Sunday, November 15, 2009

It is about freedom of speech

Obviously there have been many copious amounts of opinion pieces on the Hone Harawira affair. I have actually been strugging to make sense of it all. It seemed mostly to be a storm in a teacup to me. However, now I do feel much more strongly about it thanks to the opinion piece by Tapu Misu (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=10609430).

Ms Misu's piece is, by far, the best opinion of an otherwise pretty poor bunch. Hers is the best because she has hit the nail directly upon the head. It is about freedom of speech. It is about one of the most fundamental of our constitutional protections. And, as Ms Misu also implies, it is also about representation.

Most of the response to Mr Harawira's comments have been the worst kind of political correctness. Political correctness can have its place. In its least objectionable form then political correctness calls into question langauage that is needlessly disrespectful and insulting; and, in fact, this is exactly what Mr Harawira did apologise for. In its worst form political correctness is censorship. Censorship, it should be remembered, has done far more for Fascism and Stalinism (and other forms of authoritarianism) than it has ever done for freedom or democracy.

Mr Harawira is an angry man but he believes in something and forcing him not to say what he believes in doesn't make it go away. But, Mr Harawira is more than an angry man. He represents angry people who consider, with some merit, that they have a genuine grievance. The whole point of a representative system of democratic parliament is that all points of view are to be represented broadly in proportion to the population. Trying to force Mr Harawira to be silent on these issues is failing to represent a significant proportion of our population that wants their say.

Mr Harawira has apologised, genuinely I think, for being needlessly disrespectful and insulting; but not for the sentiment. Perhaps, rather than going down the extremely dangerous path of trying to control what he says, we should accept his apology and listen to those that have such a view. I'm not sure that I agree with the constituents of Mr Harawira's point of view but I sure as hell think that they should be represented in parliament.

The really bizarre thing is that this whole storm began simply around a sneaky day off. A bad thing perhaps but is it for this that the fabric of representative democracy should be ripped to shreds?

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