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Should Uthman Badar’s talk “Honour killings are morally justified” have been cancelled by the Festival of Dangerous Ideas?

25 Jun

Uthman Badar is the Media Representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic organisation whose goals are described on its website as follows:

 4. Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Work

The work of Hizb ut-Tahrir is to carry the Islamic da’wah in order to change the situation of the corrupt society so that it is transformed into an Islamic society. It aims to do this by firstly changing the society’s existing thoughts to Islamic thoughts so that such thoughts become the public opinion among the people, who are then driven to implement and act upon them. Secondly the Party works to change the emotions in the society until they become Islamic emotions that accept only that which pleases Allah (swt) and rebel against and detest anything which angers Allah (swt). Finally, the Party works to change the relationships in the society until they become Islamic relationships which proceed in accordance with the laws and solutions of Islam. These actions which the Party performs are political actions, since they relate to the affairs of the people in accordance with the Shari’ah rules and solutions, and politics in Islam is looking after the affairs of the people, either in opinion or in execution or both, according to the laws and solutions of Islam.

Badar was until today scheduled to give a talk at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas titled ” Honour killings are morally justified.” After a public outcry, Mr Badar’s session has been cancelled.

The fact that I have great reservations about Badar’s proposed talk, and question the title and accompanying précis, does not mean I think it should have been cancelled. The fact that I don’t believe a festival of ideas is a platform for defending or advocating murder does not mean I think Mr Badar’s talk should have been cancelled either, in light of the story becoming rather more complicated with Mr Badar’s assertion that FODI dictated both the title and the content of his presentation, and neither were of his choosing.

It’s a mistake in a debate about free speech to assume that questioning or contesting an opinion equates to a demand for silencing that opinion. It is possible to hold two apparently opposing views simultaneously, for example, objecting to a position while allowing it to be presented and argued. It doesn’t seem possible in today’s climate to argue against a point of view, without an assumption being made that you are attempting to silence that point of view. My right to freely express my doubts and objections is not synonymous with me calling for the speech I’m questioning to be banned. Indeed, accusing someone of denying someone else free speech when they are robustly questioning a perspective, is an effective way of closing down debate.

We still have, if by the skin of our teeth, legal protections in place for when free speech becomes an incitement to perpetrate harm.

If I see a talk advertised under the title “Honour killings are morally justified,” given by an individual who advocates Shari’ah law, I’m not going to read that title as ironic, as has been argued by some. I might if, say, The Chaser used it. I have never associated irony with proponents of Shari’ah law, which might well be a grave misunderstanding on my part, however, the dire consequences of the implementation of that moral code, particularly for women and girls, lead me to believe a statement such as “honour killings are morally justified” is more likely to be literal than ironic when it apparently originates from an advocate of Shari’ah law. I am not Islamaphobic, xenophobic, racist, closed-minded, in favour of censorship, or a denier of free speech, when I question a talk that purports to commence from the alarming proposition that honour killings are morally justified.

It was once in Western culture perfectly acceptable to drown women suspected of exercising supernatural powers, which may not be vastly different from murdering women suspected of offending male sensibilities. I seriously doubt, however, that a talk with the declarative title “Drowning women who might be witches was morally justified” could be offered as an “exploration” of the topic.

Badar has been denied access to one platform, arguably not a particularly large one. He has other platforms available to him from which he is at liberty to express his views. To claim that his freedom of speech has been denied is ludicrous. Should he now post his talk on his website, for example, I’m fairly sure he’ll have a much wider audience, given the publicity, than he’d have enjoyed at the festival. Far from curtailing him this outcry, should he take advantage of it, will allow him to explain his opinions to a much wider audience.

Badar claims he did not want the title used, or the accompanying précis in which he argues that the West’s attitude to honour killings is a form of Orientalism, following Edward Said’s ground-breaking work. In itself this is a problematic thesis as the abhorrence of killing women and girls who have allegedly “shamed” their menfolk is an abhorrence of ghastly murder, rather than an abhorrence of Muslims. Like any other cultural practice, it can be and is employed in racist slurs, but to assume all objections to honour killing are racially motivated is ridiculous.

