one individual or group has an ownership of righteousness. We would seek not to judge but to understand. We would seek dialogue ahead of confrontation.
We would place internationalism before nationalism acknowledging that the planet earth does not have infinite resources and needs care and attention if we are to survive on it. In doing so we would value the future on a timescale longer than our own.
We would recognise that the individual has rights but no man is an island and can only exist, and have his rights fulfilled, only by the determination of a collective.
We would insist on equality of opportunity in education acknowledging that it is knowledge that gives an understanding. We would seek not to indoctrinate our children in any way but instead teach them how to think for themselves, evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with us. We would, in our schools open their minds to an understanding of ethics instead of proselytizing religion.
We would never seek to cut ourselves off from dissent, and always respect the right of others to disagree with us.
Importantly we not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.
Lastly we would question everything. What we see, what we feel, what we hear, what we read and what we are told until we understand the truth of it because thoughtlessness is the residue of things not understood and can never be a replacement for fact.
If these things truly are the embodiment of enlightenment. How do we stack up? It is fair to say that some societies and individuals could lay claim to attaining a measure of it. For example in some countries gender equality is more readily accepted and there has been advances in education. Overall though I think the reader would conclude that in most instances our enlightenment has not progressed much.
This is no more empathised than in our understanding of what free speech is. Are we honestly enlightened if we think we need to enshrine in legislation a right to express hatred? There is something fundamentally and humanely wrong with the proposition.
There is an intolerable indecency that suggests that we have made no advancement in our discernment of free speech. If free speeches only purpose is to denigrate, insult and humiliate then we need to rethink its purpose. There are those who say it identifies those perpetrating wrong doing but if it creates more evil than good it’s a strange freedom for a so-called enlightened society to bequeath its citizens.
To quote Jonathan Holmes:
Let’s be clear: Charlie Hebdo set out, every week, with the greatest deliberation, to offend and insult all kinds of people, and especially in recent years the followers of Islam, whether fundamentalist or not.
Look at some of the magazine’s recent covers: An Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood protester in a hail of gunfire crying “The Koran is shit – it doesn’t stop bullets”; a full-on homosexual kiss between a Charlie cartoonist and a Muslim sheik with the ironic headline “Love is stronger than hate”; a naked woman with a niqab thrust up her backside.
The Charlie Hebdo massacre as vile and as unjust as it was gave no excuse for repressive world leaders to lecture anyone on freedom of expression. The sheer hypocrisy of it was breathtaking. Some of the world leaders locked arm in arm in the Paris March were from countries with the world’s worst suppression of press freedom. To see the Foreign Minister of Egypt marching arm in arm with world leaders was two faced-ness in the extreme given that Peter Creste has now been in jail for more than a year.
It’s all in the name of satirical free speech but it’s not funny if has no insightful truth.
Is this really what an enlightened society means by free speech? Does it demonstrate our cognitive advancement? Is this what well-educated men and women want as free speech or should we see free speech as being nothing more or nothing less than the right to tell the truth in whatever medium we so choose.
One has to wonder why the so-called defenders of free speech feel they are inhibited by what they have now. I don’t. I have never felt constrained in my thoughts or my ability to express them. I’m doing it now. But then I don’t feel a need to go beyond my own moral values of what is decent to illuminate my thoughts.
Why is it then that the likes of Abbott, Bolt, Jones, Brandis, Bernardi and others need to go beyond common decency, and defend others who cannot express themselves without degenerating into hate speech? The answer has nothing to do with an honourably noble sort of democratic free speech.
Why does this demand for open slather free speech always come from the right of politics and society? They seem to have an insensitivity to common decency that goes beyond any thoughtful examination.
They simply want the right to inflict hate, defame with impunity, insult, and promote bigotry if it suits their purpose. And behind that purpose can be found two words. Power and control.
The way we presently view free speech simply perpetuates the right to express all those things that make us lessor than what we should be.
