READER REPORT:

The real cost of curtailing free speech

MERVIN JOHNSON
Last updated 12:00 03/04/2017
Free speech
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Silencing opponents through legislation brings the rise of totalitarianism.

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There is a bizarre phenomenon occurring around the Western world right now, where the rights and freedoms of citizens are being voluntarily given away.

The most unusual part is, the call for this is coming from within the most privileged citizens in Western society, as shown in a recent Stuff Nation article entitled “Want equality? Curtail free speech”.

I clicked on it expecting some sort of satire, since there’s no way someone living in a privileged Western democracy would ask for fewer rights - right?

Wrong.

READ MORE: 
Want equality? Curtail free speech
Free speech includes the right to offend
The principle of free speech cannot be over-rated
The right to be forgotten vs free speech

The article opened by addressing the London terrorist attack, in which British Muslim man Khalid Masood drove his car into innocent pedestrians, killing three, before stabbing a police officer to death.

I read the article and what I found most distressing was that four people had just lost their lives, yet the author's focus was on those making judgments on Twitter.

He says “I felt sick as I read comments saying 'Islam is to blame' and 'it must be another Muslim'".

“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.”

All these are powerful assumptions, yet he shows no real understanding of the subject or geographic context of what he is talking about.

At a recent visit to a mosque in Kilbirne, Wellington, my colleagues and I were graciously given a Q&A session with the Imam and other members of the mosque, most of whom have been living in New Zealand for many years, if not their entire lives.

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After many probing questions into the topic of Islamophobia, it was quite apparent that discrimination was low on their list of worries in this country.

They said while they are sympathetic to the troubles their Muslim brothers and sisters face overseas, they have no significant experience of Islamophobia in Aotearoa. However, the author of this article cites the chatter of the Twittersphere as real evidence of bigotry in New Zealand.

To cap it off, he portrays Muslims, women and members of the LGBTQI+ community as thin-skinned children who aren’t able to defend themselves against criticism.

The author’s solution? Essentially make free speech in its totality illegal, because in his eyes there is no discourse to have.

It’s either agree with minority groups, right or wrong - or stay quiet.

Donald Trump is used as an example of how misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and Islamophobia have become the new norm.

On the day of Trump's inauguration, over five million people across the world joined the Women's Marches, making a stand for social justice and civil rights. 

How? Because they had the freedom of speech, completely and utterly free!

The article closes by saying “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.”

I doubt that anyone at the forefront of civil rights movements would agree with this statement - suppressing free speech is nothing more than an authoritarian dream.


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