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Today’s media includes a piece below by Andrew Bolt comparing the reactions given to Wilders and (so far) to a “Peace Conference” being held next month at the Melbourne Showgrounds. Bolt quotes sayings by some of the extremist Muslims invited to come to Australia and speak at the conference. The Muslim organisers claim that Gillard will attend the conference.

Also below is an article in The Age by a Sydney University professor of philosophy, who seems not to understand that being anti-Islam is not in itself racist. In an article in The Australian the head of the Human Rights Commission does not specifically categorise Wilders but implies that he has exceeded the limits of free speech. I wonder where she draws the line.

Des Moore

If Wilders is wrong, explain this conference
by Andrew Bolt

Geert Wilders, the Dutch political leader now on a speaking tour of Australia, has not only had his speeches blockaded by violent demonstrators trying to stop Australians from hearing him.

He has not only been vilified in the media for trying to warn that Islam as an ideology is a menace to Western values and freedoms - from the freedom to speak to even identify as gay.

Depressingly, he has even been shunned by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Jewish community leaders. It seems to me that political or community advantage is being put before principle - and fear is preventing a rational discussion of Wilders’ message.

It’s driven Abbott, even Abbott, to misrepresent what Wilders is in fact saying and play blind to the issue he actually raises - which is about the nature of Islam, not its followers:

Mr Abbott said Wilders’ was “substantially” wrong about Islam and the preparedness of Muslims living in Australia to integrate.

“He is entitled to his view but I think that the Muslims in this country see themselves rightly as fair dinkum, dinky-di Australians, just as the Catholics and the Jews and Protestants and the atheists, we see ourselves as Australians,” Mr Abbott told host Neil Mitchell.

This hypocrisy and fear is exposed best by what is misleadingly called a ”Peace Conference and Exhibition” being organised in Melbourne in March.

The conference is advertised on billboards in Broadmeadows, Altona, Dandenong and South Melbourne and is organised by the Islamic Information Services Network of Australasia and Islamic Research and Educational Academy. It is also and backed by the Islamic Council of Victoria and a range of other Muslim groups, mosques and communities.

It is fronted by Melbourne Muslim activist Wazeem Razvi, who in a recorded speech, boasted of the range of speakers:

Our guest speakers are … more than 15 international speakers, the chief guest that we have is Abdul Rahman Al-Sudays, the imam of Mecca ... and the big news is alhumdulillah he has agreed to come to Australia and he has agreed to come to our Islamic conference … Also Brother Imran from India, Sheikh Abdul Hadi who is one of the speakers from PeaceTV from UK, Sheikh Anwar Sahib from New Zealand , one of the speakers from the Islamic Online University, run by Dr Bilal Philips … Brother Eddie [Eddie Redzovic] from USA, Sheikh Hussain Yee of Malaysia, the Buddhist convert to Islam, Sheikh Abdul Aziz, the Board of Imams president in Australia … Sheikh Issa from the Werribee mosque, Abu Hamza from IISNA , Abu Ayman from Ahl As-Sunnah wal Jama’ , Sheikh Mohamad Abou Eid from Preston mosque, and ... Sheikh Mishari Alafasy from Kuwait, … Mishari from Emirates Dubai in the UAE … Sheikh ‘Assim alHakeem, the English speaker from Saudi Arabia…

We have to invite Dr Zakir Naik from India. He is, I reckon, inshallah, a very good scholar of Islam and comparative religion. He is my boss’ boss, so we are definitely going to invite him....

The big news is, alhumdulillah, that we have approached the Prime Minister, Miss Julia Gillard, now this word has to be made between us, don’t let it go out, alhumdulillah, she has agreed to be present in the
conference ...

With such wide backing, and so many prominent speakers, it would be fair to say it represents Muslim thought today in Australia and the world.

And when you check precisely what a number of the speakers have said, you come up with a picture of Islam remarkably similar to the one Geert Wilders is trying to warn against.

Take the main organiser himself. In a lecture recorded last December in Melbourne, Waseem Razvi, who supports Sharia law in Australia, said Islam allowed violence in defence of the faith:

You don’t have to try to convince by being compromising on Islam … you don’t have to say that Islam is all about peace, “no we don’t fight, we are not violent.” You know, the Prophet fought 30 wars … yes, we are not non-violent, we are violent but when there is a need for it. We are battles people. We are not like Buddhists wearing an orange dress and always saying we want peace, and you never get your own country. No, we fight for our country. We have in Islam Jihad, yes, but we will never do terrorism. Yes Jihad is very Islamic, so you don’t have to retreat from that.

