Freedom of speech: a history from the forbidden fruit to Facebook



Humans have always sought knowledge, all the way back to Eve.
Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Matthew Sharpe, Deakin University

This essay is part of a series of articles on the future of education.


Free speech is in the news. Not least because several leading universities have adopted a “model code” to protect it on campus. And then there’s the Israel Folau saga, and debate over whether his Instagram post was free speech, or just hate speech.

If the Bible is to be believed, humans have sought knowledge since Eve. They have been disagreeing since Cain and Abel. From long before kings, people have been subject to rulers with a vested interest in controlling what was said and done.

Humans have always had a need to ask big questions and their freedom to ask them has often pushed against orthodoxies. Big questions make many people uneasy. Socrates, killed by the Athenians for corrupting the youth in 399 BCE, is only the most iconic example of what can happen when politics and piety combine against intellectuals who ask too many questions.

Or questions of the wrong kind.

In all this, there’s an implicit idea we understand the basic meaning of “free speech”, and we are all entitled to it. But what does it really mean, and how entitled are we?

Where does it come from?

The Ancient Greek Cynics – who valued a simple life, close to nature – valorised “parrhesia” or frank speech as an ethical, not a legal thing. Ancient polytheism (the belief in many gods) made the idea of religious intolerance unheard of, outside of condemning the odd philosopher.

But it was only in the 17th and 18th centuries that arguments for religious tolerance and the freedoms of conscience and speech took the forms we now take for granted.




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Explainer: what is free speech?


Protestantism, which began in Europe in the early 16th century, challenged the authority of the Catholic Church and its priests to interpret the Bible. Protestants appealed to individuals’ consciences and championed the translation of the Holy Book into the languages of ordinary people.

Protestant thinker John Locke argued, in 1689, that no person can compel another’s God-given conscience. Therefore, all attempts to do this should be forbidden.

At the same time, philosophers began to challenge the limits of human knowledge concerning God, immortality and the mysteries of faith.

People who claim the right to persecute others believe they know the truth. But the continuing disagreements between different religious sects speaks against the idea God has delivered his truth uniquely and unambiguously to any one group.

We are condemned by the limits of our knowledge to learn to tolerate our differences. But not at any cost.

We are condemned by the limits of our knowledge to learn to tolerate our differences.
from shutterstock.com

Defending freedom of conscience and speech is not an unlimited prospect. None of the great 18th century advocates of free speech, such as Voltaire, accepted libel, slander, defamation, incitements to violence, treason or collusion with foreign powers, as anything other than crimes.

It was not intolerant to censor groups who expressed a wish to overthrow the constitution. Or those who would harm members of a population who committed no offences. It was not intolerant to sanction individuals who incite violence against members of other religious or racial groups, solely on grounds of their group identities.




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At stake in these limits of free speech is what 19th century philosopher John Stuart Mill called the “harm principle”. According to this idea, supposedly free speech that causes or incites harm to others is not truly “free” at all.

Such speech attacks the preconditions of civil debate, which requires a minimum of respect and safety for one’s opponents.

Mill also held that a good society should allow a diversity of views to be presented without fear or favour. A group in which unquestioned orthodoxy prevails may miss evidence, reason badly, and be unduly influenced by political pressures (making sure the “right” view is maintained).

A society should be able to check different views against each other, refute and rectify errors, and ideally achieve a more comprehensive and truer set of beliefs.

Freedom of debate

Critics of Mill’s diversity ideal have said it mistakes society for a university seminar room. They contend politicians and academics have a more qualified sense of the value of seeking knowledge than impartial inquirers.

This criticism points to the special place of universities when it comes to concerns surrounding freedom of speech, past and present.




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When the great medieval universities were founded, they were established as autonomous corporations, as against private businesses or arms of public government.

If free inquiry to cultivate educated citizens was to flourish, the thought was, it must be insulated from the pressures of economic and political life. If an intellectual is a paid spokesman of a company or government, they will have strong incentives to suppress inconvenient truths, present only parts of the evidence, and to attack opponents, not their arguments, so as to lead critics from the trail.

A large part of the medieval syllabus, especially in the Arts faculties, consisted of teaching students how to question and debate competing opinions. The medieval summas reflect this culture: a form of text where propositions were raised, counter-propositions considered and rebutted, and comprehensive syntheses sought.

Students were taught to debate by putting forward an argument and addressing counter-arguments.
Jonathan Sharp/Unsplash

This is not to deny some counter-positions were beyond the pale. It served a person well to entertain them only as “the devil’s advocate”.

And at different times, certain propositions were condemned. For instance, the so called “Condemnations” of 1210-1277 at the medieval University of Paris, constrained a set of teachings considered heretical. These included teachings of Aristotle such as that human acts are not ruled by the providence of God and that there was never a first human.

At other times, books considered immoral by the Roman Catholic Church were burnt or put on the Index of prohibited works. And those that published such works, such as the 12th Century philosopher and poet Peter Abelard, were imprisoned.

Such practices would survive well into the 18th century in Catholic France, when encyclopedist Denis Diderot suffered a similar fate.

Early modern forms of scientific inquiry challenged the medieval paradigm. It was felt to rely too much on an established canon of authorities and so neglect peoples’ own experiences and capacities to reason on what these experiences revealed about the world.




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Philosopher Francis Bacon, sometimes known as the father of empiricism, argued we cannot rely on the books of professors. New ways of asking questions and testing provisionally held hypotheses about the world should become decisive.