That the West’s position on honour killings is hypocritical is beyond doubt, given the numbers of women killed by their male family members in Australia alone every year. If this is the direction in which Mr Badar intended to take us, then FODI would have done well to better explain his intentions, and the talk would indeed have been dangerous.

Given that Badar denies that he supports honour killings, albeit it with the caveat “as they are understand (sic) in the West,” I think his talk should have gone ahead. I suspect FODI did not have the appetite for the demonstrations it would likely provoke, and so refused Badar access to their platform. However, if Badar’s claims are true, and FODI orchestrated both the content of his talk and its publicity, one has to wonder what their moral justification might be for the exploitation of honour killings of women and girls, in the pursuit of controversy and publicity.

Those of us who challenged Badar’s advertised thesis have not silenced him. FODI removed him from their platform, with Simon Longstaff, Director of the St James Centre for Ethics, claiming he would not be given a fair hearing. In other words FODI is unable to deal with the public reaction to a dangerous idea they proposed, apparently in their terms and contrary to the beliefs of the speaker, which, when you think about it, makes the whole purpose of FODI rather open to question.

This morning Longstaff tweeted as follows: “The session to explore ‘honour killings’ has been cancelled. Alas, people read the session title – and no further. Just too dangerous.” Unfortunately the session title does not suggest an exploration. It is a declaration: Honour killings are morally justified. Presumably the FODI publicists are aware of the power of a title, and the belief readers are entitled to hold that titles are an indicator of content, unless of course we’re reading News Corpse.

I do not accept there is a cultural context that warrants the barbaric practice of honour killings, anymore than I accept that the Puritans should have tied alleged witches to a stool and thrown them in the river. Therefore, quite what there is to “explore” on the topic is a mystery to me. The slaughter of women and girls for the alleged crime of offending male sensibilities is not a topic for clever intellectual play. Shame on the FODI for considering it to be such.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The house of widows

23 Jun

Mrs Chook, with whom I share a home, two dogs, and much of my life, became a widow some considerable time ago, after nursing her husband through lung cancer. For a while she was a member of the local Widows Club. They had good times, played cards and golf, got drunk and raucous, spoke realistically of the men they’d lost, acknowledging their aggravating complexities, at times speaking ill of their dead because there’s no human being who can’t be spoken ill of to some degree, and the Widows Club women were nothing if not honest.

I was once invited to become an honorary member, not because I was widowed but because I was separated, living life without my husband’s daily presence and sharing it with Mrs Chook, but I declined, feeling out of place. Yes, I’d lost my husband in a very real sense, but to see that misadventure as widowhood did not feel true to me.

A separation is indeed a kind of death. But death has different dimensions, and they must be given their due.

I’m sitting in a bus station watching the World Cup on the overhead TV. I’m between worlds, and remembering another bus station, another World Cup on an overhead TV in Cancun, Mexico, another country when I was alone just like now, and it occurs to me that there is something of a pattern in this, bus stations, football, overhead televisions, a heart in a confusion of desire, loss, grief, a woman facing an unknown future. A sense of the complete unknowableness of certain events, transgressive events that tear apart the fabric of the ordinary, events that force open the portal into the extremities of human experience. I realise I have no control over death, or desire or love, and should I attempt to exert any illusionary control I will make myself ludicrous. There are forces abroad in the world that far exceed my puny human capabilities, and there is nothing to be done but ride them out as best I can.

The bus station today is not in Cancun but Sydney, my husband is dying, and I suddenly recall with bizarre accuracy the notice on the door of a hotel room in Mexico City:

 Many people are injured having fun in Mexico.
Air pollution in Mexico City is severe.
Failure to pay hotel bills or pay for other services rendered is considered fraud under Mexican Law.