Here are some facts you should know about the other invited speakers.

Al-Azhar Sheikh Abdur-Rahman Al-Sudais, imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, is the highest-ranking cleric in the Sunni Muslim world. He has prayed to God to “terminate” the Jews and is a virulent anti-Semite to judge from his sermons:

[Jews are] the scum of the human race, the rats of the world, the violators of pacts and agreements, the murderers of the prophets, and the offspring of apes and pigs…

Read history and you will understand that the Jews of yesterday are the evil fathers of the Jews of today, who are evil offspring, infidels, distorters of [others’] words, calf-worshippers, prophet-murderers, prophecy-deniers... the scum of the human race ‘whom Allah cursed and turned into apes and pigs...’ These are the Jews, an ongoing continuum of deceit, obstinacy, licentiousness, evil, and corruption...

Another invited speaker is Sheikh Assim Al-Hakeem, who says the punishment for gays is death:

In a video on YouTube in which he is asked whether being gay is wrong, Al-Hakeem says homosexuality is ‘unnatural’. ‘If you refer to the Old Testament, you will find that homosexuality is forbidden and the punishment for that is stoning to death. In Islam, the same thing applies. He added: ‘Homosexuality is an abnormality which should be treated and should not be accepted as a normal thing.’

In answer to a question on his website, Al-Hakeem also compares gay people to ‘animals that seek only their sexual satisfaction through their weird ways’.

Al-Hakeem also calls for the death of those who leave Islam: What is the penalty on a person who change his religion from islam to some other religion ?

This is apostasy and it is punishable by death in an Islamic society.

Another invited speaker - described by the conference organiser as “my boss’s boss” - is Sheikh Zakir Naik, who has said he was a supporter of Osama bin Laden if he was attacking enemies of Islam:

Every Muslim should be a terrorist.

Naik also denies Islamists caused the September 11 attack:

It is a blatant, open secret that this attack on the Twin Towers was done by George Bush himself.

Another invited speaker is Abu Hamza from Melbourne-based IISNA, who has offered Muslims advice on ”how to beat your wife” to make them “shape up”:

In a lecture titled “The Keys to a Successful Marriage”, ... Mr Hamza said men could beat their wives, “to shape them up"… He also said women “must respond” if their husbands wanted to have sex, and ridiculed laws that prohibit rape within marriage… In the sermon Mr Hamza initially tells his listeners “don’t hit your wife”.

But he goes on to detail how men should hit their wives, according to his interpretation of Islamic teachings. He says it is permissible to hit women as a “last resort” but that “the beating the Mohammed showed is like the toothbrush that you use to brush your teeth”.

“You are not allowed to bruise them, you are not allowed to make them bleed...”

Sheikh Yee, another invitee, claims Jews celebrated the September 11 attacks, which weren’t the work of Muslims, and Jews are the real extremists:

The most extreme nation in this world is the Jews. So if they use ‘extremists,’ it doesn’t apply to Muslims. It applies to the Jews. They are the extremists of the world. That’s why they kill Palestinians every day.... [Jews] go to Hell.

Another invited speaker is Melbourne’s Sheikh Abu Ayman (aka Sheikh Omran), who long defended Osama bin Laden: I dispute any evil action linked to bin Laden.

Later he was a little more equivocal - but only a little:

He is a good man in some ways, and not in other ways.

Another invitee is from the Islamic Online University of Bilal Philips, who has been linked to jihadists and terrorist groups:

But the choice of Philips is even odder given the United States named him as an “unindicted co-conspirator” over the 1993 bombing of New York’s World Trade Centre, and our own security agencies judged him such a threat he was banned from coming here.

Philips insists he rejects terrorism and considers al-Qaida a “deviate” group. But ... he was hired by the Saudi air force during the first Gulf War to preach to American soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia and convert them to Islam…

Philips didn’t just take down their names; he also visited them back in America. “My role was confined to encouraging them to train Muslim-American volunteers and go to Bosnia to help the mujahidin and take part in the war (against Serbia),” he boasted. That worked, too.

Philips says his name was dragged into the investigation of the first World Trade Centre bombing, in which six people were killed, because some African-American soldiers he’d converted were offered by someone else to Sheik Abdel Rahmen, spiritual head of the terrorists behind the attack....

