When requesting condemnation from Muslims…

Before I proceed, not as a caveat nor a qualifier, but because I haven’t said as much here as yet; the Charlie Hebdo shootings are unequivocally and without qualification, an atrocity. In as far as a meagre site like this, with its meagre traffic and meagre output can be capable of noticeably contributing to the global outpourings of sentiment, the editorial position at Rousing Departures is one of solidarity in freedom of expression, and sympathy for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shootings. If anyone reading has a problem with this, or if they want to append a “…but” of their own, they should just walk away.


Don’t jump to conclusions on account of the title – condemnations of atrocities are always desirable. That being said, you can’t nor should you demand that any given person enact a condemnation.

When I condemn Islamist atrocities I do so for the obvious reason that they are ethically undesirable, and frankly, because it’s easy for someone in my position to do. Unlike the Charlie Hebdo staff, or Saudi Arabian atheists, or Sufis subject to Taliban rule, and unlike a whole range of other populations, I’m not under any threat of violence.

Some folk don’t seem to understand their own relative safety.

ruppie “Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.” – Rupert Murdoch.

An obvious retort (there are many), is that holding cancer victims responsible for treating themselves is more than a little silly. At the very least, this is a bad analogy, but then Rupert didn’t get his riches on account of his wits, so I guess we can’t expect any better.

A somewhat less obvious retort, although entirely more salient, is that Rupert’s prescription would have Sufis labouring to reform or repeal Wahhabism. Sufis who never blew or shot anyone up. Sufis who never contributed to Wahhabist theology or Islamist politics. Sufis who’s relationship with the excesses of Wahhabism/Islamism can simply be summed up as having been on the receiving of sectarian violence.

Before people start attributing responsibility for anything to Muslims, it’d first help to know about the various kinds of Islamic believers there are out there. Let Information Is Beautiful help you get started on that. (Keeping in mind, that not only do the various branches read their texts differently, but that they don’t all have the exact same religious texts*.)

It would also help, before asking anything of anyone, to make sure they aren’t already doing it. Just because you’ve never seen a Muslim condemn Islamist violence, doesn’t mean that such condemnation doesn’t happen – that’s the argument from ignorance right there.

Not only do many Muslims criticise Islamist terrorism, but they have sometimes been known to really rise to the occasion. This is desirable, and laudable, and very much so because such action is voluntary.

(And if you want to see a Muslim being really critical, you can always head to this arcane thing called the Internet to read such material. Hell, I’m pretty sure even old Rupert would love such reading, should he ever find it.)


If you’re going to frame your demands for condemnation under the banner of The West And Its Values, which you’re probably free to do if you’re in a position to make such demands, then you may want to actually be just a little in-touch with history. Let me furnish you with a few facts.

  • Fact: The Ottoman Empire, while certainly guilty of its own crimes, kept Wahhabism in check until the 20th Century. The West did not because the West just doesn’t factor in in the early history of Wahhabism. From the 20th Century onward, The West has been pretty rubbish at opposing Islamism.
  • Fact: Ideologically, modern Islamism syncretises doctrinal elements from certain Western values; specifically, those of Nazism/Fascism. (This is something, incidentally, that should obligate Western anti-Fascists to actually oppose Islamist groups, rather than voice solidarity with them).
  • Fact: Financially, Wahhabism and Islamism for the past few decades, have been propped-up by the Western hunger for oil. A hunger that has seen past Islamist/Wahhabist atrocities wilfully ignored by Western powers, as well as into the present in cases like that of Raif Badawi.

Perhaps, if you’ve owned a car over the last few decades, you’d like to reconsider your own responsibilities, given your own potential indirect funding of Islamic terrorist cells. Or perhaps you’ll review your patronage-by-extension of the regime responsible for atrocities during the Grand Mosque Seizure of 1979. Of course, such a likelihood is slim because the likelihood of substantial indirect financial contributions to these atrocities by Westerners increases with wealth/fossil fuel use – right Rupert?

(Before turning a blind eye to Islamist extremism became the hypocrisy of choice for a portion of the post-Soviet-era Western left, this was the right’s stock in trade**).

I don’t mention any of this to denigrate The West, and I certainly do hold the Enlightenment values of tolerance dear; values that stand on their merits. But I do have to state that I can’t empathise with people invoking these values for the sake of having something to brag about or barrack for. While these values permit triumphalism, they’re not about triumphalism, and it’s not like any of us are Enlightenment intellectuals capable of taking credit anyway.

This kind of thing seems suspect to me, and has a whiff of hypocrisy about it – do these Brave Heros of The West really hold these values dear, or are they just playing Dungeons and Dragons? And as with connecting ordinary Western motorists with Wahhabist oil barons, the basis for targeting average every-day Muslims with charges of responsibility seems incredibly tenuous.


