It’s strange to see that the infamous British politician Nigel Farage didn’t set the internet aflame in New Zealand, but I guess there’s no algorithm to the fickle beast of social media.
Although, unlike Don Brash or Canadian duo Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern, Farage wasn’t banned from speaking at a venue. This seems to be evidence that ‘no-platforming’ is a counter-intuitive strategy for those who disagree with someone’s perspective. The backlash alone gave them far more oxygen than they would naturally occur, while Farage barely had a mention.
While Farage did not get the back-to-back coverage from media like his similarly-minded predecessors, he managed to gain the attention of a few groups who protested outside his speaking venue. And they have every right to do so. .
I hesitate to support ‘no-platform’ because highlighting stupidity and bigotry in an open forum is more conducive to lessening public impact than suppressing it. Suppression only breeds contempt and the self-righteousness of supporters, with vindication later being used as a (successful) recruitment tool.
However it is worth keeping in mind that often these speakers are not actually challenged. There is no opportunity for live rebuttal; they are simply reinforcing their views to ardent supporters. This why I support freedom of expression and protest, which acts as a proxy for proper debate.
Everything said is judged by the public and standards of today. And the public does not have to accept it unconditionally. Just as someone has the right to speak, others have the right to denounce.
Freedom of speech is a great principle. But let’s not pretend that it’s realistic. What is considered acceptable changes with society and the mistakes of history. If you can genuinely say you would always defend anyone’s right to say (literally) anything, no matter how disgusting or morally repugnant, then you’re either kidding yourself or dogmatic.
Chelsea Manning, who is likely to be allowed to speak here soon, is a perfect example. She is a convicted felon, but her actions were certainly in the public interest. There are legitimate arguments for sides. What it highlighted to me was the malleability of freedom of speech and its limits. The most ironic event was to see the National Party suddenly flip on their position of free speech (enthusiastic supporters of Don Brash a few weeks ago) when it was tested against someone they disagreed with. It may be argued that she is a felon, and should not be allowed entry under those grounds; but freedom of speech should be sacrosanct, right? The principle of freedom of speech seems to be fragile when confronted by something people are uncomfortable with. Either that or it is easily moulded to score points.
Ultimately, let’s hear what people have to say. We should be strong enough in our convictions to be able to persuade people we are right. That’s the fundamentals of a debate. However if genuine and authentic debate is not an option, don’t be surprised when people turn up at the doorstep of a venue to provide a counter narrative. They don’t have to whimper while someone they find objectionable is preaching. It’s their right to be there just as much as anyone else.
Damon Rusden is a chef, journalist and law student with an avid belief in civic education and accountability. He was also a Green Party candidate.