I love censorship. It’s good for you. It even makes films better. At the core of my argument is the idea of quiet enjoyment: society has been crafted to allow people to pursue their idea of the good life. Allowing others to trample that idea of the good life without being able to provide a good reason is both anti-social and shouldn’t be facilitated.
It’s for that reason that I support the use of the Minister for Immigration’s power to deny visas to antisocial hate-mongers. Back in 2011, I wrote in New Matilda that Australia should deny Islamophobic Dutch politician Geert Wilders a visa, just as it has denied one to the Holocaust denier David Irving:
In many places around the world, dastardly governments use censorship as part of a concerted campaign to oppress their citizens. For those who dare to struggle back, reclaiming a freedom to expression of thought and belief is a noble and dignified cause.
Australia is not one of those places. Australia is nothing like any of those places. Australia is not even a military coup away from being one of those places. The Government can barely communicate its own views, let alone suppress ours. And yet we hear so frequently about our freedom of speech and how it is the most important right of all. As I wrote back in April, journalists shriek hysteria when there’s the remotest restriction on their right to write rubbish because it strikes at the heart of their business model, not because they’re overcome with philosophical quandaries about the nature of democracy.
Bernardi and Wilders are stereotypical of our modern Right to Free Speech Worrier. They’re male. They’re in positions of power. And they’re paid an exorbitant amount for doing not terribly much.
But the defining characteristic is their self indulgence: their rights are more important than yourrights. You don’t have a right to have your religion respected, because Cory Bernardi has the right to free speech. You don’t have a right to enjoy our great country unmolested, because Cory Bernardi has the right to free speech. And you certainly don’t have the right to feel welcome or even invited to celebrate your rich cultural heritage in Australia, because Cory Bernardi has the right to express whatever half-baked, pig-ignorant, and mendacious idea comes into his overtaxed mind.
But does this principle extend to denying a visa for people who advocate stupid things?
Sherri Tenpenny is an anti-vaccination advocate. Following the announcement of her plans to deliver six seminars in Australia about the perceived ‘dangers’ of vaccination, there has been a call for the Minister for Immigration to deny her a visa:
Peter Tierney, a member of the vaccine advocacy group Stop the AVN, said Tenpenny was a “public health menace” who had become “one of the most successful anti-vaccinationists in the world”. […]
Julien Blanc had his visa cancelled for advocating violence against women. Are we in the same ballpark when somebody advocates something as stupid and wrongheaded as anti-vaccination? Are we in the same category of social evil as attacks on Muslims and Jews?
Not getting your child vaccinated poses a threat to other children. I don’t think that parents should have any other option but to get their kid vaccinated — indeed, I even argue that unvaccinated children shouldn’t be allowed into public schools. But to deny Tenpenny a visa based on her (incorrect) opinions about vaccination can hardly be considered a social evil. Whose quiet enjoyment is she disrupting? Who is being marginalised by her activities? Who is being prevented from full enjoyment of social participation?
We let people advocate harmful activities all the time. The CEO of British American Tobacco is allowed into the country even though his company sells a carcinogenic product. Senior members of the National Rifle Association are granted visas even though they want people to own guns. We even let Bono in.
Although censorship is good for us, there is a line between fostering an inclusive, safe, and civilised society and just being draconian. People who want to ban Tenpenny’s visa are crossing that line.