Thursday, January 15, 2015


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is  one of many who see hypocrisy in the demonstrations supporting Charlie Hebdo

Feel-good friends of free speech

Janet Albrechtsen

ON Sunday in Paris, in cities across Europe, in Britain, the US and Australia too, people flocked to join marches declaring ‘‘Je suis Charlie’’. Good on them for showing solidarity with the French satirical magazine that, unlike most other news outlets, published cartoons about Mohammed in 2006, was firebombed in 2011, its offices and journalists targeted by Islamic terrorists last week when 12 people were murdered. Here in New York, a tiny shop on a street corner on SoHo has stuck up a ‘‘Je suis Charlie’’ poster in its dirty window. On a chilly New York day it warms your heart. It makes you feel good.

But that’s all it does. We won’t win this long and sinister battle over Western freedoms with unity walks, neat slogans and hashtag trends on Twitter.

Among the leaders standing shoulder to shoulder at the front of the free speech march in Paris on Sunday was Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. How about he return home and release from prison journalists such as Peter Greste? Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu marched too. Perhaps he should admit that marching for free speech doesn’t sit well with Turkey holding a two-year record — ahead even of Iran and China — for jailing the most journalists. When Turkey reverses that record, it can hold its head high at free speech rallies. Anything less is shoddy grandstanding.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was on the streets of Paris too. Invigorated from leading the way in defending free speech, let’s hear the Chancellor declare back home that even difficult debates about immigration and integration must be had, that after all it’s the commitment to difficult debates that tests our resolve about free speech. Let’s hear Merkel remind us that free speech means defending the rights of those with views you find abhorrent, offensive, insulting. The easy part is agreeing with those who share your views. The rubber hits the road when debate gets sticky. Let’s hear the free speech Chancellor say that the thousands of Germans who recently gathered to protest their concerns about the Islamification of Germany are entitled to express their views.

Barely two weeks ago Merkel appealed to people to stay away, saying the people organising these protests have cold hearts “often full of prejudice, and even hate”. Trying to stifle the debate, church leaders in Cologne turned off the lights of the local cathedral so the protests would be in the dark. In Dresden, the opera house bosses extinguished its lights too so protesters couldn’t be seen against the building. Turning off the lights sums up Europe’s cultural malaise, explaining why thousands of ordinary Germans joined extremists concerned about Europe’s mealy-mouthed commitment to Western values.

And while Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was not at the Paris march, he was quick to say, following the terrorist attacks, that we must never compromise our values in defending them. It’s a fine statement.

But how does it sit with his decision to drop reforms of 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, a section that prohibits speech that is offensive, insulting, language that humiliates or intimidates? Section 18C is a direct hit on free speech in Australia. Section 18C feeds the marketplace of outrage where people are treated as victims and encouraged to scream loud to shut down debate they find offensive. Hence Andrew Bolt’s legitimate opinions were struck down when a judge, relying on section 18C, said he objected to the “tone” of Bolt’s column.

The only difference with the attack in Paris is the terrorists opted for guns, rather than laws, to shut down offensive words and pictures. The means is different. The aim is the same.

Former prime minister John Howard told me in an interview to be aired tomorrow night that he was disappointed when the Liberal Party shelved reform of 18C as too hard. Howard said he was encouraged by senior members of the party — including Attorney-General George Brandis — to publicly defend reforming section 18C, only to see the party dump free speech reform.

Yes, sometimes it is hard defending free speech. Heart-warming statements are easy. Revitalised on the free speech front, now is the perfect time for the Abbott government to make the case for free speech, explaining why free speech matters, that free speech tests ideas, making the good ideas stronger and striking down the dumb ones, that shutting down speech creates martyrs, that speech that is offensive today is sometimes at the vanguard of progress tomorrow.

So let’s not kid ourselves about unity marches and free speech slogans. Many of the people declaring “Je suis Charlie” are not Charlie. Not in the least. And more’s the pity. They have nothing in common with Charlie Hebdo and the iconoclastic offensiveness the French newspaper delights in causing to religion, to politicians, to pop culture and the rest.

Because if they are Charlie, then surely they are also Michel Houllebecq, the French novelist hauled in front of a French court for inciting hatred. If they are Charlie, they are also Andrew Bolt and Mark Steyn.

Yet there was no mass outrage about the free speech battles faced by Houllebecq, Bolt or Steyn. Instead, too many, especially on the Left, defend laws that restrict free speech. If the free speech walkers are Charlie, they are also Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Yet the Muslim-born writer is regularly criticised by the left intelligentsia as too provocative when she speaks out the importance of defending Enlightenment values. In April last year, 8 days after announcing it would award an honorary doctorate to Ali, a campaigner for women’s rights, Brandeis University cowered to critics and decided to pull the award.

As Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Bernard Holtrop told a Dutch newspaper on the weekend, “we have a lot of new friends.” Holtrop then said “We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends … They’ve never seen Charlie Hebdo.” “A few years ago, thousands of people took to the streets in Pakistan to demonstrate against Charlie Hebdo. They didn’t know what it was. Now it’s the opposite, but if people are protesting to defend freedom of speech, naturally that’s a good thing …”

Yes, it’s a good thing. But it’s only meaningful in a battle over Western values if we, the people, and our leaders do something more than protest and talk.

In the hours after the Paris terrorist attacks, Newsweek featured this headline: “After Paris Attack, News Outlets Face Difficult Choice Over Controversial Magazine Covers.” Difficult? Really? How little we have learned. Publish the damn covers. As political academic, Jytte Klausen, ironically from Brandeis University, said last week, “The editors and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo were targeted because, over the past five years, they have been left alone standing in defence of press freedom against the jihadist Kulturkampf.”

