Monday, April 30, 2007



Freedom of speech and Anzac Day

There was a basic contradiction in the argument of those objecting to the protests at dawn services on Anzac Day last week. On the one hand, the dead they were commemorating supposedly "died for freedom". On the other, that freedom apparently did not extend to disagreeing with that statement or questioning the prevailing narrative around those deaths. In an editorial today, the Dominion Post quietly challenges those objecting to such protests to eat their own rhetoric, and makes a strong case for freedom of speech:

However, leaving aside the legalities of the methods they employed, which are now a matter for the courts, the protesters were entitled to make their point. It will not have been lost on many at the service that the men who they were honouring had died at least partly in defence of the protesters' right to deliver their message, however wrong-headed and inappropriate it may have been.

The answer is neither to stop groups such as Hammerskins and the peace advocates from expressing their views, nor, as others advocate, ignore them and hope that a complete lack of publicity stifles them.

There can be no rational defence for suppressing views simply because they do not accord with the orthodoxy of the day.

There's a dubious circumlocution there - the charges of offensive behaviour and flag burning make the "legalities of the methods" being a matter for the courts is a polite mask for exactly the sort of censorship the DomPost claims to be opposing. But their broader point remains: in a free society, ideas and arguments must stand and fall on their own merits, rather than be crushed by the majority. The answer to objectionable speech must be more speech, not less.

14 comments:

Having freedom of speech means we a free to criticize those crass enough to misuse it.

No contradiction at all.

On the other hand honking a hooter to drown out someone elses freedom of speech (as one of the arrested did) is not exercising freedom of speech but trying to deny others their right to exercise it un molested.

Posted by andrei : 4/30/2007 04:53:00 PM

People have a right to express their point of view, but also have a responsibility to treat other people, their views and feelings, with respect and politeness.

The Dawn Service at the Cenotaph was not the right time or place to make their protest. If people wish to protest against NZ troops being in Afghanistan, then they should do so outside the Ministry of Defence/NZDF HQ, which deploys the troops, or outside the Beehive, as Cabinet orders the troops' deployment.

The protestors were boorish, their actions crass, and cynically calculated to gain news media exposure.

Posted by Strategist : 4/30/2007 06:11:00 PM

I wonder what this sort of case might say about the limits of the tools that a counter protest could use against one of those Queen Street marches and the limits of the police to stop such a counter protest from obstructing the protest.

For example, could one use air horns?

Maybe someone needs to spell out exactly what those limits are and distribute that information to the general public for future potential counter protests.

Posted by Anonymous : 4/30/2007 07:25:00 PM

I agree. I find it shocking how many people believe in "free speech" but not when it is "inappropriate", "unwanted" or "offensive" and ignore that it is only in such situations that free speech is tested!

I don't agree with the ANZAC protesters, but they should be allowed to make their point.

Posted by jjh : 4/30/2007 07:39:00 PM

You must've been in a rush I/S - you left off the end part of your post:

"The answer to objectionable speech must be more speech, not less.

... unless it's election time, in which case people will need state permission to use their ration of speech."

Posted by hugh : 4/30/2007 09:23:00 PM

Commenters like 'andrei' and 'strategist' make the feelings of the Anzac veterans and other people attending the commemorations the touchstone for their judgment of the protests. If the veterans were upset, then the protest was wrong.

But there are more important things to consider, like the crimes against humanity that Anzac troops are committing in East Timor. The vast majority of Kiwis are ignorant of these events, and the decision of the protesters to strike at a such a sensitive, high-profile event reflects a frustration with this ignorance.

Which is worse: the burning of a flag in Wellington, or the murder of two East Timorese youths by Anzac troops during the attack on the Comoro refugee camp in February?

Does the blowing of a horn during the Dawn Service compare to the bloody Anzac operation that killed five Timorese in the mountains south of Dili on March the 4th?

Are the protesters holding an anti-imperialist banner comparable to the Anzacs who recently stopped a Fretilin election convoy on the backblocks of Timor and put a gun to the head of an aide of Mari Alkatiri?

If the protests managed to put Anzac imperialism in the Pacific on the radar of at least part of New Zealand, and provoke a little debate, then they will have been worthwhile. And, judging by the arguments that have been raging at a number of blogs and at indymedia, a part of the Kiwi left is at ast beginning to take the occupations of East Timor and the Solomons seriously.

