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Federal

Aug 29, 2014

Rundle: Pyne's bizarre free speech rhetoric a dog whistle to the IPA

Free speech on university campuses is crucial -- but only if said free speech aligns with the government's rhetoric.

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Education Minister Christopher Pyne gave the campaign to abolish 18c another kick in the guts this morning in The Australian — although it was disguised as an attack on alleged anti-Semitism on campuses.

The principle target of the attack was Socialist Alternative, which is among the groups leading the campaign against the massive fee hikes proposed by the Abbott government. SAlt is also running protest campaigns against Israel, which includes protests against the Max Brenner cafe/chocolate chain, which provides free goody bags to the Israel Defense Forces.

The optics of the Brenner protest aren’t great — the chain consciously imitates a Viennese-style coffee shop, so protesting outside it has ugly associations (which is part of SAlt’s recruitment strategy — those who quail at the complexity of that aren’t cadre material. Hence the Brenner protests, rather than a more concentrated attack on the offices of Israeli arms exporters in Australia).

But anti-Semitic they ain’t. Neither is the boycott divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign, which Pyne thinks should be excluded from universities by administrators. Quite aside from the fact that many of the people running BDS campaigns are Jews themselves — and not only secular-Left Jews, but the increasingly vocal Hasidic groups, who have been anti-Zionist for more than a century — Pyne’s stance suggests a curious attitude to free speech.

The whole idea of the university is as a place of free thought, where both students and faculty should be protected from sanction simply for expressing unpopular ideas. This idea is central to a free society. To try and impose a range of “acceptable” free speech on a university from without is simply a misunderstanding of what the university is. Pyne is simply adopting the “no platform” argument of a section of the Left as regards universities and applying it to a spurious “anti-Semitism”. Given that it was opposition by Australian-Jewish groups to changes to 18c that pretty much killed it, it’s difficult not to conclude that the real target of this piece — with its concluding paean to collectivist multiculturalism — is the IPA and their renewed 18c target.

Such an approach to choking free speech at universities — which is, in effect, the state choking off free speech — is part of the new normal: that the greatest enemy of free speech now is the Abbott government, with its “Team Australia” rhetoric, its use of multicultural agents to treat inconvenient speech — i.e. violent Islamism — as a bacillus to be “deradicalised”, etc. It’s a chilling process — one I’m sure the IPA will attack vociferously and stand up for the right of people to urge jihad. Hello? Hello?

Still, those in favour of 18C will be relieved to see that its friends now include the Abbott government. That is hegemonic victory, by any measure.

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