Australia: Killing Free Speech With Delusions of 'Harmony'

The latest in the litigation jihad

Dan Ryan/The Australian

H/T Andrew Bolt:  If harmony costs this much, less of it may be better

Living in harmony a mixed blessing

AUSTRALIA officially celebrates Harmony Day on March 21, but I see festivities kicked off at least a month ago.

Who knows? One day we may, like China, end up celebrating Harmony Day all year round.

Beijing is big on the idea of harmony. “Harmonious Society” is perhaps the most well-known slogan of today’s Chinese Communist Party. Throughout the country banners and public announcements, many eerily similar to those used in Australia, celebrate what a harmonious place China claims it is building.

The problem is most Chinese do not think of the harmonious society as a vague synonym for peace, love and understanding. Rather, it has become a byword for censorship and suppression of dissent. Protest groups talk about being “harmonised”, journalists of being subject to “harmonisation”.

“China’s leaders have set a domestic objective of building a harmonious society,” Kevin Rudd told the Chinese in a speech in Beijing last year. “Externally, they have talked about building a harmonious world. The two clearly fit together. We all have an interest in a harmonious world.”

I am still trying to work out what this means: that we’re trying to encourage Beijing to act as harmoniously internationally as it does domestically? Not a smart move, I would think.

On the same day as his speech, Ai Weiwei, the Chinese designer of the Beijing Olympics “bird’s nest” stadium, was placed under house arrest. His crime was to mock the harmonious society by holding an irreverent water-crab banquet to protest against the government’s politically motivated decision to demolish his Shanghai studio.

Water crabs? Well, humour is always hard to translate but in Chinese “water crab” is pronounced the same way as “harmonious” and routinely used as an ironic substitute for the government’s slogan.

The problem with the harmonious society is not just the disconnect between the rhetoric and the reality. The truth is, while superficially sweet-sounding, the idea is illusory and utopian.

We may all wish in the abstract that everyone got along, but the reality is that free societies by their nature are cacophonous, argumentative and full of dissent.

What we should be encouraging in China is a free society, not a harmonious one; free speech, not harmonious speech; genuine freedom of assembly, not just for those in sync with government policy.

Attempts by the government to try to build its idea of harmony will almost always trend towards restricting freedom of speech or narrowing the parameters of debate. Increasingly governments in the West seem to believe the need to preserve some ill-defined sense harmony trumps any individual right to forthrightly discuss controversial subject matter.

From Ottawa (Mark Steyn), and Vienna (Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff) to Amsterdam (Geerts Wilders) and Melbourne (Andrew Bolt), prominent journalists and politicians are put on trial not because they have breached any traditional, narrowly defined limits on free speech (defamation, incitement to violence, breach of national security) but because they have criticised or drawn unwelcome attention to some important cultural, religious or ethnic problem that should rightfully be subject to debate.

Perhaps in response to these legal constraints there has been a tendency by media not only to refrain from hard criticism of cultural, religious or ethnic problems but to avoid even properly describing them. If it is decided that we must restrict speech or avoid discussing certain subjects to keep the peace over an apparently combustible population, might now not be the time to ask whether this type of harmony is worth celebrating?

If your social life is so tragic you need government help to throw a party then you are welcome to head along to officially approved “harmony” events. We may even, in solidarity with Ai, throw a prawn or two on the barbie.

Dan Ryan is an Australian lawyer who has spent more than 10 years working in China.


4 thoughts on “Australia: Killing Free Speech With Delusions of 'Harmony'”

  1. * Who exactly is behind this?? Obviously people with more money than sense.

    Here’s a few (?)

    Scanlon Foundation -> Australian Multicultural Foundation ->

    Indeed, if you look at the 24 person strong membership list of the Australian Multicultural Foundation, you might consider this a foregone conclusion. Here are the first 10 members:

    The Hon Kevin Rudd MP (Prime Minister of Australia), Mr John Howard, The Hon Mr Simon Crean MP, The Hon. Mr Alexander Downer MP, Mr Robert Hawke AC, Dr J. R. Hewson, Mr Paul Keating, Mr Mark Latham, Mr Kim Beazley, andMr Andrew Peacock AC.

    This must be the most exclusive club in Australia. I cannot help but wonder, what’s in it for the members? Maybe this is how you get a crack at being the titular head of the country, by selling out your constituents to big business.

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