When Australians who march under the chic ‘‘Je suis Charlie’’ slogan start demanding we repeal section 18C, then they can claim legitimate solidarity with Charlie. Until then, their actions are feel- good gimmickry. Charlie Hebdo deserves the last word. In 2012, Gerard Biard, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief explained his magazine’s decision to publish the Mohammed cartoons: “If we say to religion, ‘You’re untouchable’ we’re f. ked.”


Some Australian Muslim leaders support Charlie Hebdo’s right to offend

LOCAL  Muslim leaders have backed French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, saying while some may find its subject matter ­“offensive, freedom of speech is essential to a functioning democracy”.

Community leader Keysar Trad and refugee advocate Jamal Daoud yesterday said they disagreed with depicting Mohammed — in line with their religion — but expressed their support for the magazine’s right to publish whatever it liked, irrespective of what people might think.

The cover of the latest edition — published six days after Islamic extremists stormed its head ­offices in Paris in an attack that left 12 dead — pictures ­Mohammed shedding a tear while holding a sign reading “Je Suis Charlie” — I am Charlie — under the headline “All is forgiven”.

“While the cartoons may be ­offensive to some Muslims, the magazine has been doing the same thing with religious leaders and has been doing it for years,” Mr Trad said yesterday.

Last week’s attacks were “first of all against Islam”. “It doesn’t matter what the motives of the ­attackers are, it leads to a concerted international criticism of Islam,’’ he said. “What has been achieved by this attack?”

Mr Daoud, an aspiring politician and spokesman of advocacy group the Social Justice Network, said Charlie Hedbo, like all publications, should be entitled to print what it liked.

“Everybody who ­believes in freedom of speech should condemn these attacks,” Mr Daoud said. “As Muslims we have more responsibility than others to send our condemnation, we should come forward and say ‘not in our name’.  “If we refuse to send our condemnation it will be seen by ­extremists as us supporting them.”

Support for the magazine from sections of the Muslim community has also prompted calls for the repeal of the controversial section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

As reported by The Australian yesterday, Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson said section 18C would “ensure (the magazine) would be shut down” if it was based in Australia, a view supported by several media law experts.

Not all local Muslim groups are in support of the magazine’s right of free speech. Islamic group Hiz but-Tahrir, whose stated aim is to overthrow democracy and political freedom and take control of the world, condemned the magazine and the French government’s support of it following the attacks.

Spokesman Hamzah Qureshi said the magazine was “vile”, however the attacks had given it more power. “The magazine has now obtained for itself a politically justified position that has been propped up by European politicians by their participation in Paris demonstrations,” Mr Qureshi said.

“These degrading, narcissistic and demeaning views are now far more acceptable because it is being held as the standard for free speech.”

Mr Daoud was highly critical of Hiz but-Tahrir and said it was ­“another side of (terrorist group) ISIS”.  He said the group and its apparent expansion here highlighted growing problems Australia faced with Islamic extremism.  He said the absence of broader condemnation of terrorist activities by the wider Muslim community meant extremist groups were given undue prominence.

“They take over and become the voice of the Muslim community but they are not the mainstream,” Mr Daoud said.

The government was failing in its attempts to deradicalise extremists and prevent radicalisation. “We need to do something about this, we need a plan, we need a holistic approach,” he said.

Hiz but-Tahrir has refused to condemn both the Paris attacks and last month’s deadly siege in Sydney’s CBD.

In a statement, the group’s first since the Sydney siege, Hiz but-Tahrir described the show of support for the victims of the Paris massacre as the same as separate “Islamophic” demonstrations ­occurring in Europe.  “Both rely on the same underlying narrative that positions Muslims as the problem,” the group said.

“There are some that question the apparent hesitance to condemn attacks such as those carried out at Charlie Hebdo.  “But the fact is that this reluctance is a conscious or subconscious desire to resist a vile, racist and narcissistic worldview that highlights and humanises European life but dehumanises and makes invisible non-European life.”

The group said its “refusal to succumb to the woeful moral ­ambivalence of the West” should be a “cause for celebration, not a cause for condemnation”.


Sydney siege male hostages shouldn’t get bravery awards, says NSW MP Fred Nile

MALE hostages who fled the fatal Sydney siege shouldn’t receive bravery awards, NSW MP Fred Nile says.

The divisive figure reckons Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson, who were both killed along with gunman Man Haron Monis in the 16-hour siege, should receive the awards.

But the men who escaped from the Lindt Cafe don’t. “They should get recognition for what they suffered as hostages but I don’t think they should get bravery awards,” Mr Nile told Fairfax Radio.

“Maybe they could have done something more to protect the women.

“Normally bravery awards are given for an act of bravery — that somebody actually does something. They haven’t done anything.”

Giving bravery awards to those male hostages who fled would diminish the worth of the medal, the Christian Democratic Party leader added.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott earlier this week requested Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove support a push to honour the victims, surviving hostages and emergency services with bravery awards.


Must not criticize cyclists

FAMILY Feud has enraged cyclists by asking competitors this question. "On the popular game show, host Grant Denyer asked competitors to name “something annoying that a cyclist might do?”.

This of course has enraged the cycling community who took to Twitter to voice their thoughts including comedian and cycling enthusiast Charlie Pickering.

The aim of the game is to select the most common response to each question, as voted on by an audience of 100.

Among the winning answers on the board was ‘Taking driving lane’, ‘cut you off’, ‘everything’ and ‘wear lycra’.

Australian Cycle Alliance president Edward Hore says he is shocked by the question.

“Seriously, the hatred against cyclists has to stop. We are all someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter,” reported veooz.


Cyclists can be very annoying -- and while they are, they will be disliked. If they stuck to cycle paths, there would be less hostility

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