Tuesday, May 21

Why would you want to cancel Shaneel Lal?

In political, and indeed all sorts of conflicts, some enemies are good to have. Your opponents can, and should, do most of the heavy lifting for you in a campaign. 

We learned this lesson in the saga of King David, whose rise to the throne was aided by his quiet exploiting of King Saul’s ineptitude. Increasingly in Aotearoa’s free speech battle, the voices for censorship look set to anoint the progressive pro-speech side. 

During my time with the Free Speech Union I, and my fellow unionists, were busy presenting arguments in support of this central progressive value. We would do so in print, on radio, in podcasts, at live events, and even in theatrical documentary form. 

Our board was incredibly diverse (despite what the haters will try to tell you) so our emphasis, as individuals, was often starkly different. My chief angle, identifying as a minority, was that state censorship invites blowback against our communities and risks increased disharmony. I’d like to think I made a meaningful contribution to the debate. 

And yet, as tirelessly as I and others worked, we often had to hand the employee of the month honor to one of our opponents, many of whom were walking, talking arguments against censorship. 

Even our former Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, got her photo on the wall. 

When, on the AM show, she responded to the question, “How do you define hate speech?” with “You’ll know it when you see it”, it was like cans of spinach had been rammed down our gullets. When your Prime Minister tells the public to prepare itself for kangaroo courts, a free speech activist can take the weekend, if not the next six months, off. 

And spokespeople for the pro-censorship side have only gotten worse as time has worn on. 

A lot worse. 

We have traveled from staid academics like Prof. Paul Spoonley to the professional hysterics at the faux-research group ‘The Disinformation Project’ and the cartoonishly unpleasant Shaneel Lal. 

Lal, and the now former Pride director Max Tweedie, drove the smear campaign against both women’s rights campaigner Posie Parker and local feminists ahead of her ill-fated March visit. After an attempt to deny her entry into the country was rejected, the pair shifted their focus to organising a crowd to chase women out of a public park. A few women were violently assaulted. The message sent was clear – oppose us, and we will physically hurt you. 

Lal, now globally recognised as a misogynist and thug, is one of the media-crowned voices telling us censorship makes us safer. Who they think he’ll convince is beyond my imagination. Thanks to Lal the pro-censorship side has never been more toxic. 

Desperate to distract from the violence of Albert Park, ‘The Disinformation Project’ released a “report” brimming with extraordinary claims, smears, and even soft-holocaust denial. An unhinged screed, bereft of a shred of evidence, the report served as proof of how a side that was always devoid of sound arguments had now become completely corrupted. 

With emotions high after Albert Park, you can see why some may have wanted Lal canceled, and ‘The Disinformation Project’ shut down. Indeed, some petitions circulated calling for Lal to have their ‘Young New Zealander of The Year’ award rescinded. I happen to be of the belief that we in the free speech movement should be the ones showering Lal with awards. 

In their bid for censorship, Hannah, Hattotuwa, and Lal have set themselves the hare-brained quest of trying to convince New Zealanders that feminism is a thoroughly loathsome pursuit, indistinguishable from Nazism. 

Good luck with that. 

Lal is an ally, without even knowing it.

If you support free speech, the chessboard is currently extremely favourable to you. All we need to do is remain the most rational in the room (which shouldn’t be hard) and let our opposition further unravel. 

Yes, we now have a brand-new challenge to contend with in the potential new internet regulator, but this has already been fraught and will die in the exact same ditch as proposed hate speech laws. NZME’s Editor At Large Shane Currie, in interview, expressed broad support for new regulation but conceded ‘harm’ would need to be objectively defined if this was ever going to work. This is an impossibility considering the ‘harm’ we’re discussing is psychological, and therefore entirely subjective. The pro-censorship side never found a convincing argument to justify ‘harm’ then and won’t now. 

So, take heart, and remember to pray for Lal, Hannah, and Hattotuwa tonight and every night until this corpse is well buried. And if you’re not the praying kind, consider a serenade:

‘Oh, won’t you stay-ay-aaay,

Just a little bit longer…’