The views of ‘Roosh V’ are clearly atrocious. But what about the startling hypocrisy of Australia’s Freedom Commissioner, Tim Wilson in supporting his ban from Australia? Michael Brull dives in.
In this article, I want to discuss our Freedom Commissioner’s response to the ban on Daryush Valizadeh (“Roosh V”). Before I do, I will begin with a brief detour, setting out Roosh’s views, and the Minister for Immigration’s powers.
Roosh: yes, he is really that bad
Often, when a controversial figure is reported on in the media, they are not portrayed accurately. Fringe figures can be demonised with impunity, because no-one will be held to account for such lapses. In the case of Roosh, whilst there may be some technical lapses in reporting on his views, they are about as appalling as one can be, without being an outright white supremacist.
Roosh has an ideology called “neomasculinity”. Besides his own blog, he is the publisher of a website called “Return of Kings”.
This is his most infamous article: “How to stop rape”. He has recently updated it to claim it is satire. Yet it makes an argument that seems to be sincere. His position is that everyone knows that “rape is bad”, and this is so obvious to men that it doesn’t require an “overweight feminist” to explain it to them. Because all men know this, he disagrees with those who “suggest that the best way to defeat rape culture is to teach men not to rape”. The real problem is “women wholly unconcerned with their own safety and the character of men they developed intimate relationships with”. In fact, “By attempting to teach men not to rape, what we have actually done is teach women not to care about being raped, not to protect themselves from easily preventable acts, and not to take responsibility for their actions.”
So what is the real way to stop rape? Roosh: “Make rape legal if done on private property.” Whilst “seedy and deranged men” who randomly rape women in alleys should be punished, this is not because it will deter those rapes, but to “keep them off the streets”. For those on private property, and this is a direct quote: “any and all rape that happens should be completely legal.” Pause to consider that. Then consider his own logic. If the goal is simply to keep rape “off the streets”, wouldn’t that encourage the “seedy and deranged men” to rape women in their own homes?
Roosh goes on to claim that if this happened, women would take care, and “protect her body” like she “protects her purse and smartphone”. By this plan, “rape would be virtually eliminated on the first day it is applied.” Women would no longer enter a man’s property unless she’s sure she’s willing to have sex with him. And the upshot for men like Roosh?
Consent is now achieved when she passes underneath the room’s door frame, because she knows that that man can legally do anything he wants to her when it comes to sex. Bad encounters are sure to occur, but these can be learning experiences for the poorly trained woman so she can better identify in the future the type of good man who will treat her like the delicate flower that she believes she is. After only one such sour experience, she will actually want to get fully acquainted with a man for longer than two hours—perhaps even demanding to meet his parents—instead of letting a beer chug prevent her from making the correct decisions to protect her body.
Note Roosh’s use of phrases like “sour experience” and “learning experiences” to casually describe the trauma of rape. And if consent is “now achieved”, then presumably men will assume that it is okay to rape women who enter their homes. After all, “bad encounters are sure to occur”.
Besides his cavalier indifference to rape, he seems to not realise that his fantasy has moved from supposedly virtually eliminating rape, to creating a framework where it is “sure to occur”.
Indeed, Roosh seems to hintingly approve of such rape. If “consent is now achieved”, then actual consent seems irrelevant. Roosh claims that “Because women will never enter a man’s apartment without accepting that sex will happen, he can escort her to his bedroom and romantically consummate a relationship after it was certain he proved himself to be a good and decent man the woman fully trusted.” In reality, it would not be certain at that point. But apparently it would be certain enough for Roosh.
Though Roosh claims to be anti-rape, this is, more or less, a pro-rape dream. It is also entirely based on the premise that women are to blame for sexual assault. Thus, sexual assault can be ended by women behaving more responsibly.
Roosh now claims that this “thought experiment” was satire. Yet on February 20, 2015 – 4 days after his blog went up – he put up a YouTube responding to the “hysteria”. There, he explained that his “policy proposal” would reduce rape, and so it should be regarded as positive and anti-rape. He then claims that his revealing thought experiment shows that his critics don’t care about decreasing the amount of rape, they just want to persecute as many men as possible. It is hard to believe that this is satire. It is insane, but it is based on anti-feminist and anti-women arguments that he seems to believe.
