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Mark Steyn

Steyn on Canada and the Commonwealth

The Big Shut-Up

Over the weekend, I swung by Judge Jeanine's show to talk about one of the most malign trends of our time: the ever more open refusal by one side to permit those on the other side to speak. As I always say, I don't care what side you pick on the great questions of the age - climate change, gay marriage, Islam, transgendered bathrooms, whatever - but, if you're on the side that says the other guy isn't entitled to a side, you're on the wrong side. Here's how I put it to Judge Jeanine:

That Tweetaway takeaway is correct: They don't want to participate in the debate, and win it. It's easier to shut it down and save themselves the trouble. Case in point:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali Tour Cancelled

Citing security issues, the Somalian-born activist calls off her scheduled Australian tour...

Let's just expand that "Somali-born activist" précis a little. She's not a dead white male like me or Charles Murray. As someone once said, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is everything the identity-group fetishists profess to dig: female, atheist, black, immigrant. But, because she does not toe the party line on Islam, her blackness washes off her like a bad dye job on a telly anchorman - and so do her femaleness and godlessness and immigrant status. And in the end she is Charles Murray, or Geert Wilders - or even David Duke. A black Somali woman is, it turns out, a "white supremacist".

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is someone who fled genital mutilation and arranged marriage in a backward, barbarous society to come to the west and live in freedom. Her first stop was the Netherlands. But the director of the film she wrote, Theo van Gogh, was murdered in the street, and the man who shot him then drove two knives through what was left of his chest pinning to it a five-page death-threat promising to do the same to Ayaan. So she was forced to leave the Netherlands, and has lived with round-the-clock security ever since. Now she has to cross Australia off the list, too. Where's next? Can she speak in Sweden? Or Canada? Ireland or Germany? She left Somalia to live as a western woman, only to watch the west turn itself into Somalia, incrementally but remorselessly, at least as far as free speech is concerned.

It began, as it always does, respectably enough. Four hundred Muslim women in Australia - academics, social workers, diversicrats, supposed "human-rights activists" - signed a petition objecting to her tour Down Under but all artfully crafted in the usual weaselly more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger shtick, concluding with:

Australia deserves better than this.

Aww, that's so cute! Did you all tilt your heads in unison and group-furrow your brows into concerned expressions? The petition title's a doozy too:

Ayaan Hirsi-Ali [sic] Does Not Speak For Us

Well, she never claimed to, did she? You're all Muslim women, and she's a non-Muslim woman. She's left Islam. Which makes her an apostate, which is one more reason why she lives with round-the-clock death threats. Ayaan Hirsi Ali speaks for herself. Why don't you try that? Why don't you try engaging in debate, in argument, in the free exchange of ideas? Or is it easier to insist that supposed freeborn citizens can only "speak for" the collective monolithic position of identity groups?

Next came something called the "Council for the Prevention of Islamophobia". Hey, we're all against Islamophobia, aren't we? (At least at the House of Commons in Ottawa.) But how exactly are we supposed to "prevent" it? Enter the Council's enforcer, Syed Murtaza Hussain, who isn't quite as cuddly as all those Australia-deserves-better-that's-not-who-we-are types:

Its insurers were contacted and warned there could be trouble, and venues where she was scheduled to speak had been contacted and warned that there would be protests where she was due to appear...

[Hussain] informed Festival Hall in Melbourne there would be 5000 protesters outside the venue if the engagement went ahead.

Nice little Festival Hall you've got there. Shame if anything were to happen to it.

As Brendan O'Neill observes:

Hirsi Ali's troubles in Australia are striking because they point to a really worrying interplay between the polite intolerance of 'Islamophobia' and the more violent urge in certain sections of society to punish and maybe even kill critics of Islam.

As I say wearily for the umpteenth time, the defenders of Section 18 in Oz and the MPs who voted for M-103 in Canada and the craven non-entity of a university president who canceled Ayaan's appearance at Brandeis, on the one hand, and, on the other, the men who slaughtered the Charlie Hebdo staff and shot up Lars Vilks' event in Copenhagen and firebombed the Norwegian comedienne Shabana Rehman's family restaurant are merely different points on the same continuum: they're all in the shut-up business. And they're all hustling us further along the same dark retreat into silence.

