Culture

Uthman Badar Defends ‘Honour Killings’ Talk At FODI, Claims The Festival Made Him Do It

"The suggestion that I would advocate for honour killings, as understand in the west, is ludicrous."

Yesterday, the Sydney Opera House’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas announced their lineup for 2014. As happens every year, parts of the lineup were decried for not being dangerous at all, while others were slammed for being incendiary.

The first tweet refers to Kay Hymowitz’ talk on ‘The Rise of Women‘.

The second singles out the most controversial event on this year’s lineup: a talk from Muslim activist and thinker Uthman Badar, called ‘Honour Killings Are Morally Justified’.

Who Is Uthman Badar, And What Does He Believe?

Badar is an academic and spokesman for Hizb ub-Tahrir, a political organisation whose goal is to unite all Muslim countries as one Islamic state, governed under Islamic Sharia law. In their draft constitution, Hizb ub-Tahrir states “the primary role of a woman is that of a mother and wife. She is an honour that must be protected”. Hizb ub-Tahrir advocates women’s suffrage, and their rights to employment, military service, running for office, and post-divorce custody. But it’s not unproblematic: if Hizb ub-Tahrir were to get its way, Sharia law would require women to hide their body in public, and would forbid them to be in private with men who they weren’t married to; abandoning Islam would be punishable by death, adultery would be punishable by stoning, and premarital sex would be punishable by lashings.

According to the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, Badar’s speech would tackle honour killings — the murder of women who have brought shame upon their family, which is in no way condoned under Sharia law — and the perception of the practice in the Western world. “Overwhelmingly, those who condemn ‘honour killings’ are based in the liberal democracies of the West,” the program read. “The powerful condemn the powerless. By taking a particular cultural view of honour, some killings are condemned whilst others are celebrated. In turn, the act becomes a symbol of everything that is allegedly wrong with the other culture.”

The speech seemed to be a vehicle for one man to defend the indefensible. There were calls to boycott the festival, and Twitter did what it does best:

The Problem Was Less About The Topic, And More About How It Was Framed 

While it’s entirely unlikely the Sydney Opera House would program a speech advocating the murder of women, the intentionally inflammatory way it was framed — ‘Honour Killings Are Morally Justified’ — left a lot to be desired. In 2008 the UN estimated 5000 women are killed each year in the name of honour — so to invite one man to stand up, unopposed, and (at least ostensibly) justify the practice was ultimately not an excellent idea. But the festival’s co-curator Simon Longstaff told Fairfax yesterday he had nominated the topic for six years in a row, because the point of the festival is to push boundaries “to the point where you become extremely uncomfortable”.

In a post on Facebook last night, Badar expressed his surprise at the depth of the reaction, which he blamed on Islamophobia: “The newspapers, talk-back radio, twittershere, are all going berzerk and my not having uttered a word yet seems to not have been an obstacle.” He also defended his talk, and explained it in further detail: “The suggestion that I would advocate for honour killings, as understand in the west, is ludicrous and something I would normally not deem worth of dignifying with a response. Rather, this is about discussing the issue at a deeper level, confronting accepted perceptions, assumptions and presumptions and seeing things from a different perspective.”

While he consented to the title, he claims, he did not choose the topic. “In fact, I suggested a more direct topic about Islam and secular liberalism … but the organisers insisted on this topic.” Badar also lamented the hypocrisy inherent in the complaints being levelled at him: “Muslims are regularly lectured by this same lot about how we must respect free speech and accept any and all criticism, but they themselves are not prepared to live up to the same standard.”

An hour after his Facebook post, Badar was cut from the program by the Sydney Opera House. “The Festival of Dangerous Ideas is intended to be a provocation to thought and discussion, rather than simply a provocation. It is always a matter of balance and judgement, and in this case a line has been crossed,” they said in an official statement. “It is clear from the public reaction that the title has given the wrong impression of what Mr Badar intended to discuss.” In an excellent piece for Time Out Sydney‘s Sydneyland blog, Andrew P. Street defended the decision: “Not because people shouldn’t be allowed to express their silliness if they want to, but because the whole thing into a rallying point for angry extremists and the Opera House is a venue for entertainment, not a battleground for religious and philosophical nutjobs to riot within.”

Meanwhile, Badar followed up with another post on Facebook:

Badar today announced he would be calling a press conference this afternoon: “Will record and share video thereafter”.

Image via ABC.