multiculturalism, muslims, racism and freedom of speech

Last week, I attended the opening of an Islamic Research Unit at Griffith University in Brisbane. Places like this which increase awareness and understanding will be very important over the next decade or so in Australia. The Director of the Unit is Dr Mohamad Abdalla, who seems to me to be a very impressive person. He was interviewed on ABC’s Religion Report lat week. The transcript is well worth a read.

When I was in Sydney overnight on Monday, I sampled some of the delights of that town’s newspapers and talkback radio and was sufficiently worried by the growing momentum of open antagonism to Muslims that I put out this media release on Tuesday pointing out that multiculturalism was a key part of the solution to tackling extremism. It was pleasing to see Kim Beazley also speak out strongly in support of multiculturalism that same day. There was also an excellent article in The Australian on Thursday by Geoffrey Brahm Levey countering some of the shallow attacks on multiculturalism that have occurred in a range of other opinion pieces. Arnold Zable also had a good piece in The Age last weekend.

In recent weeks there’s also been a fair bit of media coverage given to the views of an academic at Macquarie University called Andrew Fraser. These days it’s politically incorrect to call someone a racist, but there’s no question that this fellow’s views are racist in any meaningful sense of the word. Some interesting debate has followed about the limits of freedom of speech and how it links to the job of an academic (see here and here on Catallaxy, and also Troppo Armadillo and Larvatus Prodeo).

I’m a strong supporter of the principle (and practice) of freedom of speech and diversity of opinions being expressed, but every principle has its limits. I defend the right of this guy to say what he wants, as long as he’s not inciting violence, but I don’t think he should be operating as an academic – mainly because there is no way any non-white student could possible feel they could get a fair assessment from him. From reading comments on other blogs (such as this one), he may have held these views for quite some time. However, the fact that his views have now attracted such publicity has put his University in an impossible position. If they encourage him to go – as they are now doing – they get accused of censorship and stifling academic freedom. If they don’t act, they get accused of tolerating racism and shoddy intellectual thinking. I’m sure many readers could think of their favourite academic who they believe is intellectually shoddy, but combining that with racist bigotry is rather worse.

Of course, once these sorts of comments get given wide publicity, it becomes a magnet for other racists to come out of the woodwork. When that is combined with some of the ferocious and blinkered attacks on migration and multiculturalism that have appeared since the London bombings, it can get very toxic very quickly. Overall, I’m willing to let Andrew Fraser’s racist comments go through to the keeper rather than give them more publicity than they deserve, as long as his Uni makes sure all his students get assessed fairly. However, it is important to continue to work on strengthening multiculturalism wherever possible – being in favour of that is politically incorrect these days as well, but it still needs to be defended and promoted, fashionable or not.

UPDATE: Gerard Henderson has a good take on Andrew Fraser’s rights and obligations is this piece in the Sydney Morning Herald.

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  1. It’s fair enough to support his right to say such things, in the sense that the police shouldn’t lock him up for it. But at some point surely you have to sack the guy for being an imbecile. At least some of the views he holds have been exposed as junk science. It’s a waste of other academics time answering his points, if nothing else.
    This blokes thoughts and opinions should be put in the same basket as those of the creationists, that Windschuttle chap (who seems to have crawled back under his rock) or the flat-earth society. A university should not be paying money for them.

