The FODI controversy that backfired

It didn’t take long for the outrage to begin after the Sydney Opera House announced its line-up of speakers for the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, or FODI for short.

佛山桑拿

There amongst luminaries like Salman Rushdie, Malcolm Frasier and John Pilger was a talk presented by little known Uthman Badar, entitled “Honour Killings are Morally Justified”.

The term “honour killings” itself really irks me because there is no honour in what is clearly murder.

It beggared belief how anyone could justify honour killings and many people took to Twitter to voice their disappointment in the Opera House for giving airtime to such a heinous concept.

In a matter of hours, due to the social media storm whipped up by the title of the talk, the Sydney Opera House released a statement saying it was dropping the talk from its line-up.

Uthman Badar was understandably upset and took to his Facebook page to outline that the title of his talk was actually suggested by the organisers.

Post by Uthman Badar.

He also tweeted, “Welcome to the free world, where freedom of expression is a cherished value.”

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

While Mr Badar may have felt his freedom of speech was being curtailed, it is worth looking at why so many people were upset at the title of his talk – which, regardless of whether he came up with it or not, he had consented to.

In case you weren’t aware, a so-called “honour” killing is when a family member is killed because they were thought to have dishonoured or brought shame to a family.

Some might see it as a success that Uthman Badar will no longer be speaking at the Opera House. The real success would be if we took such umbrage against honour killings themselves.

Despite popular belief, this practice is not just confined to Islam. In India, honour killings are associated with dowry issues and in some cases where the women have been branded as “witches”. In Latin America, honour killings are often termed “crimes of passion” which entail lenient sentences. Honour killings are also thought to be more of a cultural phenomena prevalent in certain parts of the world rather than something that’s been mandated by Islam. In fact. no verse in the Quran sanctions honour killings.

The term “honour killings” itself really irks me because there is no honour in what is clearly murder. Some naive people might believe that by associating the word honour next to “killing” may somehow imbue it with some kind of greater cause – it doesn’t.

This practice that occurs in many parts of the world has sadly lead to the death of thousands of women. It does not need to be said that such a barbaric practice needs to be stopped. Organisations like Amnesty International have long being campaigning against it.

But because honour killings are so greatly associated with Islam, many use it to justify deeply embedded notions of Islamophobia. When the Twitter storm broke out over the FODI talk, the right-wing nut-jobs came out with such deeply offensive tweets that they don’t bear being repeated here.

However, to give context mostly these tweets went along the line that all Muslims should kill themselves, questioning the sexual practices of the Prophet Mohammed, and so on and so forth.

Some such hateful tweets were directed against me because I happened to question that Islamophobia that was being openly displayed in order to show outrage against Uthman Badar’s talk.

The feminist Eva Cox said it best when she said by just putting on the talk the Opera House was acting irresponsibly because ‘it risked further demonising Muslims in the eyes of many Australians’.  “You’re setting somebody up to knock them off in a sense,” she said.

This much is true. It’s no secret that Muslims in Australia are seen in a bad light. As a result Islamophobia is rampant in our country and is often spouted without being challenged.

Some might see it as a success that Uthman Badar will no longer be speaking at the Opera House. The real success would be if we took such umbrage against honour killings themselves.

If we could take this outrage, form it into a coherent collective and use it to stop, or at the very least to curtail the rates of honour killings that are happening worldwide, then we could truly pat ourselves on the back.

But for this to happen, we would actually need to show outrage for more than a few hours. In our age of social media charged attention spans this is unlikely to occur.

If there is one positive we can take out of this is that at least it’s got people talking about a topic they previously may not have cared about.

Now, to just do something about it.

Saman Shad is a storyteller and playwright.