By Dane Giraud -
The anti-speech mob ignore a simple fact; there is incredible diversity within minority groups. Therefore, we must keep society as open and as liberal as possible. The idea that our right to free speech must be tested against “competing rights” comes out of a worldview that minority rights conflict with that of the majority, when the most contentious battles far often happen within minority groups.
The UN Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) preamble recognizes that humans have an “inherent dignity” (women who sleep with me being a notable exception) and “equal and inalienable rights”. So, what’s with the bunk peddled by so many now that “rights” aren’t inalienable and that some rights are more equal than others?
We must give up the right to freedom of opinion and expression, because, for example, the “right to dignity” is more important (never mind that dignity is not a UNDHR right). If we allow for this “trade-off” we’re giving the state the power, not just to take away our freedoms and a fundamental right to express ourselves, but to “define” minority groups by deciding upon limits on how we can and can’t be spoken about, even potentially by ourselves! What constitutes a suitably “Jewish” Jew could end up defined by the state. You don’t believe me? Follow a few liberal Muslim reformers on Twitter, then imagine their detractors, many of whom are non-Muslim, having free rein to write speech laws.
But free speech can erode the right to “life, liberty and security”? Security and its synonym, “safety”, have developed into somewhat nebulous and politicized terms today, and their usage has often proven brazenly hypocritical. When Far-Right political activist Lauren Southern and Racial IQ peddler Stefan Molyneux came to New Zealand to give some public talks, many were concerned about the potential violence they would encourage against members of our Muslim community. Yet, anti-Israel protests are often completely gratuitous displays, full of racist dog whistles and thoroughly dodgy rhetoric. Hezbollah flags flew in Aotea square only weeks before Auckland Mayor Phil Goff helped create the furor around Southern and Molyneux. Hezbollah is a group that openly calls for genocide, yet this didn’t seem to register as a safety issue for many of the prominent commentators voicing concern over the Canadian speakers. Why are calls for genocide against Jews not as outrageous as anti-Muslim speech? The fact is many calling for speech restrictions also have a dog in the anti-Israel fight (An Alsatian perhaps?) meaning free speech is the only way to guarantee any sort of consistency.
Not that I would be happy to see such protests suppressed. While I don’t share their views, some Jews are anti-Israel. Vehemently so at times. And while the anti-Israel movement often points to these Jews as a type of proof for their own legitimacy, their inclusion doesn’t say much beyond the fact that Jews, like all groups, minority or otherwise, are incredibly diverse.
If you accept this fact, why should we indulge the idea of a contest where free expression is pitted against other “rights” when we couldn’t possibly hope to fairly determine unified interests without first dismissing a range of voices within minority communities? Nor, for that matter, could we even properly settle on interpretations of these “rights” within groups. At my shul we’re yet to settle on how to best set up the picnic tables!
Experts, I hear you say. Experts will decide for us!
The idea that any contest between free speech and competing rights would be a cool-headed and mature process is fanciful. We cannot ignore that we are only even talking about speech restrictions again, not due to any spikes in racism or attacks on minority groups, but because a new illiberal fringe seeks to censor those they view as the opposition. If we could guarantee that identitarians would have no place at the table, that might be somewhat consoling.
But this is their crisis.
It’s their table.
Here is the problem — the inescapable and irredeemable problem — of contemporary identity politics: it is fitting groups around a series of narratives to create a singular vision of our people-hood's. And while individual groups have common historical events and upheavals and issues unique to their experience, it hasn’t meant that the people themselves have homogenized into a cohesive single organism.
No group does.
No group can.
For me the focus on minority rights should start with a sensitivity to the struggles of minorities within minority groups. For these groups protection relies on freedom of expression. It’s conservative voices within minority groups that tend to lobby for speech restrictions, and not out of fear, but to establish their views as what the majority should consider mainstream.
Allowing the government to define what can and can’t be said about us is an illiberal imposition that denies members of minority groups our individualism, and would instantly throw minorities within minorities, some of the most vulnerable people in our societies, under the bus.
This opinion piece appeared on Medium.com