Amazing hypocrisy on free speech

Perhaps no-one will be really amazed at this, but they should be. The Turnbull government, renowned (and attacked) recently for its supposed devotion to free speech, including the rights of bigots and other unpleasant people, has revoked the visa of a Palestinian activist, Bassem Tamimi, shortly before he was due to board a plane for a speaking tour in Australia.

There is as yet no official comment on the websites of either the immigration department or its minister, but media reports say that the only explanation offered for the decision is that “The Department recently became aware of information that indicates there is a risk that members of the public will react adversely to Mr Tamimi’s presence in Australia regarding his views of the ongoing political tensions in the Middle East.”

The remarkable thing about this is that there is no suggestion made that Tamimi himself is a dangerous person or that his views are harmful in themselves – the reason for preventing Australians from hearing him is simply that some might not like them and may disturb the peace in some way as a result. Such a rationale is contemptuous of the value of freedom of speech.

Now, one might respond that foreigners have no speech rights in Australia and the immigration department can do whatever it likes with visa applications. But this is not what the government and its supporters think: we know this because of the oddly parallel case of anti-Muslim activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Those on the right told us that it was vital to support Hirsi Ali’s tour of Australia in the name of free speech, and repeatedly accused her opponents of “intolerance”. And when Hirsi Ali cancelled, citing among other things “security concerns”, this was portrayed as an outrageous act of censorship. Peter Kurti, for example, from the Centre for Independent Studies, referred to “Activist campaigns to silence and censor dissenting views,” without bothering to inform his readers that Hirsi Ali’s opponents had never called for her to be denied entry to the country.

I look forward to hearing what Kurti thinks about the Tamimi case.

Let me make my own view clear. I know a bit about Hirsi Ali’s views (without being any sort of expert), and I regard her as a propagandist for a failed and destructive agenda of American and Israeli imperialism in the Middle East. She is by no means the worst in that category, but I don’t see her as having anything particularly worthwhile to contribute to the debate.

That does not in any way, however, deprive her of the right to free speech. If people want to hear her they should be able to, and if she was in fact prevented from visiting Australia by fears for her safety (and not, say, by not having sold enough tickets), then I think that is very much to be regretted. I have defended the free speech rights of much worse people than Hirsi Ali, and I will continue to do so.

I know almost nothing about Tamimi’s views: I suspect he is much the same sort of propagandist, but on the other side. He may be somewhat more or somewhat less obnoxious than Hirsi Ali; I don’t know, and I have to say I don’t particularly care.

Free speech does not depend on the acceptability of a person’s views. If you defend the rights only of those that you agree with, then what you are talking about isn’t free speech. Tamimi, and anyone else, should be able to visit Australia to present their opinions as long as they are not suspected of an intention to incite violence or to commit some other crime.

And if the media reports are correct, the immigration department does not even claim that there is a problem of this sort with Tamimi’s views. Its problem is that other people – that is, people opposed to those views – might be driven to unlawful or dangerous actions as a result. But surely that was exactly the issue with Hirsi Ali: that there was alleged to be a risk of violence not from her or her supporters, but from her opponents.

In each case, the appropriate response is the same: the attention of law enforcement should be directed to those who actually commit or threaten to commit unlawful acts, not to those by whom they claim to be provoked.

So, how about it? Let’s hear from the supposed devotees of free speech – from James Paterson and John Roskam and Janet Albrechtsen and all the rest. Let them make as much of a fuss about Bassem Tamimi as they did about Andrew Bolt and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or let them try to come up with a reason why not.

Don’t hold your breath.

9 thoughts on “Amazing hypocrisy on free speech

  1. “I know almost nothing about Tamimi’s views”
    This article is an example of delinquent journalism; how can you possibly write something meaningful when you don’t know anything about the subject – the views of Bassem Tamimi and his past actions.
    Drawing a parallel between Ali-Hirsi, who struggles to reform Islam with Tamimi who wants to bring about the destruction of a country is like chalk and cheese.
    Tamimi is both cousin and uncle to Ahlam Tamimi, the murderer of innocent children (Sbarro restaurant bombing 2001 in Jerusalem) and to her husband, Nizar Tamimi. (There is a strong preference for cosanguinity and marrying cousins in the Tamimi clan. Ahlam Tamimi is married to her first cousin.)