Since nature is so vast, and humans so limited, we would also need to inquire as part of a shared scientific culture, rather than placing our faith in individual geniuses.

Each inquirer would have to submit her results and conclusions to the scrutiny and testing of their peers. Such dialogue alone could make sure anyone’s ideas were not the fancies of an isolated dreamer.

Without this form of freedom of inquiry, with active fostering of dissenting voices, there could be no sciences.

Where are we now?

People from different political camps agonise about the fate of free speech. Those on the right point to humanities departments, arguing an artificial, unrepresentative conformism presides there. Those on the left have long pointed to economics and business departments, levelling similar accusations.

All the while, all departments are subject to the changing fate of universities that have lost a good deal of their post-medieval independence from political and economic forces.

So, the situation is not as simple as the controversies make it.

On one hand, charges of ideological closure need to be balanced against the way a certain (already discovered) truth exerts what philosopher and political analyst Hannah Arendt termed a coercive value.

No one is intellectually “free”, in any real sense, to claim the earth is flat. Blind denial of overwhelming evidence, however inconvenient, is not an exercise of liberty.




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No, you’re not entitled to your opinion


On the other hand, in more behavioural disciplines like politics, there is no one truth. When learning about social structures, to not consider conservatives as well as progressives is to foreclose students’ freedom of inquiry.

To teach a single economic perspective as unquestionably “scientific”, without considering its philosophical assumptions and historical failings, is likewise to do free inquiry (and our students) a disservice.

The question of how we should teach openly anti-liberal, anti-democratic thinkers is more complex. But surely to do so without explaining to students the implications of these thinkers’ ideas, and how they have been used by malign historical forces, is once more to sell intellectual freedom (and our democracy) short.

The final curve ball in free speech debates today comes from social media. Single remarks made anywhere in the world can now be ripped from their context, “go viral”, and cost someone their livelihood.

Freedom of speech, to be meaningful, depends on the ability of people of differing opinions to state their opinions (so long as their opinions are not criminal and don’t incite hatred or violence) without fear that, by doing so, they will be jeopardising their own and loved ones’ well-being.

When such conditions apply, as the Colonel used to say on Hogan’s Heroes, “we have ways of making you talk”. And also ways of keeping people silent.The Conversation

Matthew Sharpe, Associate Professor in Philosophy, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Sri Lanka has a history of conflict, but the recent attacks appear different


Damien Kingsbury, Deakin University

Sri Lanka has long been subject to extremist violence. Easter Sunday’s coordinated bomb blasts, which killed almost 300 and injured hundreds more, are the latest in a long history of ethno-religious tragedies.

While no one has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, 24 people have been arrested. Three police were killed in their capture.

The Sri Lankan government has blamed the attacks on the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), a radical Islamist group known for vandalising Buddhist statues.

These attacks are different from previous ethno-religious violence in Sri Lanka. By fomenting generalised religious hatred, they appear to have more in common with Al-Qaeda, which has sought specific political change.




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For many, the bomb blasts immediately recalled Sri Lanka’s ethnic civil war. The war was fought between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers) and the Sri Lanka government from 1983 until 2009.

In its final weeks, around 40,000 mostly Tamil civilians were killed, bringing the war’s total toll to more than 100,000 from a population of around 20 million.

The Tamil Tigers were completely destroyed in 2009. Many Tigers, including their leader, were summarily executed. There remains much bitterness among Tamils towards the ethnic majority Sinhalese, but there is no appetite for renewing a war that ended so disastrously.

A history of unrest

Ethnic tensions in Sri Lanka were high prior to independence in 1948, and stoked by the 1956 election of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party under Prime Minister Solomon Bandaranaike.

Bandaranaike proclaimed himself “defender of the besieged Sinhalese culture”, and oversaw the introduction of the Sinhala Only Act. The act privileged the country’s majority Sinhalese population and their religion of Buddhism over the minority Hindu and Muslim Tamils. The fallout from this legislation forced Bandaranaike to backtrack, but he was assassinated in 1959 by an extremist Buddhist monk for doing so.

Inter-ethnic tensions continued with outbursts of mob violence. In 1962, there was an attempted military coup, and in 1964, around 600,000 third and fourth generation “Indian” Tamils were forcibly removed to India.

In 1972, and again in 1987, the predominantly Sinhalese Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna party (JVP) launched insurrections that were bloodily suppressed. Clashes between Sinhalese and Tamils in 1983 led to an attack on a Sri Lankan army convoy. This sparked the “Black July” Sinhalese rampage against ethnic Tamils, leaving at least 3,000 dead and marking the start of the inter-ethnic civil war.

The war was noted for its bitterness, with the Tamil Tigers using suicide bombing as a tactical weapon, as well as for targeted political assassinations. India intervened in the war in 1987. In retribution, a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber assassinated former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.




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Extremist violence isn’t new

Sri Lanka’s Muslims are predominantly ethnic Tamils and make up about 10% of the population. They have been at the margins of these more recent conflicts – excluded as Tamil speakers, but at odds with the more numerous Hindu Tamils. However, they also have long been subject to Sinhalese persecution, with anti-Muslim riots dating back at least as far as the early 20th century.