As alluded to earlier, you have to consider the risk speaking out would subject Muslims to; consider the distribution of terrorist attacks.

A thought experiment: Would you really demand that a gay Sufi from Şanlıurfa Province in the south-east of Turkey, come out to denounce ISIS, on pain of being tarred a sympathiser by avid readers of The Sun? How would you weigh their responsibility for ISIS against the risks involved?

On the other hand, it would hardly be beyond the pale to argue with some sheltered, never-vilified, can-always-run-back-to-their-parents, with-it white dude from the upper-middle-class suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, over their newly found religious affiliation with radical Salafism. This could hardly be any worse than giving someone an earful for joining Golden Dawn or One Nation. Not everyone is free to toy with their religious identity like this, and not everyone faces the same consequences, nor indeed, the consequences of their own ideological choices.

Between these extremes there is a whole lot of context, and the details matter.


During the time I’ve been gasbagging over these things, no doubt know-nothings will have had their egos stroked and their anxieties soothed at their regular pub, no doubt trolls will have frothed in the comments sections online, and no doubt other atrocities will be hypocritically overlooked by too many of those demanding condemnation, as well as those engaging in apologetics.  No doubt more Muslims will have taken to the streets in protest. No doubt Muslims like Tehmina Kazi will have spent more of their time directing their liberal-secularist organisations in light of all the horror and pontificating.

All without thanks or acknowledgement from certain quarters, no doubt. Quarters that require both left and right eyes to see.

~ Bruce

* Spare me the No True Scotsman Fallacy – pretending that All True Muslims read all the same texts, all the same way, is a fatuous observation to make when you don’t use the same criteria in identifying Muslims to hold responsible in the first place.

** Which is probably as good a juncture as any to suggest that people look into the writings of Kanan Makiya, giving special consideration to how he was a darling of the left prior to the collapse of the USSR, and thrown under the bus afterward. Even if you’re not going to go away sold on ideas like interventionist regime change, Makiya’s writing is a necessary challenge to endure if you aspire to be well read on such matters.

The free speech thing…

Disclosure: Andrew Bolt is a part of my extended family, not that I’ve even met him in person. There’s not much more to it than that.

Over at Metamagician and the Hellfire Club, Russell Blackford ponders the state of discussion about freedom of speech in Australia, following the result of the recent case of Eatock vs. Bolt. I tend to think the discussion has been pretty dismal.

First of all, let me say I don’t feel at all sorry for Andrew Bolt.

I think that the article in question that sparked the case was reprehensible. Bad journalism. Lazy with the facts. Defamatory.

The legalities of the case aside (details of the act, potential for establishing precedent etc.), in terms of consequences, I don’t think Andrew’s got much to complain about. He’s not had to withdraw the article from online publication. He’s still out there banging on about the same stuff as before. All the Herald Sun has been ordered to do is to publish a correction to the details that are known to be factually incorrect.

The Herald Sun is paying the legal fees, not Andrew. The Herald Sun is no doubt getting a lot of attention over all of this. Really, it’s hard to see this as not being a PR exercise for News Limited, who’ve been generating and manipulating controversy to their own ends for a very long time (as recent news attests to).

A case of legal fees tantamount to advertising costs.

I’m agitated by the hypocritical News Ltd line, that what we’re seeing here is the birth of some kind of martyrdom to political correctness. This from the stable who remains silent while academic Julie Posetti is currently left waiting for another two months, under threat of curious defamation allegations brought by The Australian’s editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell.

Honestly, go and have a look at this article, while paying attention to the rotating promotional device in the top right hand corner. Reading Kemp’s article makes it all the more laughable.

Irony, your name is News…

As Blackford points out, Bolt has form on special prohibitions against free speech for artistic expression when it comes to Bill Henson. (It’s also a curious inversion, that David Marr should author a book defending Henson’s freedom of expression, while being so quick to decide that Andrew Bolt’s freedom of expression wasn’t to be concerned about).

I could go on. I’ve been reading these articles since the verdict, and the hypocrisy and in-house double standards have been mind-blowing, appalling even.

Then there’s the honest, genuine issue of free speech, which is often either being overlooked, or sidelined in fits of sanctimony.

The point of this is not that nothing should have happened, that Bolt’s antics shouldn’t have had consequences, not even legal ones. The concern is, and it keeps getting (deliberately?) overlooked, over and over again, that the threshold in the Racial Discrimination Act for what construes a transgression is perhaps set too low (‘offense’ rather than ‘harm’ as in defamation law), and the terminology is too vague (what precisely is meant by ‘offense’?)

