By Chris Mitchell.
Social media and reporting of it in mainstream news are producing intolerance not seen since anti-communist senator Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1940s and 50s.
The free-thinking rebelliousness of the 60s grew out of a backlash against McCarthyist repression of what was regarded as seditious activities, literature, plays and movies inspired by communism to undermine American values.
Today it is the storm troopers of the student Left and musicians and actors who lead a daily barrage of threats against people whose free thought they can’t tolerate.
Usually these involve “look-at-me” verbal violence against US President Donald Trump for doing in office exactly what he promised to do before the 2016 presidential election.
Public outbursts of moral outrage by multi-millionaire stars such as Madonna or Robert De Niro show just how intolerant parts of the modern Left are.
While intimidation of Australia’s politicians falls far short of anti-Trump hysteria, there is among students, artists, journalists and political activists an increasing intolerance here, too.
In the past month activists have tried to prevent Canadian conservative Lauren Southern staging public events; a writers festival has sought to exclude Germaine Greer and Bob Carr because of their “unsafe” views; a prominent ABC host has written a column to defend the presence of the occasional conservatives on The Drum; and mainstream media personalities have tried to dismiss reporting of African crime gangs in Melbourne.
Southern, 23, a Canadian journalist, is described as alt-right by critics but sees herself as libertarian. She is accused of racism for saying what many people privately think about unauthorised mass migration, mainly by Muslims from Africa and Syria.
She was billed $68,000 by Victoria Police for security at a $750-a-head rally on July 20 in Somerton, 20km north of the Melbourne CBD. Last week police prevented Southern from walking on a public footpath past the Lakemba Mosque in Sydney’s western suburbs for fear her presence might provoke violence by Muslim worshippers.
Both incidents seem to reverse the onus of civic responsibility. Why were police not protecting Southern’s right to free assembly in Melbourne, or to walk freely about suburban Sydney? Why in Brisbane on July 29 did police warn she could be fined if any police were injured if she persisted with attempts to interview protesters outside her Brisbane Convention Centre rally?
Shutting down of other people’s opinions is counter-productive. Surely after the Brexit and Trump votes anti-racist protesters should realise worldwide concern about immigration cannot be silenced by intimidation. In democracies voters get their own back.
The withdrawal of invitations to Carr and Greer by the Brisbane Writers Festival is even more troubling for free thought. Southern is a provocateur, for sure, but Carr and Greer are intellectuals whose books should be discussed even by people who dislike their ideas, as I do.
Richard Flanagan, 2014 Man Booker Prize winning Tasmanian author of The Narrow Road to the Deep North, published a blistering response to the festival’s decision in Guardian Australia on July 29. “A writer, if they are doing their work properly, rubs against the grain of conventional thinking. Writers are often outcasts, heretics and marginalised. Once upon a time writers festivals celebrated them, and with them the values of intellectual freedom,” he argued.
Flanagan went on to criticise the same festival’s 2016 handling of US author Lionel Shriver after a fiery blog by former ABC personality Yassmin Abdel-Magied, who had heard only a third of Shriver’s presentation but accused her of laying the foundations “for genocide”.
“For Shriver the talk was about the damage identity politics could do to writing. For her critics it was about belittling the movement against cultural appropriation,” Flanagan wrote. Whatever your view, the debate was important, but Flanagan says “the BWF betrayed Shriver when she was at her most vulnerable”. As a fan of her writing, I agree.
“The Shriver controversy was the first time Australian writers festivals began to feel like a foreign country occupied by a strange regime, hostile to what writers stand for,” Flanagan wrote.
Carr is probably being dropped because of his sympathy with China and Greer because of comments suggesting not all rapes are equally serious and some should be considered “non-consensual … bad sex” as most “don’t involve any injury whatsoever”. Apparently the gentle “Volk” of Brisbane will not feel “safe” hearing such things.
Well here’s the rub. “Writers festivals, like … (literary) prizes have … become less … about books and more … about using their … power to enforce the new orthodoxies, to prosecute social and political agendas”.
Flanagan wrote: Even the ABC is facing intolerance from the Left. Julia Baird, part-time host of The Drum, used her column in The Sydney Morning Herald on July 28 to call out social media intimidation she was receiving for supposedly privileging panellists from the Institute of Public Affairs. Baird said the show had included only three IPA appearances this year, two by the same person.
Now the IPA, even though supported by big businesses and Australia’s richest woman, Gina Rinehart, is not the Ku Klux Klan. It was founded in 1943 by Charles Denton Kemp, father of Howard government ministers Rod and David Kemp. Although associated with free-market economic policies in recent decades, it was very much a Keynesian institution until the early 70s.
Wrote Baird: “The art of persuasion has been thoroughly trounced by polemic in public debate. Online, in comments sections, in staccato bursts of hate and attack, in the citing of feelings over facts, we see people shoving pillows over divergent views and trying to stop them being aired at all.”
She complained about the Twitter campaign to silence the IPA on The Drum. Just exactly what are Twitter’s twits afraid of? On subjects from migration to power prices, climate change and taxation reform, many on the uneducated Twitter Left would benefit from hearing well-argued conservative views. They might even learn why voters around the world disagree with most social media pieties.
The worst example of left-wing censoring of debate last month concerned opinion-makers from Waleed Aly to ABC journalists Jon Faine and Virginia Trioli trying to shut down discussion of Melbourne’s African gang violence. No amount of fudging the figures will change the fact this is a real issue and Africans are overrepresented in crime statistics, even if total numbers reflect the small African population.
Yet Aly said on Ten’s The Project on July 19: “If there really are a bunch of African gangs, frankly I am offended to not at least have been asked to join one.” His eight-minute segment was praised, of course, on social media.
Victims of gang crime who can’t afford the salubrious and safe suburbs inhabited by privileged members of the commentariat will just feel more isolated. No African migrants will be helped.
By Chris Mitchell originally published in The Australian