Where should I start?
Perhaps with the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern. She told reporters on Saturday that she was proud her fellow New Zealanders didn’t share the views of the Canadians Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux.
But how would she know New Zealanders don't share their views? We never even got a chance to hear what their views are, still less decide whether we disagreed with them. That’s what this whole shameful episode was about.
In any case, I’m not aware of any opinion poll that showed what New Zealanders think about Southern and Molyneux. Does the prime minister claim some preternatural insight into what’s going on inside New Zealanders’ heads?
Then there’s Newshub’s Patrick Gower. Perhaps I should have started with him.
Gower interviewed Southern and Molyneux (it wasn’t screened, but you can see it online) and afterwards told newsreaders Samantha Hayes and Mike McRoberts that it was one interview he wouldn’t forget for a while, “and not for any good reason”.
Er, quite so. Gower complained that the Canadians’ response to his questions was “attack-like” and that they indulged in “intellectual nitpicking”. But it was Gower who set the tone of the interview with a needling, aggressive approach which seemed to proceed from the assumption that the two were purveyors of hate speech, whatever that might mean.
He can’t blame the Canadians if they fought fire with fire and left him floundering on more than one occasion. Interviewers who throw punches can’t complain if their subjects strike back.
It was not Gower’s finest moment. At one point he accused Molyneux of indulging in a rant – “rant” now being the favoured New Zealand way of dismissing any expression of opinion that someone else doesn’t like.
The Southern-Molyneux furore cried out for some sober, dispassionate journalism that sought to explain to New Zealanders why the Canadians have aroused such fury. Well, Gower was not the man to provide it. In fact throughout this saga, the media generally have made little or no attempt to probe beyond the hysteria and the simplistic name-calling. (An example was Newshub’s panel show The Project, where “racist” – a word rendered almost meaningless by misuse – seemed to be the juvenile insult du jour.)
It’s not good enough to tell us, as Gower did in his news report, that Southern and Molyneux had made “controversial comments’” about indigenous Australians. What were these comments, exactly? If we knew, we could decide for ourselves whether they deserved to be called controversial, and whether they justified the hysterical hostility the Canadians encountered in Auckland.
Similarly, it was not good enough for Radio New Zealand to say they made “disparaging” remarks about Aborigines. Tell us what they were, for heaven’s sake, and let us decide whether they were “disparaging”. I don’t trust journalists to pronounce that something is “disparaging” or “controversial” and expect us to meekly accept their word that whatever was said was reprehensible.
A few facts would be helpful, rather than shallow, subjective judgments. But throughout this affair we have repeatedly been expected to accept unquestioningly that Southern and Molyneux are “fascists”, “racists” and purveyors of “hate speech”, as if there were settled definitions of what those overheated terms mean.
Now, where else could I have started? Oh, yes – that placard carried by a protestor at Saturday’s “Rally against Racism” in Aotea Square. “Fascist trash”, it said, in a clear reference to the Canadians. Another placard depicted a swastika with the word “Nazis”.
Pardon me, but who are the real purveyors of “hate speech” here? I have yet to see or read anything said by Southern and Molyneux that could be construed as hateful. Objectionable to some people, perhaps, but not hateful.
But to call someone “fascist trash”or a Nazi – now that strikes me as crossing the boundary between robust attack and crude, unreasoning abuse. It is, however, entirely consistent with the many other derogatory labels that have been promiscuously hurled around over the past couple of weeks as if undergraduate insults convey some immutable and settled truth.
Then there’s Shane Te Pou. Gower reported a verbal exchange in the reception area at MediaWorks involving Te Pou, who just happened, by a strange coincidence, to be standing at the reception desk when the Canadian visitors left after their interview.
Te Pou is a Labour Party activist and former Labour candidate, although Gower’s report omitted to mention that (which also seems a bit odd). Te Pou later told RadioLive that he had suggested to the Canadians that they catch the next flight home, “and don’t let the door hit you on the backside on your way out” (although I suspect that “backside” was not the word he used).
It was uncouth and unprovoked, but typical of the febrile rage that has spread like a contagion as the hard left mobilised and rarked itself up over the Canadians.
There are other players in this ignoble affair who deserve a special mention. One is the idiotic NewstalkZB talkback host Marcus Lush, who told callers on Friday night that the denial of a venue for Southern and Molyneux was a victory for free speech.
In Lush’s tortured logic, the people who bullied the owners of the intended venue into cancelling the Canadians’ engagement with only a few hours’ notice were exercising their right of free speech. ouseSomeone should try to explain to him that free speech actually doesn’t triumph if it deprives someone else of the opportunity to speak. That’s the triumph of the baying mob, pure and simple. And the lesson is that if you make enough noise, if you threaten violence and boycotts and disruption, then you’ll bully people into backing down.
I don’t know whether I agree with the views of Southern and Molyneux, and I suspect I might not like them much as people. Molyneux in particular strikes me as a bit strident and dogmatic for my taste. But New Zealanders are entitled to hear them and decide for themselves whether their views are poisonous. Our democracy isn’t so fragile that we need protecting from mere opinions. The Bill of Rights, after all, guarantees not only the right to express all manner of views, but for others to hear them.
Not that this matters to the smug, myopic prigs who celebrated in Aotea Square. It wouldn’t occur to them, in their overweening self-righteousness, that they are hypocritically insisting on their own right to free speech while denying it to others. Neither would it occur to them that a dangerous precedent is set for everyone – them included – if society decides it’s okay to silence anyone with unpopular opinions. Who’s to say that couldn’t be used against the left in future? The sight of them congratulating themselves on suppressing someone else’s rights made me sick to the pit of my stomach.