Perhaps if procedural concerns hadn’t influenced options the way they had, perhaps if Bolt were instead taken to court on grounds of defamation, the result would have been much the same (the judge said as much). I don’t think people with free speech concerns like Russell Blackford, or Legal Eagle, would have had quite the same concerns if things had proceeded down such a route.

And I don’t see the expressed concerns being sated by mere mention of the judge’s capacity to manage balancing freedom of speech with just consideration of the nature of the offense. The concern seems to me, not that the balancing act was or was not well measured, but that there was too much leeway given to the judge (and to any judge hearing such a case) in the first place.

Is nobody thinking of the potential for this to backfire? Surely if Bolt’s attitude to ‘Welcome to Country’ is any indicator of the mood amongst the white-right-and-in-large-print, there’s the motivation for this to happen.

Consider some context from overseas…

‘During the year in which Michigan’s speech code was enforced, more than twenty blacks were charged – by whites – with racist speech. As Strossen notes, not a single instance of white racist speech was punished.’

(‘Critical Race Theory and Freedom of Speech’, The Future of Academic Freedom, Henry Louis Gates Jr., 1996.)

The racist speech in question causing offense rather than harm, on campus, during the period of Strossen’s campaigning against the speech codes with the ACLU in the late 80s, and early 90s. Yeah I know, those poor white college dudes getting it stuck to them by the ACLU once again. It’s political correctness gone mad… or something.

With the law as loose as it is, with judges left with a wide, vague scope in which to find balance, with Bolt (and ideological kin) trying to pass themselves off as the non-racist, unifying force in Australian identity politics, and with a right-wing media inconsistent about defending free-speech, I would have thought there’d be reason to worry about Aboriginal Australian activists potentially being targeted, and silenced with, the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

Perhaps all it would take is a single scathing criticism, of a single privileged white male editor with an overblown sense of entitlement, by a single black activist, for a case to be made and for discussion to be shut down. Perhaps this, or perhaps any other heated discussion of race and racism, especially where disadvantage of one kind or another could also hinder participation. Consider who’s more likely to be able to afford expensive legal fees (tantamount to advertising costs).

I guess it could all depend on how well Section 18D mitigates against the vagaries surrounding ‘offense’, although by that point you could already be in court and the damage could be done. Just because someone can defend and win, notionally, doesn’t mean that all is right and well. People can be harassed with the threat of merely being taken to court – harassed into silence no matter what their prospects of winning the case.

(This capacity for silencing reminds me, from memory, of the ‘good faith’ defense against sedition in the amendments in the Anti-Terrorism Act 2005, where the accused is to provide proof of their own good faith).

I’ve seen Aboriginal activists get heated in discussion before, and make an error of fact or two, and in ways that would likely offend any number of delicate white people. But I wouldn’t want to see them harassed into silence over it. There is a right to a margin of error in these things, because ultimately error is unavoidable in public debate unless you withdraw from it altogether (which is the threat from this kind of thing we’re talking about).

The thing is, when it comes to error, 18D seems vague as well, the seemingly most relevant defense being…

… a fair comment on any event or matter of public interest if the comment is an expression of a genuine belief held by the person making the comment.

(Racial Discrimination Act 1975 – Sect 18D)

Fair by what criteria? Two out of three ain’t bad? And how do you test that an expression of belief is genuine? Dunk ’em in water and see if they sink?

(And I’m not sure about this – perhaps someone can fill me in – but in which way does the burden of proof lie in these particular matters. Is bad faith assumed until proven otherwise?)

There needs to be some room for error in these discussions (not that I suspect this would get Bolt off the hook – that was  some bad journalism), but the act seems to leave things wide open to be determined on a rather ad hoc basis.


Again, the point is not about denying Ms Eatock justice, or getting Bolt off the hook. The concern is the law, and how it could pan out in an array of cases, and whether this is a good thing.

Honestly, I’m a bit disturbed at how quickly people have been drawing such all-encompassing conclusions, so soon after the verdict. That, and disturbed by how quick some of them have been to dismiss, and misrepresent, and adduce all sorts of motives in other people, just for the expression of some degree of concern over some aspect of the case (and don’t get me started on the ‘absolute free speech’ strawman – precisely none of the people I’ve seen expressing considered concerns believes in absolutely, unqualified, unfettered free speech*).

The discussion of free speech in Australia is depressing. Our public intellectuals leading the discussion have been woefully disappointing.

~ Bruce

* I don’t believe in absolute free speech myself. There are exceptions to be made (Millian corn sellers etc.). I’m grateful when people realise this, or ask, rather than just assume.

Update: Prior to the final draft/publication of this post, but after the bulk of this article was written, Russell Blackford published his thoughts on the matter at length. Notably, he argues that 18D was interpreted too narrowly by the judge.