Uthman Badar, a spokesman for Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, was to given a lecture at the Sydney Opera House as part of the so-called Festival of Dangerous Ideas. The subject of his lecture was to be “Honour killings are morally justified” – certainly a provocative enough title. After predictable howls of outrage the lecture has been cancelled.
What depresses me about all this is that many conservatives are expressing delight that the lecture has been cancelled. None of those who reacted with outrage to the proposed lecture know precisely what arguments Mr Badar intended to use at his lecture. The furore that erupted had nothing to do with the lecture’s content. The title was enough.
The problem with this is that we can’t have it both ways. Conservative speakers are frequently silenced by the same methods used against Mr Badar – a campaign of hysteria in the media, and more particularly on social media. If we as conservatives truly believe in freedom of speech we have to be consistent, and we have to recognise the rights of people to express views that we may find extremely repugnant. That’s what freedom of speech is all about. Freedom to express opinions that may offend, outrage, anger and provoke many people. You either believe in freedom of speech or you don’t. If you do then you have to see the silencing of Mr Badar as yet another infringement on freedom of speech.
It’s quite likely that, given the opportunity to hear his arguments, I would find myself disagreeing very strongly indeed with Mr Badar. No having been given the opportunity, I can’t say for certain. No matter how strongly I might disagree with him I still believe he has the right to be heard.
It seems that freedom of speech is still the most dangerous idea of them all.