As the Tamil Tiger war progressed, Sinhalese Buddhism became more radicalised. Some Sinhalese claimed that all of Sri Lanka should be exclusively Buddhist. With the Tamil Tigers defeated, Sri Lanka’s non-Buddhist communities were again persecuted. This culminated in 2013 with a Buddhist attack on a mosque. Anti-Muslim riots in 2014 resulted in a ten day state of emergency. Last year, there were more anti-Muslim riots. Buddhist monks have also disrupted Christian church services.




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Sri Lanka’s history of extremist violence, then, is far from new. Sinhalese Buddhist chauvinism has been the driver of much of this conflict. It may be that the Colombo East bombings are a reaction to recent ethnic persecution.

But if so, this raises the question of why Christian churches and upmarket hotels were bombed, rather than symbols of the Sinhalese Buddhist community. One can speculate about the logic of radicalisation and its possible manifestations. It is possible that, if Islamist-inspired, the bombings were not a direct retaliation for last year’s anti-Muslim riots, but part of a wider jihadi agenda.

It is instructive that, when the suspected terrorists were arrested and weapons found, three police were shot dead. Clearly, whoever was responsible was well trained, and there have been suggestions of international links. This contributes to speculation of returned Islamic State fighters having joined NTJ.

The Sri Lankan government was slow to release details of those believed responsible, as it knows ethnic and religious tensions are easy to spark. Identification of responsibility could well provide fuel for another round of inter-ethnic bloodletting.

If NTJ links are proven, or if the more radical elements of the Buddhist community are persuaded by wider speculation, it is likely Sri Lanka’s Tamil Muslims will bear the brunt of their reprisals. It is in this manner that Sri Lanka’s wheel of ethno-religious conflict turns.The Conversation

Damien Kingsbury, Professor, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

India’s elections will be the largest in world history


Erin Watson-Lynn, University of Western Australia

The world’s largest democratic election is set to take place in India. Voting will take place in seven phases from April 11 to May 19, and the result will be announced May 23.

An extraordinary 900 million people are eligible to vote, 130 million for the first time. Not only is it the “largest democratic exercise” in history, it is among world’s most expensive. In 2014, the Lok Sabha (lower house) elections cost the Election Commission of India half a billion US dollars.

Several key issues are emerging in this election that will prove decisive in voter decision-making behaviour. Unsurprisingly, economic development is front and centre. Despite having one of the world’s highest economic growth rates, growth slowed to 6.4% in the final quarter of 2018, down from a peak of 8.2% in mid-2018.

Unemployment rates are at their highest since the 1970s, as the economy struggles to create jobs for rural migrants moving to cities and a large youth cohort now entering the labour market. Unemployment and inflation, which directly affect household incomes, are widely seen as the biggest concerns for Indians in the lead up to the election.




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The spread of “fake news” and misinformation is also an important electoral complication. WhatsApp in India is tackling the spread of misinformation through a verification centre called Checkpoint. Indian users of the Facebook owned social networking service, of which there is 200 million, can send pictures, messages, and videos to be fact-checked.

This comes as Facebook removed hundreds of pages that shared misleading content about India and Pakistan following a suicide bombing in Kashmir. How to deal with these increasing tensions between India and Pakistan are a key feature of the political campaign.

How India’s electoral system works

India has a Westminster system of government, a legacy of the British Raj. In the Lok Sabha (lower house) there are 543 seats up for grabs. An additional two seats for the Anglo-Indian community are nominated by the president. These 545 seats will form the 17th Lok Sabha. The Prime Minister is selected from the members of the largest party or coalition.

There is no direct election for the Rajya Sabha (upper house). Rather, the current 233 Rajya Sabha members are elected by the Legislative Assembly in each of the states and the two union territories, with an additional 12 members nominated by the president. The Rajya Sabha may have up to 250 members, but it doesn’t reach this quota at present.




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Narendra Modi versus Rahul Gandhi

There are two distinct personalities leading the major parties in this election. Both have taken advantage of the Representation of the People Act 1951 during their career, which allows candidates to contest an election from two seats – what the Wall Street Journal calls the “political equivalent of spread betting”.

Current Prime Minister Narendra Modi leads the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – a Hindu nationalist party. Modi won both of the seats he nominated for in the 2014 elections, Vadodara in his home state of Gujarat, and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. He chose the seat of Varanasi and will recontest this seat in 2019. It is unknown whether he will contest a second seat, but there is speculation he might in the south of the country.

Leader of the opposition, Rahul Gandhi, leads the secular Indian National Congress (Congress). Gandhi has already declared that he will contest two seats in 2019, Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, as well as Wayanad in the southern state of Kerala.

Gandhi is latest generation of Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, which has played a decisive role in Indian politics since independence in 1947. In keeping with family tradition, Gandhi recently appointed his sister Priyanka Gandhi as the All India Congress Committee secretary responsible for Uttar Pradesh. The All India Congress Committee is responsible for the Congress’ decision making.

Uttar Pradesh is the primary battleground

It’s no coincidence that both Modi and Gandhi will contest seats in Uttar Pradesh. Commentators often describe Uttar Pradesh as “the battleground state” of Indian elections. With a population size of roughly 230 million people, Uttar Pradesh sends more members to the Lok Sabha than any other state; it holds 80 seats, followed by Maharashtra (48), West Bengal (42) and Bihar (40).

The BJP won the 2014 election with an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. The only time a party won by a larger majority was in 1984 following Indira Gandhi’s assassination, when Rajiv Gandhi led the Congress to win 78% of seats. But an absolute majority is more of an anomaly than the norm in recent Indian electoral history.




