Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Free speech; could we please have it in Australia?

Wow, yesterday was a big one for thinking about free speech and freedom of expression and journalism. I spent more time than I planned reading about the campaign in Australia to get the visa of anti-vaccination speaker Sherri Tenpenny cancelled, and I was thinking that the anti-free speech angle of this action is definitely not a good look and could well have added fuel to the sense of martyrdom that the anti-vax movement thrives upon. Then in the evening we sat down and watched for the second time the strange and entertaining docu-drama Holy Flying Circus, which is about the debate, protest and conflict that happened in response to the release of the Monty Python movie Life of Brian in the 1970s, a movie that lampooned religious people while trying to avoid ridiculing the Christian religion. Then late that night the terrible news of the Charlie Hebdo terror attack, and debating late into the night with one family member whether or not the people at that French satirical magazine "had it coming" because they were privileged white men with a long history of deliberately provoking and ridiculing an ethnic minority.

I argued for the "No" case while being accused of hypocrisy for condemning Islamist violence in France while Australia and associated nations continue to send armed forces to interfere and intervene in the affairs of Arab and Muslim nations. I have no issue with the killing of a killer or the killing of a soldier in a murderous movement, but I do take issue with killing people simply because they have said or expressed a view that one does not like. You feel offended? Then why don't you take to the media or pen and paper or the internet to express why and argue the opposite case? If you can't or won't do that then suck it up! In the civilized world feeling offended is not a valid reason to go about killing people. If you desire or demand to behave in that way, demanding blood for your hurt feelings or injured sensibilities, I advise that you should without delay migrate to some dust-blown hell-hole where sheep-herders make up the intelligentsia.

I could write all day about the complexities of the Sherri Tenpenny affair, but I have other things to do with my day, but I do want to share my conviction that we should think very carefully before we place other values and considerations above the safeguarding of free speech, because if we don't have free speech we are really screwed. Without free speech and a strong, independent press, open and effective criticism of an unjust or corrupt government is impossible. Without free speech victims cannot warn other potential victims of whatever or whoever. Without free speech and whistleblowers who feel willing or safe to report their concerns and evidence, broken systems and corrupt networks remain unexposed, unchallenged and broken. When individuals feel too intimidated by the threat of legal action to go to the media to make a statement about something that isn't right in society, then journalists are at best hampered in how much they can report, as there is little substance or popular interest in a story if no one will dare to go "on record".

These days in Australia thinking people are forced to discriminate between Islamophobia and secular values. I'm an atheist and I've never pretended otherwise. I try to support Palestinians, Sri Lankan Tamils and the (indigenous) people of West Papa because I believe they are seriously persecuted people. Religion has nothing to do with it. One of the above are mostly Muslim while another are being persecuted by a Muslim nation, so I think that should look pretty fair and impartial in regard to Islam, but I'm not going to pretend that it is not true that many aspects of Islam make me want to puke and throw things on a regular basis. It is no secret; I'd love it if the whole damn world gave up religion and all other forms of irrational thinking, or at least recognized the many flaws in the thinking processes of normal, intelligent people and made some effort to remediate. I don't expect it will ever happen though. I think religion is stupid and an excuse for mental undiscipline and an ugly bag of evil behaviours, but I'm not going to give any individual person a hard time for being Muslim or any other religion, because I don't believe bullying is the way to go. But I do very highly value the right to criticize any religion or political philosophy or intellectual idea or fad, as I often do at this blog. Apparently there is nothing in the constitution of Australia that guarantees this right, and I know that in Australia journalists are restrained in their reporting by a variety of legal restrictions and threats, along with all of the implicit social, economic and personal safety threats that go along with reporting.

Today more than ever I value free speech and freedom of the press and freedom of expression. I will be forever grateful to Google and Smashwords and the people of the United States of America with their fabulous First Amendment for granting me, an Australian nobody, freedom of speech and the freedom to blog away to my cold heart's desire, and I plan to continue to abuse that privilege for the foreseeable future.

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