"All Catholic priests are paedophiles"; "New Zealanders are a small-minded, ignorant and intolerant people"; "NZ First MPs are all bigots". I wonder how many of the disturbing number of people who last week leapt to the defence of NZ First MP Richard Prosser as "only saying what people think" would agree with the above statements. And if not, why not?
Could it be, in the first instance, because none of the above is true?
Prosser recently wrote a magazine column, headlined "Enemy of the State", in which he says: "If you are a young male, aged between, say, about 19 and about 35, and you're a Muslim, or you look like a Muslim, or you come from a Muslim country, then you are not welcome to travel on any of the West's airlines . . ."
To that desultory and insulting piece of anti-Muslim rhetoric, he adds elsewhere in the column that the same are "a sorry pack of misogynist troglodytes from Wogistan".
Prosser, who has written a regular column for some time and who styles himself as the print equivalent of a "shock jock", has since apologised. He has come to the belated realisation that inciting racial and ethnic hatred with offensive stereotyping and vitriolic abuse, is incompatible with his role as a member of Parliament.
What a sensitive caring guy! Or was this epiphany forced upon him by his peers, some of whom at least could smell the odium about to engulf their party? One would not be a bit surprised if the mea culpas were indeed a result of the latter, for while Prosser insists his apologies are genuine, he has not so much flirted with controversies in the past as revelled in them like a pig in muck.
His piercing insights into the so- called "burqa" controversy included calling for a ban on this traditional Muslim head-dress: "This is my culture and my country, not yours. Get some respect and conform."
He has advocated that all bank tellers, dairy owners and taxi drivers be armed. And this former irrigation worker and self-styled stress reduction "reiki" expert, who polled a mammoth 538 votes at the last election, is apparently also an expert in the science of climate change: "The madness that is belief in the insane idea of Manmade Climate Warming needs to be countered."
But to return to the matter at hand, the offending column raises two distinct questions: are there limits to the freedom of expression in a democratic society? And is there a difference between what might be said as a magazine columnist and as a member of Parliament?
The answer to both of these is yes. For while the publication of hateful drivel, which nonetheless accords with the prejudices of a particular audience, invariably elicits invocations of Voltaire - "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it", and loud protestations of "political correctness", freedom of speech has always been circumscribed in Western democracies.
Some of the more obvious manifestations of this are governed by defamation laws, or contempt in relation to court proceedings, but, pertinently, there is also a prohibition against "hate speech" set down in the Human Rights Act 1993, Section 61.
This makes it unlawful to publish or distribute "threatening, abusive, or insulting . . . matter or words likely to excite hostility against or bring into contempt any group of persons . . . on the ground of the colour, race, or ethnic or national or ethnic origins of that group of persons".
It is more than possible to argue that, as a columnist, Prosser extravagantly contravened at least the spirit of the law. But it is an MP that he has truly crossed the Rubicon. His utterances betray a sensibility that should have no place in our Parliament.
He appears aggrieved his apologies have not been universally accepted at face value, even painting himself as the victim: "I suppose the disappointing thing is that you realise you have made some mistake and set out to make an apology and that doesn't get accepted, then that's a little bit on the nose."
On the nose? Prosser wanted to be taken seriously as a columnist. And he couldn't see any conflict between regularly peddling his usually baseless brand of attention-seeking nonsense and of being a member of the House? That's a joke, but an even bigger one is that this intellectual and cultural troglodyte - to borrow one of his own favoured terms - remains an MP.
Unfortunately, it's a joke that's on us - his employers.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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