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This means that in 2019, both the major parties are courting and negotiating with minor parties. Reports on the status of party alliances have the BJP performing strongly with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), while Congress is struggling to build their opposition coalition.

It’s hard to predict whether Modi or Gandhi will emerge victorious in the election. Opinion polls are presently split. Modi and the BJP benefit from the advantages of incumbency, but recent deterioration in economic performance poses an opportunity for opposition parties.

Although it’s shaping up more like elections of the past, where the result will depend on negotiating party alliances, the 2019 Lok Sabha elections will still go down in history as the world’s biggest election.The Conversation

Erin Watson-Lynn, Head of Programs, Perth USAsia Centre, University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Right-wing extremism has a long history in Australia


Kristy Campion, Charles Sturt University

The first step in coming to terms with the attack in Christchurch is to understand that it has been produced by right wing extremism, both in Australia and internationally.

The problem does not lie with immigration policies. The problem does not lie with the so-called outsiders, such as Muslim communities, who are so often the targets of right wing rage.

In this country, the problem lies with the broader Australian community that ignores or accepts the presence of right wing extremists in its midst, and tolerates the increasingly Islamophobic and anti-immigrant discourse in Australia.

Right wing extremism generally starts with perception (or construction) of a threat that imperils the extremist’s way of life. Groups promoting this idea, like the Antipodean Resistance and the Lads Society, have dominated headlines in Australia in recent years. But they are far from the sum of the extreme right in Australia.

Instead, they are a recent manifestation of a recurring problem that can be traced back decades. Here’s a primer on the history of right wing extremism in Australia.




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What right wing extremism is and what drives it

Right wing extremism is an umbrella term used to describe a complex array of ideologies. The core components are authoritarianism, anti-democracy and exclusionary nationalism.

Fascist, national socialist, white supremacist ideologies – especially those that advocate ethno-states and monocultures – sit firmly within the remit of right wing extremism.

Racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and intolerance are fellow travellers: they are characteristics of the ideologies, without actually defining them.

In Australia, right wing extremists tend to position themselves in response to an imagined or constructed threat. Sympathisers believe that society is degenerating, or is at risk of degenerating. Then they externalise this to attribute blame to a target group, such as an ethnic or ideological community.

Right wing extremists foster feelings of peril, and exploit crises to drive narratives that society’s problems are entirely the fault of a target group of outsiders.

They believe the only way to safeguard their society is to remove the threat – often through violence.

The roots of Australian right wing extremism

Historians of the radical right have documented reactionary and radical groups, collectively referred to as the Old Guard, operating in Australia in the 1920s. These groups were concerned about the communist threat, and were driven by the Bolshevik-led Russian revolution in 1917. Although they stockpiled arms, they did not appear to proactively engage in violence.

In the 1930s, members of the Old Guard splintered into a New Guard, and decided to take violent action against communism. They engaged in street fights with Australian communists and trade unionists, disrupted their meetings, and established an alternative employment bureau to try and deter workers from accessing unions.

There was also support for a formal fascist movement. Fascist circles arose in Melbourne in support of Benito Mussolini, and national socialist strongholds formed as early as 1932. Although established independently, they were soon directly administered by the Nazi Party through the Auslands Organisation. Members were considered to be anti-Semitic, fascist and concerned with German/Aryan identity.

Another prominent voice of the extreme right was Alexander Rud Mills. He believed that modern Christianity had degenerated into so-called “Jew-worship”, and the only way to restore it was through a racial interpretation of Odinism (a form of Norse paganism), which he orientated towards Aryan ideals. It is worth noting that the Christchurch perpetrator’s manifesto referenced Valhalla, the hall of fallen heroes in Norse mythology.

Mills was a loud supporter of the Australia First Movement, which promoted the idea that Australia was – and should remain – a white country. In 1941, members in Western Australia were found in possession of plans to assassinate prominent Australians, sabotage vulnerable areas, and drafts of speeches welcoming the Japanese in the event of an invasion.

After the war, these sentiments did not entirely disappear, but were relegated to the political fringe. The Australian League of Rights and its leader, Eric Butler, rose to prominence. In 1946, Butler published The International Jew: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Butler argued that a Zionist Occupation Government existed, and used its wealth to control the governments of the world, including Nazi Germany, in order to enslave various races.




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Attempts to infiltrate mainstream politics

Members of the Australian League of Rights adopted various strategies to subvert democracy. The most significant was “elite penetration”, where members would join mainstream political parties, attempt to subvert their core values and ideas and attain leadership positions.

We saw echoes of this strategy by the Lads Society in 2018, when they infiltrated the Young Nationals conference. It was also supported by the Christchurch perpetrator in his manifesto, when he encouraged fellow travellers to “Lightning Blitz” dominant positions.

Right wing extremism reduced in the sixties, but it nonetheless remained in subcultural networks. In 1964, Nazi materials were still being imported to Australia – including Stormtrooper magazines, and stickers proclaiming “Hitler was right”. There was also the (albeit unsuccessful) formation of the Australia Nationalist Socialist Party – a neo-Nazi party which struggled to attract or retain recruits. Its leaders were found in possession of explosives, detonators, and other weapons, and jailed for unlawful possession in 1964.

In 1968, serious attempts were made to revitalise the radical right, but this time using the democratic process. The National Socialist Party of Australia was reformed, and attempted to foster an Australian-centric style, orientating it away from typical Nazism.