 

 I’m at a loss to understand the workings of my memory until I recall that my journey to Mexico caused my husband great angst, indefinite as I’d announced it would be, determined as I was to go without him as he had travelled so often without me. It marked a turning point in the dynamics between us. I had asserted myself as the leaver rather than the left. Twenty years older than me, he was outraged and bewildered, having spent much of our marriage wishing me to be Penelope, spinning faithfully at my wheel at home and keeping suitors at bay while Odysseus travelled the earth. The role never sat well with me and seemingly out of nowhere I exploded out of it, like a woman blown from the mouth of a cannon. This turning of the tables unhinged my husband somewhat, and he wept at the airport. Not even his tears could melt my determined heart. A woman has to do what a woman has to do I didn’t say, but I could have. These were serious endings. I was no longer who I had been up to that point, and neither was he who had never in his life before wept at an airport, while a woman he loved left him behind.

It is tempting to describe these endings as deaths, but I have a profound distaste for the appropriation of death as a metaphor. There is nothing in life for which death can be asked metaphorically to stand. There is nothing in life that can be likened to the radical absence that is the signifier of death. Death is the one situation in which all hope for presence ends. Up to that point, one has merely endured absence.

I have recently become a legitimate member of the Widows Club, though it no longer exists in its original form. More than three decades of marriage, always unconventional, have ended and I am no longer just living separately from my husband while we continue to love one another in spite of our differences. I am widowed. I have begun the labour of mourning, as Freud described the gradual relinquishing of all hope of connection with the loved one that is made inevitable by his or her death. I will never again see his face. I will never again hold his hand. I will never again climb up on his hospital bed and lay my warm body along the length of his frail and shrunken frame.

It’s the finality that brings me undone. I find myself repeating, in my struggle to come to terms with his departure, I never will again.

In the end, I did not leave him weeping at an airport. He left me. I don’t know if he heard me tell him I will always love him. I don’t know if he heard me tell him he did not have to stay, that I did not begrudge him this journey, that I did not need or want him to remain here with me, that I wanted only his release, that he could leave with my blessing, I don’t know if he heard those things I whispered as I laid my body the length of his, and held his beloved head against my breasts.

 Because we’re alive, we inhabit the country of the living; that which is outside, we don’t have the heart to believe, I read, in Hélène Cixious. She’s right I don’t have the heart to believe, yet it is necessary to find the heart to believe, what else is there to do?  We live in the house of widows, I tell Mrs Chook, sitting on her bed in my dressing gown, Little Dog lying on my feet, you’re so pale, she says, and I don’t tell her I’ve woken up maybe ten times in the night, crying those tears you know are serious because they are hot, and burn their way down your cold cheeks. We will be all right, she tells me. You will be all right. In time. It takes time.

As is to be expected at the death of a loved one, memories are crowding in on me, our life together parading itself well out of any chronological order, according to some time line I cannot recognise as having anything to do with reality. I see him dancing towards me across our sitting room, singing, You made me love you, I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to do it, which always symbolised for me his infuriating reluctance to take responsibility for anything. Give me give me give me give me what I sigh for, you know you’ve got the kind of kisses that I’d die for redeemed him, as he always knew it would. The night before he died I found on YouTube a video of him talking about poetry, made just before his stroke. And then, for reasons I cannot explain, I recalled a scene from The Sopranos in which Meadow Soprano sits beside her unconscious father, crime boss Tony, whom she fears is dying, and reads the Jacques Prevert verse:

Our Father which art in Heaven
Stay there
And we shall stay on earth
Which is sometimes so pretty
 

I shall stay on earth, which is sometimes so pretty. Vale, Arnold Lawrence Goldman.

Arnie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The unbearable ignorance of Tim Wilson, Human Rights Commissioner for *Freedom*

30 Mar

Tim Wilson, recently appointed Human Rights Commissioner for Freedom, declared today that race hate laws are bizarre and unequal because while members of a community are permitted to use “racially loaded language” among themselves, outsiders are not permitted to do the same.

