Honor killings are peachy keen

The Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney has canceled a talk by an Islamist from Hizb ut-Tahrir titled ‘Honour Killings Are Morally Justified’.

Cue outrage; what about free speech?!

Is that a legitimate worry? Is it bad for free speech to not host a talk titled ‘Honour Killings Are Morally Justified’?

Sydney-based Muslim speaker Uthman Badar, from Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, was to give the speech, titled ‘Honour Killings Are Morally Justified’ at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in August.

However, the event sparked an angry response on social media and talkback radio, and drew strong condemnation from two New South Wales Government ministers.

The state’s Minister for Women, Pru Goward, and the Minister for Citizenship and Communities, Victor Dominello, were both fiercely critical.

I take phrases like “dangerous ideas” to be somewhat non-literal. I don’t think of them as being about how to murder people, how to fly planes into tall buildings, how to poison a city’s water supply, that kind of thing.

Last night, festival co-curator Simon Longstaff said the event had been withdrawn due to the level of public anger.

“The justification for removing it was simply the level of public outrage,” he said.

“We took the view that it was so strong and overwhelming that the ability of the speaker to even open up the question for some discussion and reflection would be impossible.

“It would be unfair for the speaker to put them in a situation where they wouldn’t get a word out without finding all of condemnation.”

Well, really, what would you expect? He’s saying Murder is Morally Justified. What’s to discuss and reflect on? Why is there a need for discussion and reflection on the claim that honor killing is morally justified? Is assault morally justified? Is rape morally justified? Is flogging morally justified? Some questions should be closed, apart from philosophy seminars.

In a Facebook post, Mr Badar defended himself, saying the suggestion he would advocate for honour killings is ludicrous.

He said he wanted to explore the issue and described the public outcry as Islamophobia.

Wrong title then? A mix-up at the printer?

Maybe so; Badar says he didn’t choose the title, although he accepted it.

The people who run the Festival Ideas aren’t going to be subject to honor killing; they shouldn’t play games with it.


  1. Omar Puhleez says

    John @#1: A most enlightening link. Thank you.

    Badar: “Billions of people around the worlds are not liberals. Stop feigning universality. Drop the pretence and let’s have an honest discussion. It is of the most basic human civility to respect others. That is the starting point – not free speech.”

    No prizes for guessing where he is heading with that.

  2. says

    Omar @3

    Yuck, one of the next sentences is even worse. “The onus is upon those who want to allow such behaviour to prove why this depravity should be permitted.” Yet, it would seem he sees no need to prove why honor killings should be permitted. Oh. Right. He doesn’t see that as a “depravity.” My bad.

  3. Omar Puhleez says

    I wonder why he chooses to live in secular Australia. Or is he only just visiting?

    Sounds like he’d be happier back in whatever Islamistan he came from.

  4. Gordon Willis says

    Why don’t we propose other topics of debate?

    “Killing Jews is morally justified…”
    “Child rape is morally justified…”
    “Enforcing medical experiments on convicts is morally justified…”
    “Slavery is morally justified…”

    Only because we have done these things do we have to talk about them. But it is clear that Badar does not think that way. If you are going to discuss “is it…?” there will be a “yes” as well as a “no”. Who is going to say “yes” to murder? If we all accepted the universal moral equality that the principle of free speech implies, it would never occur to any of us to present a case in favour of heinous crime. One day, people like Badar will be committed to a mental hospital till they get over their pathological selfishness.

  5. Gordon Willis says

    He said he wanted to explore the issue and described the public outcry as Islamophobia.

    Why? Because all muslims debate the matter all the time and they don’t see anything wrong with that? Or because all muslims never debate the matter because they don’t see anything wrong with it? “Oh, we have our little ways; you shouldn’t be afraid of us.” What a nutter.

  6. Doubting Thomas says

    A “dangerous idea” is like hey, lets take up base jumping or lets try this heroin. An idea like lets go kill her because we don’t like who she fucked is only “dangerous” to her, to everyone else it should be morally and every other way, repugnant.

  7. Decker says

    One wonder why the entire festival hasn’t been cancelled. I’m quite sure he’s not the only one spouting such nonsense.

    A similar conference was to be here last summer here in Montréal, at a gov’t owned venue. the gov’t stepped in and the whole affair was cancelled.

    And an TRUE festival of dangerous ideia would have to included a presentation by AHA.

