READER REPORT:

Want equality? Curtail free speech

JACOB VAN DE VISSER
Last updated 13:53 30/03/2017
Free speech
REUTERS

It's time for New Zealand to criminalise Islamophobia.

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On March 23, New Zealand awoke to the horrific news of yet another terrorist attack, this time in London.

A deranged individual ploughed a car into innocent pedestrians and brutally stabbed a police officer to death before being shot. Five people died, including the attacker.

The Twittersphere was soon abuzz with conjecture and accusation. Who was to blame? What were the motives?

I felt sick as I read comments saying “Islam is to blame” and “it must be another Muslim”.

READ MORE:
* Islamophobia- who is to blame?
Democracy doesn't work, we need a change
Why is social media so poisonous?
Is New Zealand discriminating against Muslims?

The fact that the attacker was a Muslim is irrelevant. The issue is that Islamophobia was the first response.

If you are a Muslim, you continually have to defend your faith against people who accuse it of being a dangerous and violent set of ideas. Islam is the religion of peace; anyone who understands this knows it has no part in the ideology of ISIS.

Life is a constant fight for other minorities, too.

If you are a member of the LGBTQAA+ community, you must battle for your rights. You are forced to choose from just two bathroom choices when often you don’t fit either. Workplaces often fail to be inclusive to this community, refusing them places in the boardroom.

If you are a woman, trans or otherwise, there is no escape from rape culture. On any given day you might hear a rape joke, or be given a “compliment” such as being asked for your number by a stranger. The men who make these comments defend them as harmless, but unwanted harassment can trigger harmful flashbacks to previous similar incidents or experiences of sexual assault.

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The misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic hate speech directed at oppressed groups is damaging to society - and with the rise of Donald Trump’s brand of politics, it is also being legitimised.

So, what does this have to do with free speech? And how might things change for the better?

Well, there is some hope. The Canadian parliament has passed the M-103 motion, which calls on the government to condemn Islamophobia. It is the silver lining of a dark and depressing cloud, and it is something I think New Zealand should seek to not only emulate but improve.

Our Government should look to criminalise not only Islamophobia, but racist rhetoric and the criticism of feminism and LGBTQAA+ rights.

Free speech is all well and good, but it should not be defended at the expense of minority groups.

Nothing quells fear and hatred like making it illegal, and if we stop opposing progressive values then surely the constant fighting will stop too.

New Zealand is not a place of tolerance at the moment, but I believe if we curtail free speech, we will be on the path to a fairer future.


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