Mr Wilson clearly does not understand that *racially loaded language* used by outsiders is always, without exception, deliberately employed as a racial slur intended to insult, hurt, demoralise, ridicule and devalue the human beings  hate speech targets. When such language is used amongst members of a community it is used ironically, defiantly, and as a method of defusing and ridiculing the racist intentions of outsiders.

Everyone, Mr Wilson asserts ought to be allowed to use the term “nigger,” for example, because it is widely used in black communities. Wilson reveals his monumental ignorance and gobsmacking stupidity, through either his incompetent or  deliberate misunderstanding of the difference in the meaning of that term, when used within communities or by outsiders.

This dangerous call for absolute free speech favours only white people, and only certain highly privileged white men are demanding it. Wilson’s call for “personal responsibility” in this matter is ridiculous. There are matters society cannot afford to leave to an individual’s sense of “personal responsibility” and as has been proven over and over and over again, hate speech is one of them.

Like many others, I am enraged and heartbroken to see the gains that have been made in my lifetime crushed by the severely limited intelligence and utter lack of imagination of privileged white men such as Brandis, Wilson, Abbott et al. That a Commissioner for Human Rights (Freedom) is now campaigning for everyone to be free to use loaded terms such as “nigger” against our fellow human beings  because “equality,” signifies a journey through the looking-glass that leads to nothing less than insanity.

There can be no “equality” in the use of racially loaded language when the intentions behind the speech are utterly opposed.

This is a bald act of white supremacy, a brutal attempt to claw back what is perceived as a loss to the power of privileged white men.

PS: On a personal note, Tim Wilson recently blocked me on Twitter when I asked him a valid question about competing human rights.

 

 

Taking to the streets: why protest matters

13 Mar

shit is fucked up and stuffThis weekend, there’ll be a series of protest marches around the country known collectively as ‘March in March.’

The overall aim of the rallies is to protest against the manner in which the Abbott government is running the country. There is no single issue focus, and people are invited to peacefully state their own particular grievance/grievances against the LNP.

The protests have been organised by people who have no affiliation with any political party and indeed, little or no experience in organising protests. It sprang from increasing discontent expressed on social media by citizens who have no significant public platform through which they can vocalise dissatisfaction with and anger against the Abbott government. In every way, the March in March protest appears to be a genuine grass-roots movement, and no big names are associated with its initiation and execution.

March in March has come in for a fair amount of criticism for its alleged lack of focus and purpose.For some reason, ordinary citizens expressing grievances against their government is not regarded as being focused, or as having any purpose.

Protest itself, it’s also claimed in some quarters, is a waste of time, useful only to give participants a warm inner glow, and unlikely to achieve anything more than that.

I don’t know how the outcome of a protest is measured.  I’m fairly certain that change is usually very slow, and requires any number of ongoing actions to bring it about. I doubt anyone would argue that protest alone can achieve great things, however, it is one action among many that together can cause upheaval. As several people told me today, protest didn’t stop John Howard taking us into Iraq, however, nothing was going to stop Howard doing that, and in our parliamentary system the Prime Minister alone is permitted to make such grave decisions. What the protests did was allow citizens a unique opportunity to peacefully and publicly express their opposition, and in itself, this is something we should neither denigrate nor easily relinquish. Ordinary people without a public platform must have a voice.

While this Guardian piece criticising March in March contains much with which I agree, it entirely misses the point that this weekend of protest has sprung not from any organised political movement but from the rage of seriously offended citizens who have no other means of publicly expressing their fury. The peaceful public expression of  rage against those who govern is in itself a privilege many in different political systems do not enjoy, and we should treasure our freedom to take to the streets in protest at our governments. We may not, if conservatives have their way, have such freedoms available to us for much longer.

Hopefully, the March in March rallies will be the first in an ongoing public protest against the Abbott government that will reach its climax at the ballot box in the next election. It is a beginning. It’s an opportunity for motivated strangers to meet and engage. It’s a chance for a more finely honed focus to emerge and be developed. The grass-roots nature of these protests is thrilling. No Get-Up. No charismatic leaders. No political parties. Just citizens exercising their democratic right to peacefully dissent. Don’t knock it. Treasure it. Abbott is about to do everything he possibly can to take this freedom away.

