Uthman Badar, a Sydney-based Muslim speaker and public face of Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, was due to deliver a presentation titled “Honour killings are morally justified”.
The event was cancelled overnight amid public outcry with organisers stating that “neither Mr Badar, the St James Ethics Centre, nor Sydney Opera House in any way advocates honour killings or condones any form of violence against women”.
In a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Mr Badar looked to clear up any misconceptions about the talk.
“Islam does not condone any form of abuse or violence toward women,” he says.
“Words were shoved in my mouth – the position was assumed – all the holes were filled by people as they wanted and outrage ensued.”
Mr Badar says the point of the presentation was to highlight the Western influence on Islamic cultures.
“In the end the issue is not about violence towards women or anyone else, but it’s about cultural and political imposition – imposing liberal values in third world countries.”
Post by Sydney Opera House.
Mr Badar had taken to Twitter overnight to condemn the decision to axe the session.
Hysteria wins out. Opera house cancels my session at #FODI. Welcome to the free world, where freedom of expression is a cherished value.
— Uthman Badar (@UthmanB) June 24, 2014
He also posted “time for name change: Festival of relatively dangerous ideas”.
A blurb for the now-cancelled event read that “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.”
On Facebook, Mr Badar wrote that he had “anticipated that secular liberal Islamophobes would come out of every dark corner”.
Posting ahead of the cancellation, he wrote that “the suggestion that I would advocate for honour killings, as understand in the west, is ludicrous”.
“This is about discussing the issue at a deeper level, confronting accepted perceptions, assumptions and presumptions and seeing things from a different perspective,” he said.
“I should say something about the title of the presentation as well, given some have taken issue with it. It was not of my choosing, though I consented to it. The entire topic wasn’t. I, in fact, suggested a more direct topic about Islam and secular liberalism… but the organisers insisted on this topic, which I think is still a worthy topic of discussion, for many reasons, as my presentation will, God-willing, show, hence I accepted.”
He also referenced former sessions, such as the one titled ‘A killer can be good’.
Festival co-organiser Simon Longstaff also took to Twitter, saying that people had taken the headline of the talk out of context.
The session to explore ‘honour killing’ has been cancelled. Alas, people read the session title – and no further. Just too dangerous.
— Simon Longstaff (@SimonLongstaff) June 24, 2014
He said he had been arguing for the inclusion of a talk on honour killings for six years.
Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson has also weighed in on the cancellation by the Sydney Opera House.
“It shows that they are exercising I think good judgement in deciding what they want to be associated with, because the Opera House should have questioned should they have given such a platform to that discussion,” he told SBS.
“I think it was a very poor use of the title that would send a very clear, very strong and unfortunate message to the public. No idea should be illegal and no idea should not able to be discussed, but the public response, I think, sends a pretty clear message about what people think is appropriate speech and how far they’re willing to push the line of acceptability.”
The New South Wales Minister for Women, Pru Goward, said the talk had crossed the line, moving beyond free speech to hate speech.
“There have been honour killings in Australia. There are millions of women around the world who live in fear of honour killings,” she said.
“I don’t think we can be seen to condone it or endorse it, and that is what giving a platform to hate speech means we’re doing.”
The Director of Sydney’s Immigrant Women’s Health Service says lives may have been put at risk in Australia by mere discussion of the lecture.
Doctor Eman Sharobeen says talking about honour killing puts it in people’s minds.
“We have been trying to control the thought,” she said.
“We don’t need anyone to provoke the thought and make it come to our field. In Australia we have a couple of clients who were on the edge of honour killing, and we had to intervene to control the crime from happening. Let alone if this debate is coming to the surface. I think our work will be harder.”
Social media users have given mixed reactions to the decision to axe the talk, with some saying it was justified and others arguing the move contradicts the festival’s commitment to discussing dangerous ideas.
#FODI changes line up based on Twitter court of public opinion.. Isn’t the festival all about exploring ideas we find threatening?
— Sally (@sallyrawsthorne) June 24, 2014
Today I learnt that the Festival of Dangerous Ideas is not the place for dangerous ideas. #FODI
— David Streader (@sicknessness) June 24, 2014
Some ideas are dangerous: others are just repellent. eg “Honour killings are morally justified” 佛山桑拿网,佛山桑拿网,/jd703p4MWH #FODI
— Mark Colvin (@Colvinius) June 24, 2014
#FODI there’s no such thing as an ‘honour killing’. There’s no debate to be had. NO to Badar’s inclusion.
— modern nanna (@modern_nanna) June 24, 2014
New low in Australia today, when an ethics organisation tried to promote a speech on honour killings at Sydney Opera House #FODI.
— thefilmofmylife (@FilmofmyLife) June 24, 2014
The session was scheduled for August 30.
Have your say in the comments section below: Is the decision to cancel the talk justified?