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Look Who’s Afraid of Free Speech Now

December 1, 2009 – 5:48 pm50 Comments

free_speech_1By Anthony Frosh & Rachel Sacks-Davis

Fascism has long been associated with far right-wing political movements.  Today, when it comes to suppressing the expression of ideas, it is getting increasingly difficult to distinguish between the so-called intellectual left and the far right.

Last month, The International Centre B5 left-wing German activists violently prevented the showing of a documentary film by a Claude Lanzmann, a prominent French Jewish filmmaker. The 1973 documentary film was Lanzmann’s first film, Why Israel, about the role of the Jewish state as a homeland for refugees. This is just one of many similar instances in Europe of late, and while this phenomenon has been most intense in Europe, it has by no means been limited to the old continent. 

At the University of California, Berkeley, where one might presume that freedom of speech is paramount, there have been significant attempts to violate the right of free expression.  For example, when Nonie Darwish, an Egyptian-American author and feminist who has become a Muslim apostate and strident critic of Jihadist Islam was scheduled to speak, she faced a well-organised tirade of constant heckling throughout her lecture in order to prevent her from expressing her ideas to the audience. Now you might think that a human rights activist and feminist of Arabic origin might appeal to the left-wing students at Berkeley, but it appears that if you have anything to say that might not be fully congruent with these students’ worldview, then your rights to free expression (and the rights of others who might like to hear you) are to be quashed.

Australian universities have similarly not been immune from this denial of freedom of expression. Anecdotally, at a university public lecture that one of us attended recently, the professor delivering the lecture could only cite her own intuition in defence of her argument, but nonetheless spoke in angry tones at audience members who dared to challenge her hypothesis. In our experience similarly dogmatic attitudes are regrettably all too common in Australian universities, and especially humanities departments.

In the Australian Jewish community, we can also see that the far-left have at times shown a disconcerting lack of pluralism.  One self styled radical left Jewish blog has in its mission statement

“We’re hoping people will disagree with us, pushing us to consider other ideas and ways of thinking.” 

However, this is immediately qualified with  

“…we’re not liberals – we’re not guided by arguments of ‘freedom of speech’. This is a blog… that we’re carving out for critical, progressive thinking.”

Got that? If you’re not what is deemed by the editors to be progressive, then your ideas are not worthy of being published, not even in the comments section.

As editors of a Jewish magazine, you might expect that we’ve received many requests to censor people’s comments because they were perceived as anti-Semitic or anti-Israel etc.  However, the fact is that up to this point (kineynahora), we have not received a single such request.  On the other hand, we have received several requests (and even the odd demand) from ‘progressive’ correspondents requesting that we remove comments that the correspondent deemed not to be ‘progressive’ enough.

As always, we remind the correspondent that we are not so wise as to be the arbiters of which ideas are valid or invalid.  After all, whole societies have accepted ideas that the majority of people now consider to be morally repugnant (and vice versa). It’s time these so-called progressives look in the mirror and ask themselves the question: what makes them so insightful that they feel they can arbitrate in this way?

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