IT IS NOT the Professor’s privilege to be Jewish, which would have required the mohel to come armed with a chainsaw, for such is the robust nature of Bunyip physiology. Still, while there is much appreciation for the sons of Abraham at the Billabong (and a readier affection for his more comely daughters), there are times when the utterances of prominent Jews cause great dismay. One such moment came this morning, courtesy of the National Times, which provides Vic Alhadeff, chief exec of NSW’s Board of Deputies, with an opportunity to mount the case for censorship. He doesn’t quite call it that, of course, preferring to write of the need for “responsibility”, but the thought of gagging objectionable commentary and comments is most definitely what lights his menorah.
And to be fair, you do have to be at least a little sympathetic. As Alhadeff explains, an entirely reasonable column he wrote for The Drum became a magnet for moronic anti-semitism. It can be found here and the comments, starting with the very top one, are genuinely shocking. Now Alhadeff might have complained that Jonathan Green, who presides over the ABC’s non-profit version of Crikey!, exercised no discretion in deciding what thoughts were aired on the taxpayer-funded site. And Green, for his part, might have countered that his site was fair and even-handed because the same thread also published many almost-as-noxious assaults on Catholics and Pope Benedict. That is, of course, the way the Drum works, habitually debasing even worthy articles with its core audience’s idiocy. One day, if the Drum survives the coming change of government, its funding should be moved from the public broadcaster’s ledger to that of the Health Department, as the best argument for its existence is that it provides a private diversion for snot-pickers, manic hair tuggers and mumbling ranters who might otherwise be out and about, much to the alarm of sane citizens.
But suppose Alhadeff’s notion of “responsibility” proved inadequate to the task of deep-sixing your more appalling examples of ratbaggery? And suppose, after that, the next logical and inevitable step was legislation to keep things nice. It would be introduced with the best of intentions, as most bad ideas always are, but what might we then expect? Why Canada, of course, where gagging laws championed by Alhadeff’s Canuck counterparts have given Mark Steyn and others so much grief.
Could we count on journalists to defend the right to be offensive, stupid or both? Again, not if Canada is the model. Indoctrinated when not merely co-opted, journalists’ notions of truth, and their subjective appreciation of worthy truths, are for the moment on display daily in the Age, which is so committed to purity of thought it will not permit even a single conservative to sully its pages. That this preachy intolerance for opinions seldom heard in Fitzroy is a major factor in the newspaper’s decline worries those in charge not at all. They appear quite happy to cut their own throats so long as the newspaper's fade to black is set to the louder soundtrack of their enemies’ throttled gurgling.
Could we look to the courts for a champion of the right to be offensive? Why not refer that question to party-line hacks like Judge Mordy, who may well find you guilty of vilification and intolerance for daring even to put it.
That is what happens when we surrender to our self-proclaimed betters the power to determine good speech from bad: travesties built upon arrogance and the treachery of good intentions. It is why Alhadeff needs to read these thoughts and re-think what to him must seem as innocent as obligatory good manners.
Or he could just consult Steyn, who several months ago noted the unintended consequences of a similar campaign to eradicate “ugly anonymity online”. Here is the nub: “It is bizarre that the [Canadian Jewish Congress] has found itself on the side of those who wish to silence the most effective defenders of Israel in Canada, but it is shameful that it has so little to say about these matters itself.” By “these matters” he means jihadist incitements to teach those sly Jews a real lesson. Draw attention to it, however, and various panels of speech nannies will be all over you with charges of incitement to hatred etc.
Alhadeff finds the Drum offensive. Perhaps he should demonstrate his disdain by declining to write for it – after, that is, penning a farewell column on the site’s deplorable editorial standards and supervision. See if you can get that published, Mr Alhadeff, and then think again about the ultimate victims of censorship.