The left is performing all sorts of elaborate intellectual contortions to justify the banning of Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux. Simon Wilson, who naturally leans sharply to the left, has made a sincere attempt in the New Zealand Herald today to write a balanced analysis of the issue, and he nearly pulls it off. But his ideological convictions ultimately come through and sadly it becomes just another apologia of the “I’m all for free speech, but …” variety.
He gives himself away early in the piece with his casual use of the loaded term “white supremacists” to describe Southern and Molyneux and by dismissively referring to the Free Speech Coalition as an “outfit”. I note that Simon apparently doesn’t view the NZ Federation of Islam Associations as just an “outfit”, with all that word’s negative connotations.
He drags a few red herrings across the reader’s path: flaming crosses on the lawn, that sort of stuff. There are ample remedies under existing law for people who directly threaten harm or violence, so I’m not sure whether that type of emotive imagery gets us any further.
There is also scope under the Human Rights Act for prosecution of anyone who is found to have incited hostility or ill-will against people on the ground of colour or race. But there has only ever been one such case in New Zealand and the courts quite rightly set the bar quite high for successful prosecution, recognising that freedom of expression is a fundamental pillar of democracy. I make an attempt to explore these issues in a piece about hate speech that will appear in next week’s Listener.
Simon also implies that the Canadians will “stir up hatred”. But how can he know that? And how much respect does he have for his fellow New Zealanders if he doesn’t believe (just as Goff obviously doesn’t believe) that we are perfectly capable of resisting attempts to “stir up hatred”, if indeed that’s what Southern and Molyneux intend to do?
Simon quite rightly says free speech is not absolute and that the argument is about where to draw the line. Precisely. I sharply disagree with him about where that line should be drawn, and so do many, many New Zealanders: not white supremacist New Zealanders, nor racist New Zealanders, nor Islamophobic New Zealanders, but New Zealanders who worry that free speech is under concerted attack, and who believe they’re mature enough to hear Southern and Molyneux for themselves and make up their own minds about whether they are hateful white supremacists.
What strikes me, reading Simon’s rather confused piece, is that he’s trying desperately hard to convince himself that the right of free speech can justifiably be suspended in this instance. He says repeatedly that free speech is meaningless if it doesn’t encompass the right to express views that some people find offensive, but then seems to argue that it would probably be best if we didn’t hear Southern and Molyneux because they express views that he and others, um, find offensive.
But to give him credit, he gets it right at the end. After wandering all over the shop, he says: “If they [Southern and Molyneux] do come, maybe they present an opportunity: we can whack these horrible people with some free speech of our own.”
Isn’t that pretty much what free-speech advocates have been saying? The contest of ideas is what democracy is built on. At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, I can do no better than quote Milton yet again: “Let truth and falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”
You can read Simon Wilson’s column here: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/front-page-top-stories/news/article.cfm?c_id=698&objectid=12087997&ref=CE-NZH-DND-AM