Debate, in whatever form, should not include the right to vilify. It is not of necessity about winning or taking down ones opponent. It is about an exchange of facts ideas and principles. Or in its purest form it is simply about the art of persuasion”
The argument that bigots are entitled to be bigots or that unencumbered free speech exposes people for what they are, doesn’t wear with me. It simply says that society has not advanced. That our cultural ethical intellect has not progressed at the same rate as our technological understanding.
The fact that so many people agree with the free speech argument highlights the tolerance we have for the unacceptable right to hate each other, which to me is the sauce of everything that is wrong with human behavior.
And we want to make it acceptable by legislating to condone it.
Are we really saying that in a supposed enlightened society that should value, love, decorum, moderation, truth, fact, balance, reason, tolerance, civility and respect for the others point of view that we need to enshrine in law a person’s right to be the opposite of all these things.
If that is the case then we are not educating. We are not creating a better social order and we are not enlightened at all.
The fact is that free speech in any democratic system should be so valued, so profoundly salient, that any decent enlightened government should legislate to see that it is not abused. That it carries with it sacrosanct principles of decency that are beyond law and ingrained in the conscious of a collective common good.
After all the dignity of the individual (or individuals) within the collective is more important than some fools right to use freedom of speech to vilify another.
It says something about the moral sickness in our society when the right to abuse each other, in the name of free speech, needs to be enshrined in law.
If the terror attacks in Paris have a silver lining, it is that they have sparked an outpouring of support for freedom of speech across the globe and across the ideological spectrum. According to The Associated Press, even Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has weighed in on the side of enlightenment, saying “that radicals have done more to disparage the Muslim prophet than journalists who published satirical cartoons mocking Islam.”
Here in the U.S., the outrage has been virtually nonstop, expressed by media outlets, satirists and comedians, and in a marked display of solidarity, by Republican and Democratic party leaders.
As a nation, we are rallying around the First Amendment. To quote Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman from an Op-Ed published Friday:
“We in Western societies almost always defer to the wisdom of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who said the basis of the First Amendment is ‘not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.
These are fine and uplifting sentiments, and they clearly distinguish our best political and moral values from the twisted, medieval mindsets of the jihadists who perpetrated the massacres in France. But amid the celebration of our values, a question nags: Just how free is freedom of speech in America?
The uncomfortable truth is that here, as elsewhere around the world, freedom of expression has never come easily and is nearly always threatened in one way or another. From the Salem witch trials of the 1690s to the Red Scares of the mid-20th century and the Pentagon Papers trial of Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo in the early 1970s, we have persecuted and prosecuted those whose ideas we fear. Intolerance and suppression of speech—along with the promotion of views favorable to dominant elites—have been hallmark American traditions.
Today, those traditions continue in at least five critical ways:
1. The Equation of Money and Political Speech: In a series of decisions dating back to the 1976 case of Buckley v. Valeo and continuing through 2010’s ruling in Citizens United and April’s majority opinion in McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court has held that the expenditure of money on elections is the equivalent of political speech entitled to full First Amendment protections.
The result has been the development of a political system in which candidates from both major parties are increasingly indebted to corporate donors and dare not contest the priorities of their patrons. The messages of third parties are effectively censored.
2. Union Busting: At the same time that the Supreme Court has promoted corporate speech, it has embraced a perverse distortion of the First Amendment when it comes to public employee unions, the last bastion of organized labor in America and a key source of funding for Democratic office seekers.
In two recent cases—Knox v. SEIU and Harris v. Quinn—the court has characterized union dues procedures as coercive, holding that the First Amendment right to freedom of association prohibits the collection of “fair-share” fees from government workers who elect not to join unions that nonetheless negotiate on their behalf. The long-term goal is to neutralize unions as a countervailing political voice.
3. Prosecuting Whistle-Blowers: The prosecution of whistle-blowers did not end with Ellsberg. Indeed, it will continue this month with the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, who is accused under the Espionage Act of leaking information to New York Times reporter James Risen that the CIA provided flawed nuclear weapons data to Iran in 2000. As The Guardian and other publications have noted, “Only ten people in American history have been charged with espionage for leaking classified information, seven of them under Barack Obama.”
