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.