The group, which adopted the Eureka flag and exploited Henry Lawson’s writings, gained some support given their deliberate exploitation of white Australian symbols and anti-communist attitudes. It was rumoured they had a “kill list” of 100 Australians.

Shootings and firebombings

Towards 1976, there were other extreme right groups who did not engage with the democratic process, instead seeking to use violence to effect change. Among them, ASIO monitored Safari 8, the Legion of the Frontiersmen of the Commonwealth, and the Australian Youth Coalition.

Ultimately, they executed no attacks and swiftly disbanded.

The next prominent surge in activity came in the late eighties from the National Action and the Australian Nationalist Movement. Both of these groups persecuted immigrants, homosexuals, and communists – all of whom they believed put white culture in peril. National Action was involved in a number of attacks in Sydney, including a drive-by shooting; while Australian Nationalist Movement launched a prolonged firebombing campaign against Asian businesses in Perth.

While activity appeared to slump after law enforcement clamped down, it persisted in subcultural networks and “skinhead” counterculture. The ideological foundations, especially around racialised identity, was kept alive by groups such as the Southern Cross Hammerskins, Combat 18/Blood and Honour, and the Women of the Southern Legion (a chapter of Women for Aryan Unity).




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The international rise of right wing extremism

In 2009, right wing extremism began to rise around the world, in response to a supposedly existential threat: jihadism, and the broader Muslim community in the West. This was more a response to the threat supposedly posed by immigration to white culture, heritage, and values, than to an actual fear of jihadism.

Groups with international connections, such as the Australian Defence League and Right Wing Resistance, were formed. The rise of Reclaim Australia also saw extremist members of these groups splinter off to form new groups, such as the True Blue Crew and the United Patriots Front.

Phillip Galea, associated with both of these groups, was apprehended on terrorism charges in 2016. The United Patriots Front has given way to the Lads Society. They are joined in this by Antipodean Resistance – an outwardly nationalist socialist group which defines outsiders as left wing groups, Jews, and homosexuals, and condemns interracial couples and supposed sexual promiscuity.

But these groups barely touch the surface of this surge. Australia has hosted a mix of groups on the extreme right in the last decade. This includes the Nationalist Australian Alternative, Proud Boys, Soldiers of Odin, Identity Australia, Australian Traditional, Australian Liberty Alliance, New National Action, the Patriotic Youth League, and more.

The fact that Christchurch attack has been shared and exploited by extreme right wing elements in Australia shows we have a long way to go in confronting this threat.The Conversation

Kristy Campion, Lecturer in Terrorism Studies, Charles Sturt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Privatising WestConnex is the biggest waste of public funds for corporate gain in Australian history



File 20180924 7728 p04ur8.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Gladys Berejiklian’s government will pay for much of WestConnex construction, give away other toll roads, guarantee annual toll increases and force motorists to use the toll road.
AAP Image/Joel Carrett

Christopher Standen, University of Sydney

The NSW government has confirmed it will sell 51% of WestConnex — the nation’s biggest road infrastructure project — to a consortium led by Transurban, the nation’s biggest toll road corporation.

NSW treasurer Dominic Perrottet described the A$9.3 billion sale to one of his party’s more generous donors as a “very strong result”.

I would describe it differently: the biggest misuse of public funds for corporate gain in Australia’s history.

Let’s examine how much public funding has been or will be sunk into WestConnex, a 33km toll road linking western Sydney with southwestern Sydney via the inner west.

Privatising Westconnex will return the NSW government 30 cents for every dollar of public money spent.
WestConnex Business Case Executive Summary

To date, the NSW and federal governments have provided grants of about $6 billion. Much of this was raised through selling revenue-generating public assets, including NSW’s electricity network.

Hiding privatisation by stealth

As well, the NSW government is bundling three publicly owned motorways into the sale: the M4 (between Parramatta and Homebush), the M5 East and the M5 Southwest (from 2026). Together, Credit Suisse values these public assets at A$9.2 billion. The government is privatising them by stealth. Leaked NSW cabinet documents suggest the Sydney Harbour Bridge will be next.

Then there is the A$1.5 billion bill for property acquisitions and the millions spent on planning, advertising, consultants, lawyers and bankers.

The government is funding extra road works to help prop up WestConnex toll revenue. It will increase the capacity of road corridors feeding into the interchanges. But it will reduce the number of traffic lanes on roads competing with WestConnex, such as Parramatta Road.




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It will also pick up the bill for building a A$2.6 billion airport connection and the complex underground interchange at Rozelle. It will even pay compensation if the latter is not completed on schedule.

To further bolster toll revenue, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian introduced a vehicle registration cashback scheme for toll-road users.

Her government has also committed to continuing the M5 Southwest toll cashback scheme. The cost of these incentives to the public purse is likely to exceed A$2 billion every ten years.

In total, I estimate the NSW government is pumping more than A$23 billion worth of cash, public assets, enabling works and incentives into WestConnex — though efforts to shield the scheme from public scrutiny mean the figure could be much higher.

Finally, as part of the deal with Transurban, the government has agreed to plough A$5.3 billion of the sale proceeds back into WestConnex. It’s recouping just A$4 billion by selling majority ownership.

This translates to a financial return of 34 cents for every dollar spent.

Government expenses and receipts.

Of course, governments don’t always spend our money with the intention of making a profit. Usually there are broader social benefits that justify the expenditure. However, past experience shows inner-city motorways do more harm than good — which is why many cities around the world are demolishing them.