Even by the standards of internet misogyny, that’s pretty out there. The neomasculinists apparently squabble with their sexist competitors in anti-feminism, the men’s rights activists. Or take the case of Milo Yiannopoulos. He went to a Slut Walk march to mock and antagonise the protesters, holding up signs saying “REGRET IS NOT RAPE” and “’RAPE CULTURE’ AND HARRY POTTER BOTH FANTASIES”. He was cautious about defending the substance of Roosh’s views in August last year. He noted that his “research team is divided on the subject of Roosh”, but his “most liberal colleague” stepped up “for the same reason” as Yiannopoulos. That is, the freedom of speech issue.
It should be noted – Return of Kings isn’t just misogynist. It is also racist. Here is a listicle of “5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About European Colonialism”. Number four is “Aboriginal people were complete misogynists”. I guess they disapprove of some types of misogyny. The blog refers readers to Bess Price, and articles in Quadrant, and the Australian for more information. Another blog explains “Why the Native Peoples in Australia Were Doomed”. Funnily enough, they cite Keith Windschuttle and Andrew Bolt to disprove the Stolen Generations.
The character test: really awful
Under the Migration Act, the Minister for Immigration – Peter Dutton – has very broad powers to deny a person a visa to enter Australia, or to cancel a person’s visa. These powers are under the “character test”, and the legislation can be read here. The Minister may refuse someone a visa if they fail the character test. Some elements may sound reasonable to some, such as having a “substantial criminal record”. Another way to fail the character test is to “vilify a segment of the Australian community”, or “incite discord”. Yet the broadest criterion in failing the character test is “having regard to… the person’s past and present general conduct”.
That’s right. General conduct. The Minister can refuse someone a visa – or even cancel a person’s visa – on the grounds that their “general conduct” is undesirable. And if the Minister “reasonably suspects” that’s the case, and thinks that cancellation or refusal is in the “national interest”, then the rules of natural justice don’t apply to that decision.
Natural justice is a technical term under the law, comprising two elements. Firstly, that the decision maker should not be biased, or appear biased. Secondly, that a person should be informed of a decision that will be made about them, and get a chance to reply to adverse evidence against them. The Minister does not need to adhere to these basic values when making a decision.
If these powers don’t appal you, they should. The Minister has extremely broad discretion to exclude basically anyone he wants from Australia. You might think – well, I’m in favour of excluding this or that controversial figure. But how far does that go?
In 2005, Scott Parkin, a left-wing American activist preaching non-violent civil disobedience was expelled from Australia. Are you okay with that use of the power?
Do you really trust Peter Dutton with this kind of unaccountable power to keep people out of Australia, and even to kick people currently living in Australia out?
Agreeing with this or that person not being allowed into Australia is not the same as supporting this extremely broad discretion. The fact that you hate Roosh – or ‘pick-up artist’ Julien Blanc, or Chris Brown or whoever – does not change the fact that it is not you and your enlightened friends trusted with this power.
It is the reactionary and cruel Peter Dutton, who began his tenure as Immigration Minister with a bill offering broad authorisation for the use of force against asylum seekers in detention.
Freedom commissioner channelling John Howard
Tim Wilson is Australia’s Freedom Commissioner. He used to work for the right-wing, supposedly libertarian think-tank, the Institute for Public Affairs, before Prime Minister Tony Abbott appointed him to the Human Rights Commission to defend our freedoms more properly than the other commissioners had been doing.
According to his website, he was given a “Libertarian of the Year Award” last year. Presumably, this is based on the theory that he cares about liberty.
Tristan Edis in the Business Spectator was among the many who observed that Wilson has not yet demonstrated such concern. Edis commented that Wilson “has specialised in basically defending corporations’ freedom to make many people’s lives miserable and unhealthy, particularly future generations’. He is defender-in-chief of tobacco, alcohol, junk food, gambling and pollution.”
By now, his call to send in water-cannons to deal with Occupy Melbourne protesters in 2011 is the iconic example of our Freedom Commissioner’s commitment to freedom for actual people.
