Free speech, yet again

I was going to write something about Troy Newman, the American anti-choice fundamentalist who is currently in limbo at Tullamarine Airport after the Australian government at the last minute decided to bar him from entering the country. But I don’t have to, because philosopher Russell Blackford has done it, at the Conversation.

Just go read it. It’s great; not polemical, but very thorough. Among his points:

  • Freedom of speech is meaningless unless it protects unpopular views, including those we strongly disagree with.
  • Defending someone’s rights doesn’t mean we “support” them or stand in solidarity with them: “Outright expressions of solidarity suggest, if not overall approval, at least an implication that someone is a valued participant in public debate. Judging by reports, Newman’s ideas are so repugnant that I’d not want to give any impression of somehow being on his side or of valuing his contribution to discussion in the public square.”
  • There’s a difference between advocating some horrible policy and directly inciting other individuals to carry it out. The latter is quite properly made criminal; the former is not.
  • The use of immigration controls for this purpose, with the associated argument that entering another country is a “privilege”, not a right, is a cop-out. “Generally speaking, we all have the legitimate expectation that we will be allowed to travel from one country to another for peaceful purposes such as tours involving lectures and media appearances.”
  • Being yourself an authoritarian doesn’t mean you forfeit your free speech rights. Suppressing such people is, perversely, just the thing that gives authoritarianism an unwarranted credibility.
  • Brendan O’Neill, as usual, just doesn’t get it.
  • Instead of shutting down debate, we should be fighting to defend reproductive rights by concrete measures to protect women who are subject to violence or harassment. “Their reproductive freedom is essential to their autonomy as individuals, and also to our society’s transition to gender equality.”

I’d add just one point to what Blackford says. Both this and the case of singer Chris Brown, barred last week because of his history of domestic violence, show that the “character” test for visitor visas (as distinct from actual immigrants) makes no sense, or at least needs to be tightened in some way. But the issues are slightly different; one could sympathise with Brown and still want to exclude Newman, or vice versa.

Also, whatever trick Newman used to get on a flight to Australia without having a valid visa, someone should teach it to the asylum seekers who currently risk their lives on small boats in the Indian Ocean.

4 thoughts on “Free speech, yet again

  1. While it’s true that, as you suggest, “Freedom of speech is meaningless unless it protects unpopular views, including those we strongly disagree with”, surely one should give FAR MORE emphasis to the point that this doesn’t mean society should stand aloof when the views expressed could encourage the destruction of our society?
    To imply Australia shouldn’t make “use of immigration controls for this purpose, with the associated argument that entering another country is a ‘privilege’, not a right is NOT a cop-out. Of course, as you say, “Generally speaking, we all have the legitimate expectation that we will be allowed to travel from one country to another for peaceful purposes such as tours involving lectures and media appearances”, but Australia (in common with other Nations) but that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t be interpreted as meaning we don’t have a right to bar persons whom we believe will cause damage in Australia, including increasing negative tensions which are harmful to our Nation. Surely it’s elected Governments which must make decisions on this, NOT Capitalist Media outlets such as Crikey and / or emotional public reactions?
    It comes as no surprise that Crikey [to support its ‘argument’] produces non sequiturs such as, “Brendan O’Neill, as usual, just doesn’t get it”, “Instead of shutting down debate, we should be fighting to defend reproductive rights by concrete measures to protect women who are subject to violence or harassment” & “(women’s) reproductive freedom is essential to their autonomy as individuals, and also to our society’s transition to gender equality”, not to mention wandering off to tell readers, “Also, whatever trick Newman used to get on a flight to Australia without having a valid visa, someone should teach it to the asylum seekers who currently risk their lives on small boats in the Indian Ocean.”
    Unfortunately the evidence suggests that Crikey Land is in at least as much need of someone to “teach” them about logical arguments at least as much as they suggest the need to “teach” unauthorised boat arrivals about the dangers they voluntarily accept.

    Like

  2. Thanks Norman. Perhaps you haven’t quite appreciated that my sequence of dot points isn’t trying to be an argument, it’s just my quick precis of the points that Blackford makes: if you want the argument, you need to go read his article.

    As to my views, I agree completely that society shouldn’t “stand aloof when the views expressed could encourage the destruction of our society”. By all means, go out and protest against Newman and other misogynists, boycott those connected with them, use whatever social pressure you can muster. But I do believe that the state should stand aloof and not censor opinion until it reaches the point of actual incitement.

    As to the immigration question, I simply don’t see why visitors should be held to a higher standard than Australians are. If it would be legal for Australians to express those opinions (and no-one seems to be saying that it wouldn’t), why shouldn’t it be legal for a visitor to come here and express them as well? Sure, by all means have a different test for immigrants, since we’re according them the privilege of becoming part of our society, but banning visitors on the basis of their opinions seems to me a lot like banning the importation of books with opinions we don’t like.

    Like

  3. Charles, it’s a hard case because Troy Newman’s advocacy of the death penalty for doctors who provide abortion occurs in the context of America where Christianist terrorists actually do execute those doctors. So his advocacy could be interpreted as incitement to do the same thing here.

    Like

  4. Thanks Rais – That’s why I’m actually more sympathetic to Chris Brown than I am to Newman. But even so I don’t think there’s anything to suggest Newman has advocated private action against abortion providers; he just wants laws changed so as to be able to kill them.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.