The murderous refugee “policies” of Australian governments

18 Feb

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has just confirmed that one asylum seeker is dead, another has been flown to Australia for treatment after having been shot, and seventy-seven more are injured, twenty-two critically, after tensions at the Manus Island detention centre exploded yesterday.

This country, our country, my country, by virtue of being a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention, invites those fleeing persecution and danger to seek sanctuary and asylum here, NO MATTER WHAT THE METHOD OF THEIR ARRIVAL.

We are known to those in countries where daily life has become untenable as a signatory to that Convention, as a country where they may safely ask for refuge.

As long as we remain a signatory to the Convention, we are issuing an invitation to those who live in daily fear, danger and despair. Children. Women. Men.

But we are liars. We are extending a false invitation. We do not offer sanctuary. We do not offer a decent hearing in which claims for refugee status will be fairly and legally assessed. We do not offer the possibility of resettlement and the opportunity to contribute.

Instead, we have turned the misery of children, women and men into a political football. With psychopathic disregard for our fellow human beings, we have ignored their desperation, and done everything possible to keep them away from us.

So, Scott Morrison, Tony Abbott, Chris Bowen, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, and the rest of you. You wanted to stop asylum seekers dying at sea? Well, your methods have them dying and critically injured  in detention. Where’s your fucking conscience now, then?

Abbott: ABC disses Australia by reporting my cock-ups. This must stop.

29 Jan

ABCIt’s unarguable that Prime Minister Tony Abbott has set his sights on the ABC.

Abbott claims the ABC displays what he terms “lack of affection for the home team” in its reporting of events such as the Indonesian spy scandal, allegations by asylum seekers that Australian navy personnel caused them to suffer burns (earlier described as “sledging the navy” by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison) and, perhaps most heinously, “advertising” the work of whistleblower Edward Snowden whose disclosures led to so much trouble in the first place.

The Prime Minister would like it much better if we were all kept mushroom-like in the dark and showered with LNP shit, rather than informed by the national broadcaster of what our government is actually doing.

Somehow, the inanities, incompetencies and illegalities of the Abbott government are not the problem. The problem is the ABC reporting them!! Who would have thought!!

This reminds me of the Catholic church cover-ups of child sexual abuse, in which victims are blamed  for speaking out and in so doing, risking the destruction of the institution. Similarly, many victims of intra-familial sexual abuse report they have kept silent because they have been told by the perpetrator that they would destroy the family if they revealed the crimes.

According to Mr Abbott, the ABC reporting his government’s failures and alleged failures is “working against Australia,” a classic perpetrator argument when silencing knowledge is his or her main goal. The objective is two-fold: self-protection and protection of the institution, in this case Australia (read Abbott, because he IS the country don’t you know) as the institution with the ABC as the instrument of its potential ruin if allowed to broadcast information that casts the government in a negative light.

This is a classic repressive conservative belief, that certain knowledge must be concealed in the interests of the greater good.

Abbott has confused his and his government’s interests with the interests of the country. As in the church and the family, the institution’s interests and the interests of all its members are not necessarily the same thing. If an institution cannot survive the dissemination of knowledge, then perhaps it does not deserve to survive.

Abbott has also lost sight of the fact that his government does not pay for the ABC, taxpayers do, and taxpayers hold a wide range of views, not just those of the LNP.

The government has its tame media voices in partisan shock jocks and the Murdoch press. Those of us who hold other views are, in this democracy, entitled to hear other voices and one of those voices we are entitled to hear is the ABC.

There is no homogenous “home team” in this country when it comes to political opinion and thirst for truthful information. The only “home team” Abbott can possibly be referring to is his government.

I see no reason why the ABC has any obligation to feel “affection” for this, or any other government. Indeed, we should demand quite the opposite.