Anglican vicar Mark Durie, a student of Islam, has questions about the conference:

If interfaith visitors do visit the Melbourne Showground for the ‘Peace Conference’ they might inquire what Koranic verses they are being asked to listen to, and whether the following passages will be included:

Jews are pact breakers – Sura 5:13 and 2:27

Allah turned some Jews into apes (and pigs) (the inference being that some of today’s Jews are descendants of those people who were turned into apes and pigs: hence they referred to as ‘grandsons’ or ‘descendants’ ‘of apes and pigs’) – Sura 2:65, 5:60 and 7:166

Jews are murders of the prophets – Sura 3:181, 2:55

What sense are the people of Melbourne meant to make of the proposition that they needn’t worry that the preacher [ Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid, who will recite the Koran at the conference] has called for the annihilation of Jews, because he was only speaking Arabic?

But for me there are even bigger questions. Why are politicians, journalists and Jewish leaders now demonising Geert Wilders for warning against exactly the ideology of Islam as preached by many speakers at this conference?

Why do they pretend Wilders has misrepresented Islam when the very things he describes are preached openly?

Why are they silent over or even complicit in attempts to silence or frighten Wilders - who has not advocated violence - yet apparently happy that true hate-preachers who preach death for gays, Jews and enemies of Islam may speak freely in this country?

Why the hypocrisy? Why the fear?

(An earlier version of this post misidentified Sheikh Abdur-Rahman Al-Sudais.)

After the Wilders trip, multicultural Australia can take a bow
by Tim Soutphommasane, The Age, February 25, 2013

Our liberal toleration of the Dutch MP's vile views is a triumph.

It was a good thing that Geert Wilders, the controversial Dutch politician, came to visit Australia last week. Because sometimes we need to be reminded that living in a liberal democracy isn't always easy or edifying. Sometimes it can be hard work.

I'm referring to the brute fact that we can't always come to agreement. Often when there is unavoidable disagreement, the best we can do is to exercise the virtue of toleration. To put it plainly, we have to put up with things we may find repugnant. We have to tolerate the intolerable.

For the vast majority of us, Wilders' views belong to this category. He believes Islam is ''a dangerous totalitarian ideology'' that is incompatible with liberal freedom. The prophet Muhammad was, he argues, ''a warlord, terrorist and paedophile''.

According to Wilders, Australia should cease accepting Muslim immigrants. While we're at it, we should ban the Koran and the building of mosques. Any accommodation of Islam will ultimately deprive us of ''our freedom, our identity, our democracy, our rule of law, and all our liberties''.

It doesn't take too much thought to understand that Wilders' message is one of hate and division. Even so, I've always believed it was right that he be allowed into the country. Short of Wilders breaking laws or inciting violence, the proper response wasn't to keep him out or expel him - it was to demonstrate the falsehood of his views.

The Wilders visit has presented, if anything, an occasion for us to reaffirm the success of multicultural Australia. Somewhat ironically, the past week has been a good demonstration of how Muslim communities in this country have exercised that liberal virtue of tolerating the intolerable. Contrary to type, there were no burnings of effigies, no local fatwahs issued.

Not nearly enough has been said about our liberal toleration of Wilders. For all the predictable complaints about political correctness shutting down free speech, our Dutch guest enjoyed a broad national audience. There have been interviews and news reports on television, radio and newspapers (not to mention social media). At the time of writing, the Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has received not one complaint about his visit to Melbourne. So much for any alleged multicultural censorship.

Wilders may have done us a service in getting us to exercise our muscles of civic forbearance, but let's also outline why he is so wildly wrong.

For all of their talk about liberal freedoms, Wilders and his ilk are profoundly illiberal. They endorse free speech, but fail to accept this means those who disagree with them have the freedom to denounce them too. They speak highly of a free society, yet forget that a liberal state must not dictate its citizens' religious convictions.

Let's not mince words. Wilders and his local Q Society supporters are proponents of a thinly veiled form of racism. It's the sort you hear from the sly bigot who says he hates Asians or Jews or Muslims - but only in the abstract. It's the sort that results in someone being judged not on their deeds or character, but on something else.

It is assuring that most political leaders rejected Wilders' views as unacceptable. Particularly noteworthy was the response of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who said that ''Muslims in this country see themselves rightly as fair dinkum, dinky-di Australians, just as the Catholics and the Jews and the Protestants and the atheists see [themselves] as Australians.'' Moreover, Abbott noted that ''there are very few lessons that Holland has to teach Australia when it comes to the integration of newcomers''.

