“And if you tolerate this, then your children will be next …”
How far will you go for free speech – to the point that you will defend the right for someone in the Sydney Opera House to deliver a speech entitled “Honour Killings Are Morally justified”? Usually a line is drawn regarding incitement to murder. That encouraging us to think of killing people who have shamed us is morally justified would be reprehensible to be given a public platform. Whether a Colombian footballer assassinated for an own goal by a drug cartel body guard in Colombia, or a woman stoned to death in front of a court in Pakistan for choosing her own husband, this is not an idea to condone. It needs us all challenging and denying any acceptance of this idea in the public space.
The story of the talk that now will not be held at the 6th Festival of Dangerous ideas is covered in more detail by Martin Pribble here. My concern is how this talk is being defended and how the outrage that caused the event to be cancelled is considered morally wrong by some. People have suggested free speech allows advocacy of such justification irrespective of whether the talk would have done so.
Autonomy is a fundamental human right that allows you free choice. The right to choose your livelihood, who you socialise with, who you will marry. Most of us would accept that intimidation and violence to prevent this would be against human rights.
It would also be morally wrong. The issue of someone arguing that it is morally justifiable is a belief rather than an action. Yet such beliefs perpetuate violence happening. Anything that helps us understand how this belief leads to violent action and deconstruct the argument to promote universal human rights is useful. That was not expressed in the title of this talk – nor how the speaker explains his intended presentation as will be mentioned later:
The executive director of the centre, Simon Longstaff AO, said people had not read beyond the title of the lecture, which was intended to be a discussion about how honour is used as a justification for a range of acts, including going to war and murder.
“Uthman’s view is that no form of vigilante killing is justified,” Longstaff said.
“So while honour killings are not what he believes in, he does believe there is a context in which this does happen and where those people believe they are justified.
“We wanted to begin having a conversation about these killings, which should never happen and yet the fact is, there are societies that allow it to. We wanted to examine how that is the case.”
Longstaff said in hindsight, he regretted the name of the lecture, but said he was genuinely surprised when he first learned of the outrage it had provoked. He said he felt it was in line with talks from previous years on topics such as why torture was sometimes justified, and why flogging was kinder than prison. [The Guardian]
This talk was designed to be controversial. The festival thrives on such notoriety. Which is why the festival organisers asked Uthman Badar to speak with that title. My reaction to the news was to call for civil disobedience to disrupt such a talk against the festival organisers giving such a platform.
How could you not understand “Honour Killings Are Morally justified” causing outrage? Rather I suspect the hope was all publicity is good publicity and they could ride the storm by pointing out the intention of the talk. Missing the point that the title was not just “regrettable.”
Any succour to violent action by people killing others because of a sense of honour is not just intolerable but unacceptable in the public space. It helps to justify murder and spread that message. The advocation to murder women and men because of hurt sensibilities should be opposed. It is a disgrace that people call for civil society to tolerate such an acceptance that these things happen. Cultural relativism works like that – it is the done thing there so shrug your shoulders and just be glad you are not subjected to that but accept they are.
Uthman Badar responded to the outrage:
As for the content of my presentation, I wont be revealing much before the event itself. Surprise, surprise. I will, however, say that the suggestion that I would advocate for honour killings, as understand in the west, is ludicrous and something I would normally not deem worth of dignifying with a response. Rather, this is about discussing the issue at a deeper level, confronting accepted perceptions, assumptions and presumptions and seeing things from a different perspective. Is that too much to ask of the liberal mind? [My emphasis]
Those that say free speech means you can talk in the public space for the murder of people because of shame and dishonour are not for human rights. The fundamental right we have is to life. The right to live as we choose granting that same freedom to others in turn. This talk was about seeing things from the perspective that promotes honour killings – an anathema not just to liberal minds I might add.
Of course Badar is against vigilante honour killing. He is part of Hizb ut-Tahrir which states it is “not allowed for Muslims to accept any system which is based on democracy” and to achieve it’s political goals publicly “calls the Muslim armies to give Hizb ut Tahrir the Nussrah (Material Support) so that Khilafah is established. So, rush to fulfill the great obligation of working to establish the Khilafah.” [Source] The theocratic regime they propose will be able to do some of the dirty work via an armed uprising.
Making this an academic discussion as if such a talk happens in a vacuum that has no impact on anyone’s action, you are not on the right side of the argument. You have misunderstood that free speech is not about giving murder a public platform to be advocated. For being gay, for leaving your faith, for falling in love, for letting a goal in, for falling short of anyone’s expectations of how they live their life. Whether by the state, community or family members.
That is not the world I want my children to grow up in. I will not tolerate it, and hope you will not either. Ideas are not abstractions. Blood runs on the ground choking the earth because of them.
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog