THERE is something frightfully twee in the self-proclaimed Festival of Dangerous Ideas inviting a radical Islamic activist to deliver a speech titled “Honour killings are morally justified”.
The event, which is put on by the taxpayer-subsidised Sydney Opera House in association with the St James Ethics Centre, resembles the literary festivals which have become so prominent in recent years. It has become a rallying call-out for professionally educated middle-class radicals to proclaim their moral and intellectual superiority in the company of like-minded souls.
In its infancy, the FODI was essentially a leftist-stack. After criticism of its initial programs, the FODI decided to invite a few conservatives along who invariably end up being targets against whom audiences can attest their higher morality. At the 2014 FODI, Judith Sloan, Tom Switzer and Bettina Arndt will be heard. But the Australian-speaker contingent is dominated by the likes of Jane Caro, Tim Flannery, Dan Ilic, Mark Latham, Chip Rolley and, of course, John Pilger. Only two people with contemporary or previous associations with the Liberal Party are on the speakers’ list. Namely, Malcolm Fraser and John Hewson — both vocal critics of the current Liberal Party leadership.
These days there are few, if any, “dangerous” ideas around — since most positions are widely proclaimed and/or debated. Yet there appears to be a limit to what FODI organisers seem to regard as an acceptable topic to put before its self-identifying tolerant audience.
For instance, no fundamentalist Christian has been invited to speak on the topic, “All abortion is murder”. And no fundamentalist Islamist has been asked to discuss the proposition, “All male homosexuals should have their throats cut”.
Yet the 2014 FODI organisers considered the topic “Honour killings are morally justified” as suitable for discussion among consenting adults. They invited Islamic radical Uthman Badar along to lead the discussion. He heads the Australian arm of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic organisation which advocates the introduction of sharia law in Australia.
After a decision was made to drop the session, the St James Ethics Centre’s Simon Longstaff tweeted: “The session to explore ‘honour killing’ has been cancelled. Alas, people read the session title — and no further. Just too dangerous.” Later he commented: “Have not the ‘Islamophobes’ already won the day when a person dare not speak out on controversial matters because he is a Muslim.” Later still he added that “the session title was a mistake as it does not do justice to the nuanced argument we would have heard”.
How twee can you get? Only an intellectual would declare that there is a “nuanced argument” worth hearing about murdering women. Might there also be a nuanced argument for the beheading of male homosexuals or the murder of abortionists? Dr Longstaff did not say.
On Tuesday the Sydney Opera House released a statement which declared: “Neither Mr Badar, the St James Ethics Centre nor the Sydney Opera House in any way advocates honour killings or condones any form of violence against women.” Meanwhile, Badar declared that opposition to his FODI appearance had been fuelled by “hysteria” and implied that his “freedom of expression” has been diminished. Since there is now a vacant slot in the 2014 FODI program, here is a modest proposal for a “dangerous idea” fit for discussion. Namely: “Malcolm Fraser’s Lebanon Concession was a disaster.” Here is the background.
Muslims began migrating to Australia in the 19th century. Initially Afghans followed by Turks, Lebanese, Bosnians and those from Southeast Asian nations. Most settled in well and some have become successful. Ahmed Fahour, the chief executive of Australia Post, is from a small-business Lebanese Muslim family that arrived in Australia around the middle of the 20th century.
Numerous Christian Maronite and Orthodox Lebanese have settled successfully in Australia for over a century. In late 1975/early 1976, representatives of Lebanese Christians approached the new prime minister Malcolm Fraser with a view to gaining approval for their co-religionists, who were being adversely affected by the Lebanese Civil War, to settle in Australia.
Fraser agreed and came up with what was called the Lebanon Concession. It agreed to admit Lebanese affected by the civil war into Australia under the refugee intake. This despite the fact that they were not fearing persecution and not strictly refugees.
Most Christians did not take advantage of Fraser’s Lebanon Concession. As the cabinet papers for 1976 and 1977 demonstrate, the implementation of the program was an unmitigated disaster. Virtually anyone who applied for admission to Australia was successful as the Fraser government temporarily lost control of the immigration intake.
The overwhelming majority were Muslims from deprived rural areas of Lebanon. They arrived in Australia at a time of high unemployment and mainly settled in southwest Sydney. The Sunnis, from northern Lebanon, gathered around Lakemba mosque. The Shia, from southern Lebanon, frequented the Arncliffe mosque.
The beneficiaries of the Lebanon Concession eventually became Australian citizens and, as such, were entitled to make claims for family reunion. In time, some of their descendants became supporters of the Sunni al-Qa’ida or the Shia Hezbollah movements.
Around half of those Australians who have been convicted of terrorist offences are of Muslim Lebanese background. Also, it is mainly Muslim Lebanese Australians who have gone to Syria to take part in the civil war between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Some appear to have been involved in war crimes. When radical Islamists are receiving much more coverage in Australia than the majority of moderate Muslims, it would be good to hear Fraser’s first-hand account of what happened in 1976 and 1977. The topic is not covered in his memoirs. A dangerous idea perhaps — but only with respect to Fraser’s reputation.
Postscript: Re last week’s column. I accept senator John Faulkner’s assurance he did not participate in senator Lee Rhiannon’s attack on senator George Brandis concerning East Jerusalem.