Given its proximity to residential areas, WestConnex will have serious impacts on Sydney’s population. Construction is already destroying communities, harming people’s health and disrupting sleep and travel — with years more to come.

Motorists who cannot afford the new tolls on the M4 ($2,300 a year) and M5 East ($3,100 a year) will have to switch to congested suburban roads. This will mean longer journey times — especially with the removal of traffic lanes on Parramatta Road.

New tolls on existing motorways.

Those who do opt to pay the new tolls may enjoy faster journeys for a few years — until the motorways fill up again.

Costs outweigh the benefits

But this benefit will be largely cancelled out by the tolls they have to pay — with low-income households in western Sydney bearing much of the pain. As such, the ultimate beneficiary will be a corporation that pays no company tax and employs very few people.

Traffic and congestion on roads around the interchanges will increase significantly. Moreover, with tolls for trucks three times those for cars, we can expect to see them switching to suburban and residential streets — especially between peak hours and at night.

The extra traffic created by WestConnex will lead to more road trauma, traffic noise and air pollution across the Sydney metropolitan area. With unfiltered smokestacks being built next to homes and schools, more people may be at risk of heart disease, lung disease and cancer in years to come.




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On any measure, the WestConnex sale is not in the public interest. The billions of dollars ploughed into the scheme would have been better spent on worthwhile infrastructure or services that improve people’s lives.

Is the WestConnex acquisition a good deal for Transurban? A$9.3 billion may sound like a high price, given the past financial collapses of other Australian toll roads.

However, with the Berejiklian government agreeing to fund most of the remaining construction, giving away the M4 and M5, guaranteeing annual toll increases of at least 4%, and bending over backwards to force motorists under the toll gantries, it can only be described as a “very strong result” for the consortium, though not for taxpayers.The Conversation

Christopher Standen, Transport Analyst, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Rewriting history in the People’s Republic of Amnesia and beyond


Louisa Lim, University of Melbourne

This article is part of the Revolutions and Counter Revolutions series, curated by Democracy Futures as a joint global initiative between the Sydney Democracy Network and The Conversation. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.


Buried at the end of the most important Chinese political speech in a decade, President Xi Jinping’s 66-page address to the 19th party congress in November 2017, was one short line: “The Chinese Dream is a dream about history, the present, and the future.” Tired after 71 ovations over three-and-a-half hours, the audience may have missed this sentence. Yet it illuminates how history underpins President Xi’s “Chinese Dream” of national rejuvenation.

History plays an increasingly important legitimising role in China. As historian Antonia Finnane writes:

Every country has its national myths, most of which are grounded in or derived from history; but in China, history alone is the bedrock. The People’s Republic doesn’t have a religion, and it doesn’t have a constitution – or at least, not one that counts. It no longer even has a revolutionary ideology. It just has history, lots of it.

For the Chinese Dream to be achieved, it is imperative – as the president himself has spelled out – to ensure people “have correct views on history”. Certain episodes – the Chinese resistance to the Japanese in the 1930s and the second world war – can be remembered. Others, like the brutal 1989 crackdown in the streets leading up to Tiananmen Square in Beijing, which has just been removed from the new secondary school history curriculum in Hong Kong, must be forgotten.

The enforcement of forgetting

The French historian Ernest Renan said:

Forgetting … is a crucial factor in the creation of the nation.

In contemporary China, it’s put into practice with surgical skill. Specific memories of events deemed sensitive by the state are not just forgotten, they are winnowed out and selectively deleted. The Communist Party has succeeded in hacking the collective memory.

National amnesia has become what Chinese writer Yan Lianke calls a “state-sponsored sport”. And as Beijing’s global influence rises, its controlling instincts – to tame, to corral, to shape, to prune, to expurgate history and historical memory – are increasingly being exported to the world.

The first move was an attempt in August 2017 to bully Cambridge University Press into removing online access in China to 300 articles from the China Quarterly journal. These were pieces on topics deemed sensitive, such as the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen crackdown.

The publisher at first bowed to Chinese demands and only reversed its position after public backlash. But statements by the Journal of Asian Studies, Critical Asian Studies and Springer Nature indicate that this case is part of a larger campaign.

Chinese censorship has also made inroads into Western publishing houses. For instance, Springer Nature, which publishes Nature and Scientific American, deleted around 1,000 articles from its Chinese website, citing “local distribution laws”. In doing so, Western academic presses end up serving the CCP’s purpose by propagating only state-mandated “correct views of history” inside China, as if no alternatives exist.

Protesters injured in the 1989 crackdown begged the photographer ‘Tell the world!’ Today’s it’s a crime to commemorate the dead.
Courtesy Kim Nygaard, Author provided

China is also censoring its own archives, as work by Glenn Tiffert has forensically uncovered. His comparison of electronic and paper versions of China’s legal journals found that in one journal 87% of the page count had been excised.

At home, Beijing’s tightening grip on history deigns not only what can be remembered, but also the manner in which it can be marked. In the case of the events of June 4 in Tiananmen Square, small-scale commemorations that once flew beneath the radar are now regularly punished, often through vague charges such as “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble”.

Every year, Chinese activist Chen Yunfei had paid his respects at the grave of Wu Guofeng, a 20-year-old student who was shot and bayoneted to death by troops in Beijing on June 4, 1989. In March 2017, Chen was sentenced to four years in jail for this simple act of remembrance.

