Controversial Muslim writer and activist Uthman Badar claims organisers of the Sydney Opera House’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas ‘‘insisted’’ he speak on the subject ‘'Honour killings are morally justified' rather than the topic he originally wanted.
In a lengthy post on his Facebook page published before organisers bowed to public pressure on Tuesday night to cancel the talk, Mr Badar said the topic ‘‘was not of my choosing’’: ‘‘I, in fact, suggested a more direct topic about Islam and secular liberalism (something like 'the West needs saving by Islam' - how's that for dangerous?), but the organisers insisted on this topic, which I think is still a worthy topic of discussion, for many reasons, as my presentation will, God-willing, show, hence I accepted.’’
Fairfax Media has approached Festival of Dangerous Ideas co-curator Ann Mossop for comment.
Honour killings are the murder of women deemed to have brought shame or dishonour on their family. Mr Badar planned to argue that such acts are seized on by Westerners as a symbol of everything they dislike about another culture.
Mr Badar told Fairfax Media that the session's cancellation - accompanied by a statement arguing that the wording of the talk's title had given the wrong impression of its contents - is revealing of the extent and influence of Islamophobia in Australia.
He blamed "baseless hysteria" for gagging the expression of ideas.
"It also highlights, once more, that freedom of speech is a tool of power and nothing more," he said.
This is not the first time that Mr Badar, a spokesman for Hiz ub-Tahrir, an Islamic organisation which calls for a transnational Islamic state governed by Sharia law, has found himself the subject of a media uproar.
In 2007, there were calls for the organisation to be banned ahead of its first major conference in Australia and in 2011, a report from the group stoked controversy when it called the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan terrorist attacks and stated ‘‘the real terrorists therefore are Western governments".
Badar has always insisted that his group is non-violent. In interviews following the Boston bombings, he emphasised there was no justification for the killing of innocents. In 2007, then federal Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock rejected calls for a ban on the Australian branch of the organisation because they had not been seen to incite violence.
Badar has said he believes he will see a global caliphate in his lifetime, and the world governed by Sharia law.
When asked before the controversy if any ideas were ‘‘too dangerous’’ for her line-up, Ann Mossop told Fairfax Media a call for Sharia law would be one idea she wouldn’t feature. ‘‘Is someone from Australia campaigning for this? Is it likely to happen?’’ she asked, saying those questions were tests of a topic’s relevance.
An idea or speaker might be too dangerous, said Mossop, "if the illumination they cast over the debate would be obscured by a furore".
Joint founder and co-curator of the festival, Simon Longstaff, said yesterday the 'honour killings' topic is one he had consistently nominated for six years, because the point of the event is to push boundaries "to the point where you become extremely uncomfortable". He said Mr Badar has consented to the title and description of the presentation.
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