Covering up for barbarism


2013-04-24 04.49.50 amNICK CATER

Published in The Australian, July 1, 2014



SO we won’t after all get to hear why Uthman Badar thinks it’s OK to stone your sister, if indeed that’s what he was proposing to argue at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas.

The title of his talk, “Honour killings are morally justified”, seems unambiguous, but Badar insists it has been misunderstood, and he does not in any way sanction the extrajudicial execution of close relatives of either sex. Perhaps there was a typo in the title of his talk, and the word “Not!” was chopped off the end. Or perhaps the program’s compilers mistakenly typed in the word “justified” instead of “an abhorrent custom that should be condemned by all right-thinking Muslims in the strongest possible terms”.

At least we now know that the Sydney Opera House in no way “advocates honour killings or condones any form of violence against women”. Thanks for clearing that up.

Eva Cox told the ABC it was a mistake to ask a Muslim to run the debate “because it immediately makes an association between honour killings and Muslims very clear”.

“I don’t think stereotyping one particular sector of the community as being the only people who are pushing this and primarily pushing it is going to do us any good,” she said. Simon Longstaff, the executive director of the St James Ethics Centre, appears to agree: “I think he felt that if it wasn’t for his religion, there wouldn’t have been quite the same level or outrage.” Badar blames “baseless hysteria” for the withdrawal of his chance to mount the Opera House stage. It reveals “the extent and influence of Islamophobia in Australia”.

The accusation of Islamophobia is the stop writ of cultural relativism. Like racism and misogyny, it is wielded to shut down discussion and silence contrary opinions. The University of California’s Centre for Race and Gender defines Islamophobia as “a contrived fear or prejudice fomented by the existing Eurocentric and Orientalist global power structure”. It is “a tool to achieve ‘civilisational rehab’ of the target communities” and “reaffirms a global structure through which resource disparities are maintained and extended”.

The dogma of postcolonialism, which holds that power and knowledge are occidental weapons to suppress the oriental, is less fashionable than it once was in academic circles. Nonetheless a residue of this intellectual contaminant sits like a sludge in forgotten corners of our universities and seeps into civic debate. The publicity note for Badar’s cancelled talk is replete with its mumbo-jumbo about orientalism. “Overwhelmingly, those who condemn honour killings are based in the liberal democracies of the West. The accuser and moral judge is the secular (white) westerner and the accused is the oriental other; the powerful condemn the powerless.”

This binary framework, which separates the world into communities of oppressors and the oppressed, lays the ground for the unlikely affinity between radical utopian Islamists and the Australian bien pendant. It is not a question of shared values, but a shared world view. The establishment of a global caliphate would be a setback to say the least for Cox’s feminist project. Yet she refrains from criticising Badar or the sexist, homophobic cause for which he fights.

Cox told Q&A last week that Australia has “a reputation at the moment as being one of the nastiest countries in the world”, and on this she and Badar would agree. It would be interesting to know where Cox and Badar think Australia rates in the nastiness table compared to, say, Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates, countries where lapidation (stoning as a form of community justice) remains on the statute books.

Yet merely asking the question is to display the arrogant, hegemonic assumptions of the West. It is simply a tool to achieve the “civilisational rehab” of the oppressed and to reaffirm the global structure of wealth disparity.

It is an irritant to taxpayers to think they could have subsidised this bonkers debate. But what the heck, we are paying for it every day in our universities, where Badar and his clique find intellectual succour and seek converts for their cause. Even so, it is a pity that having issued the invitation, Longstaff and his chums lost their nerve. Longstaff says he was merely trying to encourage a conversation, and that is exactly what we need to have.

Badar and his ilk should explain themselves to those of us who remain unconvinced of the case for the global caliphate. Will Australia be expected to join the Islamist version of the European Union, and if not, will we be subjected to the Islamic tax Hizb ut-Tahrir says non-Islamic countries will have to pay to enjoy the protection of the global Islamic army?

What about the harmonisation of law, a problem that bedevils Brussels? Will lapidation be extended to the entire caliphate or abolished? Will honour killings be allowed, and if so in what circumstances? Will the age of consent be lowered to enable the marriage of prepubescent brides? Presumably gay marriage will be out of the question, but will there be any tolerance granted to homosexuality more generally?

Sadly the discussion we could have had has been censored, allowing the evangelists of Islamism to hide behind the coat tails of political correctness. The evil of advocating honour killing should be balanced against what John Stuart Mill described as “the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion”. To silence any opinion, however abhorrent it may seem, “is robbing the human race”, said Mill.

“If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth,” wrote Mill. “If wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”