As there are virtually no civil libertarians in public life in Australia, the idea of a Freedom Commissioner itself wasn’t necessarily a bad one. The problem was that Abbott imposed a crony from his favourite think-tank onto an organisation which advocates policies he opposes. That is, human rights policies.
Some gave Wilson the benefit of the doubt. They hoped that as Freedom Commissioner, Wilson would do his job, and become a passionate advocate for freedoms, even if he had not previously demonstrated this kind of commitment.
This is what makes his intervention in public discussion of Roosh so striking. Dutton said Roosh would not be granted a visa because of the views he expresses. Wilson sees no problem with this, and wrote an op ed to applaud it.
Wilson’s reasoning is striking, because he takes a turn from Freedom Commissioner to channelling our former Prime Minister, John Howard.
Wilson begins by saying it is “irrelevant” from a “human rights perspective” that Roosh is “despicable and loathsome”. After all, “We are rarely called to defend the rights of the popular. But by denying him a visa we are not violating his free speech.”
“People shouldn’t be denied a visa to Australia simply because they have an unpopular idea.” For example, he says that Geert Wilders, an anti-Muslim extremist, shouldn’t have been banned from Australia.
For those needing a quick refresher, Wilders issued a call to ban the Qur’an, saying, “The heart of the problem is the fascist Islam, the sick ideology of Allah and Mohammed as it is laid out in the Islamic Mein Kampf: the Quran.”
Wilson was appalled. It “would be disgraceful if a representative of one political party used their discretionary power, without a serious and credible justification, to block a visa for someone seeking to promote an alternative political party.”
Wilson sets out how Dutton can ban people like Wilders and Roosh under the character test. He notes that it provides “significant discretionary power. The breadth of the test does raise concerns that immigration law can be used to block people who might create political dilemmas for the incumbent government.”
Wilson explains that banning someone like Roosh isn’t a question of freedom of speech, because we can still visit his blog and watch him on YouTube. It is about border control: “What is being restricted is freedom of movement. All countries have a right to decide who comes into their country, or not. In the Western liberal tradition, governments are expected to provide security for the people they are charged to protect, and to preserve a system of government that protects people’s rights. That’s why we have a visa process.”
Wilson concludes as follows:
“The problem with Valizadeh is that he is building a movement built on the idea that women are subservient to men. That argument is then used to justify all manner of crimes against women in pursuit of prioritising men’s interests, including rationalising violence. That notion is completely contrary to the Western liberal democratic principle of justice and equality before the law. So long as they don’t urge or incite violence against others, any Australian can legally espouse the views of ‘neo-masculinity’. But the question is: should we allow Valizadeh in the country to encourage it? Logic says no.”
It is hard not to note the lack of principle. Isn’t banning the Qur’an intended to similarly establish Muslim subservience?
Looking more closely, Wilson seems to unwittingly establish that this is a freedom of speech issue. He does not suggest that Australians don’t have the right to spread Roosh’s creed, nor does he suggest that Roosh incites violence. He grants that Australians may lawfully spread the “neomasculine” cult of Roosh. However, it is, in the view of Wilson, contrary to Western liberal democratic principles, and so we should prevent its leader from further encouraging it.
Now, as it happens, Australians are not duty bound to promote or believe in Western liberal democratic principles. Australians can advocate for legal changes. I would argue that Australia doesn’t really have liberal principles, as there is no meaningful entrenchment of human rights in our Constitution.
Liberal democratic values might be a good thing – though it’s hard to accept Wilson’s uncritical and naïve assertion that justice and equality before the law are Western principles. Yet they are also open to question. Whilst Wilson began by claiming that someone shouldn’t be denied a visa “simply because they have an unpopular idea”, he concludes that because Roosh has political views he disapproves of – contrary to Western liberal democratic values – he shouldn’t be let into the country.
And this isn’t a question of freedom of speech – because every country has the “right to decide who comes into their country or not”.
At this point, we should pause to make two obvious points, which apparently eluded our Freedom Commissioner. Deciding whether or not to let someone into a country based on their opinions – and based on their political opinions – is an issue of freedom of speech.
