Do arguments about religion need to be censored?

It’s a pity this question even needs to be asked. Last week, Jacqui Lambie, an independent Australian Senator, had a fiery exchange on ‘Q and A’, a panel discussion program, with Yassmin Abdel-Magied, a Somali-born Australian engineer turned TV presenter (who has lived in Australia since she was 18 months old) over Lambie’s call to ban Sharia law in Australia.

abdul-magied-and-lambieAbdel-Magied was making an effort to show some self-restraint under difficult circumstances, apologizing at one point for shouting. For a twenty-five year old being attacked by a federal senator twenty years older,  in front of an audience, it can’t have been easy. A video extract from the program is here.

Now I’ll state my prejudices here:  Lambie’s views on most things seem a confusing mixture of left (on welfare issues) right (on foreign affairs and immigration) and , and all over the place, and are often not very coherent. She, like Pauline Hanson from the ‘One Nation’ party, seems exceptionally uninformed. When it comes to Islam, they’re opposed to it, but they appear to know nothing about it.  Abdul-Magied is a twenty-five-year old, while Lambie is a second term federal senator. I’m inclined to cut Abdul-Magied more slack than Lambie about the shouting match.

In the full program, (link below), at 38 minutes, Lambie is asked whether she would ever consider joining One Nation, a far right party which has four senators (in a chamber of 76). Lambie gives an answer that implies ‘no,’ without actually saying ‘no’.  She wants a halt on migration for two years, while money (presumably, money spent on migrants) is redirected to welfare of existing residents. A questioner in the audience then asks a question about migration, apparently in Europe, affecting the status of women, democracy and free speech. He then asks if migration should be controlled so that it ‘doesn’t disturb the peace and harmony of the community.’  The question sounds like a set-up. At this point, the panel moderator, Tony Jones asks Lambie whether she has said to a newspaper that we (meaning Australia) should “deport all Muslims who support Sharia law.” Lambie says yes, that’s what she said.  She then repeats, “Anybody who supports sharia should be deported.” That’s when the fight begins.  Abdel-Magied strikes at this in the video clip: “My frustration is that people talk about Islam without knowing anything about it.”

The next day, Muslim groups were calling for The ABC TV management to apologize for having broadcast the segment. Their petition includes a description of the debate, and among other things, states that the exchange would have been unacceptable in any workplace. That’s right. If somebody talked to a Muslim fellow employee the way Lambie spoke to Abdul-Magied, there’d be a rapid trip to the personnel department.

But that’s not the situation they were in. Everybody knows that QandA is designed to bring together a group of people who will not agree on whatever is being discussed (and there are usually a dozen topics that come up in any one program, and the audience questions are pre-vetted and apparently selected for that specific purpose.) Many of the panelists talk over the top of each other. Everybody in Australia with a TV set knows this, and as a presenter on the same channel, Abdul-Magied no doubt knows it. Earlier in the program, she’d attempted (unsuccessfully) to interrupt and talk over a Liberal Party senator. It’s “let’s all get together and talk over the top of each other.” If the program changed this, it wouldn’t be QandA anymore. Perhaps that might be a good thing, but that’s another issue.

In their petition, the Muslim groups say: “If QandA wants to invite Muslim individuals to its forum, it should be able to guarantee a safe environment for them based on trustworthiness and comfort to speak in a platform that is rarely afforded to them, especially on issues concerning them.” I’m not sure what ‘trustworthyness’ is being referred to here. But guaranteeing a ‘safe environment … and comfort to speak…’ is precisely what the ABC should not be doing in a panel discussion. Since no-one was in any physical danger that night, the only ‘safety’ that could be meant here is emotional safety.  The demand for a safe environment sounds like code for ‘don’t criticize me or my beliefs.’

Free speech really does mean that you have to put up with some people who views are offensive to you. You also have to put up with idiots. I’ve had fundamentalist Christians tell me that without a God I have no basis for claiming to say anything about right and wrong. I think that view is incredibly stupid. Buddhism doesn’t have a God. Do Buddhists have no idea about right and wrong?

For the ABC to apologize would imply that it ‘won’t happen again’. The only way this could be done is to pre-tape the program, and then edit out the segments that might offend the petitioners.  That’s asking the ABC to internalize religious censorship. To even call for this shows a severe misunderstanding by the petitioners of the society they are living in. Apart from some matters relating to sex and violence Australia does not have a censorship system regarding what can be shown on TV. Some programs carry advice that the program is only suitable for certain ages, and some things have to be shown late in the evening, but that’s it. We don’t do religious censorship in Australia. Sadly, the Muslim petition has been signed by a large number of very well educated people who should know better. If the Muslim community wants to explain its faith to the broader Australian community, calling for censorship isn’t going to do it.

After writing most of the above, I became aware of a counter-petition by a right-wing news site, calling for the sacking of Abdul-Magied (link below). This is, in my view, equally stupid. Everybody ought to stop the “this is very offensive, that’s all offensive, sack him, sack her,” garbage. We are starting to sound like first-year American college students, and that is not a complement.

LINKS:

Debate described here.

Muslim leaders demand apology in petition here.

Stephen Chavura’s article here.

Right-wing counter petition here .

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About Richard A Snow

I studied Economics at La Trobe University (getting a BEcHons and MEc). I was writing for newspapers, mostly on personal finance, from 1997 to 2006, part-time, while working as an Economist at Victorian Department of Treasury and Finance, and later as an Associate Lecturer at La Trobe university. I have a stock of older, published newspaper articles at http://richardsnownewspaperarticles.wordpress.com
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