Don't Shut Down Debate: Does The ALP Really Want Us To Have Blasphemy Laws?

Does the ALP really want us to have blasphemy laws?

Iranian Ayatollah Khomeni and the despotic Saudi regime found unlikely Australian allies this week in Labor Senators Penny Wong and failed NSW Premier Kristina Keneally. Wong and Keneally smeared conservative political opponents including Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker and Craig Kelly MP for appearing at the Conservative Political Action Conference or CPAC to be held from August 9-11 in Sydney. They contend that speakers at the event, such as former Muslim British political activist Raheem Kassam, have exercised “hate speech” and shouldn’t even be admitted to Australia. In Kassam’s case because he condemned Islam and the Quran.

Wong and Keneally’s comments amount to nothing more than a defence of anti-blasphemy laws of the kind which refugees seeking asylum on our shores flee lest they literally lose their heads for exercising free speech and engaging in the battle of ideas to which we subject every non-religious ideology or belief system.

It’s a dark day when the party of the late Gough Whitlam produces representatives who spit on the man’s egalitarianism by trying to block an ethnic minority speaker for committing the thought crime of criticising the religion which he was raised with.

Keneally wouldn’t understand. She grew up in the United States where her right to free speech was absolutely protected under the American constitution. Inheriting Australian citizenship through her mother, she had no problem moving to Sydney and eventually running for office. In Australia, her right to criticise religion gained her brownie points- notably when she attacked a local bishop on a radio show in 2009 on the prohibition on girls becoming altar servers.

Contrast this with Aisa Bibi who faced death threats and imprisonment in Pakistan because of mere accusations that she insulted Islam. Or that of human rights activist, genital mutilation survivor, and apostate Ayaan Hirsi Ali who also deals with constant death threats for speaking out about her experiences and criticising religious ideology. Will Keneally and Wong call for her to be banned next?

As if this shamelessness isn’t enough, consider the laws protecting parliamentary privilege which both Senators have hidden behind, preventing Kassam or any of the other CPAC speakers they’ve named from taking them to court for defamation.

The Parliamentary Privileges Act (1987)’s stated purpose is to protect free speech in the chamber lest representatives fear expressing their constituents’ views and advocating for their interests freely. It’s easy to call for people to be banned from the country for committing thought crimes, or to make McCarthy-esque guilt-by-association smears against opponents, from the loftiest ivory tower in the land.

Which constituents’ interests are the Senators protecting by using the chamber’s limited resources to complain about speakers at a private event or the mere attendance of her colleagues instead of pressing issues impacting Labor’s base- such as income tax bracket creep which takes more money out of workers’ pockets every year without any improvement to our real wages or living standards? This is a perfect opportunity to take the Liberals to task.

Unfortunately, it’s a little harder than bandying about words like “racist” and “bigoted” until they lose their meaning while conflating criticism of a belief system with hatred of individuals. Though tribalistic identity politics is no stranger to this conflation, elections across the United States, UK and Australia expose it as a losing recipe which only plays into the hands of populist or nativist political parties who’ve gained traction across the western world by portraying themselves as champions of issues that were once the purview of the left like free speech and liberties.

And this is where Keneally and Wong can be given credit for rightly noting that banning Kassam and others wouldn’t be much different to the Morrison government’s decisions to ban controversial right-wing speakers in the past including Milo Yiannopoulos and Gavin McInnes. The Liberals cannot claim the moral high ground when they’re prepared to trample on the same principles which Labor have abandoned.

Kassam should be treated no differently than Richard Dawkins whose firebrand criticisms and insults against Christianity and religion more broadly drew Christian ire and provoked intense debate. If Keneally and Wong want to bat for Islam and the Quran, a holy book which condemns homosexuals to death, then they should criticise and dismantle Kassam’s ideas, not merely dismiss them as dangerous.

Alternatively, they can put their new-found anti-blasphemy advocacy to use as envoys to Iran. If they’re also willing to cover their heads, then the regime might listen to them and commit to leaving Australian ships alone in the Strait of Hormuz.

Satya Marar is the Director of Policy at the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance.

This piece originally appeared in the Daily Telegraph.

Brian Marlow