The Sydney Opera House has cancelled a talk about Muslim “honour killings” within hours of releasing the program, in the face of growing outrage emerging on social media.
The August address, titled “Honour killings are morally justified”, by activist Uthman Badar, was part of the annual Festival of Dangerous Ideas and on Tuesday afternoon came under attack from both conservative and progressives on Twitter and Facebook.
Honour killings are when a family member, most often a woman, is murdered for supposedly bringing shame on the family. It occurs throughout the world, including Australia, but is most prevalent in Muslim communities.
Badar is from Hizb ut-Tahrir Australia, a Muslim lobby group seeking to re-establish the Islamic Caliphate (religious state). The festival talks are co-presented by the St James Ethics Centre and are billed as “leading thinkers and culture creators” bringing “contentious ideas to the fore and challenge mainstream thought and opinion”. Among those taking part this year are author Salman Rushdie, ABC managing director Mark Scott, former PM Malcolm Fraser and ex opposition leaders Mark Latham and John Hewson.
In a statement posted on Facebook just after 9.30pm on Tuesday, the Opera House claimed the title of the address had “given the wrong impression of what Mr Badar intended to discuss”.
The statement reads, in part:
The Festival of Dangerous Ideas is intended to be a provocation to thought and discussion, rather than simply a provocation. It is always a matter of balance and judgement, and in this case a line has been crossed. Accordingly, we have decided not to proceed with the scheduled session with Uthman Badar.
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.
But on the Sydney Opera House website page promoting the Badar’s FODI address, since removed, it was described thus:
Uthman Badar examines the condemnation of honour killings and the cultural view of honour itself. If an act is overwhelmingly condemned, does it make it wrong?
For most of recorded history parents have reluctantly sacrificed their children— sending them to kill or be killed for the honour of their nation, their flag, their king, their religion. But what about killing for the honour of one’s family?
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. By taking a particular cultural view of honour, some killings are condemned whilst others are celebrated.
In turn, the act becomes a symbol of everything that is allegedly wrong with the other culture.
In response, Badar tweeted
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
Batar posted a more detailed response on Facebook, saying he “anticipated that secular liberal Islamophobes would come out of every dark corner, foaming at the mouth, furious at why a Muslim ‘extremist’, from Hizb ut-Tahrir no less, was being allowed a platform at the Sydney Opera House to speak, but that it would only take a few hours after the advertising was released for mass hysteria to ensue is quite a feat!”
His post continues, saying, in part:
The magnitude of the response is certainly beyond expectation. I’d say, “well, that escalated quickly” but even that would fail to grasp the hysteria. The newspapers, talk-back radio, twittershere, are all going berzerk and my not having uttered a word yet seems to not have been an obstacle…
What’s interesting is that I’m being attacked left, right and centre without having opened my mouth yet. I guess that’s how Islamophobia works! I seem to have roused the ire of a nation without doing anything except accept an invite to speak. Quite an achievement, don’t you think?
It’s also instructive to see liberals and advocates of free speech go crazy and call for boycotts at what is nothing more than the expression of ideas. Muslims are regularly lectured by this same lot about how we must respect free speech and accept any and all criticism, but they themselves are not prepared to live up to the same standard.
As for the content of my presentation, I wont be revealing much before the event itself. Surprise, surprise. I will, however, say that the suggestion that I would advocate for honour killings, as understand in the west, is ludicrous and something I would normally not deem worth of dignifying with a response. Rather, this is about discussing the issue at a deeper level, confronting accepted perceptions, assumptions and presumptions and seeing things from a different perspective. Is that too much to ask of the liberal mind?
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.
The director of the St James Ethics Centre, Simon Longstaff, added his view too
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
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