Tuesday, 3 December 2013

"God and his prophets should be protected from insult"

That was the title of a recent Intelligence Squared debate at the City Recital Hall in Sydney, replayed several times by the BBC here in Hong Kong: "God and his prophets should be protected from insult".
Debating for the proposition were: Julian Burnside, a "Human Rights Lawyer", and Uthman Badar, press officer for Hizb Ut-Tahrir, an organisation described by the moderator as "extremist".
Debating against the proposition were: Yassmin Abdel-Magied, head of Youth Without Borders and the famous Australian writer Tom Kenneally, author, inter alia, of "Shindler's Ark" made into a famous movie by Spielberg as "Schindler's List".

First the good news. Yassmin and Tom won the debate:


LATER: These figures of those Against the proposition (65%) are rather less than those in an earlier survey by the Institute of Public Affairs, which in 2011 found 82% of Australians thought freedom of speech more important than the right not to be offended. I wonder if things have changed, or if (one-fifth of) the audience in Sydney was thinking that it's OK for freedom of speech to trump someone's being offended, except for "God and his prophets".
The large audience appeared to be mostly middle-class, middle aged, white, if I can put it that way. Very few veils to be seen, unlike similar debates I've seen in New York or London.  They appeared to be well-eructed, asked probing questions and mostly seemed to be very much in favour of supporting free speech rights against any taking of insults, as indeed the results showed. Several made the point: how does one decide between valid criticism, opinion and insult?
They did miss opportunities, though.  For example, a question to Badar could have been: "do you support the death penalty (or indeed any penalty) for apostasy from Islam?" apostasy being a form of insult to the religion.  He would have been in a spot, for his organisation, Hizb Ut-Tahrir certainly supports it.
In a video that not many have seen (thank goodness: just 543 at last count), Badar says (at 30'15") the following:
"... secularism, democracy and liberal values are against Islam".  

Read that again: According to Badar -- in which he would find much agreement from Islamic scholars around the world -- Islam is against all that Australians hold dear; we, one of the oldest democracies in the world treasure our "liberal values". (Bandar makes this statement, by the way, at the end of a long diatribe contemptuous of the Australian government's attempts to bring Muslims into a more inclusive relationship with their country of adoption. How dare they try to be so nice?!)
So, could a question have been to Badar: "Given that you have stated secularism, democracy and liberal values are against Islam, is your stance on insult to God and his Prophets, not a step to negate all these values?".
Or, to Burnside: "how do you feel about sharing a platform with someone who has clearly stated his opposition to secularism, democracy and liberal values?".  Or, "don't you think that supporting the suppression of 'insult' to Islam, you are in effect supporting another step in the imposition of Sharia laws on free speech?".  I recall here that the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference" (OIC) is seeking to outlaw "insult" to religion and to enshrine it in the U.N. Charter.
Kenneally spoke robustly in favour of free speech (as did his co-speaker, Yassmin), even if it gave insult.  He did slip a bit though when he claimed that Catholics too, in the past, had suffered as did Muslims today (from alleged "Islamophobia").  It's a common trope: that all immigrant groups have suffered some discrimination on first arrival, but that "this too shall pass".
However Catholics never went around bombing or planning to bomb people -- at least not in Australia.  And they never kitted their kids out with signs saying "Behead those who insult Islam" as did parents at a demonstration against the film "The Innnocence of the Muslims", in Sydney last year.  They didn't demand their own religious law courts, as Muslims have demanded Sharia courts as they have in every country to which they emigrate. Catholics didn't demand women-only swimming pools, as have Muslims in Australia.
Moreover, when Catholics and Catholicism is criticised, whether its dogma or the pedophilia of its priests, it doesn't object that this is "Cathophobia".
In short, the comparison with the previous experience of Catholics in Australia is bogus.
So, no Tom, I don't think that "this too shall pass". Islam is in a revival and becoming increasingly assertive.  Amongst that is Bandar's own organisation, Hizb Ut Tahrir, which says on its website that it wants to re-establish the global caliphate with Sharia at its core.  It plays a long game, like the Muslim Brotherhood: bit by bleeding bit: just a part of which would be criminilation of "insults" to its very testy and over-sensitive beliefs.
In all, thank goodness the good guys won and congratulations to Yassmin and Tom....  You struck a small blow to counter the push by the likes of OIC, Bandar's Hizb Ut Tahrir, and (sadly) his honour Julian Burnside QC, to install another bit of Sharia in our country.
Bandar discusses "Belief in God: Prohibitive or Liberating?", with the great Larry Krauss, at my old alma mater, the Australian National University in Canberra. April 2012.
Bandar dilates on "Rationality, religion and atheism" and gets hammered in the 1400 comments.  January 2011.
Hizb Ut Tahrir on Jihad: "Jihad is exhausting the effort in fighting for the sake of Allah either directly, or by way of financial assistance, or by giving opinion or bolstering the number of troops and the like. Hence, fighting to make the word of Allah reign supreme is Jihad." (p7)