Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt’s op-ed yesterday defending the government's proposed hate speech laws is thoroughly predictable after a month of terrible comms that failed to convince New Zealanders on the issue. An overwhelming 80% of submissions opposed the laws. This has failed to move Hunt, who seems happy to be out of step with the rest of New Zealand.
And make no mistake, those opposed to the laws are incredibly diverse. Our steering group itself is made up of several members from ethnic and religious minority groups and folk from the LGBT community. Despite this, Paul Hunt has labelled us an “uninterested party” and will not meet with us. His reasons barely need explaining: these minority members won't support his narrative.
Paul Hunt argues in his piece that hate speech is wrong because “it denies dignity and equality to individuals and communities”. Where is the dignity in the State sending police officers to knock at your door over opinions you've expressed? Where is the dignity for the family le> without a father or mother while this parent sits in a prison cell, for up to three years, due to words they spoke? The freer the society, the more dignity. A society that censors speech to the degree we see in the proposed laws is a society with utter contempt for its citizens, and their dignity.
Hunt also talks of hate speech denying equality. But it is speech restrictions that deny equality. All you must do is think of the potential impact on feminists should laws be brought in that prohibit robust criticism of gender identity. The effect of such a law will unquestionably “stack the deck” against women and women's issues. But these laws will go much further. They will very specifically violate the equality of minorities within our minority groups. Take, for example, anti-Zionist Jews within the Jewish community, minority Muslim sects like the Ahmadiyya community, and dissenting LGBT voices, such as lesbians who have all but been thrown out of PRIDE celebrations due to wrong- think. If international trends are anything to go by, nonconforming minorities have the most to fear from the proposed new laws.
Hunt writes in his piece “if you are powerful and privileged it is easy to dismiss the idea of boundaries indicating what is acceptable but if you are a member of a disadvantaged group or ethnic minority, faith community, sexual minority a woman or disabled person boundaries matter”. What Hunt is trying to say here is that minorities “get it” and that by promoting this illiberal policy he is somehow speaking for us. A recent poll commissioned by the Free Speech Union found that 42% of Muslims now oppose the proposed laws. The Jewish community was so split over them that many of the planned submissions were abandoned. Hunt is simply lying when he suggests minority groups are of one mind on this. The Human Rights Commission very carefully curates who it will speak to within our groups and simply ignores the perspectives that don’t bolster their arguments. This is a common talking point within our communities. This is seriously damaging to us because it denies us our diversity and sends a dangerous message to the public that the majority of us want to take our fellow New Zealander's rights away. Be assured, this is simply not true.
The fact is, minorities know better than most of the importance of free speech - even nasty and truly offensive speech - because free speech was the central principle that delivered us full rights in the West. A>er claiming he is concerned about hate speech promulgating stereotypes, Hunt is trying to promote a picture of us to the public that is false.
Your average member of a minority group has far more to fear from the advocacy of individuals like Hunt and his speech restrictions than we do from offensive or even hateful speech. Both Hunt and the laws are determined to associate us with fear in state censorship in people’s minds, and in doing so will throw up walls between us and the majority. Maybe as an especially privileged member of the majority himself, Hunt just is unable to grasp this. But signalling to wider New Zealand that they need one of their most basic rights taken away in order to make us happy is reckless and irresponsible.
This man is not our friend.
Not only does Hunt fail to make any real defence of speech restrictions in his op-ed, but he calls into question the function of his organisation and makes clear that it is minority groups that should be leading anti-racist campaigns and programs – not detached, upper-class academics.
Even if I could be convinced his intentions are 100% pure, Hunt’s goal of controlling the speech of everyday New Zealanders will hurt minorities and must be rejected.
Dane Giraud is a member of the Jewish Community and a Council Member of the Free Speech Union.