Chen’s lawyer Sui Muiqing told me:

June Fourth is a red line for the authorities that cannot be crossed. This was a very important reason. It was a catalyst for his arrest.

Last year, at least 16 people were detained for public acts of commemoration. Four other activists face up to 15 years in prison after being indicted for “inciting subversion of state power” for selling liquor with a label referencing June 4 and Tank Man.

A lone man stops a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square the day after the military suppressed protests by force.

The paradox, of course, is that the harder the Communist Party works to erase the memory of June 4, the deeper its obsession with Tiananmen’s legacy becomes. As Madeleine Thien wrote:

One could say that no one remembers the Tiananmen massacre more faithfully, or with greater attentiveness, than the Chinese government.

The crime of rejecting the revolution

An old term that came to prominence in the white terror after Tiananmen is also back in vogue: historical nihilism, or “rejecting the revolution and denying the historical inevitability of socialism”. In April this year, a law was passed that bans the slander of Communist Party heroes and revolutionary martyrs. Last week, prosecutors used this new law for the first time, against a man in Jiangsu province who used social media to criticise a fireman who died during a rescue operation.

A precursor of these new laws went to trial in 2016 when writer Hong Zhenkuai questioned elements of the patriotic war story, “The Five Heroes of Langya Mountain”. This recounts the self-sacrifice of a group of Chinese soldiers who threw themselves from a cliff to avoid capture. Hong questioned whether two of the soldiers may have simply slipped and fallen by mistake.

Hong was found guilty of libel and forced to make a public apology after the court ruled that he had damaged the solders’ “heroic image and spiritual value”. The court argued that Hong should not have disputed the validity of the well-known story precisely because it “constituted part of the collective memory of the Chinese nation”.

Chinese writer Hong Zhenkuai, convicted by a court for challenging the war story Five Heroes of Langya Mountain, climbs a peak to defend his position.

Many mainland historians and activists warn that the charge of historical nihilism could be used to muzzle historical research, using the threat of lawsuits to shut down discussion and ensure that the authorities’ view of history remains the only one.

“They want to use falsified history as propagated by the authorities to replace real history for the people,” Sui Muqing said. “They want to erase real historical events that happened. That’s what so-called ‘historical nihilism’ means.”

Even literary works are being targeted as guilty of historical nihilism. The Chinese government has denounced Soft Burial, a novel by Fang Fang about the excesses of the 1950s land reform movement, as a “poisonous weed” and banned its sale. Fang Fang explains the title, writing:

When people die and their bodies are buried under the earth without the protection of coffins, this burial is called a ‘soft burial’; as for the living, when they seal off their past, cut off their roots, reject their memories, either consciously or subconsciously, their lives are soft buried in time. Once they are in a soft burial, their lives will be disconnected in amnesia.

In today’s China, exhuming or even publicly remembering history – even events that happened within our lifetime, such as those of 1989 – is increasingly costly. Soft burial has become not just a reality, but a state of self-preservation.

“In the future, historical research will be impossible,” warned Hong in an open letter. He had previously worked as the chief editor of Yanhuang Chunqiu, a gutsy magazine that addresses Communist Party history. “If you point out the contradictions or holes in what they say, they can use the law to proclaim that you are guilty.”

President Xi has even published a book titled History: the Best Textbook. Yet only one version of history is acceptable: the Communist Party’s own.

The global spread of China’s amnesia

With China’s rise, it now finds itself in a position to amplify its version of history to a global audience. Following the 2017 meeting in Mar-a-Lago between Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump, Trump described his conversation to The Wall Street Journal:

He then went into the history of China and Korea. Not North Korea, Korea. And you know, you’re talking about thousands of years … and many wars. And Korea actually used to be part of China.

Such a distorted reading is in line with a growing body of nationalist thought in China.

Increasingly, Beijing is marshalling its own version of history to support its territorial claims overseas. This is the case, for instance, of the Nine-Dash Line, which China says gives it a historical claim to virtually the entire South China Sea. China has refused to accept the Hague-based international tribunal’s ruling that this claim has no legal basis. Disgraced Australian politician Sam Dastyari even echoed the “thousands of years of history” line to back China’s refusal to abide by these rulings.

Recently, a map dating from 1951 has been uncovered. It is being used by researchers to propose new boundaries, though it is not clear whether Beijing could adopt them.

China has also invoked history to legitimise its massive One Belt One Road international infrastructure scheme, despite critics claiming that its premise relies on mythologised history.

The Chinese Communist Party is actively trying to export its version of the past beyond its borders. But these examples should serve as a warning. If Beijing is given a free pass on history, the international ramifications could come back to bite us in the years ahead.


The ConversationLousia Lim is the author of The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited (OUP 2014).

Louisa Lim, Senior Lecturer in Audiovisual Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Donald Trump doesn’t understand Haiti, immigration or American history



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After Haiti signed its Declaration of Independence from France, in 1804, the U.S. started a 60-year political and economic embargo that hobbled the young nation’s growth.
Wikimedia

Chantalle F. Verna, Florida International University

Donald Trump’s denigrating comments about Haiti during a recent congressional meeting shocked people around the globe, but given his track record of disrespecting immigrants, they were not actually that surprising.

Despite campaign promises that Trump would be Haiti’s “biggest champion,” his administration had already demonstrated its disregard for people from this Caribbean island. In November 2017, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would end the Temporary Protected Status that had allowed 59,000 Haitians to stay in the U.S. after a calamitous Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake.

