Stuff columnist Donna Miles-Mojab laid down a challenge to ACT leader David Seymour in a column headed: Why not rebut Ghahraman’s arguments, rather than label her a menace?
The column, prompted by Seymour’s saying “Golriz Ghahraman is a real menace to freedom in this country”, asked:
Why not offer a rebuttal to her arguments instead of accusing her of being “a real menace to freedom in this country”?
She might now ask of Stuff: when will they publish the 700 or so words which Seymour submitted on the controversy around his remarks?
An email from Seymour says:
If you believe what you read in the news, you probably think I’m a racist who caused another politician to require Police protection. I wrote the article below to explain why that couldn’t be further from the truth, raising questions about how such a story came to be.
Unfortunately, the media outlets most responsible for spreading the story, Newshub and Stuff, wouldn’t publish it. I want to thank David Farrar at Kiwiblog for giving me a platform, and ask you to share this email far and wide.
Stuff reporter Andrea Vause linked death threats against Ghahraman to Seymour’s “menace” statement in a news item headed Security escort for Green MP Golriz Ghahraman after death threats
The MP has seen a significant escalation in threats of violence following comments by ACT MP David Seymour, a source told Stuff.
Ghahraman also said it was fuelled by a Newshub report on white supremacy, which detailed online threats including “hanging her like a lynch mob”.
In response, Seymour was reported as saying he didn’t feel responsible for the threats.
“We should be blaming the people who are making these threats not trying to politicise the issue by blaming particular politicians.”
He also explained he had said Ghahmaran is a menace to a particular issue, freedom of speech.
At Newshub, the ACT leader was chided in a report headed David Seymour, wider public need to be conscious of their language – Tova O’Brien
This linked Seymour to the need for tightened security around Ghahraman:
Golriz Ghahraman’s need for a security escort after David Seymour labelled her a “menace to freedom” shows MPs need to be more responsible with their language, says Newshub’s Political Editor.
On Tuesday, Newshub revealed that Ghahraman would be escorted by a parliamentary security guard after Seymour told Magic Talk’s Sean Plunket that she was a “menace to freedom” during a discussion about free speech.
Ghahraman said she saw a spike in threats after the comments, which came only days after Newshub revealed how white supremacists had discussed lynching Ghahraman in a closed forum.
Newshub’s Political Editor Tova O’Brien said Seymour – and the general public – need to be conscious of their language.
“I just think that some of the language that has been used by David Seymour, in particular, and actually everyone just needs to be a bit more conscious of the language they are using in the wake of Christchurch and actually in the wake of our enlightenment in terms of what has been going on in New Zealand,” she told The AM Show.
“That is inflammatory language and I just think… cooler heads need to prevail, people need to be a bit more responsible, especially MPs, when they are talking about this stuff.”
This item also included a response from Seymour.
Seymour says Ghahraman “gives as good as she gets” and didn’t believe he was responsible for the increase in threats towards the Green MP.
“We should both be against the kind of bullying from people who are criminals because it is a crime to threaten someone with violence.”
Another Newshub report was headed Women MPs urge David Seymour to apologise for Golriz Ghahraman remarks
This reported that a cross-party group representing women in Parliament had urged Seymour to apologise for remarks he made about Ghahraman and again linked tighter security with his remarks.
The Green MP revealed to Newshub on Tuesday that she would be escorted by a parliamentary security guard after the ACT leader labelled her a “menace to freedom” in New Zealand.
The letter was signed by Labour MP Louisa Wall and National MP Jo Hayes – co-chairs of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP) New Zealand group – and said:
“We, as women MPs, consider your behaviour towards a colleague who has been under attack with death threats and is already in a vulnerable position is unacceptable”.
In response, Seymour said the letter introduced
“ … a worrying implication that some MPs are unable to fully participate or be criticised because there are violent threats. You are effectively letting violent thugs set the agenda.”