Chelsea Manning was convicted under the act in 2013. NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden awaits a similar fate should he return to the U.S.
4. NSA Spying: The pervasive surveillance apparatus erected by the National Security Agency doesn’t just implicate privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment. Government spying also affects First Amendment rights because of the chilling effect it has on those who wish to join political, social and religious organizations the government deems worthy of monitoring.
First Amendment claims lie at the heart of a federal lawsuit filed against the NSA by the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation. The case is one of five major legal challenges to the NSA pending across the country. The events in Paris could deal them all a significant setback, as lawmakers and judges alike yield to arguments that more, not less, surveillance is needed to wage the unending war on terror.
5. Silencing Prisoners: The United States is home to 5 percent of the world’s people, but we have 25 percent of the world’s prison population. Yet we don’t just lock up our convicts; we also try to shut them up. Both the federal government and some 40 states have enacted some form of statute patterned after New York’s “Son of Sam” law, named after the moniker used by 1970s serial killer David Berkowitz, to prevent prisoners from profiting from their violent crimes by writing books or selling the rights to their stories.
Although the original Son of Sam law was invalidated by the Supreme Court in 1985, such laws haven’t gone away. The worst of the current crop is Pennsylvania’s “Revictimization Relief Act,” passed in October specifically to silence former Black Panther and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is serving a life term on charges of killing a police officer in 1982.
Abu-Jamal enraged state authorities after he delivered a pretaped commencement speech in October to the graduates of Vermont’s Goddard College. Under the new law, in terms that would bring smiles to the faces of any jihadist, victims of violent crime who experience “mental anguish” can sue to enjoin prisoners and released convicts from engaging in any “conduct [including uncompensated speech] which perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.” Abu-Jamal is trying to overturn the law in federal court, along with four other inmates and the Prison Radio Network, which distributes his political commentaries.
No doubt there are other items—attacks on academic freedom and curbs on street demonstrations and the Occupy movement, for example—that could be included in my top five.
The important thing is not to construct an exhaustive list, but to underscore the point that freedom of speech is not just under assault in Paris by Muslim fanatics. It rests on a tenuous foundation here as well, in the very home of the First Amendment.
Personally, I’m all for Rupert tweeting. Generally, he shows himself to be the ignorant, old fool that he is. (Apologies to anyone ignorant, old or foolish reading this but you really need to distance yourself from Murdoch or I’ll consider you responsible for everything he does!) When he asserts that “Egyptians are white” or when he tweets “Enemies many different agendas, but worst old toffs and right wingers who still want last century’s status quo with their monoplies.” (sic), it shows exactly how out of touch with reality the man really is – not to mention spelling – as well as going a long way towards explaining Fox News.
And, of course, his idea that even if “Most Moslems are peaceful” but still accountable for the actions of the others strikes me as absurd when you apply it to any other group. I can’t imagine anyone writing “Maybe most Americans are peaceful, but until they recognise and destroy their growing number of gun criminals, they must all be held responsible…” And should all Christians be held responsible for the Westboro Baptist Church? Or does Father Rod Bower cancel them out? Am I responsible for other Collingwood supporters?
Now, we’ll undoubtedly have people arguing that to protect our free speech we need to ban certain people from saying certain things and to give our government greater powers. And I’m sure we’ll have many articles telling us that Islam is the problem. Not violence, or vigilante actions. We’ll have many articles telling us that political correctness is the problem. And without reading him, I suspect Andrew Bolt has probably already complained again that he’s prevented from writing about Islamic immigration, while writing about Islamic immigration. (Paul Sheehan complained that Islam has made certain places in the Middle East unsafe to travel. Afghanistan, for example. And Iraq. Mm, I’m wondering when Afghanistan was a safe place to travel given it was invaded by the Soviets in 1979 leading to a war which lasted nine years! Iraq, on the other hand, used to be very safe while the Americans were in charge. Certainly, inside the green zone anyway.)