But as I wrote a few years ago:

After the threats against the Comedy Central show South Park the other week, Ms. Hirsi Ali turned up on CNN to say that the best defence against Islamic intimidation is for us all to stand together and thereby "share the risk." But, around the world, every single translator of her books has insisted on total anonymity. When push comes to shove, very few are willing to share the risk. The British historian Andrew Roberts calls her "the bravest woman I know."

I agree with Roberts. The problem is that for Ayaan Hirsi Ali's bravery to be effective depends on the tour promoters' bravery. And the tour promoters' bravery depends on whichever hotel group she's booked with to be brave. And the hotel group's bravery depends on whichever corporate entity owns the event venues to be brave. And the corporate entity's bravery depends on the insurers' bravery. And the insurers' bravery depends on someone ponying up an extra gazillion dollars for security costs. And suddenly for the price of a bare-bones speech by one brave woman you could mount The Phantom Of The Opera meets Avatar on ice and still come out ahead.

I have had the privilege of sharing stages with Ayaan Hirsi Ali at various places around the world from London to California. It wasn't that long ago, but it feels already like the past - a previous era, just the day before yesterday but already the rules have changed. In 2015, I spoke in Copenhagen at an event to mark the tenth anniversary of the famous "Mohammed cartoons". As on the fifth anniversary, it required the protection of PET, the Danish security police. But this time, as an additional precaution, it had to be moved inside the fortress-thick walls of the Danish Parliament in order to lessen further the likelihood of fellows who regard debate as a waste of time (and, indeed,an affront) busting in and shooting us all. Nevertheless, notwithstanding all the security, both the US State Department and the British Foreign Office issued formal warnings advising their nationals to steer clear of the Parliament building that day.

These things are always a little stressful: as recent incidents at Westminster and Ottawa illustrate, even national parliaments are not as "secure" as they appear. So we were looking forward to unwinding at dinner afterwards at what looked like a fine, convivial restaurant. Unfortunately, after the PET agents showed up for the advance-security check, the restaurateurs got cold feet and canceled on us. As my fellow speaker Douglas Murray commented:

Ten years ago, you could publish depictions of Mohammed in a Danish newspaper. Ten years later, it is hard for anyone who has been connected with such an act to find a restaurant in Copenhagen that will serve them dinner.

And in another ten years? Douglas, Ayaan and I will still enjoy theoretical freedom of speech but, to exercise it, we'll have to meet in an abandoned mine-shaft an hour south of Cloncurry, speaking to seven personally invited guests driven there blindfolded. The marketplace of ideas, from Canberra to Copenhagen, is shrinking fast. To quote Laura Rosen Cohen yet again: "Security" is the new "shut up".

Why is restoring free speech to Australia by scrapping Section 18C so important? The most dismal moment of my own Aussie tour last year was a private dinner with a group of well-known conservative Members of Parliament - that's to say, men and women reliably to the right of the current Prime Minister, a finger-in-the-windy jelly-spined squish on freedom of expression and so much else. Yet, even dining with supposed sturdier types, the most eminent among our number declared breezily that repealing 18C was "not a first-order priority", not compared to what he regarded as the real first-order priority: Islamic terrorism in Australia and elsewhere.

I pointed out that one of the reasons why the former (free speech) most certainly is a first-order priority is because, without it, the latter (Islam and the west) cannot be honestly addressed. And so it has proved, yet again.

Malcolm Turnbull's ministry ought to be ashamed that a woman like Ayaan Hirsi Ali cannot speak in the country they purport to govern. And, if they want to do something to change that, they could start by speaking up for free speech. Will they? Will Turnbull? The men and women who run the western world - in Oz, in Britain, in Canada, in Europe - have made a bet that they can banish a few loudmouths like Ayaan Hirsi Ali to the fringes but that otherwise life will go on. No, it won't. As I said of that Copenhagen eatery:

The restaurant that chickened out is called Fiat, in King's New Square. It looks rather convivial from this photograph, with everyone quaffing their bubbly without a care in the world. They don't seem to grasp that such civilized pleasures require civilization, and, ultimately, people willing to defend it.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is learning the hard way that very few people are willing to "share the risk".

from Steyn on Australia, April 3, 2017

 

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