I was going to write something about Troy Newman, the American anti-choice fundamentalist who is currently in limbo at Tullamarine Airport after the Australian government at the last minute decided to bar him from entering the country. But I don’t have to, because philosopher Russell Blackford has done it, at the Conversation.

Just go read it. It’s great; not polemical, but very thorough. Among his points:

  • Freedom of speech is meaningless unless it protects unpopular views, including those we strongly disagree with.
  • Defending someone’s rights doesn’t mean we “support” them or stand in solidarity with them: “Outright expressions of solidarity suggest, if not overall approval, at least an implication that someone is a valued participant in public debate. Judging by reports, Newman’s ideas are so repugnant that I’d not want to give any impression of somehow being on his side or of valuing his contribution to discussion in the public square.”
  • There’s a difference between advocating some horrible policy and directly inciting other individuals to carry it out. The latter is quite properly made criminal; the former is not.
  • The use of immigration controls for this purpose, with the associated argument that entering another country is a “privilege”, not a right, is a cop-out. “Generally speaking, we all have the legitimate expectation that we will be allowed to travel from one country to another for peaceful purposes such as tours involving lectures and media appearances.”
  • Being yourself an authoritarian doesn’t mean you forfeit your free speech rights. Suppressing such people is, perversely, just the thing that gives authoritarianism an unwarranted credibility.
  • Brendan O’Neill, as usual, just doesn’t get it.
  • Instead of shutting down debate, we should be fighting to defend reproductive rights by concrete measures to protect women who are subject to violence or harassment. “Their reproductive freedom is essential to their autonomy as individuals, and also to our society’s transition to gender equality.”

I’d add just one point to what Blackford says. Both this and the case of singer Chris Brown, barred last week because of his history of domestic violence, show that the “character” test for visitor visas (as distinct from actual immigrants) makes no sense, or at least needs to be tightened in some way. But the issues are slightly different; one could sympathise with Brown and still want to exclude Newman, or vice versa.

Also, whatever trick Newman used to get on a flight to Australia without having a valid visa, someone should teach it to the asylum seekers who currently risk their lives on small boats in the Indian Ocean.

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