Do you believe in free speech? Usual reply: “of course, we all do. It is recognised as a human right and our own Attorney General has told us we have the right to be a bigot”. Why are you asking?
Well, I am concerned that leaders of Islamic groups in Australia (and overseas) are making public statements that their religion supports the use of violence to ensure compliance with their beliefs. Some are even saying that democracy is not an acceptable form of government because only their God, Allah, should determine what laws and behaviours are acceptable and what are not. They want to apply what they call sharia law to all citizens and all aspects of human life and these “laws” would be laid down by preachers (imams). Some say the aim is take over the country in which they are living.
Well, that’s OK isn’t it? Let them have their say. We non-Muslims will stick to our belief in free speech and democratic government and they can do what they like. We can follow Mill’s On Liberty, published in 1859, which is a classic defence of the right to freedom of expression. Mill argued that truth drives out falsity, therefore the free expression of ideas, true or false, should not be feared. Truth is not stable or fixed, but evolves with time. Mill argued that much of what we once considered true has turned out false. Therefore views should not be prohibited for their apparent falsity. Discussion would drive the onwards march of truth and by considering false views the basis of true views could be re-affirmed. For Mill, the only instance in which speech could be justifiably suppressed is in order to prevent harm from a clear and direct threat.
So, does that mean that it is alright for Muslims to say what they are saying in public and to prescribe the elimination of the laws and behaviours we have established in Australian society?
Well, not quite. Every democratic government restricts speech to some degree, such as through legal provisions covering libel, slander, obscenity, pornography, sedition, hate speech, and classified information. The laws against sedition and seditious conspiracy are of some relevance in considering extremist Islamic statements.
Note that in 1995 the US convicted a Muslim cleric of seditious conspiracy. And the Australian government rejected a proposal to limit the sedition provisions in the Anti-Terrorism Act 2005 by requiring proof of intention to cause disaffection or violence. It is not clear to me whether the amendment in September 19, 2011, which replaced the ‘sedition’ clauses with ‘urging violence’, weakens the Government’s ability to take criminal action against leaders of Islamic groups. But if that is the case, the proposed further amendments to counter-terrorist legislation should include provisions allowing such action to be taken.
That is not to say that legal action should be taken against every seditious statement. It may be of some use to have the general public realise the seriousness of such statements (see Bolt debating with himself on 9 Oct). But in that event responses are needed to statements by Hizb-ut Tahrir and outspoken leaders of other Islamic groups in Australia. As I have argued in previous commentaries, and as argued by Bolt in today’s TV report, the government and other leaders (including in traditional churches and in the media) need to make clear statements of western values and beliefs (including in democracy), reject prescriptions and values of extremist Islamic leaders, and correct the historical claims by them. As Bolt put it, the media should not provide a platform for Islamists but should ensure they are properly questioned
Statements supporting western values and criticising Islamic ones should not, however, be part of the normal job of the Prime Minister. A Special Minister of State on Counter-Terrorism should be established to handle this important matter.
What is the threat from Iran?
The concentration of the media, and our own Ministers on what Islamic State is doing and the rather pathetic response by the “Coalition” (with a very limited contribution by Arab countries and none from Turkey), has meant that little attention is being given to the Islamic cause in other areas. I have previously mentioned the apparent collapse of government in Libya and Yemen, which now seems to have become more extremist. There are also reports that an attempt is being made to form some sort of alliance between major Islamic groups.
The article below on Iran is of particular interest in this context because that country has or is close to having the capacity to produce nuclear weaponry. The apparently well informed author (Jewish) reports that Israel may have caused a recent enormous explosion at the main centre (but one of the many) in Iran being used to develop its nuclear capacity. She argues that the time has come for Israel to finish the destruction of Iran’s nuclear capacity and to support the overthrow of a regime, which is in a weak state. She claims there is sufficient support within Iran to achieve this and suggests that, with other groups within Iran, the country could be split into four parts with a much improved situation then facing Israel.
It is difficult to assess the reality of such a possibility. But it is likely that Israel is seriously concerned about the apparent failure of the US to encourage change in Iran and the risk of a nuclear attack from that country’s existing regime. While it is unlikely that Australia could encourage other countries to criticise Iran (there appear to be human rights issues which could be targeted), the picture painted by the author certainly warrants investigation.