Andrew Little almost destroyed the Labour Party once and with a little luck he may well contribute to a drop in popularity again. His wonky crusade against freedom of speech will become part of the right wing’s rallying call as we charge over the barricades. Political commentator Chris Trotter believes that Little’s “hate speech” laws will “destroy” the government.

ANDREW LITTLE has confirmed that the Coalition Government will announce changes to New Zealand’s free speech laws before the election. Clearly, Jacinda Ardern has not been able to persuade her Justice Minister that introducing “hate speech” laws is a sure-fire election loser. Or, perhaps the Prime Minister also believes that attacking freedom of speech is an election-winning strategy.

There are only 15 sitting weeks until the next election so there is no time for Little to actually pass any hate speech laws. Foolishly, instead of keeping the unpalatable concept under lock and key until they had won and then launching it on an unsuspecting public, he is letting us all know upfront about his plans to take away our freedoms.

[…] how will the electorate respond to what the Prime Minister’s opponents will undoubtedly characterise as an attack on New Zealanders’ freedom of speech? At more than twelve month’s remove from the terrible events of 15 March 2019, will Jacinda’s inspired “They Are Us” formula be enough to turn aside the free speech defenders’ counterattack?

Those in the Prime Minister’s professional and personal entourages will be adamant in their insistence that being seen to move against hate speech is not only the right thing to do, but that it will also reap Labour a rich harvest of votes – not least from New Zealand’s 57,000 Muslims. The brutal question which must be asked, however, is whether or not winning the support of the 1 percent of New Zealanders who subscribe to the Muslim faith can sensibly be counted as an unqualified addition to Labour’s overall Party Vote; or whether it will be more than offset by the defection of those New Zealanders opposed to Labour’s restriction of free speech? The next, equally brutal question is: “Where will those votes go?”

The obvious, and worrying, answer is: “They will go to the Right.”

It is one of the greatest tragedies of contemporary “left-wing” politics: that its practitioners have allowed themselves to become identified, irretrievably, with the suppression of free speech. Most particularly, with the suppression of the free speech of persons identified as “right wing”, or, more ludicrously, as “Nazis” and “fascists”. Worse still, they have secured this “de-platforming” by threatening to unleash violence and disorder if these individuals are permitted to speak. They have thus supplied local government, university and corporate leaders with the “health and safety” justification for shutting these speakers down. Free speech advocates refer to this tactic as “The Thug’s Veto”.

Little’s reaffirmed commitment to introducing legislation aimed at curbing hate speech will, therefore, be received by right-wing New Zealanders as a direct assault upon their personal liberties. Labour and its Green allies will be accused of using the power of the state to demonise and silence their political opponents.

The Right will not take this lying down.

No, we won’t. “Protect our Free Speech” is rallying cry that many will flock to.

It is, however, doubtful whether Little has given much thought to what making bitter enemies of the entire Right might lead to. While National and Act – especially Act – will be content to fight the issue at the level of abstract principle, those further along the right-wing spectrum will not hesitate to link Little’s hate speech legislation with those it is intended to protect. The very white supremacists the Left has vowed to extirpate will present Little’s laws as proof positive of the Labour/Greens’ surrender to the demands of multiculturalism in general – and of Islam in particular. Such linkages can only pose a grave threat to the safety of all New Zealand’s immigrant communities. The very ugliness that hate speech laws are intended to hide will be even more openly and defiantly displayed.

I cannot agree with Chris Trotter’s characterisation of people who may be pro-free speech, proud of Western culture, anti-immigration or who may disagree with the value system and legal system of political Islam as white supremacists. White supremacists are so scarce in New Zealand that media who have done their best to find them have had to resort to smearing Christians and men for being nothing more than pale and male.

There is no “grave threat” towards Muslims in New Zealand from non-Muslim New Zealanders. Has Chris already forgotten that the terrorist was an Australian and that our most recent homegrown wannabe terrorists have been followers of Islam not Christian white males? In fact, if we look at worldwide statistics Muslims are most at risk of being terrorised and murdered by Muslims from a different sect to their own.

[…] people cannot be forced into abandoning their erroneous, hurtful and/or dangerous opinions. They can only be argued out of them.

Does Andrew Little truly believe that hate speech laws would have stopped Brenton Tarrant? His murderous rampage was inspired not by the rantings of some fool on 4Chan, but by his close study of the centuries-long struggle between Islam and Christianity in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. Are the hate speech laws to be set wide enough to capture the wrongful interpretation of history? Will they extend to banning trips to the European battlefields where the Ottoman armies were checked by Christian knights? And if they are, how will that help to persuade people that what Little is proposing is anything more than the thin edge of the wedge of totalitarianism?

Our current laws forbid the incitement of actual physical harm, and will punish those who wilfully defame their fellow citizens. Attempting to pass laws against the giving of offence, however, is a fool’s errand. Far from eliminating offensiveness, such laws will only encourage and intensify it. Harm cannot be prevented, but it can be healed. Building trust and amity between peoples is achieved by starting conversations – not by shutting them down.

Chris Trotter

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