I love Leonard, because he is sublime.

27 Nov

In three more sleeps, I’ll be at the Leonard Cohen concert in Brisbane. 

It’s impossible to choose a favourite quote from Cohen’s sublime output, but I do rather like this one, bearing in mind the man spent fifteen years of his life in a Buddhist monastery, from which he emerged to discover his manager had fleeced him of every cent:  I’ve studied deeply in the philosophies and the religions, but cheerfulness kept breaking through.

Cohen’s sense of humour underpins everything he writes: those unbelievers who  claim he creates “songs to cut your wrists to” entirely miss his often gentle, sometimes darkly ironical humour, his innate”cheerfulness breaking through,” his extraordinary self-deprecating modesty that he manages to combine with an equally extraordinary dignity. Cohen is great. Cohen is humble. Cohen is, always, the one whose lonely love is unrequited: My reputation as a ladies’ man was a joke that caused me to laugh bitterly through the ten thousand nights I spent alone, he wryly observes, and in the  beautiful “Ain’t no cure for love” he mourns:

I’m aching for you baby 
I can’t pretend I’m not 
I need to see you naked 
In your body and your thought 
I’ve got you like a habit 
And I’ll never get enough 
There ain’t no cure, 
There ain’t no cure, 
There ain’t no cure for love
 

I use the word “sublime” to describe Cohen’s work reservedly. While “sublime” indicates the presence of an emotional depth and integrity that transcends rational thought and language, strictly speaking it also requires the presence of horror and fear inspired by that which is, in Kant’s terms “absolutely great.” Kant explains the difference between the beautiful and the sublime thus:

Whereas the beautiful is limited, the sublime is limitless, so that the mind in the presence of the sublime, attempting to imagine what it cannot, has pain in the failure but pleasure in contemplating the immensity of the attempt. 

The boundlessness of the sublime inspires a desire to transcend the limits of the self,  a fear-inspiring project if ever there was one, most commonly experienced when falling in love, that chaos of intense emotions, sublime delight, and necessarily, if one is offering one’s heart to another, trembling fear. To be in Cohen’s stage presence is to be for those few hours in an open-hearted state of  love without the fear: the man emanates an almost tangible love and generosity, you are the only audience he has ever had or ever will have, he is, like the best of lovers, entirely focused on you, given over to your pleasure, he lives, for these few hours, only to delight you. You feel Leonard Cohen in all your erogenous zones but it isn’t about sex. Cohen’s presence is sublime.

It is not so easy to find horror and fear in Cohen’s work, mediated as it is by humour, melancholy, and melody, however lyrics such as “The Future” describe a chilling dystopian vision:

Give me back my broken night
my mirrored room, my secret life
it’s lonely here,
there’s no one left to torture
Give me absolute control
over every living soul
And lie beside me, baby,
that’s an order!

I can’t argue that Cohen’s music and lyrics are by themselves sublime. But the man’s presence and delivery make them so. Of course, like any text, they are not fully realised without the participation of the reader or audience: if you want to feel Leonard’s great-heartedness, you have to open up your own. He is a spiritual man, whatever one takes that to mean, and many of his love songs can be read as addressing either a mortal lover or a transcendental exteriority.

I’m counting the sleeps.

Like a bird on the wire, 

like a drunk in a midnight choir 
I have tried in my way to be free. 
Like a worm on a hook, 
like a knight from some old fashioned book 
I have saved all my ribbons for thee. 
If I, if I have been unkind, 
I hope that you can just let it go by. 
If I, if I have been untrue 
I hope you know it was never to you. 
Like a baby, stillborn, 
like a beast with his horn 
I have torn everyone who reached out for me. 
But I swear by this song 
and by all that I have done wrong 
I will make it all up to thee. 
I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch, 
he said to me, “You must not ask for so much.” 
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door, 
she cried to me, “Hey, why not ask for more?” 

Oh like a bird on the wire, 
like a drunk in a midnight choir 
I have tried in my way to be free.

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