    Amnesty International took Bassem Tamimi around America on a “human rights” roadshow in 2015, and he obliged them by delivering a hate-Israel, understand-terrorism message. He has now been banned from entering the US for falsifying his visa application.

    The reason he has been trying to get into Australia is to spread his message of hate and violence. He is the stage manager and producer of the weekly violent confrontations in the Tamimi clan’s home base, Nabi Saleh. In addition, he’s the father of Ahed Tamimi, a young girl better known as Surly Temple or Shirley Temper who has been disgustingly exploited as a child weapon for propaganda purposes.


    1. Thanks, David, for providing such a clear example of the attitude I’m arguing against: that support for free speech should depend on whether you agree with someone’s views. You disagree with Tamimi’s views about the Middle East. Fine, that’s absolutely your right. But it’s got nothing to do with whether other people should be able to hear him – what you see as a journalistic delinquency is in fact the whole point. You may be right, and that he has a “message of hate and violence” to spread. But so does Troy Newman; I defended his rights, and I’ll defend Tamimi’s.


      1. Charles, it’s not just about somebody’s views. It’s about the principle that is encompassed within 18C, even the new version that Turnbull has been trying to get through the parliament. It’s about the fact that a Bassem Tamimi has a vested interest in harassment. It’s about the fact that Tamimi spent 20 months in prison for encouraging his cohorts to throw rocks at others. The examples you cite are of people whose views are merely controversial; Tamimi has hate and violence as his intent and that is what he practises.
        In an ideal world Tamimi would come and in the arena of public debate we could civilly discuss the issues in question. However our left-wing media cannot be trusted as they will use their infamous bias to distort and obscure the truth and potentially stir up trouble as they have done with the visit of Hirsi-Ali.


  2. Hi Charles, I recognise that the central argument of your article is not about the pros and cons of what Bassem Tamimi has to say, instead it is a defence of free speech and seeks to highlight the hypocrisy of alleged free speech warriors such as Bolt, Albrechtsen and co. However, given that at least one of your readers has taken issue with his political views and activism, I will provide you with some background information on Bassem, a man I have known personally for 8 years – along with the rest of his family.

    Bassem has been recognised by Amnesty International as a Prisoner of Conscience and by the European Union as a Human Rights Defender. Human Rights Watch (HRW) also condemned his arrest and imprisonment in 2011/2012 saying the conviction for leading non-violent protests against Israel’s belligerent military occupation violated his right to freedom of assembly. HRW went on to state they had “serious concerns” about the fairness of his trail by the Israeli military, citing the coerced statements obtained from children as under duress (including being held at gunpoint). The Association for Civil Rights in Israel similarly condemned his arrest and conviction as a violation of his freedom of expression.

    I have included links below to their statements.
    Amnesty International

    Click to access 6H6NpAb28

    European Unions submission to the UN Human Rights Council:

    Click to access 20110614_hrc17eu_statementitem7_en.pdf

    Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on Bassem Tamimi

    Human Rights Watch:

    Association for Civil Rights in Israel


    1. My apologies, I have accidentally posted this under my friend’s name. It should be posted under the name of Kim Bullimore.


  3. Thanks Kim. And there you are, two diametrically opposite views of what Mr Tamimi is all about. Now I don’t know which one is right (I could actually make a pretty fair guess, but I’m not going to), but that’s the beauty of free speech: I don’t have to. We can let him come and have his say, and people can decide for themselves. Ditto with Ms Hirsi Ali, and Troy Newman, and Gerry Adams, and Gerd Finkenwirth, and all the rest. If you’re worried that people will misrepresent what they say and use it to incite violence, then invoke the law against those people. That’s no excuse for shutting down debate.


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