Free speech is peace directed, refuse their act of war

Ignorance is not just not knowing stuff. It is also believing you have nothing more to learn. For instance, you choose to be racist and you can choose to not be racist because you can choose to do the work to unlearn the racist tropes and half histories you have chosen to be your truth. You can choose to share power or store power. You can choose peace or you can choose war. You can choose to understand free speech as something more than a right to say whatever you please without consequence.

Recently, I was asked what my position was on free speech and I was torn. I absolutely do not think any group whose ideology in practice engages in genocide has a ‘right’ to build or advocate that kind of movement under the protection of free speech.  The very real and imminent threat here is the potential of such groups to tap into people’s deepest fears and insecurities, play on their ignorance and mobilise them to commit atrocities that threaten the survival of a group or groups of people.

In saying that, ignorance is why I also consider there to be a place for deplorable worldviews. That is, how can we learn what inclusiveness looks like, if we suppress hatefulness? How do we reach ignorant people and help them to un-learn and re-learn if they don’t know what their ignorance looks like in contrast to inclusiveness? What if inclusiveness today creates unintended consequences that lead to different kinds of ignorance in future? We already hear discussions around transculturation, that is, the merging and converging of cultures into one homogenous group. There is a very real risk that inclusiveness passively morphs into its own white supremacy over time and how do we counter that if people cannot see that the white supremacy they have bought into is not inclusiveness?

I know I have more questions than solutions. But I think its important to start questioning things like inclusiveness and how we see that operating in future – what protections do we have to ensure it’s not a dangerously quiet transition into becoming the dominant culture?

As I see it, free speech is both theoretical and action oriented. Over time, societies frame and reframe it according to social norms, political beliefs and cultural practices. Many proponents of free speech often refer to western legal rights to justify hateful and challenging positions and liberal responses in turn use that same legal framework to justify limitations or restrictions on what we should allow or not allow people to say. In other words, we tend to fixate on the procedural elements (e.g. who, when, what and where) and legislative interpretation (e.g. rights, defences, exemptions) and subsequently lock ourselves in to a perpetual cycle of disharmony. But what if we turned our attention to its action oriented limb to understand the act of speaking freely, the act of actively listening, and the act of restoring harmony where ignorance and enlightenment clash?

In my view, neither of the arguments referred to above speak meaningfully to the mana and the mauri of people or peoples. One obvious reason is that the debate centres in western discourse. Arguably, the ‘public interest’ and the ‘autonomy of the individual’ arguments do embody elements of those concepts. For instance, autonomy respects the individual and therefore the mana they hold within themselves, and public interest speaks to the mauri of the people or peoples and protecting their wellbeing. However, because these are dealt with separately as opposing arguments, rather than as part of a whole story neither argument fully addresses – nor can it, ‘why and how’ free speech can operate harmoniously in our modern social context.

I think tikanga and kawa could and should have a major role in the free speech discussion in context of Aotearoa New Zealand because kaupapa Māori models provide a unique and balancing lens. These models help us to think about the issue differently and in a deeper and more spiritual context.

I’ve been delving into the stories of my tīpuna and their actions and corresponding kōrero in an effort to assert their rangatiratanga and to retain mana motuhake for their hapū and for Māori collectively.  Our tīpuna spoke freely, they spoke fiercely and by liberal standards today at times they spoke arrogantly, aggressively and derogatorily about the imminent settler government that threatened the survival of our people and our culture.

But lets clear something up here first, the threat to our survival as a peoples by the coloniser was and is not the same as the disingenuously propagated threat by white supremacists fearful of the erasure of their white-ness. Firstly, colonisation was the action-oriented part of a much larger political ideology that swept the globe, western imperialism. It was an act of white supremacy. Secondly, political power resides in white institutions through the militarisation of western nation states. The Molyneux’s and Southern’s of this world are using a pre-emptive war tactic appealing to the protections of free speech in an effort to hold onto white institutional power through the extermination of any peoples who they perceive as threat to that power storing. So when I think about speaking freely, and what it is intended to achieve through a tikanga lens, I am directed toward a state of peace and harmonious relations.

I think about the Māori context and how we deal with a take (issue) and the way the rākau is passed around so every person is allocated time to have their say, no matter how hard that truth may be to hear. The context within which these discussions or confrontations take place is one where the group affirm the mana of each speaker, and preserve the mauri of the people through a process of restoration – removing the tapu through noa. I love that our ancestors adopted a healing process so we could return to our lives with aroha in our hearts to continue the mahi of manaakitanga. This is the process by which they kept the mana of all intact and restored the mauri of all involved so the tribe could thrive as a collective. I don’t here claim that peace was achieved following every confrontation, we know that is simply not the case – in some cases, confrontations led to war (I’ll come back to this ‘war’ point below). If we can uphold the legacy of all our ancestors (Māori and non-Māori alike) in preserving our right to speak freely where our intention is directed toward peace and harmonious relations, then we can be clear about our expectations of each other and the process for managing conflicts, and helping heal ignorance.

This brings me back to current issues and my point of view on free speech:

Promoting and enabling movements and actions that threaten the survival of peoples, is not an act of free speech, it is an act of war because actions not seeking harmony and balance of power, threaten the survival of peoples.

When Mayor Phil Goff refused to provide a platform for fascism, he was refusing their act of war. When the Owners of the Powerstation revoked use of its venue for fascist purposes, it refused their act of war. When the people turned up at Aotea Square to challenge the arrival of fascists on our shores, they too refused their act of war. Similarly, when our ancestors signed He Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti o Waitangi they refused the settler governments act of war. And as I see it, locking hapū and iwi out of Parliament, is an act of war.

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