  8. trina says

    Hey let’s not get hasty. One arsewipe does not a festival make.

    Other topics for this year include: surrogacy is child trafficking, corruption makes the world go around, human existence doesn’t matter, some families are better than others… I’m hoping some of them are ironic titles

  9. karellen says

    @GordonWillis – can I play too?

    “Freeing slaves is morally justified…”
    “Interracial marriage is morally justified…”
    “Living an openly homosexuality lifestyle is morally justified…”

    Speech is only free when speech you find vile and repugnant is free.

  10. Gordon Willis says


    Speech is only free when speech you find vile and repugnant is free.

    In this “game”, the correct form of your proposal would be:

    “Vile and repugnant speech is morally justified….”

    You would have to define “vile and repugnant speech”. After all, you might only be quarrelling about a matter of taste. There is no problem of definition when arguing in favour of killing Jews, raping children, forcing medical experiments on convicts, or slavery. The principle of Free Speech rests on the assumption that there is universal moral equality, as I said above. If it does not, then its existence is only a matter of opinion. If there is universal moral equality, no one will argue that murder is morally justified.

  11. Gordon Willis says

    To make it even more clear let us consider the following topic of discussion:

    “Moral outrage is morally justified…”

    In a society in which all are equal, anyone who argued like this would rightly be viewed as insane. I think that Badar is insane.

  12. says

    karellen @ 12 – “vile and repugnant” isn’t the issue.

    Free speech absolutists so seldom name it accurately.

    Also this isn’t about the state arresting anyone; it’s about whether a conspicuous speaking slot should be given to someone defending the murder of female family members for sexual disobedience. There’s no state involvement, no punishment, no law enforcement, no arrest.

    The bar is much lower for that.

  13. karellen says

    @Ophelia: Agreed that this isn’t about the state.[0] The problem as I see it is the fostering of an environment where it’s OK to deny conspicuous speaking slots to someone defending vile and repugnant ideas, as slaves rights, interracial marriage, and open homosexuality were once considered to be. As some unknown future moral crusade for liberty or equality will no doubt be seen similarly by (small-c) conservatives who are stuck in their ways, in order to be heard on whatever that issue is, I think it will be vitally imporant to be able to demand fora in which to make our case, without the possibility of those demands being summarily dismissed out-of-hand due to hypocrisy.

    Sorry, I’ve just realised you went through the “some questions should be closed” rigamarole a couple of months ago over abortion. I didn’t mean to start rehashing all the exact same stuff again here, and am happy to just let it drop and agree to disagree over that issue.[1]

    [0] Although, whether the disappearance of public spaces and the now near-ubiquity of privately owned plazas – like shopping malls – means that speech is now de facto restricted in undesirable ways if the owners are allowed to pick which speech they choose to allow, even if it is still de jure free, is another off-topic conversation entirely.

    [1] Easy for me to say, having just got in my side of the argument, no? But if you respond (hey, it’s your fricking blog!) and I then drop the issue myself, am I being rude by “ignoring” you and your point? Argh!

  14. Gordon Willis says


    Your argument is based on the premise that freedom of speech means no more than the right to say anything at all. However, when you propose to destroy the premises on which freedom of speech is based, you are proposing to deprive yourself of the freedom to do even so much. You can commit suicide, but then you will no longer have the choice of doing it again. Some acts are self-contradictory.

    It is the same with any other moral right: moral rights are inseparable from our duties towards one another, and duty requires that some acts must not be performed, even if you claim freedom of action. Freedom of speech is a case of freedom of action, so it must be restricted. But the restrictions are simply the conditions on which it exists. As everything else is conditional, you cannot reasonably demand that freedom of speech should be an exception.

    In fact, freedom of speech limits itself, because although you can actually propose, for example, that moral outrage is moral — as Badari is doing — you would simply be insane, and therefore incapable of fulfilling everything that moral duty requires. Moral equality ensures that such people can be taken care of, but by its nature it prohibits serious discussion of the topic.

    The problem with reducing morally unacceptable speech to the merely “vile and repugnant” is that it reduces the defence of morality to the defence of mere personal taste. The point is not that killing people is in bad taste, but that even proposing to kill people is morally wrong. There is no moral difference between killing people and establishing the right of oneself and others to kill people. Why should I tolerate someone arguing that I should be killed? You would say the same in democratic Germany in the 1930’s, and you know that when the argument that Jews should be killed was actually won, six million of them were murdered. To tolerate the advocacy of murder is to be complicit in murder. In the same way, if we assent to Badari advocating honour killing (which is actually happening at this moment) we become his accomplices. Badari knows this: that is why he cynically claims the freedom of speech which he wants to destroy. You do not know this, so you are his catspaw.

