Flat White

An attack on Andrew Bolt — and all believers in free speech

8 June 2017

4:24 PM

8 June 2017

4:24 PM

I know Andrew Bolt moderately.  For a time I appeared on The Bolt Report.  I’ve had the pleasure of meeting his delightful wife, son and daughter, and he’s generously promoted some of my writing for the Spectator and elsewhere in his blog.

I’ve just seen the newest footage of Bolt’s encounter with masked thugs on a Melbourne street last Monday.  That footage makes it even clearer that his assailants waited in ambush, and were prepared to use violence against him.  Although they clearly weren’t anticipating their victim would fight back, including landing a well-aimed kick to one thug’s bollocks, their attack on Bolt was no prank gone wrong.  It was premeditated, brutal and vicious, and good on Andrew for holding his own and defending himself like the courageous man he is.

But that this could happen, in Melbourne, in a supposedly affluent and pluralistic community, is an affront to free speech and free association.  Yes, Bolt calls a spade a bloody shovel, and he says it very well.  Yes, he can be divisive and controversial in his sincerely held views.  Yes, he can stir up hornets’ nests. But unlike those who attacked him physically this week, Bolt the man is tolerant and respects other peoples’ widely differing views, just as much as he doesn’t expect them to respect his.  Just look at him and Linda Burney respectfully agreeing to disagree in their recent ABC documentary on the Aboriginal recognition question.

Whether coming from left or right, religious or secular, resorting to flying fists and kicking feet instead of words in the battle of ideas is abhorrent.  Such conduct is repugnant to our traditions of freedom of speech and association.  The instigators and perpetrators of such violence are not heroic warriors for some noble cause: they are the dregs of our society.

In this case, the perpetrators and organisers of the attack on Andrew Bolt are also just plain stupid.  Did they think for a minute that by attacking Bolt they would humiliate or diminish him? No, they have made him even stronger than he already was as a public figure and opinion leader, because they made him a martyr for his cause.

What should sadden us most is this attack on Bolt is yet another, very ugly manifestation of an ever more angry, violent and intolerant public discourse.  It’s not Bolt as an individual who’s being attacked by these fringe thugs: it’s all of us who believe in a tolerant, decent and open society where we’re free to live our lives in safety.

Andrew Bolt didn’t deserve the roughhouse treatment he got.  But we all are victims with him.  While not on the scale of the Manchester and London atrocities driven by fanaticism and hate, it’s still a reminder we mustn’t be cowed, and call it out politically-motivated thuggery for the cowardly act it is.

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