This blog, though, seems still to be deciding whether it takes Anzac imperialism as seriously as the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/01/2007 10:58:00 AM

Criticizing the protesters is not a contradiction; saying that they shouldn't have been allowed is.

Protests outside NZDFHQ and the Beehive have been done, and been ignored. Gaining exposure for their views is the point of protest, and when the mainstream media gives more attention to celebrity adoptions than hundreds of people taking to the streets, it's understandable that protesters would be driven to more controversial methods.

Posted by Commie Mutant Traitor : 5/01/2007 12:46:00 PM

Sorry anon, but I'm struggling to keep a straight face. You can't seriously expect anyone to believe your claim that NZ/Australian operations in Timor Leste and Solomon Islands (which are assisting civil governments to uphold law and order and maintain basic safety for ordinary people) actually constitutes 'Anzac imperialism', whatever that means.

You claim that the 'vast majority of Kiwis are ignorant of these events'. There's a simple explanation for this ignorance, and that is that your claims are not credible.

But of course it's easy to criticise and dream up conspiracy theories (it must make a change from banging on about the Americans) rather than make a real effort to understand what is going on in these countries.

Posted by strategist : 5/01/2007 10:24:00 PM

If by upholding law and order and maintaining basic safety you mean murdering internally displaced refugees and arresting peaceful demonstrators, certainly.

Posted by Commie Mutant Traitor : 5/02/2007 08:30:00 AM

strategist: you ought to take your own advice. Here's a link to a statement from the residents of Comoro refugee camp, which Anzac troops and tanks raided on February the 23rd:

http://www.etan.org/et2007/february/28/03statmnt.htm

'Maintaining basic safety for ordinary people'? Sounds more like the way Mugabe deals with shantytowns and refugee camps.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/02/2007 06:23:00 PM

Anon - thanks for the link. Funny, but I would've pegged you to be a Mugabe supporter. Perhaps you'll become one if western governments decide to intervene in Zimbabwe to protect the ordinary people that Mugabe is subjugating.

Returning to East Timor, my understanding is that an Australian soldier was attacked with steel arrows, and was defending himself. But perhaps you would prefer a situation in which foreign peacekeepers withdrew from East Timor and let the factions fight it out amongst themselves. This, of course, could result in anarchy and great suffering for ordinary people, as was on the verge of occurring last year before the Timorese government asked for foreign assistance to restore order.

Have you been to East Timor and Solomon Islands, and experienced the situations first hand? I suggest you think about doing so, before being so quick to pass judgement.

Posted by strategist : 5/02/2007 07:42:00 PM

strategist: your attempt to dismiss the statement by the Comoro refugees smacks of the same cynicism that was used to justify Anzac complicity in the long and brutal Indonesian occupation of East Timor.

By their own admission, Australian troops supported by tanks attacked the camp before one of them allegedly had a steel dart fired at him. The troops were attempting, not to enforce the rule of law, but to enforce the Horta's government's illegal and hugely unpopular demand that the camp and others like it be abandoned.

What sort of justification is there for the use of such massive armed force against a group of people who had been protesting peacefully against plans to force them out of the only homes they possess?

And, even if a steel dart was fired at an Australian soldier, how does this justify the shooting of three people, two of whom died from their wounds, and the wounding of several more?

I suspect, though, that you have no trouble defending the indefensible. I prefer to take the position of the Comoro refugees and their supproters in the massive recent demonstrations on the streets of Dili, and call for an end to Anzac occupation.

It's about time I/S, who frets about sedition laws in New Zealand but ignores Anzac human right violations abroad, caught up with the play on this issue. If he's going to blog about the Anzac Day protests, he might as well discuss the things they were protesting.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/02/2007 09:31:00 PM

Heres a quote from a film which is appropriate for those who will defend freedom but not fight for it.

And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to.

Posted by Razorlight : 5/03/2007 04:00:00 AM

Re: steel dart - "The Australian government would not confirm if the youth who was shot was armed with a bow or a slingshot" (tvnz.co.nz). The soldiers may have been attacked, but apparently not by the people they shot.

Posted by Commie Mutant Traitor : 5/03/2007 03:18:00 PM