    I think of this in my own mind as “the American problem”, not because it isn’t a problem elsewhere, but because certain prominent trends in American society at the present time illustrate with particular clarity what happens when an ostensibly democratic society is dominated by those who demand duties from others and rights for themselves. I put your arguments in this category.

  15. Omar Puhleez says

    Gordon @#17:

    “I think of this in my own mind as ‘the American problem’, not because it isn’t a problem elsewhere, but because certain prominent trends in American society at the present time illustrate with particular clarity what happens ….
    when an ostensibly democratic society is dominated by those who demand duties from others and rights for themselves….”

    Please explain? And expand? I mean the last bit: “…. when an ostensibly democratic society is dominated by those who demand duties from others and rights for themselves….”

  16. John Morales says

    It’s still in the news; here is an OP by from an advertising pundit: Festival of dangerous marketing tactics

    The gist is clear:

    There are those who applaud it [Uthman Badar’s speech at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas titled ‘Honour killings are morally justified’] being pulled and those who say it is censorship.

    Personally, I lean towards the latter because it appears the speech was actually about whether acts such as honour killings are seized on by Westerners as a symbol of everything they dislike about Islam. And that is an interesting area. And one that holds true in marketing.

    We know that people make purchasing decisions emotionally and then use rational reasons to support their decisions. Islamophobia and racism are very much like this. People rationalise their emotional dislike: “I’m not racist but (insert race) do (insert horrible deeds).”

    Unpicking the thinking behind Islamophobia is a valid topic. But bad marketing by the organisers means we will never actually know the content of the speech.


    Instead of the festival being seen now as something that pushes the boundaries of legitimate debate (and yes, there is a judgment call in what is legitimate, but I think we can safely say that honour killings shouldn’t be up for debate), it makes the festival look a bit naff and desperate.

    It’s like the toddler who throws his bowl on the floor to get attention: “Hey mum, look how bad I can be.”

  17. Gordon Willis says

    @ Omar #18

    Yes, it’s not very clear, is it? I’m afraid I have no training in doing philosophy and the middle of the night is probably not the time to try it.

    I was thinking about:

    1) those who demand duties without rights.
    This is very characteristic of religion. It represents the staff in Catholic hospitals who allow women to die instead of honouring their duty to relieve suffering. Women have to suffer and (if necessary) die because of Catholic beliefs. Their rights as human beings are not considered compelling enough beside their plain Christian duty — even if they are not Christians. Similarly, the anti-abortion lobby which wants to deny health-care to pregnant women who have the legal right to abortion, and the willingness to bully and even physically attack on the grounds of their moral duty. The recent questioning of the prohibition of slavery is an explicit demand for service from a group of people who are defined as less than qualified to be considered as people indeed. Then all the religious child abuse, often supported by state laws, opposition to public health services. All these involve cases where a person’s perceived moral duty trumps the right of others to be protected from moral outrage.
    2) those who demand rights without duties.
    Supporters of the absolute right to say anything whatever are a good example. Their right to freedom of speech cannot be compromised by the suicide of teenage girls or the mental anguish of outspoken (and not even outspoken) women. Because their right is absolute they are impervious to any insistence on basic moral duties such as care and consideration for the young or even plain courtesy to others who are exercising the same right. Also the right to carry arms, never mind the inevitable increase in casualties and armed crime, the right to make money out of imprisoning — apparently — anybody, the right to sue governments for protecting their citizens and industries and environments, the right to insult or attack others on religious grounds…

    In all these cases rights precede plain moral duty. This attitude is the one that tends to crime even more than (1) because it elevates personal selfishness and greed over every humane consideration.
    Obviously, because duties and rights are concomitant, this way of looking at things is a mess. I thought instead of

    3) those who demand duties from others and rights for themselves, which subsumes just about all of (2) and a good deal of (1). But I need to think about it more. Perhaps you have some ideas?
    Why do I think of America? Not because the sickness isn’t to be found elsewhere (it’s getting worse over here) but because America is so loud, because it’s so obvious, and seemingly so generally oblivious — and so very influential. The sickening attacks on the best constitution humanity has ever created, the compromising of the justice system, the refusal to contribute as a society to the general welfare and the underprivileged, the disregard of global warming, the assertion of religious privilege. I relate it all to a culture that aspires to a world where a man can be a man… Oversimplification, opportunism…?
    I hope this turns out readable. Preview isn’t working again.