  2. Here is another strange kind of racism. Cornelia Rau is damaged and is apologised to. Vivian Alvarez is apologised to. 5 Vietnamese men are apologised to.
    But not 6 muslim kids. IN fact Amanda liked it so much she let it happen again 12 days later for the world to see and then sent them a bill for the privilege.
    Letter emailed to all major Australian Newspapers – also Channel 7 and ABC News
    As members of the last group of visitors to see the Bakhtiyari family in Baxter Detention
    Centre, before their 1.00 am deportation, we write in protest at what we have seen, heard
    and experienced over the last 24 hours. We are apalled at the treatment of this family, and request answers about their inhumane treatment at the hands of DIMIA and the Australian Government.
    1) After removing the family from Dulwich Adelaide, at 7.00 am on Saturday 18/12/04,
    why were they given no food until 3.00 pm (after a 40 degree car journey to Port
    2) Why did no doctor come for 2 days, when Roqia, the mother, was unwell and was
    requesting treatment?
    3) Did the authorities, at that time, suspect or (worse) know, that Roqia was pregnant?
    4) Was one of the factors involved in the family’s 1.00 am deportation (without any warning)
    the fact that Roqia had, that day, seen a doctor who confirmed that she is pregnant?
    Not only has the Australian Government now placed Roqia and her unborn baby at risk, but it has traumatised a family, beyond the belief of thinking and compassionate Australian people.
    We have heard the lies and subtle untruths concerning this family, and our voice speaks up for the Bakhtiyaris who now no longer have a voice. We have seen the human face of misery as
    a result of this government’s policy, not only on this family, but also on others in the Baxter Detention Centre. We have experienced a Government System that works under the cover of darkness (in more ways than one).
    The Bakhtiyari saga has been a dreadful, shameful Australian tragedy. We now call all Australians, like us, to question, voice their outrage, and demand that this government be “fair dinkum!”
    Rosalie Lackie and Glenda Clarke
    1A Young Street 23 Hancock Road
    Seacliff SA 5049 Vista SA 5091
    08.8296.0142 0428.191.158
    1A Young Street
    Seacliff SA 5049
    1 January 2005
    Department General Manager
    GSL PO Box 2477
    Port Augusta SA 5700
    Dear Sir/Madam
    Further to the comments on the “Visitor’s Concern Form” which was submitted to the Baxter GSL Detention Centre on 30/12/04, I wish to comment further on these and other issues relating to our visits to the Bakhtiyari family on 29/12/04 and Baxter Detention Centre on 30/12/04.
    Firstly, I wish to strongly voice my concern, and also my outrage and disbelief, at the lack of compassionate and humane treatment accorded to the Bakhtiyari family.
    1) Authorities and guards apparently had no regard for the Bakhtiyari family’s cultural and religious sensitivities regarding Muslim women. For example, why are male guards permitted to enter Muslim women’s presence without announcing their entry, And why can’t women guards check on the family, particularly at night-time. Because male guards have been allowed to enter at any time, Roqia and Nagena were forced to wear their head-scarves, even in bed. This policy has greatly contributed to the women’s emotional and spiritual trauma whilst in custody.
    2) After removal of the family from Dulwich Adelaide at 7.00 on Saturday 18/12/04, why were they given no food until about 3.00 pm that day. It is my understanding that they were not even allowed to eat breakfast before departing. If an operation like this can be mounted with such precision, surely sandwiches for the journey could be organised!!
    3) Surely the family could have been permitted to toilet, dress and prepare for their transportation in a more humane manner. For example, I understand that Roqia was not allowed to change her clothes, change the baby’s nappy, or many other basic toilet requirements.
    4) On arrival at Baxter, why was Roqia Bakhtiyari denied access to a doctor for 2 days,
    when she was unwell and requesting the services of a doctor?
    5) Did the authorities, guards, or anyone else in command, suspect or (worse) know,
    that Roqia was pregnant when she was requesting treatment from a doctor?
    6) It is my understanding that Roqia’s pregnancy was confirmed by a doctor on 29/12/04.
    If this is the case, then Roqia and her baby’s lives were put at risk, in and through the traumatic deportation procedure. I protest strongly that this was allowed to happen!
    Secondly, when an official visit to the family had been approved by Baxter for 9.00 am
    on 30/12/04, why wasn’t I, or any of the other visitors that morning, informed before we travelled to Baxter, that the Bakhtiyari family had been deported earlier that same morning and would not, therefore, be present for our visit. GSL had our phone numbers and records showing that we were coming that morning.
    Finally, on a more complimentary note, I wish to commend Chris Jackson and Alan Davis who were on duty in the Visitor’s Centre. Their compassionate rapport was appreciated.
    I await your response.
    With thanks
    Yours faithfully
    Rosalie Lackie
    At 7 o’clock last Saturday morning uniformed men and women representing the Federal Government burst into our house at Dulwich and arrested six children and their mother.
    It is clear that while the planning for this operation had included a social visit the day before to “case the joint” and determine who slept where, no thought was given to the re-traumatisation of these children by the surprise attack.
    While predictable that the children would experience panic at being woken in their beds by strangers, those intruding also had a moment of panic when one of the boys was not in his bed.
    Relief for the guards when he was found asleep on the couch in the lounge room. No single moment of relief for those taken captive.
    No time to dress properly, no time to pack, no food, no access to toilet, and no explanation.
    Sixteen months of integration into schools, social networks, and building trust, destroyed in three frantic minutes.
    No nappy change for a baby boy snatched from his cot by a stranger, to cry all the way to Port Augusta. No bottle for him either.
    No time to change the clothes of the youngest girl who wet her pants as a fear reaction to being awoken by strangers. Simply forced to sit in the wet until arrival at the Baxter Detention environment.
    A very different day to the expectation of her St Aloysius teacher taking her to a birthday party.
    No time for the oldest girl to place her scarf where it needs to be, as she was lead, arms gripped, to one of three waiting motor vehicles.
    No time for any of those arrested to understand why this was happening, in the place of their planned day at the beach.
    Phones confiscated, personal items of importance broken, and again those who had sought to deceitfully build trust, exposed as agents of a well planned operation.
    When the Federal Government authorized the early morning capture of a family they angrily describe, the “worst of the worst”, they brought to our suburbs what Centacare has been speaking out against for more than four years.
    Children in our Detention system are routinely terrorized. We now know that it happens with planning.
    This has long been denied by our Federal Government despite numerous reports and evidence of the impact and the hard work of many people who are experts in working with traumatized children.
    The arrogance to do what we know has been happening behind razor wire, in a church owned house in an Adelaide suburb should frighten every Australian, regardless of their position on people who have come to Australia by boat seeking asylum.
    I sat with the Bakhtiyari children and their mother last Friday evening unaware that just eight hours later they would be gone from the house they had made their home.
    It was not until Tuesday when I was able to visit the family inside the Baxter Detention Centre that the detail of their allegations and its impact of the Saturday morning action could be discussed and comprehended. I would welcome any approach by the others involved that might dispute their account of events.
    The signs of trauma for these children have returned. On high alert, but withdrawn. High anxiety drives the need for continual reassurance. The little ones are clinging again. Trust gone.
    Again the heart of our international reputation on human rights has been ripped out, like the sleeping children from their beds.
    Dale West
    Dale West works with Centacare, the South Australian agency that had been caring for the family in Adelaide.

