Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Death of Free Speech


Each dispute has at least two sides. Guy Earle was reportedly insulted by Lorna Pardy and her girlfriend “making out” during and his show. However, the ladies got away with their actions and received reparations from Earle and the club’s manager, without the court paying much attention to Earle’s side of the story.

 245 years ago the famed French philosopher Voltaire is reputed to have said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” These words inspired both the American and French Revolutions and spurred the development of Western liberalism which is grounded on – among other things – freedom of speech, freedom of religion or belief, freedom of the press and secularism.

But not anymore today. Free Speech has been hijacked by ‘political correctness’ which masquerades under the cloak of pretending to be inclusive, but is essentially just Orwell’s Doublespeak; alarmingly tyrannical and armed to muzzle any thoughts that are of a counter-narrative.

It is a way of shutting up opposition to any new idea that is introduced, even if it disintegrates society and breaks down traditions and social values. And free speech now seems to be selective; you can even say what you want with violence and threats, as long as it is sanctioned by the powers that be.

What we have today in the West is a culmination of a slow erosion of rights, over a thousand small ‘shut-up and behaves’. A totalitarian tiptoe to a dictatorship of words. If a body of authority can define what a lie is, it can also define what truth is, and thereby lies the dangerous trend we see in the West: where any opposition to a thought process is considered hateful, discriminatory, false and thereby fined, or jailed in the name of ‘tolerance.’

Posie Parker, whose scheduled talk was cancelled and was physically assaulted by protestors, and then arrested by the police in Auckland, New Zealand, was not the first nor the last instance of “freedom advocates” attacking those who they dislike for the sake of disagreement.

In 2013 comedian Guy Earle was charged in Canada over an open-mic night at a club. He got into an argument with a group of women in the audience during his skit. He was accused of violating the human rights of a lesbian couple because one of them, Lorna Pardy, said she suffered ‘post-traumatic stress because of Earle’s profane language and derogatory terms for lesbians’. He had to pay C$15,000 to the couple.

If this was not harsh enough, even the restaurant owner Salam Ishmail, had to pay an additional fine of C$7,000 although he had already spent at least C$13,000 in legal fees defending himself before the tribunal.

The British Columbia court ruled against Earle’s assertion that comedy clubs should remain special places devoted to the “fearless pursuit of free speech” and that the Tribunal’s decision would have a “chilling effect on performances and artists in British Columbia.”

On 25 March this year, British activist Posie Parker (real name Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull) was scheduled to speak at an event in Auckland, New Zealand. Parker – the founder of a group called Standing for Women – a group that does not think that transgender people should be legally recognised according to their chosen gender. In other words, if you were born male then you should be legally considered as male, and legally female if female. She believes that transgender people should only use public washrooms for their birth gender and also opposes transgender people participating in sporting events that align with their chosen gender.

Parker’s planned appearance in New Zealand caused quite a consternation even before she stepped foot in the country. Attempts were made by LGBTQ (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgender & Queer) activists to bar her from entering the country, citing claims she was a threat to public order. When that failed, thousands of trans rights protestors turned up at a counter-rally where Parker was due to make an appearance.

And that was when pandemonium broke out.

According to Radio New Zealand (RNZ), “More than a thousand people, mostly opposing the views of the British activist, threw water, juice and eggs at her as she tried to deliver a speech from the gazebo at Albert Park in the central city.”

Parker was forced to flee the scene and was reportedly later seen taking a flight out of New Zealand. Her planned speaking tour of the country was over. Free speech died another death in New Zealand.

Speaking on the Breakfast show on TV New Zealand, Brooke Van Velden – an MP with the centre-right ACT New Zealand Party decried the abuse Parker received.

“What we saw on Saturday, I think, was really disappointing, where we had people resorting to physical violence in a manner to suppress free speech, and I don’t think that’s acceptable. It doesn’t matter whether people agree or disagree with Posie Parker; she had a right to her view,” she said.

Beliefs are time-sensitive and subject to change, and this is what makes political correctness a dangerous state. J. K. Rowling, who had been admired by the very same liberals for being a true feminist, faced backlash for having raised concerns about the safety of natal women, who comprise almost half the world’s population.

The Intolerance of the American Left

The Posie Parker incident is just one of a growing trend of illiberal behaviour, ironically by those who claim to be on the liberal spectrum.

While one uses the term “American Left”, that does not mean that this problem is particularly only concentrated in the United States alone. Although it may have had its genesis in the student unions of American universities, such behaviour and sentiments have spread across the Western world.

And there are cases where those who have found themselves being attacked are those who would normally be considered fellow travellers. For example, the British author JK Rowling is known to be a die-hard feminist – not a position that many ultra-conservative types would hold. However, since 2017, she has been under attack for advancing ‘transphobic hate speech’.