  18. Omar Puhleez says


    Thanks for the interesting response.
    Yes. Rights and responsibilities. Like the right of cigarette companies to aim their product at the adventurous teenage market without the responsibility of paying for the downstream consequences: cancer, emphysema, etc. Only this morning I was watching Tim Wilson, an Australian human rights commissioner, holding forth about the need to respect the human rights of cigarette companies and to dispose of the nanny state edicts requiring warnings prominently displayed on the packets. (He was a luminary of the right wing think-tank calling itself the Institute of Public Affairs until parachuted into that $320,000 pa HRC sinecure by Australian Attorney General George Brndis)
    As my own mother smoked from ages 21 to 65 was debilitated by emphysema in her senior years and eventually died of it, I was interested in his line of philosophical thought, (or should that be brand of bullshit?)

  19. Gordon Willis says

    @ Omar, re Rights without Duties

    Thanks for the links. I’ve read the report and listened to Tim Wilson, and below are some first thoughts. I’ll try to find the time this weekend to consider them more carefully.

    Here we provide a list of 75 policies that would make Australia richer and more free.

    It is clear to me from all this that “freedom” is a relative concept: that is, you have freedom if you have enough money to manipulate things your way, and if you can’t do that, you don’t, so it’s relative to your pocket. It seems that “Australia” is also a relative concept: it’s a better Australia if I am richer, and it’s not Australian enough if I am not richer.

    So the IPA’s list of proposed reforms is a manifesto for the people with the money to buy the freedom that they want: such as the freedom to make more money. Australia will become richer and more free inasmuch as more money will enter the pockets of fewer Australians who will be more and more free to buy anything they want.

    No justifications are given on the list for destroying climate-change policies, eliminating the restrictions on radio and TV companies that are intended to promote fairness in reporting, ending mandatory disclosures of political donations, the removal of anti-dumping laws, the repealing of the alcopops tax…

    I could pull almost anything from the list to show that it is essentially a thief’s charter. It is GOOD FOR AUSTRALIA! to rob the poor to give to the rich, to take every opportunity, merely because it is an opportunity, to make more money. “Fair Work Act? Bugger that! I want more money!”.

    Cue Tim Wilson. He talks eloquently about how he learnt the importance of personal responsibility. You know, this is something that strikes me as quite brilliant. It’s a common trope, isn’t it: “It’s my right to try to persuade you with every bit of ingenuity at my disposal (with full knowledge of how to get into your mind and that your final decision will be an emotional one) to buy my cigarettes/alcopops/glass teething rings; well, you chose, it isn’t my responsibility if you became addicted (which is something I’m sceptical about) and bought more and got cancer or cirrhosis so don’t blame me” (thanks to John Morales at #19).

    In his interview, Wilson illustrates his own vulnerability to persuasion. At about 13:15 he shows that he is happy to comply with a myth about himself:

    H. You know a lot

    W. There are things I need to understand in detail.

    H. Why do you need to be an expert in so many things? If I want to learn … I might pick up a book…I don’t need a graduate diploma in everything I look at. So what drives you to do that?

    W. Well, what drives me…[ so that I can be challenging and confident, I don’t learn just by reading books…]

    The ego is so simple, really. What he should have said is that he does exactly the same as H, but when he needs expertise he has to get it. Wilson obviously does the same as Hutcheon does most of the time, and he acquires expertise in certain fields when he needs to: this is just good sense. By accepting the absurd question Wilson participates in the creation his own ego-centric myth (I wonder if Hutcheon knows what she did — possibly not). This again shows that each of us is vulnerable to insidious suggestion and cannot be trusted to make the best decision every time. But I’m sure he will still insist on personal responsibility: so it’s “his” own fault that he has exposed his egotism*, not the exploitability of his nature, just as it is a teenager’s fault if she believes the exploitative bullshit of people like him and starts smoking.

    Personal responsibility is a fine aspiration which needs to encouraged (with compassionate guidance and support from our moral equals), but it is a contemptible excuse for exploitation.

    *I think he’s not a monster of egotism, just the usual victim like me, and wrong — yes, not like me…


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