Most people have some sort of belief in the concept of human rights; the only point of disagreement is what are they and who has them. The dilemma of free speech, of course, is how we deal with competing rights. Few reading this would say that I don’t have a right to express my views in this piece of writing, but may object if I express my views through a loudhailer on the street (or outside their window at 6a.m. on a Sunday morning). Yes, there are laws against noise, as well as libel and fraud. But when my views are “merely” offensive to you, at what point do you have the right to object to me expressing them at all?
Voltaire’s famous: “I disagree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” sounds all very nice and politically correct, but the fact is I’m not always comfortable with it. I won’t defend a racist’s right to incite hatred, nor a liar’s right to spread misinformation to give two examples that have nothing to do with any high profile case in Australia’s recent past.
Neither will I endorse Larry Pickering’s views.
Yes, there are views and statements which I don’t think that people should be allowed to make because they trample on other people’s rights.
But is this hypocrital of me? Is free speech a matter of open slather and allowing people to judge for themselves with offensive views being drowned out by the chorus of disapproval? If I say, “Je suis Charlie” must I also say “Je suis Rupert” or “Je suis Larry”?
These are the hard questions. The easy question is do people have a right to use violence as a solution to being offended? And I suspect the quote attributed to Ghandi is probably most appropriate.
The slaying of the Charlie Hebdo journalists and cartoonists because of their work is the grossest attack on the value of free speech, and of course the right to life. In the deadly attack on the magazine’s office, the sword has crushed the pen: an unspeakable outrage.
An attack on liberal values
Any attack motivated by the pen upon that pen’s purveyor, whether he or she be a journalist or academic or author or satirist, is an attack on free speech. And journalists are tragically the victims of persecution, including murder, every year. Since 1992, 731 journalists have been murdered worldwide due to their work, not counting the further 373 killed in crossfire or combat, or while on dangerous assignment.
The murders of journalists tend to take place in countries with a weak rule of law. They are virtually unknown in developed liberal countries such as France. Furthermore, most work-related murder of journalists arises because they bravely speak, or attempt to speak, truth to power.
The motivation behind the Charlie Hebdo murders seems different. The cartoonists were killed, presumably, because the murderers believed its portrayals of Muhammad and Islam were blasphemous. They were killed because they refused to abide by the cultural values of the murderers, who lethally enforced their own views on the societal limits of free speech in France. This led to the outpouring of solidarity and defiance mixed with grief in huge gatherings in Paris and other European capitals.
The right to offend
Charlie Hebdo editor-in-chief Stéphane Charbonnier and his colleagues are now martyrs to free speech and satire, and in particular the right to offend. Leaving aside the obvious point that no-one should be killed because of what they have drawn, how does one characterise the Charlie Hebdo cartoons? Were they cheeky cartoons, wholly within the proper bounds of freedom of speech, or were they the product of “a racist publication”?
There is a human right to free speech, including the right to offend, a right held dear by cartoonists the world over. But there are limits. Of relevance, hate speech is prohibited in international human rights law, including that which is likely to incite hatred on the basis of religion.
The Charlie Hebdo cartoons were generally more likely to offend members of the targeted group than to generate hatred against that group. For example, its depictions of Muhammad and Islam were more likely to offend and hurt Muslims rather than generate hatred by non-Muslims against them. Such speech, to my mind, falls outside the definition of hate speech.
However, some of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons seem clearly racist – though racist speech is not always, legally, hate speech. For example, one particular cartoon portrays the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria as greedy welfare recipients. However, this discussion of that cartoon reminds us of the importance of context, which I lack as a non-French speaker who hasn’t read that edition.
The murders were more likely inspired by the images of Muhammad themselves, rather than any Islamophobic cartoons. The depiction of Muhammad, regardless of negative (or positive) connotations, is considered blasphemous and therefore grossly offensive to many Muslims.
