Hunting heretics in modern Australia
Ayaan Hirsi Ali will now not be coming to Australia. Her “Hero of Heresy” speaking tour this week has been cancelled due to “security concerns”. Too heretical for some:
Hirsi Ali, who was due to speak in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, has attracted critics for speaking out about reforming traditional Islam and confronting militant Islam.
The Somali-born Dutch-American activist, author, and former politician, is an outspoken opponent of female genital mutilation.
Last month the organisation hosting her — Think Inc — said it had been harassed about her appearance.
Its insurers were contacted and warned there could be trouble, and venues where she was scheduled to speak had been contacted and warned that there would be protests where she was due to appear.
Much of this was done by an individual called Syed Murtaza Hussain of the Council for the Prevention of Islamophobia Inc.
He informed Festival Hall in Melbourne there would be 5000 protesters outside the venue if the engagement went ahead. There have been other initiatives, including an abortive appeal on Change.org to prevent Ali from speaking.
I have written a lot lately about freedom of speech (apologies to the TDC readers interested in other topics, like Tinder, Turkey or Trump), particularly about boycotts, campaigns and harassment as private forms of censorship, so I’m not going to rehash the arguments here. But, sadly, Hirsi Ali’s aborted tour has now become yet another example of this trend where some exercise their freedom of speech to deny others theirs.
What’s the best way to win the debate? Not to have the debate at all.
It is slightly before my time, and some of my older readers might remember it better than me, but recall how the enlightened elite opinion once used to react to Christians freaking out over “The Last Temptation of Christ” or “Piss Christ”. “Don’t like the film? Don’t watch it then.” “Pickets and boycotts? Stop trying to censor art, you Philistines!” Funny how there is always an open season for some religions but others are out of bounds for criticism or ridicule.
As a Bad Catholic (I’m trying to get the Australian Bureau of Statistics to adopt it as an official option at the next census) I don’t enjoy others mocking, insulting or rubbishing the theology, history and the institutions of my religion. But I think these others have a right to do so, and should not be prevented from or punished for doing so. God can deal with blasphemers without my assistance. And my feelings aren’t so precious as to require the protection of law.
Hirsi Ali is an ex-Muslim and now an atheist. Her criticism of her former religion is no different to that, which luminaries of international atheism like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris or the late Christopher Hitchens have directed at Christianity for the past few decades – and many others beside them and before them.
Why the double standard in reaction and response then, all with the enthusiastic acquiescence of the left?
Is it because Christianity is “own” religion, which large sections of the left have spent generations fighting as a conservative and reactionary force, while Islam is the religion of “the other”, whom the left has worshipped for centuries, from the Noble Savage, through the Third Worldism, to present day refugees?
Is it because while Christians will make some noise, they can be safely poked with a stick because they will not kill cartoonists, slash the blasphemers’ throats, set off bombs, and cause general mayhem? Because Christianophobia will not radicalise old ladies and choirboys, while Islamophobia is supposedly doing what the terrorists want us to do, creating more recruits, and causing jihad?
Whatever the answers, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s cancelled tour is a dangerous development. We no longer debate, we ban; we don’t discuss, we prosecute. We put feelings above freedoms. And even then we do it unevenly and hypocritically, playing favourites and settling old scores.
We don’t burn heretics any more, we just cause their speaking tours to be cancelled on security grounds. One could call it progress, except that we have not been doing the former for a few hundred years and the latter for decades at least. We seemed to have reached our peak tolerance as a society (and I mean real tolerance, as in “I might disagree with you but I will defend to my death your right to say it”, not the left-wing “I’m tolerant of the opinions I agree with”) and we are now sliding down the slippery slope.