This is an article that I submitted to The Drum and Quadrant Online in February. It didn’t get even a rejection letter, as reluctant as people were to tackle the issue of censorship involved here. I’m posting it today as part of a discussion about the removal of the Hotties of Melbourne University Facebook page in response to a change.org petition.
The relevant bit here is the discussion towards the end of moderators’ responsibility to get involved in discussion and express their opinion on seriously objectionable views or speech. I’ve had to do this recently in relation to anti-semitic comments in a writers’ group I manage: but I’ve aimed to talk the issues out rather than just delete them or shut them down. I think it’s better to have a conversation about these things, and let that remain online for everyone to see.
Yesterday Australian social media was abuzz with outrage that controversial pickup artist, author, and antifeminist Roosh V. would be heading to Australia for 6 February, as part of a day where his fans and supporters will meet in cities around the world. So far, a petition on Change.org, which calls for the Australian minister for immigration to stop Roosh entering the country, has collected well over 60,000 visitors.
The petition claims that Roosh is a “ ‘legal rape’ advocate”. It cites no evidence for this claim; nor did the Sydney Morning Herald and The Guardian in their coverage of the issue, though they did provide numerous examples of his other obnoxious views.
At least The Guardian had the good sense to couch its descriptions of Roosh in evasive language: there he is merely an “apparent” rape advocate. The reason no evidence was provided to support the claim is that none exists. The article involved, published on Roosh’s personal website, is in fact titled How to Stop Rape. His intentionally offensive “proposal”, that rape be legalised on private property, comes well after he states, “I knew from an early age that rape was bad”, and the article ends:
Let’s make rape legal. Less women will be raped because they won’t voluntarily drug themselves with booze and follow a strange man into a bedroom, and less men will be unfairly jailed for what was anything but a maniacal alley rape. Until then, this devastating rape culture will continue, and women who we treat as children will continue to act like children.
So Roosh, like most people, wants to see less women raped. He disagrees with some feminists in thinking that teaching men not to rape will have any effect in this area, and he expresses the point in a deliberately controversial style. But even the website We Hunted the Mammoth, which dedicates itself to presenting “The new misogyny, tracked and mocked”, concedes at the end of its entirely unsympathetic analysis of this article that that “Roosh is being deliberately provocative — no doubt hoping to generate as many pageviews as possible from whatever controversy ensues. And I’m fairly certain that he is not altogether serious about his proposal.”
Even if we believed Roosh were sincere, he is not inciting rape or advocating that anyone break the law: merely proposing that it be changed. This is, surely, not illegal—even though it may be a terrible idea.
None of this stopped Victorian premier Daniel Andrews, or his social media team, from calling for Roosh to be denied a visa to enter Australia:
(All images in this article from https://www.facebook.com/DanielAndrewsMP/posts/1014088431989026, Tuesday 2 February 2016.)
Being a writer, as Roosh is, I am (though not a member of PEN) a big fan of the PEN Charter, which was “forged amidst the harsh realities of World War Two” and in the shadow of totalitarianism, and approved in 1948. The charter asks that members “pledge themselves to do their utmost to dispel race, class and national hatreds, and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace in one world”, at which Roosh obviously fails. But it also says,
PEN stands for the principle of unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations, and members pledge themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in the country and community to which they belong, as well as throughout the world wherever this is possible.
I support this wholeheartedly, and accordingly, I dashed off a hasty message below Premier Andrews’ post to say that he should, rather than calling for Roosh to be barred from Australia, be supporting freedom of speech. Mine is that old stance usually misattributed to Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
(For those who track down that hasty comment, yes, I do really live in a military dictatorship where people are jailed for their speech. It is an exceptionally nasty state of affairs, far uglier than anything Roosh has to say, and a cautionary tale of the evils of censorship.)
What I saw, once I had my say, does not surprise me, but it is nevertheless appalling. Among more than 800 comments, nearly all expressed the authoritarian view that Roosh should be denied entry to Australia. Most accepted at face value the dubious claim that Roosh advocates rape. And, jaw-droppingly, many of Roosh’s erstwhile censors seem not to fully understand their own message that calling for crimes to be committed against others is not okay. Instead, they say that Roosh should himself be raped and shot, and his supporters burned alive—as a result of his speech.
It is perhaps too much to expect consistency from those prone to become frenzied by by Facebook posts, change.org petitions or half-informed Sydney Morning Herald articles. However, it seems extraordinary that these comments (which are only a sample), could circulate unremarked on a social media page maintained on the Victorian premier’s behalf.
I do not suggest that these remarks should have been deleted or in any way censored. Writers should not make such arguments. Rather, it is better that the remarks see publication and be recorded so they can be examined and criticised—as it is better that Roosh be allowed to visit Australia to meet with his supporters and speak, so that his views can be publicised, debated, and, where necessary, condemned.
But it does seem to me that Premier Andrews and his staff have a duty to step into the discussion they host, if only for a line or two, to say, “Calling for people to be raped (or shot or burned) is not okay, and that goes for everyone. We don’t condone criminality and violence here, so please stop this nonsense.”
If Roosh is dangerous, it is not because he makes offensive proposals and profits from the attention. It is rather that he is a clever man who is happy to gather the disaffected, angry, and deluded around him, and to harness their energy for his benefit while doing nothing to steer them away from hatred. It is no surprise, and perhaps no great tragedy, that we find such men running deliberately controversial websites. It is certainly a tragedy to find one in the Victorian premier’s office.
Also published on Medium.