Free Speech meets Hate-Speech in Australia

Editorial in THE AUSTRALIAN, entitled ‘Peace’ talkfest needs scrutiny

OUR free, democratic society thrives on robust political debate, which is why speakers at this weekend’s Australian Islamic Peace Conference in Melbourne are entitled to their say in the public square.  Organisers of the so-called peace conference displayed a bizarre sense of irony, however, in promoting the event as “the LARGEST, the BIGGEST and the BEST EVER Islamic Event in the History of Australia” with an advertised speakers’ list headed by the Imam of Mecca, Abdul Rahman al-Sudais. A bigoted proponent of jihad, the imam has called for the annihilation of Jews as “infidels, falsifiers of words, calf worshippers, prophet murderers, deniers of prophecies … the scum of the human race, accursed by Allah, who turned them into apes and pigs”.Unlike Geert Wilders’s recent visit to Australia, which attracted extensive, critical coverage from the ABC and other media, with widespread condemnation of the controversial Dutch politician for “extremism” and “hate” speech, the Islamic Peace Conference has received little scrutiny outside this newspaper and the Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt. The imbalance highlights peculiar news values across some sections of the media. While many disagree with Mr Wilders’s opposition to large-scale Islamic immigration in Europe, he is more moderate and speaks in milder terms than the aggressive rhetoric brandished by some of those mooted as possible speakers at the Melbourne conference.

Earlier in the week, Federation of Islamic Councils assistant secretary Keysar Trad defended the participation of Sheik Sudais but it was confirmed yesterday that the imam would not be attending. Late yesterday, however, he remained listed on the conference’s online brochure. Other possible participants mentioned in the lead-up to the conference include Australia’s Abu Hamza, who ridiculed laws that prohibit rape within marriage, and Assim al-Hakeem, from the United Arab Emirates, who has called for apostasy (disaffiliation from Islam) to be punished by death and opposes listening to music or playing chess unless the horse playing piece is removed or its head covered. Some conference speakers will address participants via video link.

The Jewish Christian Muslim Association of Australia has raised concerns about the conference, pointing out that the hatreds of some of the advertised international speakers have no place in Australia. It is important, however, that such views are exposed and examined, which is why the conference warrants close media scrutiny. Unless advocates are inciting criminal activity, they have the right to speak freely – a lesson that the Islamic Council of Victoria is yet to learn. While concerned that Mr Wilders’s visit would “introduce overseas hatreds”, the council is one of the promoters of the Islamic Peace Conference. Free speech in a liberal democracy is non-negotiable.

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