Waleed changes his tune, or at least sings from a slightly less shrill song sheet

February 20, 2007 |

Waleed Aly, ex of Victorian Islamic Council, has an opinion piece in today’s Age . I have no problems with him having a red hot go at Professor Raphael Israeli whose comments about Muslims and the threats they pose is fair enough. Generalisers who go on about societal problems being explained away by this or that ethnic group are sloppy thinkers and often of fascist tendencies. The article is a bit stodgy and earnest but he doesn’t call for a ban on Israeli. He chooses to take on Israeli because “they are not as marginal as they are mad” (whatever that means) and he can’t ignore the challenge. So it is a matter of education.

How things have changed for Waleed. His earlier tendency was to go for the big ban. He of the Islamic Council of Victoria was an enthusiastic supporter of the cumbersome blunt instrument of censorship otherwise known as the Victoria’s racial vilification legislation. In an article on 21 December 2004 in online opinion (copy of articles published in the Courier Mail) titled “There is free speech, and then there is hate-inducing vilification” showed way less tendencies understanding and tolerance of alternate, even vile opinions. In his 2004 persona he gloated, after the Council had a win in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Have a squizz at the less liberal Aly:

Expect to read a lot of obituaries to free speech over the coming weeks.

On Friday, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruled (pdf file 324kb) that an evangelical Christian group and two pastors had incited hatred, ridicule and contempt for Muslims in contravention of religious vilification laws.

………..

Democracy only functions meaningfully in a well informed society. And this is only possible where competing ideas are allowed to contend in the public domain, and public debate is allowed to flourish. Without this, there is little difference between democracy and dictatorship.

  • So far so good.

No doubt then, free speech is a cornerstone of any genuine democracy. But it is never, and can never be, absolute. Australia has only very limited constitutional protection of free speech, and has some of the tougher defamation laws in the common law world. We accept these restrictions because we recognise that free speech is a means to a democratic end, rather than a goal in itself. It is a wonderful servant, but a dangerous master.

  • Ah the traditional, free speech can never be absolute. Natural born censors are always starting any defence of curbing free speech with that trite drivel. Frankly speech, the exchange of ideas, should be absolutely free. Or at least that should be the aim. But the censore is delighted with the status quo. Because in Australia there is plenty of controls and no revolution about it. Therefore it must be OK.

Friday’s ruling concerned more than mere disagreement between religious groups. It even went beyond the contemptuous mocking of another religious group. Though there was plenty of that, it was more serious. One defendant argued that Muslims have a plan to take over Western democracy through violence and terror, and to replace it with repressive regimes; another argued that Muslims would rape, torture and kill Christians in Australia.

  • So we have a group of ratbags arguing conspiracy. Ever read the John Birch society nonsense. They’ve been doing it for nearly 50 years (and maybe longer) and yet society has not collapsed.

Of course, people have the right to advance such ridiculous arguments, and the religious vilification laws do not change that. All the legislation requires is that such arguments are put reasonably and in good faith. It does not limit the scope of debate. But there was nothing reasonable about the arguments put forth in Friday’s case. Not a scrap of proof was given for such rancid claims.

  • Here is where Waleed of 2004 is just being duplicitous. On his arguement put ridiculous arguments but put them reasonably and good faith. Palleeeeease. He sets up a straw man.

Judge Higgins was stating the obvious when he said the comments in question served no genuine religious purpose or any other purpose in the public interest.

  • How stupid is the law when a Judge has to trawl through religious rants. Bad policy.

This was not a serious discussion of religious beliefs. It was nothing more than pure hate speech. Can we honestly maintain that this is what free speech in Australia is about? Is this really necessary for our democracy? Does it really enhance our public debate? Surely not.

Surely it is in everyone’s interests to prevent our public conversation from being hijacked by this vitriol. After all, we’ve prevented it in the past. If such things were said of an individual, it would be undoubtedly defamatory. If said of a racial group, it would have long been illegal under racial vilification laws (just as Holocaust denial has been).

  • What nonsense for Waleed to now say what is in everyone’s interest. Patronising nonsense. And because we have banned it in the past we can ban it now. Sounds like a great argument.

If anything, the idea that such statements cannot be made of religious groups is actually consistent with the traditional Australian approach to free speech. It therefore seems a little hysterical to say, as one letter in yesterday’s Herald Sun did, that “freedom of speech is now officially and legally dead… No more can pastors critique other religions”.

Surely we can tell the difference between a sincere critique of another faith, and a baseless assertion that Muslims will embark on a spree of rape, torture and killing of Australians.

  • The problem is always putting a judge, politician or censor to determine the differences, to draw the line.

This case illustrates how religious debate in Victoria should proceed. By all means, let us engage in passionate, robust debate. But let us do so reasonably and sincerely so that our speech can create a well-informed society that is so vital to democracy. If instead we allow misleading, hate-inducing vilification to masquerade as debate, we are actually undermining the very democracy that is so dear to all of us.

  • The opening line is a classic. Having VCAT finding against a fringe church group with possible sanctions is an illustration of how religous debate should proceed. Crypto fascist nonsense.

But perhaps Waleed has lost his enthusiasm for having the court system telling what is reasonable and not with the Court of Appeals decision in Catch the Fire Ministries Inc & Ors v Islamic Council of Victoria Inc [2006] VSCA 284

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