The assault on free speech continues around the world.
In Australia, the Section 18C "hate speech" case against three Queensland University of Technology students has been thrown out by the Federal Court.
I mentioned this travesty on my Oz tour earlier this year: A group of students walked into a QUT computer lab only to be told it was an "aboriginal-only" computer lab and made to leave. Apparently, aborigines have an entirely different Windows operating system. So the guys went back to their rooms and made a few sardonic comments on Facebook, such as "I wonder where the white supremacist computer lab is."
For reacting to neo-segregationism with droll self-mockery, they were dragged into a three-year legal nightmare. My pal Tim Blair is celebrating this as a landmark victory against the totalitarian thought-police of the Australian "Human Rights" Commission, but, as I always say, the process is the punishment:
Some of them choose to pay $5000 just to make the whole thing go away, so afraid of being labelled racists are they. Others choose to fight this patent injustice, even though they're being sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is ruining their lives, and even an ultimate victory in the courts is a loss. The process is the punishment, as author Mark Steyn endlessly reminds us.
I do - because it's true. For years to come, whenever any prospective employer Googles these guys' names, the first zillion things to come up will be that they're hatey-hatey-haters. Until, deep within the search engine, the Google algorithm will belatedly turn up a story explaining that the case was dismissed.
Not everyone can withstand what these three students withstood. Which is why four of the seven accused caved in and coughed up rather than risk the possibility of a quarter-million-dollar fine and the certainty of career ruin. As another Section 18C target, The Australian, comments:
This newspaper is deeply attracted to the position articulated by Canadian/American commentator Mark Steyn, who fell foul of similar laws in Canada. As Steyn has written in our pages, it can be a mistake to defend the content of any offending piece. "Our opponents were not disputing our position; they were disputing our right to have a position," Steyn said. "Likewise, Leak's opponents are not attempting to engage him in debate; they're attempting to close down the debate." To explain Leak's cartoon is to cede the AHRC's right to arbitrate discourse â€” to censor debate. Better to expose the folly of the entire legal artifice.
Yet individuals have little option but to defend their ground. When seven Queensland University of Technology students were subjected to a complaint about their Facebook protests against an indigenous-only computer room some paid $5000 in compensation to make the issue go away. Others have fought to clear their names and after a three-year battle they were vindicated in court yesterday. Without generous pro bono representation they would have been forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars or accept the accusation of "racial hatred" and pay up. For the complainants it can be a risk-free affair; lodge a complaint and wait for the AHRC to force conciliation and extract compensation. These settlements are usually confidential so we don't know how common they are but we know they have occurred. We also feel confident that if we started paying out for Leak's cartoon the trickle of complaints might become a torrent.
Indeed. Section 18C is a disgusting law that over time incentivizes grievance and identity-group segregation, and beyond that corrodes a free society's commitment to honest and vigorous debate. It deserves to go the way of Canada's now repealed Section 13.
On the other hand, back in the senior Dominion, Iman Sheikh complains that since Section 13 was repealed, it's become way too hard to silence people you disagree with:
Under the Criminal Code, the threshold for hate speech is so high that virtually no one can be shut down
And we can't have that, can we? Because in the 21st century the definition of a "tolerant" "diverse" society is how easy it is to shut down dissenting views. Iman Sheikh continues:
The significant hate speech case prior to the axing of Section 13 was a series of complaints lodged against Maclean's magazine in December 2007 over their publication of 18 allegedly Islamophobic articles between January 2005 and July 2007, including one by conservative New Hampshire-based columnist Mark Steyn titled, "The Future belongs to Islam." The complaints were filed by a group of law students in Ontario and by the Canadian Islamic Congress in B.C., after the magazine, when approached by the former, refused to publish a response or rebuttal.
Actually, we published many letters both pro and con my piece. The "group of law students" never saw any of these because they don't read Maclean's. Some months later, when it was brought to their attention, they demanded a meeting with Ken Whyte, the editor and publisher, and other senior executives, at which they demanded not just "a response or rebuttal", but the right to, in effect, take over the magazine for an issue - by writing a cover story and other material that no Maclean's staff would be permitted to edit, including the plaintiffs' choice of cover art.
In that sense, free speech is also a property-rights issue: Does the state have the right to dictate the content of Maclean's or The Australian?
By the way, speaking of "response or rebuttal", good luck with a "social media" of monopoly publishers increasingly comfortable with one-sided censorship.
As a practical matter, a culture inimical to free speech (as much of the Commonwealth, Europe and even America now are) soon degenerates into a society of ideological coercion. In Britain, the quadruple medal-winning Olympian gymnast Louis Smith has just been suspended for two months by the governing sports authority because a cellphone video showing him "mocking Islam" in a private post-wedding drunken late-night jape was leaked to the media. Douglas Murray comments:
This is the re-entry of blasphemy laws through the back door, where newspapers, daytime chat-shows and sports authorities decide between them that one religion is worthy of particular protection. They do so because they take the religion of Islam uniquely on its own estimation and believe, as well as fear, the warnings of the Islamic blasphemy-police worldwide.
Exactly. And oddly enough no matter how explicit the threats of violence and death are from Islamic supremacists they never attract the attention of supposed "anti-hate" laws like Section 13 and 18C, or "tolerance" police like the Australian "Human Rights" Commission.
Instead, when the state ideology is boundless "tolerance", it somehow winds up becoming mercilessly but highly selectively intolerant. Douglas Murray again, this time on the Netherlands:
On Monday of this week the latest trial of Geert Wilders got underway in Holland. This time Wilders is being tried because of a statement at a rally in front of his supporters in March 2014. Ahead of municipal elections, and following reports of a disproportionate amount of crimes being committed in Holland by Muslims of Moroccan origin, Wilders asked a crowd, "Do you want more or fewer Moroccans in this city and in the Netherlands?" The audience responded, "Fewer, fewer." To which Wilders responded, "Well, we'll arrange that, then..."
The long-term implications for Dutch democracy of criminalizing a majority opinion are catastrophic. But the trial of Wilders is also a nakedly political move.
Whether or not one feels any support for Wilders's sentiments is not in fact the point in this case. The point is that by prosecuting someone for saying what he said, the courts in Holland are effectively ruling that there is only one correct answer to the question Wilders asked. They are saying that if someone asks you whether you would like more Moroccans or fewer, people must always answer "more," or they will be committing a crime.
There are more and more areas of debate in which the authorities take the view that "there is only one correct answer". A free people should be free to argue, whether they take the right side or the wrong side of the question. But, as I always say (he says wearily), when you're arguing that only one side is allowed to have a side, you're on the wrong side.