On this, Abbott is correct. It is true that the Netherlands, like many countries in Europe, has had its difficulties with migrant integration. In the case of the Dutch, their governments believed that the ''pillarisation'' model they traditionally used to deal with religious and social differences would work with cultural diversity. They never put in place policies to ensure new arrivals would be equipped to participate in Dutch life. They were too diffident in asserting the importance of a unifying Dutch national identity.

In Australia, however, we have struck the right balance between solidarity and diversity, between rights and responsibilities. Where a cultural practice is inconsistent with parliamentary democracy, the rule of law or individual liberties, we are bound to decline to endorse it.

It's as simple as that. Official multiculturalism has never meant cultural relativism. It has been about ensuring all immigrants make as smooth a journey as possible to becoming Australian citizens. The debate about culture and religion is clearly a live one. But if we are to conduct it in good faith, one thing must be made clear. Europeans have a lot more to learn from us than we have from them.

Tim Soutphommasane is an Age columnist, a political philosopher at the University of Sydney and a member of the Australian Multicultural Council. Twitter: @timsout

Freedom of speech can become vilification if safeguards ignored
GILLIAN TRIGGS, The Australian, February 25, 2013

FREEDOM of speech is alive and well in Australia but, with respect to Voltaire, we will not defend to the death those who abuse this right by vilifying others on the ground of race.

Recent events have stimulated an important public discussion about the limits to free speech in Australia. Visiting Dutch politician Geert Wilders is a very controversial figure. Yet the Immigration Minister granted him a visa to speak about his views on Islam, offensive though they may be to many. This amply demonstrates that freedom of speech is flourishing in this country.

In stark contrast, Malaysia imposed a travel ban on Senator Xenaphon, presumably because of his speeches on the need for free elections in that country.

Recently however, there have been instances of racial abuse on public transport in Melbourne and Sydney and debate about the provisions in the exposure draft of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill relating to conduct that insults or offends.

It has long been recognised that the right to free speech comes with special responsibilities. Article 20 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights says that "advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence" should be prohibited by law. A prohibition on racial hatred has long provided a legitimate restriction on free speech.

On any comparison, Australia is one of the most free countries in the world. Yet, while we have legislation on many human rights we do not have legislation to protect the right to freedom of speech. Courts have to rely on common law and an implied right to freedom of political communication.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has long argued for legislation to give effect to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, including the right to freedom of expression. Paradoxically, it is those who argue for stronger protection for freedom of speech who are among the most vociferous opponents of a charter of rights. While all comparable common law countries have human rights acts, Australia is at risk of being isolated from legal protections taken for granted in Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Europe and the US.

Many of these commentators have been particularly concerned with the 1995 law making racial vilification an offence under the Racial Discrimination Act. The offence applies to conduct likely to "offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate" a person on the grounds of race.

At first blush, this appears to set the threshold for vilification at a low level of "merely" offending and insulting and critics say such a threshold has a chilling effect on freedom of speech. But in the few cases of racial vilification that have come before our courts, judges have set the bar high, requiring speech to be profoundly insulting or offensive before it is caught by the legislation.

One example was Jones v Toben, which concerned material published on the internet that cast doubt on whether the Holocaust occurred and implied that Jewish people offended by such denials were of limited intelligence or driven by financial gain. Outside of Israel, the Australian Jewish community has the highest percentage of Holocaust survivors in the world. The judge concluded the material would make Jewish Australians feel that they had been treated contemptuously, disrespectfully and offensively.

Most people would agree that this type of hate speech has no place in Australia and that the use of the Racial Discrimination Act provisions to condemn its expression was perfectly reasonable.

Before going to court, all complaints under anti-discrimination law must come to the AHRC, where an attempt is made to conciliate matters. Of the more than 17,000 inquiries or complaints made to the commission each year, on average, we receive only three complaints about a breach of freedom of speech or political opinion.

It should therefore be clear that not only does the restriction on freedom of speech created by the racial vilification law apply in only the most egregious of cases, but that the offence is rarely prosecuted.

By contrast, there is a worrying trend regarding allegations of racial vilification. The commission received 120 complaints in 2012 compared with 50 in 2008.

In short, Australians do not fear that their right to freedom of speech is at risk. They are justly concerned that they and their families will be racially abused in a public place. It is at this point that the balance needs to be found between the right to say whatever you please, and the right not to be vilified on the grounds of your skin colour.

Freedom of speech is a fragile flower that must be protected vigorously by each new generation. However, modern society, including Australia, will continue to grapple with the complex task of balancing this right with other freedoms.

Professor Gillian Triggs is the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission.


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