However, there is no human right not to be offended on a religious basis. Blasphemy laws themselves are breaches of the human right to freedom of expression. That is not to say that the gratuitous giving of offence to Muslims, or the people of any religion, is desirable. But “desirability” must not be the measure of permissible free speech. And it is dangerous to hold up any religion as something which must be free from ridicule.
Charlie Hebdo deliberately published cartoons which its staff knew would offend some people deeply. It has done so throughout its history of more than four decades, with its targets including the French political and cultural establishment, and religions of all kinds. Islam was not disproportionately targeted.
Clashes between extremist Islam and freedom of speech have been prominent for more than a quarter of a century. Iran’s supreme Ayatollah Khomeini imposed a fatwa on author Salman Rushdie in 1989 over the portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad in The Satanic Verses.
Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was murdered in 2004 in Amsterdam over his film about violence against women in Islamic societies, Submission. In 2010, an episode of the cartoon South Park featuring Muhammad was censored, against the wishes of its creators, in response to death threats.
In late 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten published 12 cartoons which were critical of Islam, including portrayals of Muhammad. The episode led, in early 2006, to protests and riots, particularly in Islamic countries, and death threats against the cartoonists. In 2010, one of the cartoonists, Kurt Westergaard, was attacked in his home with an axe.
In 2006, Charlie Hebdo republished all 12 Danish cartoons, along with some of its own of a similar ilk. It has since published numerous depictions of Muhammad, as well as cartoons ridiculing Islamist extremism and aspects of Muslim life, such as the niqab. Charbonnier was placed on an al-Qaeda hitlist. Al-Qaeda is suspected of involvement in his assassination.
Death threats against material perceived as religiously offensive are not unique to Islam. In October 2014, an exhibition of Catholic iconography using Barbie and Ken dolls was cancelled in Buenos Aires due to death threats.
Australians may remember the 1997 controversy over Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, a photo of a crucifix in a vat of urine, when a Serrano retrospective in Melbourne was cancelled after the work was physically attacked. A Serrano exhibition in Avignon in 2011 closed prematurely after death threats against museum staff.
Protection was supplied to actors in Mel Gibson’s controversial 2004 film The Passion of the Christ, which attracted charges of anti-Semitism.
Outside the realm of religion, in late 2014, persons unknown – though suspected to be the North Korean government – threatened major acts of terrorism if the film The Interview was released. The movie is a comedy which depicts the violent assassination of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Production company Sony caved in to the threat, before reversing its position and authorising an internet and limited theatre release.
Nevertheless, it seems that threats motivated by the offence felt over forms of expression (for example, a book, movie or cartoon) arise more often and more credibly, and with greater lethal consequences, from extremist Islamists.
Republication of the cartoons
A final consideration is the treatment of the cartoons by the media in the aftermath of the killings. While I have argued that the cartoons should not be banned, a separate question is whether the cartoons should be displayed.
Many major media outlets, such as CNN, have refused to show the cartoons, or have shown them with pixelated images. Others, such as Daily Beast, are showcasing some of the magazine’s controversial covers. Outlets in Europe differed. In Denmark, four papers republished Charlie Hebdo cartoons (interestingly, not Jyllans Posten).
In judging the merits of such an editorial decision, context and motive are crucial. Self-censorship out of fear hands a shocking win to the Charlie Hebdo murderers, but I cannot put myself in the shoes of the editor who is genuinely concerned over the safety of staff. Nor can I criticise self-censorship out of respect for the feelings of Muslims (and others).
The tragic demise of the victims does not mean that one has a duty to offend swathes of people who have nothing to do with the atrocity. And many see the cartoons as racist and will not be morally blackmailed “into solidarity with a racist institution”. Hatred of the murders does not have to translate into love of the cartoons.
For others, it is important to show the public what the fuss is about, just as, for example, Wikipedia displays the Danish cartoons. Finally, some media outlets have published the controversial cartoons to reflect the widespread mood of “Je suis Charlie” – that is, to speak defiance to the perpetrators of this atrocity. It is one way, alongside the wonderful tributes drawn by cartoonists in response, of reinforcing the pen, and proving it can never be truly crushed by the sword.