Saturday, 25 January 2014

Free Speech not Government Watchdogs

I grew up in an Ireland where to be scared into silence was normal, I learned courage and that we are better off free. On Tuesday the Irish Times published an extraordinary attack on the idea of free speech by Una Mullally, which would have been frightening if it were not so outlandish. Too much depends on the recent and fragile right to free exchange and challenge of ideas to allow even an outlandish attack go unanswered, especially when that attack is published in a national newspaper however ridiculous its pretence to being the paper of record.

If free speech does not include the right to offend then it is not free. No one in a free society has the right NOT to be offended. Censoring for offence is a charter for bullies not a protection for the powerless.

In her article Mullally pontificated that there is a “need for an independent homophobia watchdog to monitor the inevitable destructive rhetoric that will colour one side of the debate”. This was nothing more than a call for state repression disguised as a rant about “homophobia”. No right is absolute but the balancing of the various, rights of citizens is the task of the judiciary, not, for very good reason, any Government body.  Mullally wants a government board to silence anybody who disagrees with her and she wants us to believe it is for our own good we are gagged.

Mullally’s dubiously constitutional Bord Fhocail Cairdiúil Homaighnéasach (An BFCH?) would be an Orwellian Ministry of Truth for 2014 but how could such a good idea not be repeated, endlessly?  Bord Fhocail Cairduil Rialtais anyone? Would Mullaly’s watchdog(s) send representative marshals to Radio discussions or TV panels to patrol debate for unspeak? Would it operate by fines, yellow and red cards or by imprisoning offenders? How would it handle the internet, a notorious wilderness of freedom?  So much to decide, so little time!

Yes I have skin in this fight but you don’t and should not need to have to find this attack worrying. You don’t have to be, like me, gay man who has been exposed to the full on “destructive rhetoric” of Same Sex Marriage proponents, including death threats, for my secular mortal sin of disagreeing with their attempts to redefine marriage, to find Mullaly’s article disturbing.

“Homophobia” has become, like beauty and gastronomic value of marmite, largely in the taste of the viewer because the word is not, as it appears, a clinical term but a campaigning one invented by George Weinberg in the 1960s. Anything that can include Vladimir Putin’s deliberate politicking, vicious African persecution of gay people and debating Same Sex Marriage, as Mullally conflatingly tries to make it do in her article, is too broad to have meaning. The term, “homophobia” is a much debased currency.

Mullally’s definition of homophobia is itself weaponised nonsense. “Teachings of the Catholic Church on homosexuality are homophobic” she writes in what is in effect a definitional attack on Christianity, Catholics, and most especially, gay Catholics. By setting her definition so low, Mullaly is engaged in a childish exercise in demonization: anything said in opposition to SSM is “homophobia”. The article is deliberate attempt to lay ground rules so tilted that a debate she insists settled becomes non-existent. This would be a dreadful precedent for the conduct of any public issue debate.

We might well ask what argument Mullally and her proposed Bord Fhocail Cairdiúil Homaighnéasach would permit? An BFCH might provide a list once it is in operation but it is clear from the vacuous article that comparative outcomes for children from varied family structures are intended to be off the table and the airwaves. “Depictions of LGBT people in the media that in any way infer that their relationships or parenting skills are inferior to those of heterosexuals should be condemned”  (my italics) is a clear message that quoting the statistical evidence that Same Sex parenting may not be great for children will be verboten. Mere inference taken will be enough.

"Everyone is scared of being labelled a racist" opines Mullally as she claws desperately to create charge, not realising there is a difference between being herded by the primary school playground's bullyettes and really believing in the inferiority of others. For Mullally it is about creating a climate of fear using labels, never about the reality the labels purport to represent.

 She complains that solicitor’s letters were sent for what she claims was “brief discussion on the nuances of subtle homophobia” on the Brendan O’Connor Show. There was nothing subtle about attack on people involved with The Iona Institute but by characterising it in that manner, Mullally  is being deliberately economical with the truth.  She wants her An BFCH, but not laws on defamation: classes will be sacred but individuals will have no protection or rights in her Brave New World. Marx and Marcuse would be proud.

Claiming that my arguing the case against Same Sex Marriage will “inflict psychological trauma” on gay people, as Mullally does, is to demean us by giving us Special Victim Status.  If people like Mullally cannot think of better arguments they have little chance of persuading an Irish electorate that has shown a remarkable ability to inform itself during referendum campaigns.

Free speech is central to that ability to inform. Thought police are no help to debate or informing ourselves no matter what colour their uniforms. Gays may not always be cool or on top of the victim heap. When we are not, we would be better served by real freedom than by a corrupt system of offence censorship monitored by Mullally’s “independent watchdog(s)”.

At the end, in a piece of pompous predestinationism, she warns “opponents of full equality for LGBT citizens”, whoever they are, to prepare for “defeat, with dignity” on Same Sex Marriage. I don’t know Ms Mullally nor what the outcome of this debate will be and I don’t care how undignified her hissy fit if the referendum loses; I care a lot that we debate this and any issue openly, honestly and freely.

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