There are various ways freedom of speech can be affected. One is by prior restraint – that is, by preventing someone from speaking. An example of this might be refusing to let someone publish a book unless it has been vetted by the government.
Another method is punishment after someone speaks. An example of the latter is someone being jailed or tortured for criticising their government.
The effect of such punishments is to limit speech, and intimidate others from speaking.
In this case, Roosh has suffered a penalty of sorts, and has also been restrained from speaking, both of which were imposed by the government. This makes it an issue of freedom of speech.
People will disagree about whether or not Roosh should have been banned. Many will believe that Roosh’s views are so heinous that he shouldn’t have been allowed into Australia. Ultimately, the conclusions that people draw will rest on how they weigh up freedom of speech and its worth as compared to other values.
Yet it is at least odd that the Freedom Commissioner cannot even detect any relevant freedom of speech issue in advocating the banning of someone from Australia for advocating ideological views contrary to Western liberal democratic principles.
It is particularly strange when one recalls his reasoning from only a few short months ago.
Then, his position was the opposite. Wilson noted that words in Troy Newman’s book suggested that “abortionists” should be executed by the government. Newman disavowed this was the intent of his words – seemingly not very credibly. Wilson commented:
“Let’s be clear: his comments are despicable, absurd, distasteful and deeply offensive, but entirely lawful. They are not incitement. Incitement occurs when people are called to break the law. Context also matters. Newman stating his views in his book are not incitement. Nor are others restating them, as demonstrated by the MP who complained about his visit and included them in their public letter.”
Note how Wilson draws a distinction between incitement – urging people to break the law – and mere advocacy. This distinction has been recognised in the United States Supreme Court, which requires incitement to imminent unlawful action.
The Supreme Court upheld advocacy of the use of force as covered by freedom of speech. Readers can disagree with that judgment all they like. My point is simply that this is a legitimate and well-established position of civil libertarians on the issue of freedom of speech.
The fact that Wilson only invokes this selectively, however, is more reflective of his personal advocacy than of the general position.
Anyway, a few months ago, Wilson argued that:
“Stopping people physically coming to Australia because of their offensive views is self-evidently pointless and self-defeating in an age when someone can record a YouTube video or website accessible anywhere in the world.
We should always be wary when the government uses migration law to indirectly decide the views that can be expressed, and more importantly the views that Australians are allowed to hear.”
Or perhaps it depends on whether those views personally offend Mr Wilson, the Freedom Commissioner. He concluded that it was okay to ban Newman because he “boarded a plane without a visa”, showing “he may not be a credible character or prepared to respect our laws”.
Let’s suppose the Freedom Commissioner’s new view is correct: banning Roosh isn’t about freedom of speech, but freedom of movement. Why isn’t the Freedom Commissioner in favour of freedom of movement? Does that freedom not count?
Other libertarians are comfortable supporting open borders and freedom of movement. For example, Chris Berg, also from the IPA, has defended free movement: “The last remaining barrier to economic liberty is the free movement of people.”
So why does Wilson defend restrictions on freedom of movement?
A brief review might help with that one. Wilson is opposed to banning from Australia a man who wants to ban the Qur’an. He was anxious about banning an anti-abortion activist. Wilson is fine with banning from Australia a man with ultra-reactionary views on women.
To some extent, this can be seen as vaguely tracking the views not of a libertarian, but a right-wing conservative.
A right-wing conservative would welcome open debate on how evil Islam is and its supposed connections to terrorism. A right-wing conservative would welcome open debate on abortion from one of its opponents.
Roosh, on the other hand, is not a conservative.
I don’t know our Freedom Commissioner’s heart. Perhaps he really is a liberal, as he says. However, his agenda seems to track strangely closely with that of Tony Abbott, the right-wing conservative who appointed him.
For those who care about freedom, it’s unfortunate to have a Freedom Commissioner with mixed feelings about freedom of speech and freedom of movement. The fact he can declare that “All countries have a right to decide who comes into their country” shows that Abbott made a shrewd appointment.
He is clearly going to get his money’s worth for the remaining three years of Wilson’s tenure.
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