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Bureaucrats and barbarians

Cartoonist Bill Leak was hounded by an unholy alliance of Islamists and human rights activists

18 March 2017

9:00 AM

18 March 2017

9:00 AM

We have mourned Bill Leak. Now we must avenge him. The time for tears has passed. It’s anger we need now. Fury, in fact.

Fury at his persecution by that unholiest of alliances: violent-minded Islamists and joyless, cartoon-burning leftists. The former having forced Bill out of his home with menaces and threats after he dared to draw Muhammad, the latter having raged and spluttered against him for daring to defy their lazy, illiberal consensus on everything from environmentalism to gay marriage to political correctness.

Fury that the very wing of the Australian state that claims to act in the name of human rights, the bloated, ridiculous AHRC, did not defend Bill’s human right to say and draw whatever he damn well pleased, but instead hounded him for being ‘offensive’. Did not utter a word in defence of his freedom but instead sided with those throwbacks to the dark ages who thirsted for the curbing of his freedom. A pincer movement of bureaucrats and barbarians, of the officious and the vicious, with Bill their quarry.

Fury that a nation descended from larrikinism, marvelled over by that self-styled gruff man of letters DH Lawrence as a country in which ‘nobody is supposed to rule, and nobody does rule’, did not celebrate Bill but instead wrung its hands over him. Worried he was going too far; worried he was too outspoken; worried he was a tad too Australian.

Avenge is a strong word, I know. It conjures up images of gangs of swordsmen visiting retribution upon their persecutors. That’s not what I mean. Avenge comes from vindicare — to vindicate. That’s what I mean. Bill must be vindicated, and the freedoms he both defended in speeches and lived every day — the freedom to doubt, to speak, to offend — fought for. Hard. Dry your tears; we’ve work to do.

My first response when I received an email from Nick Cater telling me Bill had died was great sadness. Just 24 hours earlier I’d emailed him to congratulate him on the launch of his book Trigger Warning: Deplorable Cartoons and to remind him he’s my hero. With typical humility he fired back: ‘And you’re mine!’

Bill was one of the nicest people I’ve met. Whether he was talking me through Aussie history at the Art Gallery of New South Wales or regaling me over drinks (him: water, me: beer) with tales of his decades of encounters with Oz’s most colourful political and cultural characters, his conversation buzzed with comedy and humanism and intellect. You came away cleverer and cheerier.

He once dropped me off at the Surry Hills apartment I was staying in and we were sat outside in his car for two hours, gabbing. ‘I’ve gotta go’, he kept saying, but didn’t. I can’t remember everything he said, but I do remember he told me that when Tanya Plibersek was the nauseating, nannying health minister he designed some warning labels for alcohol that he was on the cusp of emailing to her but then thought better of it. One said: ‘DRINKING CAN MAKE YOU SHIT YOURSELF.’ I thought it was about the funniest pricking of the arrogance of the paternalists I’d ever heard. I wish he’d sent them.

The truth of Bill runs so counter to the intolerant left’s depiction of him as to be surreal. They viewed him as cruel simply because he had the audacity to rip the mick out of their eco-pieties and virtue orgies and allergy to liberty.

I can think of few people less cruel than Bill, or more big-hearted. His motive was humanism, his instinct was scepticism, his belief was that ordinary people would probably make a better fist of running their lives than any ponce or Plibersek ever could. He trusted people.

But slowly, my sorrow at his death has given way to ire over how he was treated in his final years; over the Leakphobia of the chattering classes; over their defaming and shaming and hounding of Bill simply because he refused to be constrained by the ever-tightening parameters of their Acceptable Thinking.

Bill dealt with his harassers with good humour and ridicule. But they got to him. I’ve been rereading his emails from the past couple of years and it’s a bloody painful experience. ‘They’re actually trying to hunt me down and kill me’, he said of the Islamists who in 2015 persecuted him for drawing Muhammad.

When the AHRC last year took the depraved decision to investigate his cartoon of an Aborigine dad, he wrote to me about ‘these smiley face fascists trying to ruin my life’. Of the leftists cheering on the AHRC, he said ‘they’re going at me with all guns blazing’.

In December, he sent me his submission to the Inquiry into Freedom of Speech — a searing, brilliant argument that freedom of speech is ‘the hallmark of a robust liberal democracy’ — with this note: ‘I’m knackered. The past few months have been really draining.’ It’s hard to read that now, knowing that three months later he would be dead.

Let’s make no bones of this: Bill was subjected to an Inquisitorial persecution. No, there were no pointy-hatted Bible-bashers or stakes being lit. But through the menaces of Islamists and the Stalinist cries for the Australian to dump him and the AHRC’s vile hauling of him to account for himself, a man was afflicted for his thoughts, hectored for his ideas, made ‘knackered’ and ‘drained’ for daring to express what he believed to be true. Censorship is cruel. Witch-hunts are implicitly violent. They take a toll on their victims. And they took a toll on Bill.

This makes me angry. It should make you angry too. Those who knew Bill will remember him fondly, but we should avenge him furiously. The oppressions he was subjected to by religious hotheads and nasty bureaucrats speak to the low esteem in which freedom is held today. Bill dared to live and speak freely, even as the consequences for doing so grew more severe in these febrile times.

Let’s now vindicate him by demanding the repeal of section 18C and the abolition of the foul oligarchy of the AHRC, and by challenging every religious, political and cultural figure that uses menaces or law to try to chip away at freedom of speech. Let’s ensure Australia once again becomes a country where ‘nobody rules’ on what you can say, and where larrikinism — better still, Leakism — flourishes wildly.

Brendan O’Neill is the Editor of Spiked and a regular contributor to The Spectator Australia

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