Tuesday, August 07, 2018

A paranoid's veto

Don Brash was supposed to speak at Massey tomorrow as part of a series of talks organised by a student club. But given his views on te reo and Maori representation, and his support for visiting foreign Nazis, people were naturally planning to protest his presence. There's no suggestion that the protest would have involved anything other than some signs and shouting - the usual push and shove of democracy. But Massey has used it as an excuse to cancel the talk, citing "security" concerns:

Massey University has cancelled a booking made by a students’ politics club at which former politician and Hobson’s Pledge founder Dr Don Brash was invited to speak at the University’s ManawatÅ« campus on Wednesday.

Club members had signed a venue and space use agreement form in which they agreed to manage the venue in accordance with the University’s Strategy, including recognising the values of a Te Tiriti o Waitangi-led organisation and ensuring its use would not adversely affect University operations, security, reputation or public safety.

The members later approached University management concerned about their ability to meet the agreement’s terms around security after becoming aware of social media posts suggesting the event could lead to violence.

The Univesity considered providing additional security for the event, but decided the risk of harm to students, staff and members of the public was too great, particularly at time of heightened tension over the issues around free speech and hate speech. Dr Brash was also a supporter of right-wing Canadian speakers Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, who were due to address a public meeting in Auckland.

So, according to Massey, a bit of shouting and sign-waving is "harm". This isn't a heckler's veto on speech - its a paranoid's veto, of assuming that any protest means a riot and public slaughter. It would be laughable, if it wasn't so dangerous to our democracy. Because if any speech which attracts protest is banned, then we simply can't publicly discuss controversial (or, given trolls, even uncontroversial) topics. Or basicly anything at all.

I don't like Don Brash, but our democracy deserves better than this, especially from our universities. Brash should be allowed to speak, and those who don't like him should be allowed to express their views. Absent a specific, credible threat of serious violence, there's no justification to do anything else.