How on earth did this even happen in the first place?
A presentation at an upcoming Sydney festival entitled “Honour killings are morally justified” has been cancelled after it sparked outrage on social media tonight.
The speech which was to be delivered at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas by Sydney-based Muslim speaker and activist Uthman Badar, reportedly aimed to question why western countries often act as “moral judge” in discussions about so-called honour killings.
The Festival, based at Sydney Opera House and presented in association with St James Ethics Centre, invites speakers “to take their ideas to its extreme to create lively and thought-provoking discussions,” and the blurb accompanying Mr Badar’s presentation read:
“Overwhelmingly, those who condemn ‘honour killings’ are based in the liberal democracies of the West. The accuser and moral judge is the secular (white) westerner and the accused is the oriental other; the powerful condemn the powerless. By taking a particular cultural view of honour, some killings are condemned whilst others are celebrated. In turn, the act becomes a symbol of everything that is allegedly wrong with the other culture.”
The announcement of Mr Badar’s presentation sparked enormous condemnation on social media tonight.
Radio presenter and Today Show host Ben Fordham tweeted this afternoon: “WTF !!! Why is the Sydney Opera House hosting a talk titled ‘Honour killings are morally justified’,” following up with a tweet directed at fellow speakers at the festival’s events, including social commentator and feminist Jane Caro and asking: “Are you speaking at the same event as this bloke justifying honour killings?”
Jano Caro defended her decision to speak at the festival, tweeting in response: “It appears the Festival of Dangerous Ideas is truthfully titled. Whether I agree with all of those ideas is beside the point. #FODI2014“
Next Destroy the Joint, a social media movement focusing on gender equality, weighed in on the debate: “There is no honour in killing women,” they said, along with a link inviting their followers to contact festival co-curator Ann Mossop with requests to withdraw her invitation for Mr Badar to speak at the festival.
Other commentators and members of the online community have joined these calls, with many condemning the Opera House and the Festival of Dangerous Ideas for hosting an event that appeared to condone violence against women.
ABC journalist Mark Colvin tweeted: “Some ideas are dangerous: others are just repellent. eg ‘Honour killings are morally justified’.”
Writer and filmmaker Laura Scrivano wrote, “You forfeit your right to free speech when you impinge on the rights of half of the world’s population to live free, and without fear.” Journalist Jenna Price also weighed in, tweeting: “The curators of #FODI think it’s ok to discuss honour killings. There’s no honour in that.”
The session was cancelled within hours of the social media furore kicking off, at around 10pm on Tuesday night.
The Sydney Opera House posted a statement on Facebook announcing that Badar’s session at Festival of Dangerous Ideas would not be going ahead, admitting that “in this case a line has been crossed.”
The statement said:
The Festival of Dangerous Ideas is intended to be a provocation to thought and discussion, rather than simply a provocation. It is always a matter of balance and judgement, and in this case a line has been crossed. Accordingly, we have decided not to proceed with the scheduled session with Uthman Badar. It is clear from the public reaction that the title has given the wrong impression of what Mr Badar intended to discuss. Neither Mr Badar, the St James Ethics Centre, nor Sydney Opera House in any way advocates honour killings or condones any form of violence against women.
The festival’s joint founder and co-curator Simon Longstaff told Fairfax Media earlier today that Mr Badar has consented to the title and description of the presentation.
The United Nations reports that honour killings are the cause of death for about 5000 people per year, although non-governmental organisations claim the figure is closer to 20,000 cases globally each year. So-called “reasons” for the killings — imposed on women deemed to have brought shame or dishonour on their family — include seeking a divorce, rape or choosing a marriage partner.
Do you think the Festival was right to cancel Mr Badar’s presentation? Are there some ideas too dangerous to be discussed?