The propagandising of the Australian outpost of the international religious political party Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) supplies the foremost contemporary demonstration of why free speech is the foundation for Australian democracy. HT never misses an opportunity to exercise its right to dissent. Its worldview is unique in Australia. Making full use of the internet, HT has brought to Australia a loathing of the concept and values of the secular ‘Western’ democratic State which, for example, it has characterised as a lizard’s hole of decadence, nakedness and depravity.
HT’s comprehensive rejection of Australia’s constitutional arrangements is manifested in the fact that its raison d’être is to strive for a return of the theocratic State – the Khilafah. The tone of its politico-religious supremacism is a jumble of bluster, anger, petulance, menace, and paranoia. Its visceral hatred of the world of the infidels includes a specific collective slur for them/us – the Kufr. All of this is overlaid with the self-pity of the ideologue who cannot think for herself or himself, and is thus unable to grasp the basic concept that opinions – on any and every topic of public interest, and especially political and religious ideas – can differ.
HT’s hate-drenched speech includes the logic-defying trickery and sophistry that underpins all fanaticism. Now and then, it selectively conscripts commentary from the self-same secular ‘Western’ analysis of past European colonialism and recent military intervention in the Middle East to demonstrate that ‘the West’, including contemporary Australia, has brought homicidal terrorist retaliation on itself. Conveniently for HT, the history of violent religious conflict suddenly commences with the First Crusade. Its opportunism extends to making use of outlets of the loathsome secular mass media as widely divergent in their ideological preferences as the ABC and News Ltd. And, shrewdly, it has latched on to the impenetrable ‘Western’ postmodern-newspeak of ‘the narrative’ of ‘oppression’ of ‘the vulnerable’ and of this, that and, of course, the nebulous ‘other’.
In 2014, HT guaranteed itself nationwide prominence when it proposed to participate in the so-called Sydney Festival of Dangerous Ideas by advancing the arresting proposition ‘Honour Killings Are Morally Justified’ and then squibbed it. In 2016, it squibbed an opportunity to defend a complaint, later upheld by the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal, that it had unlawfully discriminated against a female journalist who was required to sit apart from the men in a venue where HT held a public meeting. HT insists that its ancient scriptural approach to the role of women, marriage, wife-beating, and human sexual behaviour trumps Australia’s laws and the nation’s generally accepted standards of liberty and equality. One of its spokesman said not so long ago that HT did not shy away from the religious ruling that apostates attract capital punishment
In the context of the worsening global scourge of religiously-motivated terrorism and the fact that HT has been proscribed elsewhere, some Australian politicians and commentators have called for HT to be added to the list of organisations proscribed under Division 102 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code. However, if HT obeys Australia’s laws, including those prohibiting incitement to violence, its banning would be a victory for it in the intensifying battle between democratic and theocratic ideas. The more Australians know about the medieval theocratic ideas that HT is peddling and the more they are debated, the better for the nation. Banning HT will not cause it to abandon its politico-religious dogmas or to cease drumming them into the minds of young and old alike.
HT’s opportunism and whingeing self-pity reached a highpoint in mid-May 2017. During the course of a conference posted on HT’s Australian web site, one speaker contended that HT’s followers were battling a ‘civilising secular programme as did modern Europe’ and were being stigmatised in Australia as ‘The “Enemy” Within’. The evidence for this contention under a PowerPoint slide entitled ‘Current depictions of Muslims’, included three cartoons (one Bowdlerised) from the pen of the late Bill Leak. That led seamlessly to the characterisation of Leak’s depictions as modern versions of the ‘Nazi depictions of Jews’, five examples of which adorn HT’s web site.
It is true, of course, that in some of his cartoons, Leak depicted Nazi-like clothing, armbands and other paraphernalia suggestive of authoritarianism so as, for example, to lampoon both the Australian Human Rights Commission generally and criticism of Christian opposition to same-sex marriage more specifically. This stranger would like to think that had Leak lived to see his work likened to examples of grotesque Third Reich-era anti-Semitic images, he would have taken it on the chin as part of the long history of rough and tumble of good old-fashioned Australian public controversy, and then turned his mind to delivering a riposte.
If so what, we might ponder, would Leak have made of HT’s ostensible solicitude regarding the fate of Europe’s Jews who were murdered in their millions by Hitler’s Nazi gangsters? Leak might have familiarised himself with HT’s English-language online oeuvre touching upon the decades-long, ongoing terrible violence afflicting so many women, men and children of the Middle East. In that event, it seems likely that Leak would, with his inimitable originality and artistic courage, have made plain that HT’s right to free speech extended beyond opportunism, beyond hypocrisy and encompassed the depravity of advancing the aforesaid Third Reich-era comparison. Perhaps Leak’s imagined riposte might also have alluded to the words of Commonwealth Attorney-General George Brandis in the Senate on 24 March 2014 that in Australia the elemental value of free speech necessarily includes the right of people to be bigots.
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