Their TPS was extended after Hurricane Matthew devastated Haiti again in 2016. Without protected status, these Haitian migrants have until July 2019 to get a green card, leave voluntarily or be deported.

As a scholar and first-generation Haitan-American, I can attest that Trump’s statements and policies reflect not just disrespect for Haiti but also a profound ignorance about how migration occurs.

Why history matters

As shown in my recent book, “Haiti and the Uses of America,” history shapes where immigrants choose to build their lives.

Outsiders head to the United States in times of crisis not at random but because historic ties point them in this direction. When nativists like President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions refer to immigrants as “criminal aliens” – perpetuating the idea that foreigners are “invading” the country – they ignore this key fact.

Movement from Haiti to the U.S. has its roots in colonial times, when British, French and Spanish traders exchanged coffee, cotton and mahogany between the two territories.

In the 1790s, thousands of white and mixed-race residents sought refuge from a revolutionary war in colonial Haiti, which was then called Saint Domingue. Fleeing an uprising by enslaved men and women of African descent, French colonists boarded ships following historic trade routes to U.S. port cities like New Orleans, Philadelphia and New York. Some brought with them the people they had enslaved.

An estimated 10,000 Saint Dominguan revolution-era refugees eventually resettled in Louisiana, contributing to the distinct Creole history
and culture that characterizes Gulf cities like New Orleans today.

By 1804 the island’s revolutionaries had driven out France to found Haiti. The U.S., however, did not formally recognize Haitian independence until 1862.

Born of a slave rebellion, Haiti challenged the legitimacy of an American economy and society dependent on racial hierarchies. In 1806, the U.S. government imposed an economic embargo on the island.

But a vibrant illicit trade persisted. In 1821, 45 percent of Haitian imports still came from the U.S.

As a result, migration between the two nations continued, too – and not just from Haiti to the U.S. In the 1820s, some 13,000 African-Americans sought refuge in Haiti, seeking freedom from slavery, anti-black violence and lack of economic opportunity in the U.S.

In the 1870s, civic and religious leaders, notably Richard Allen of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Episcopalian Theodore James Holly, enabled similar journeys by negotiating directly with Haitian heads of state.

President Abraham Lincoln supported such schemes to send African-Americans abroad – not just to Haiti but also to Liberia, Central America and elsewhere. Even many abolitionists of the era believed that blacks and whites could not co-exist as equals in the U.S..

Many of the African-Americans who went to Haiti later returned to the U.S., in part drawn by the promise of new legal rights after the Civil War.

American meddling leads to migration

By the time the American embargo of Haiti ended in 1862, the U.S. was openly striving for political and economic domination of the Western Hemisphere, including in the Caribbean.

Starting with President Ulysses S. Grant, who wanted to annex Haiti, American politicians militarily pursued U.S. interests on the island nation. Between 1862 and 1915, American warships were active in Haitian waters 17 times.

Powerful commercial lobbies with a business stake in Haiti – particularly the financial and sugar industries – also meddled in the island’s affairs. Foreign merchants and bankers in Haiti paid armed groups known as cacos to overthrow standing presidents and empower leaders who would give them preferential terms of trade.

The political and economic instability that resulted helped perpetuate the racist perception of Haitians as incapable of self-rule.

It also fueled emigration. New research shows that in the first decades of the 20th century, some 200,000 rural Haitians left to work as guest laborers for American sugar companies in Cuba. They were among more than 1 million Caribbeans who traveled across the Americas between 1840 and 1940. Some of them eventually landed in the United States.

A series of military interventions

In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson invaded Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. The occupation, which lasted until 1934, was the first in a series of U.S. military actions on the island.

The next interventions came in 1994 and 2004, under the auspices of the United Nations. The impetus was the 1991 ouster of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who’d been elected during Haiti’s contested four-year transition from dictatorship to democracy. Through an economic embargo initiated by President George Bush and a military engagement under President Bill Clinton, Aristide was restored to power in 1994.

When he was again forced out 10 years later, President George W. Bush ordered the U.S. Marines back into Haiti.

The actions preceding and during these interventions have destabilized Haiti. In other words, for over a century, the U.S. has helped to perpetuate and exacerbate the political fragility and economic struggle that leads Haitians to seek refuge on American shores.

Today, an estimated 830,000 people of Haitian descent live in the U.S., primarily in Florida and New York. Approximately 40 percent of them were born in the U.S.

With their TPS status revoked, nearly 60,000 Haitians will face deportation from the U.S. starting in July 2019.
Lynne Sladky/Ap Images

Few Haitian-Americans are wealthy – in 2009, census data shows, 1 in 5 households lived in poverty – but they are employed at higher rates than the general American public.

The Haitian-American population is also growing, more than tripling between 1990 and 2015. Within this group are the nearly 60,000 people granted Temporary Protected Status after the 2010 earthquake, who have now lived in the U.S. for an average of 13 years.

In countless ways, Haiti is woven into the fabric of the United States. Haitian-Americans have made their homes in South Florida, Brooklyn, and Detroit, among many other places.

The ConversationThe deep historic ties binding Haiti and the U.S. will persist with or without Donald Trump. What the president’s repugnant language and short-sighted policy changes can do is spur new crises in both Haiti and the United States.

Chantalle F. Verna, Associate Professor of History and International Relations, Florida International University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.