The arrival on Australian shores of Dutch far Right Politician Geert Wilders this month has caused a storm of debate over the right of people to express their point of view in our supposedly free-speech supporting society. The fact that Wilders’ message is an unpopular one has earned him the ire of the Premier of Western Australia, Colin Barnett who has refused to allow Wilders to use any government buildings as venues for his speaking tour after other venues backed out of their agreements with him due to the public reaction to his message.
The most disturbing thing about all of this isn’t Wilders ridiculous assertion that the Islamic community here holds any real threats for the wider population. In a free society like ours Wilders is entitled to his opinion and (theoretically) he has the same right as everyone else to express it. It isn’t even that the proprietors of several venues have refused to allow Wilders’ to use them for his talks that is worrying, after all how they carry on their business is their business. If they don’t want a mob of angry anti-discrimination (if such a thing is possible) protestors potentially smashing up their venue then that’s their choice.
It is the use by an elected official of his position and his exposure in the media to declare that Wilders’ message isn’t suitable to be heard in his state. The public buildings that he is denying Wilders the use of don’t belong to the fucking government, they belong to the people. By denying Wilders the use of any of the state’s public spaces Barnett is denying whatever percentage of Western Australian taxpayers’ the right to listen to his message no matter how far off the mark it may or may not be. Now, they won’t get the chance to decide for themselves because Colin Barnett took it on himself to decide for them.
If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.– George Washington
The irony is that Geert Wilders is a sitting member of the Dutch Parliament and the leader of the fourth largest political party in the Netherlands, the Party for Freedom. Under what circumstances should the elected officials of a multicultural society like Australia refuse to allow a visiting diplomat speak in public? And if another politician, albeit a visiting one, is gagged what chance has the average guy got of speaking freely?
In fact at Wilders’ event in Melbourne the protestors who did show up became violent but this wasn’t the focus of the media or of any statements by the government that followed it. If a US Senator came to Australia and protestors rioted outside of the venue and disturbed the proceedings the next day the media would have been full of MPs denouncing the vile means of the protestors for disrupting proceedings with a few comments thrown in about the freedom of speech that we all enjoy. Bah!
Muslims make up 2.5% of the Australian population, hardly even enough to create a minority, and certainly not a major threat to the 97.5% of us infidels. In fact I am confident enough to say that the Jihad won’t be starting in Adelaide. There is more of a threat posed to Australian society from bad American TV than from Islamic extremists.
Australians like to think that they enjoy a similar right to freedom of speech as they imagine that Americans have enshrined in its famous Constitution (there’s a topic for another post!) but the reality is far different. In fact the only time that the Australian Constitution mentions freedom it is in reference to Her Majesty’s freedom to veto bills that have been passed by the democratically elected Parliament. She is also free to wait up to a year and a day to make up Her Royal Mind. Any illusions that Australian’s have about their “Right” to free speech they got from watching too much American television.
Free speech means the right to shout ‘theatre’ in a crowded fire- Abbey Hoffman
It seems that Australian politicians have a real problem understanding what freedom of speech actually is. Colin Barnett doesn’t seem to understand that the public that elected him has the right to decide who they hear speak, not him and that he really has no right to tell them how to use their public buildings either. As a political colleague of Barnett’s the leader of the opposition championed free speech by admitting that Wilders is “entitled to his view” but apparently not enough so that we should allow him to express it while he is here. After all Abbott is the fearless leader of the Liberals and Barnett’s number should be in his iPhone.
The trouble that our Right thinking politicians have with freedom of speech is that they don’t get that it means everybody gets to have their say with equal respect being shown to all points of view no matter how grotesque or erroneous. As Larry Flint of Hustler fame once said; everybody believes in free speech until you start questioning them about it”. As soon as someone wants to say something that the Powers That Be don’t like their devotion to the principles of free speech grow qualifiers and all speech is deemed to be created unequally.
Where there is a great deal of free speech there is always a certain amount of foolish speech.- Winston Churchill
Anyone that has a Facebook account will see the truth in Churchill’s observation. He wasn’t criticizing the foolish speech, he was extolling the virtues of the potential that free speech has for saying something really intelligent and maybe even important. But unless they are allowed to speak no one will ever hear it. Any government that tells me that I don’t need to hear something, or that they are protecting my interests by boycotting someone from expressing their opinion is lying to me through their anally retentively clenched teeth.
A true political proponent of free speech and liberal thinking would have helped Wilders to find a venue for his speech and encouraged protestors to make their point lawfully as well. All that Barnett achieved was to make himself look a little more like a Nazi, a common look amongst Australian conservative politicians.
Fear of serious injury alone cannot justify oppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.– Louis D. Brandeis
Rocket scientist, occultist and Libertarian Jack Parsons wrote a short book entitled Freedom is a Two Edged Sword in which he warned of the consequences of the erosion of personal liberties in the democratized world of the West. Progressively we have been shifting towards a nanny state where our lives are parceled out to us in a regular drip feed of government dependence. As we develop a greater addiction to their succor the rights that we possess are plucked away one at a time, almost unnoticeably until a government official telling us that they are not allowing someone to speak freely becomes the accepted norm.
The only way to preserve that freedom is to never let it go in the first place. Thomas Jefferson said that freedoms, once lost are impossible to regain without a struggle. By that time the struggle is too late and it is before the rights and freedoms are taken away that we need to resist. The most difficult thing about having freedom of speech isn’t expressing it, any idiot can do that (see Facebook), the hardest part of having Free Speech is keeping it because this means allowing others to freely express their opinions however much you disagree with them.
Freedom is a two edged sword of which one edge is liberty and the other edge is responsibility, on which both edges are exceedingly sharp; and which is not easily handled by casual, cowardly or treacherous hands. For it has been sharpened by many conflicts, tempered in many fires, quenched by much blood, and although it is always ready for the use of the courageous and high-hearted, it will not remain when the spirit that forged it is gone.– Freedom is a Two Edged Sword, Jack Parsons