Hold my pug …

It was a very cold August night in Edinburgh, indeed the entire summer had been a cold one. Thomas Aikenhead turned to his companions and said, “I wish right now I was in the place Ezra called hell, to warm myself there.”

He was reported to the authorities. An investigation followed and it was discovered that the 18 year old Aikenhead had also said that the bible was not God’s word but the invention of the said Ezra, that Jesus had not performed miracles and the world was not created in seven days but had existed for all eternity.

Aikenhead was hanged for blasphemy on the 8th of January 1697.

Scottish courts have moderated since then. Mark Meechan does not face the death penalty.

His crime was to train his girlfriend’s pug to raise its paw in response to disgusting phrases such as “Sieg heil” and “Gas the jews”. In the resulting video which was posted on Youtube he says he did this to annoy his girlfriend by converting her cute little pet into a creature as bad as the nazis, which he detested.

He was found guilty of hate speech. He is yet to be sentenced. Fortunately the dog’s name is Buddha. If it had been Jesus I think it might be the gallows.

Freedom of speech is the essential freedom without which we cannot argue for any other freedom.

Ricky Gervais puts it quite well,

If you don’t believe in a person’s right to say things that you might find ‘grossly offensive’, then you don’t believe in Freedom of Speech.

This guy sums up my opinion rather more colorfully, if you’re in California bear in mind that swearing causes cancer of the ears.

Freedom’s just another word …

From the address to the National Press Club by Human Rights Commissioner, Tim Wilson, 18th February 2015. I’ve indicated by my much beloved ellipses where I have chosen to leave words out.

Recent tragic events in Paris and Copenhagen are a reminder that “free speech” is not a slogan; it is a principle to be defended even if expressions cross the line of social acceptability …

I know the objective of this law is not to take subjects off the table. That’s part of the problem. The intention of the law doesn’t match its wording.

I understand why some communities feel the maintenance of this law is essential to their sense of security in our society, but for many of us so is the freedom of speech to defend ourselves.

Race, culture and religion regularly overlap …

No group should be able to use law as a shield from criticism. That’s why 18C is neither fair, nor just, and should be repealed.

Australians continuously raise their concerns with me about the current wording of 18C. Most want reform.

It is utterly inconsistent with human rights that some legal privileges are afforded to some, and not others.

Many ask why their identity group doesn’t enjoy the same legal privilege.

It’s that question that demonstrates the absurdity of the law. Subjective tests such as “offend”, “insult” or “humiliate” are not justifiable restrictions on free speech: whatever the subject.

If the same standard were applied to all identity groups we’d be a straightjacket society unable to discuss controversial topics.

From listening to communities, the law doesn’t reflect the mischief advocates even want to address:

  •  Anti-Semitic slogans targeting school children on buses.
  • Anti-Islamic abuse toward women wearing Niqabs.
  • Threats of violence against Asian-Australians on public transport.
  • Homophobic and transphobic bullying.
  • Deliberately degrading Aboriginal Australians.

No one disputes the human consequences of invasive and abusive public harassment …

If the law is re-orientated toward addressing public harassment it would enjoy far more public confidence across the community than it does today …

But we must seek reform because free speech goes to the heart of everyone’s individual autonomy and dignity.

You can read the whole speech <HERE>. You may be surprised.

Spurred into action …

Up very early this morning to drive from Melbourne to the country mansion.

ABC News Radio accompanied me as far as the Great Divide. A little advert for itself assured me of the ABC’s complete lack of bias. I was so pleased to hear that because I was beginning to think that there might be a pronounced lean to the left in the ABC ranks.

The big news however was to do with Professor Barry Spurr of Sydney University. The ABC was most exercised because it seems the good professor called Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Prime Minister Abbott dog fuckers. Can you believe that? Dog fuckers. Utterly beyond belief …

Hang on I stand corrected, Professor Spurr called Tutu a witch doctor, close I guess, Mandela a darky, tactless but accurate, Abbott an abo-lover, terribly rude. And it was in fact the ABC itself that called some middle-aged white guy a dog fucker. Terrible this name calling.

Promises, promises …

This blog is not a dedicated travel blog although I really do enjoy writing about my journeys and whenever I do the blog picks up a bunch of new followers. This is the case again with the Madagascar series that I have started and will resume. So welcome to those of you that have just come on board. Some of you are from the USA and given that freedom of speech is guaranteed by your constitution you are going to be surprised to find that Australians enjoy no such privilege. It is no where enshrined in our constitution so for us it is a case of eternal vigilance …

It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active.  The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.” — John Philpot Curran, 1790.

Debate in Australia is often vigorous, sometimes abusive and I think that all to the good. But, with the best intentions I’m sure, a past government thought that with regard to some aspects of our little selves we are so weak, so insecure, such shrinking violets that we must be protected from anything that might cause us offense. We have a public broadcaster that thinks it is fine to put to air a depiction of a critic having sex with a dog and label him, on screen “dog fucker” but …

(1)  It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

                     (a)  the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and

                     (b)  the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.

It is the easiest thing in the world to take offense, and being thus offended shut down debate on any subject that touches on race. We have a welfare system that is different for indiginous Australians  than for the rest of Australians. Discussing it might cause offense. Let’s not discuss it here.

The recently elected government led by Tony Abbott promised to rid us of this constraint on free speech. Today it has announced that it will break that promise. I am deeply offended.