  3. Out of interest, are you familiar with Victorian’s anti-religious vilification laws? They’ve only been used to prosecute one group (a charismatic pentecostal church which presented some truly outrageous theories on what Muslims are doing in Australia), but these laws really are an example of freedom of speech being supressed by law as opposed to an academic losing his job over stupid things he said.

  4. I agree 100% with you Andrew. Let him be and let him say whatever he likes. The last thing we need is a “martyr” that will attract all the racists loonies who will justify their opinions under the legitimacy of ‘fredom of expression’. This all happened with Geoffrey Blaney (which compared to what Fraser is saying was pretty mild).
    Fraser says that ‘white Australians are afraid to speak out’ Didn’t we go through this with Pauline Hanson? I thought the the whole One Nation thing occurred precisely because of what Fraser has been saying – he’s ten years late. Surely the politically correct ‘censorship’ thing is over after ten years of Howard appropriating One Nation votes with some refugee bashing. He’s flogging a dead horse.
    I could write rims and rims about why Fraser’s beliefs are just wrong. It is known for years that IQ tests favour those who grew up in an European/Western environment. Regarding the fact that ‘black people create crime’ is fundamentally wrong. Yes he may get plenty of sources that this is the case, but if we had white people living in the same conditions and experiencing the same level of structural disadvantage then the same thing would happen to us. His insinuation that black people are somehow ‘more prone to crime’ is too ludicrous for words. George Bush must hide the White House silverware when Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice come around.

  5. Jeremy
    I’m familiar with Victoria’s laws in a general sense.
    I must admit I’ve always been a bit torn with these sorts of laws. I am uncertain about their effectiveness and uneasy about their wider message about freedom of speech and thought.
    However, I am also uneasy about the wider impact and message of extreme vilification being able to occur without any formal condemnation or indication that there is a boundary (however hazy the line might be)beyond which it is unacceptable in our society.
    I also have gven weight to the fact that minority communities have often supported such measures and take comfort from their existance – both as some form of protection against out of control vilification and also in a more formal sense the law itself providing an indication that all parts of the community can exercise freedom of religion (within the boundaries of our laws).
    That’s a long-winded way of saying it’s hard issue with no easy response. Every principle has its limits – most often when it comes into conflict with another principle, and resolving these can be messy.
    However, on balance I lean towards supporting laws like this. (I should also say that the Democrats as a party have tended to strongly support these sorts of laws, and that would naturally guide me as well).

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