In a forthcoming article in Quadrant magazine, I argue that Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act should be repealed so that controversial issues of national importance such as Aboriginal identity and multiculturalism can be freely debated.
Having staked out this position in favour of free speech, criticising the Festival of Dangerous Ideas (FODI) for inviting a member of the radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir to explain why ‘Honour killings are morally justified’ appears to leave one open to the charge of hypocrisy.
Following a public outcry, FODI’s management quickly announced the invitation had been withdrawn and the session cancelled. This is not a form of censorship, and questioning the appropriateness of discussing the proposed topic in the proposed forum was never a matter of curbing free speech.
What has finally been corrected is a terrible lapse in judgment (as well as taste) by the organisers.
The first lapse in judgment involved the inappropriate use of a public institution – the Sydney Opera House.
Using this venue to provide a platform for a zealot and ideologue who seeks to justify and excuse murder is not just inappropriate – it’s an intolerable violation of the basic principles of a free and democratic society.
No citizen should have to endure the state’s resources being deployed against their fundamental rights and vital interests in such a manner. That is to say that taxpayers’ money should not be used to help promote ideas that are ‘dangerous’ (i.e. fatal) for Muslim females who simply wish to enjoy the personal freedoms that others take for granted.
If a private venue or organisation thought it worthwhile to host a public discussion justifying honour killing, this would be another matter. They would bear both the cost and the responsibility, and would run the reputational risk of being associated with the speaker and their repugnant views.
But I suspect that most private venues or organisations would exercise good judgment. They would not want to be seen as responsible for bringing into the public domain the idea that hacking girls to death for having sex before marriage or for not agreeing to a forced marriage is somehow (as the FODI session blurb suggested) a legitimate cultural and/or religious practice that should be respected in a multicultural society.
This identifies the second lapse in intellectual judgment by FODI’s organisers. In their misguided attempt to ‘push the boundaries’ and stimulate discussion of a so-called controversial issue, they do not appear to have understood what a truly dangerous idea, as opposed to a vile and noxious idea, actually is.
The fact is that not all questions are worth asking and not all answers are worth listening too.
A dangerous idea worth discussing is one that challenges a prevailing orthodoxy and which, if implemented, would generate public and/or private benefits, without generating public or private harms to others.
It should go without saying, but honour killings comprehensively fail this test.
It is disturbing that the Sydney Opera House and the St James Ethics Centre – organisations that claim to provide cultural and thought leadership – failed to understand why it was not worth talking about justifying the murder of women just because they happen to be born as Muslims.
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While I don’t disagree with what Jeremy says – I have a slightly different take. Men who murder women or even threaten to murder women because they want to wear lipstick, or wear pants, or get a drivers license, or won’t participate in an arranged marriage, or whatever, are not being moral or ethical or anything. They are just bullies. We don’t have to dignify the practice of “honour killing” with being an Islamic practice. I have no doubt that millions of Moslems are as appalled and horrified by the practice as anyone and everyone else. Women and girls have been murdered by their husbands or fathers or relatives (more generally) in every time and place. To argue that this is morally or ethically or religiously appropriate is just rubbish. There is nothing wrong in telling people that murder is crime and criminals will be hunted down and punished for their crimes. We should make no apologies for that stance and accept no excuses or diversions from that stance.