Newshub reproduced an article from The Spinoff in which which Ghahraman aired her views on the free speech debate under the heading Golriz Ghahraman on dealing with the ‘scared, panicked, angry mob’
This was based on an interview with Leonie Hayden for a forthcoming episode of the Spinoff webseries On the Rag.
Ghahraman said threats of violence had begun almost as soon as she announced her candidacy for parliament and escalated after the Christchurch terror attacks.
“I was literally getting threats of gun violence just from being perceived to be Muslim, so that community has definitely been getting threats, hate crimes, they’ve been reporting it.”
Again, threats of violence were linked with Seymour’s remarks:
It was revealed this week that Ghahraman has been assigned a security escort at parliament in response to heightened threats. That followed comments on a radio programme by ACT Party leader David Seymour, who said Ghahraman was a “menace to freedom” because of her views on hate speech laws. These comments were made the same week an investigation by Patrick Gower for Newshub revealed conversations in a white supremacy Facebook group about lynching and hanging the Green Party MP.
In this article, Ghahraman was quoted as saying the freedom of speech debate had become hopelessly lopsided in its focus.
“When people speak about free speech, can you actually address the thing that’s silencing those without power as much as you talk about giving a voice to people who already have it?”
Ghahraman brought gender and race into considerations, saying the sort of messages that had become familiar to women of colour in parliament were alien to white male colleagues.
“I don’t think you can know. And I think the other thing that we’ve talked about, or at least I’ve talked about with both Louisa [Wall] and Marama [Davidson] is that it hardens you, and how to combat that. And so, you kind of, you bring that armour that you’ve had to put up, and that kind of lowered … I don’t have any emotional reserves some days, because I’m consuming all of that …There’s that whole thing where we’re trying to balance out having that exterior shell and having the defence mechanisms, but then not allowing that to change who you are.”
Stuff and Newshub have not published the article which Seymour has written, but it was published by David Farrar at Kiwiblog under the heading David Seymour on free speech.
He recalls being asked on Magic Afternoons about Ghahraman’s stance on free speech.
In her own words “it is vital that the public is involved in a conversation about what speech meets the threshold for being regulated, and what mix of enforcement tools should be used.”
I believe that such an idea, and by extension politicians who promote it, is a danger to our free society. When asked about Ghahraman’s position, in the middle of a 15-minute radio interview, I responded that I thought she was a ‘menace to freedom.’
What has followed has been extraordinary. It has been a lesson in how beat-ups and witch-hunts occur, and why it’s so important that we retain laws that allow us to express ourselves freely. By Tuesday afternoon, I was being asked by media if I was responsible for Ghahraman requiring a security detail. It was clearly a rhetorical question.
Politicians, journalists and other establishment figures have lined up to denounce my comment.
Seymour expresses disappointment that the media are not the loudest cheerleaders for freedom of expression.
He disputes his detractors’ belief that expressing a genuinely held view on an important issue makes him responsible for threats of violence.
This belief absolves the real perpetrators – those making the threats – of responsibility. It also introduces the worrying implication that some MPs are unable to fully participate or be criticised because there are violent threats. It’s a belief that allows violent thugs to set the agenda.
Seymour also warns that the response to his comment proves government cannot be trusted to enforce hate speech laws.
Imagine if the state had even greater powers to punish speech at its disposal. Some state agency would now be using that power to investigate and punish a sitting MP’s genuinely-held views.
Hate speech laws turn debate into a popularity contest where the winners get to silence views they don’t like by using the power of the state. Tighter restrictions on speech can only mean giving some agency the power to punish people for saying things that do not incite harm but are merely offensive or distasteful. In other words, what you can think is determined by what is popular.
This might be more a response to the opprobrium heaped on him during the week than a rebuttal of Ghahraman’s arguments in favour of constraining “hate” speech. Even so, we wonder what Donna Miles-Mojab thinks about it and her boss’s disinclination to publish it.