Let us judge for ourselves what is now being defined as “hate speech’. In 2018, Rowling tweeted her support for British researcher Maya Forstater whose contract with a non-profit research firm – the Centre for Global Development – was not renewed after she (Forstater) tweeted the following on her private account:

“I share the concerns of @fairplaywomen that radically expanding the legal definition of ‘women’ so that it can include both males and females makes it a meaningless concept, and will undermine women’s rights & protections for vulnerable women & girls. Some transgender people have cosmetic surgery. But most retain their birth genitals. Everyone’s equality and safety should be protected, but women and girls lose out on privacy, safety and fairness if males are allowed into changing rooms, dormitories, prisons, sports teams.”

So what were Rowling’s own words that got her in trouble?

“I believe the majority of trans-identified people not only pose zero threat to others, but are vulnerable. Trans people need and deserve protection. At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe. When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman – and, as I’ve said, gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones – then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth.”

So, where is the hate? Or is calling something hate speech just an emotive term used to raise ire against opinions that people are too lazy to counter with facts and rationality? It seems to be the case these days in the Western world. You no longer have to defend or justify your position, just call anyone who expresses a different opinion “transphobic”, “homophobic”, “racist”, “sexist” or whatever, and you win.

Writing in British Vogue, the journalist Sagal Mohammed said that the criticisms Egyptians and historians aimed at the Netflix documentary Queen Cleopatra, for casting a bi-racial (part black and part white) actress Adele James as the famous Egyptian queen, were ‘racist’. Forget that Cleopatra was known to have been descended from a Greek-Macedonian general who was part of Alexander’s army. Forget that the Ptolemaic dynasty were known to have intermarried in order to preserve their bloodline and so any chance of Cleopatra being a black African woman would have been highly improbable, even impossible. Forget that the show is being presented as a documentary rather than a fictional depiction of event, where artistic licence would have been more acceptable. If you want historical accuracy in your historical documentaries, then you must be a racist!

Calling critics of the decision to cast bi-racial Adele James as Cleopatra in a documentary ‘racist’, when their concern is about historical accuracy, sets off another alarm: liberalists’ beliefs precede history and factuality. This detachment from reality will have severe consequences for humanity.

Shutting Down Debate on Campuses

Worryingly, the mob has also made their presence felt in universities, which have traditionally been held up as the bastions of free speech. Speaking to Christian Science Monitor, Kenneth Lasson – a professor of civil liberties and international human rights at the University of Baltimore School of Law – highlighted the dangerous tyranny that has permeated through many American campuses.

“Those with opinions that might challenge campus orthodoxies are rarely invited, and often disinvited after having been scheduled, or shouted down or otherwise disrupted. When protestors embroil visiting speakers, or break in on meetings to take them over and list demands, or even resort to violence, administrators often choose to look the other way,” he adds.

Of course, the rationale often given to excuse denying certain speakers a platform to speak is that their words are discriminatory and promote hate and bigotry. Who defines what hate and discrimination are? Anyone having the upper hand in controlling these definitions can also twist them to create a culture of fear when speaking out against a given narrative with common sense. Common sense, facts, and reality take a backseat to feelings and emotions, and this is, unfortunately, being encouraged as ‘inclusivity,” ironically.

Kyle Vitale, the director of programs at Heterodox Academy which brings together professors and students in the United States notes that many students are experiencing a feeling of walking on eggshells on campus, as they fear a backlash should they express views outside the mainstream. In a 2020 survey, HxA found that 62 percent of sampled college students agreed the climate on their campus prevents them from saying things they believe, up from 55% in 2019.

The written word has also not been spared the ire of this crusade against “thought crime”. According to the American Library Association (ALA), there have been efforts to remove books such as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Dr. Seuss and Of Mice and Men from school reading lists and libraries, owing to racist language and imagery. We in International Business Review have read these wonderful books and have marvelled at their progressive thoughts and sympathetic portrayal of minorities and can only wonder at the low levels of comprehension by those asking for these books to be removed.

There is no difference in the actions depicted in the two images above. Publicly shaming and no-platforming those who think differently is common practice among suppressive dictatorships; be it a party member’s ‘non-revolutionary’ beliefs in Mao’s China, or a student’s support of a right-wing commentator in University of California. The U.S, which has always advocated for democracy and condemned all ‘unfree’ regimes worldwide, is now home to a suppressive communist state where any ‘different’ opinion is faced with the similar, if not the same, treatment as in Mao’s China

The thing is that free speech is not an absolute. If someone incites violence or panic, they can be arrested for incitement. If they slander someone, they can be sued for defamation. Therefore, there are already safeguards against speech that may be too extremist. Self-appointed guardians who use violence and intimidation to prevent people from speaking are just creating a culture of fear.

The biggest danger of this anti-free speech campaign is that it shuts down debate and free debate is the key to exchanging ideas and opening up minds to new thoughts. If it is acceptable to shut down and shout down people for having different opinions, then we need to remember that people had different thoughts in the past and the world we live in came about because people debated the rights and wrongs of those beliefs. Free speech is the key to progress. There is no ifs or buts about it.

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