How not to defend free speech

Sydney University academic Nick Riemer has a letter published in the Weekend Australian of 4-5 April. His letter is a response to the column, which appeared in the Oz’s Thursday edition, from former Labor Party politician Peter Baldwin concerning the noisy protest which disrupted a speech being given at the university by British soldier Richard Kemp on March 11 just past.

For those readers not au courant with the protest, a group of the university’s students and academics – unhindered by the useless nitwits they hire for security these days – noisily invaded the lecture hall in which Col. Kemp was giving his talk, chanting – with the aid of a loud-hailer – ‘Richard Kemp, you can’t hide, you support genocide’. Having disrupted proceedings and made their way to the centre of the lecturer’s dais, the young lass with the loud-hailer then began haranguing the bemused audience about how terrible it was for the university to ban Hizb’ut Tahrir while letting Col. Kemp, a supporter of Israel, talk on campus. The lights went off for a time, a senior security officer came along and decided to end the anarchy, and the protest ended a couple of minutes later after the usual idiocy of scuffles, arm-locks, lost tempers, etc which happens when people get all hot and bothered in public.

Les esprits curieuses et exigeantes can find a video recording of the event here.

Here is the text of Riemer’s letter:

Peter Baldwin’s call for Sydney University to take action against Jake Lynch and me ignores the fact that disagreeing with him about the nature of free speech is not a sackable offence.

Applied to the protest at Richard Kemp’s talk, Baldwin’s claim that disruptive protest prevents the exercise of free speech gets things the wrong way round. Any reasonable observer would have concluded that the point of the student’s intervention was to promote Palestinian free speech.

Universities are traditionally reservoirs of dissent. No one has the right to use the university as a political venue and expect to be exempted from the conditions of public political action, as Baldwin is asking.

Our critics proclaim their commitment to free speech in the case of Kemp, for whom the columns of the media lie open, but are mute about the more significant restrictions on free speech that the Israeli occupation imposes on Palestinian academics and students.

It’s a tough one to make sense of, because it’s full of non-sequiturs. Let’s take the first proposition:

Peter Baldwin’s call for Sydney University to take action against Jake Lynch and me ignores the fact that disagreeing with him about the nature of free speech is not a sackable offence.

I would suggest that Baldwin ignored that fact in his column because his call for the university to take action against Riemer and Lynch pertained to their behaviour at the lecture, rather than their thoughts on freedom of speech. Riemer is being evasive here.

Next:

Applied to the protest at Richard Kemp’s talk, Baldwin’s claim that disruptive protest prevents the exercise of free speech gets things the wrong way round. Any reasonable observer would have concluded that the point of the student’s intervention was to promote Palestinian free speech.

Grateful if any reader could write in and tell me what on earth Riemer means here. The first sentence makes no sense. The second, which I assume is meant to follow from it, sheds no light either.

Also, while the students’ point may have been to promote Palestinian free speech, I suspect that point was lost on Kemp’s audience. Shouting down one’s opponents with a loud-hailer, preventing them from speaking, accusing them of supporting genocide, and then haranguing an audience that you have bailed up against their will is not conducive to having them come round to your point of view.

And so:

Universities are traditionally reservoirs of dissent.

Well, up to a point they are reservoirs of dissent. So long as that dissent is approved by Riemer and his mates. Otherwise it’s ‘open season’, apparently.

No one has the right to use the university as a political venue and expect to be exempted from the conditions of public political action, as Baldwin is asking.

The truth of this statement depends on how one defines ‘the conditions of public political action’. From his actions and statements, I suspect that Riemer thinks violent disruption of someone else’s lecture is one of those conditions. Baldwin disagrees. This question is currently being investigated by the university’s administration.

From my reading of his column, all Peter Baldwin was asking was that speakers be allowed to speak freely, and their audience be allowed to hear what they had to say. This suggests that Riemer’s ‘conditions of public political action’ include the right for him and his mates to interfere with this process. I’m not surprised by this. It’s the usual self-serving bullshit that collectivists have been spouting since the October revolution – ‘Freedom of speech for me, but not for thee’.

Next:

Our critics proclaim their commitment to free speech in the case of Kemp, for whom the columns of the media lie open, but are mute about the more significant restrictions on free speech that the Israeli occupation imposes on Palestinian academics and students.

What to make of this? Riemer’s critics appear to be concerned about free speech in general, and use the Kemp case as an example of a threat to it. I suspect that they’d be happy to support freedom of speech in Palestine, if asked about it. But that’s not the concern here. The concern here is freedom of speech at Sydney University.

Riemer’s non sequitur makes about as much sense as me berating you for being more concerned with your household chores than with what happens on the dark side of the moon. I’ll bet you haven’t given a moment’s thought to what happens on the dark side of the moon. So of course I’m correct to berate you for your lack of consideration. But it arises from your household chores being a more immediate concern for you, and with good reason.

Riemer’s mentioning Israel’s censorship of freedom of speech in Palestine suggests the extent to which the interminable Israel-Palestine conflict is unhinging the left-wing in the western world. It appears to be front and centre of their concerns, and they cannot consider any other matter without referring back to it. I suspect that, as it intensifies, we might see wholesale defections of ‘Free Palestine’ activists into the arms of Islam, as it would be the only way left for them to intensify their commitment to the cause.

The episode reflects poorly on the university, its faculty and its activist students.

Advertisements

About Stebbing Heuer

A person interested in exploring human perception, reasoning, judgement and deciding, and in promoting clear, effective thinking and the making of good decisions.
This entry was posted in Democracy and freedom of mind, Festival of Intolerance and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s