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.