Festival of Dangerous Ideas: Cancelling the ‘Honour Killings' talk is not enough

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'Honour killings' speaker hits back

Uthman Badar, spokesperson for Hizb ut-Tahrir, labels the controversy around his Festival of Dangerous Ideas talk, Honour Killings Are Morally Justified, as Islamophobia. Nine News.

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When the Festival of Dangerous Ideas (FODI) released its 2014 program on Tuesday, they must have known they would spark a strong reaction.

Not only does the line-up include such anti-feminist and homophobic titles such as ‘Some Families Are Better Than Others’ and ‘The Rise Of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys’, but there was also a scheduled appearance from Uthman Badar, spokesperson for Hizb ut-Tahrir (a Muslim extremist organisation with about a million followers worldwide) whose talk was provocatively titled ‘Honour Killings Are Morally Justified.’

And provoke it did. The outrage on Twitter and talkback radio was so swift and condemnatory that the Opera House released a statement Tuesday night saying the event had been cancelled:

Speaker, writer and activist, Uthman Badar.

Speaker, writer and activist, Uthman Badar.

“It is always a matter of balance and judgement, and in this case a line has been crossed. Accordingly, we have decided not to proceed with the scheduled session with Uthman Badar. It is clear from the public reaction that the title has given the wrong impression of what Mr Badar intended to discuss.”


Who would have thought a talk titled ‘Honour Killings are Morally Justified’ would not be attempting to morally justify honour killings?

Firstly, its flippancy belies the seriousness of honour killings, which are not merely a “dangerous idea” but a brutal reality for thousands of women across the world. To turn their suffering into a gimmicky title designed to inflame the passions of middle-class festival-going westerners is stomach-churning to say the least.

Festival of Dangerous Ideas co-curator Ann Mossop.

Festival of Dangerous Ideas co-curator Ann Mossop. Photo: Steven Siewert

Secondly, to be fair to Badar, the description for the talk (which has been removed from the website but is available here in a cached version) has more nuance than the title, questioning, for example, why the west sees fit to moralise to other cultures given its penchant for perpetually sending young men off to war.

That is a fair call. However, to make this point at the expense of murdered young women who had absolutely no control over their situation is unconscionable.

Honour killings are not the appropriate framework in which to discuss moral relativism. Honour crimes are illegal in every single country in which they occur. Yes, it is a travesty that many go unpunished, but that does not mean they are a cherished aspect of certain cultures so much as they are a blight on them.

Talk cancelled: Uthman Badar.

Talk cancelled: Uthman Badar. Photo: Facebook

Honour killings are a product of violent, patriarchal misogyny and, as such, they should be approached via the framework of women’s emancipation, not used as a platform from which to cry “Racism!

To even insinuate that the victims here are the “powerless” brown men who just want to kill their daughters in peace without interference from white, western liberals is not only grotesque, it is inaccurate given the work that so many people (mostly women) are doing within these cultures to end violence against women.

How then was this talk and title approved in the first place? I tried to reach the festival curators for comment but since they are unwilling to give more statements at this time, I can only go by what has already been released to the public.

As such, it seems to me that FODI was trading on the status of the scary Muslim “other” to sell this gig.Hizb ut-Tahrir is a political organisation that is considered so far outside the Muslim mainstream that even Saudi Arabia has banned them.

A cursory look at their website sees support for (amongst other things), child marriage, suggesting that 12 year old girl are capable of giving consent.

Why would the Festival choose this speaker to give this particular talk? Well, from the sounds of it, no one else was willing to do it.

Festival curator Simon Longstaff admitted he had been trying to push this topic for years. Badar has since said that he had an entirely different talk in mind but the festival “insisted” on this one.

From what I can tell, Badar was to be the only Muslim speaker at this year’s festival.  So the sole Muslim voice is from a radical organisation that flatly rejects democracy as un-Islamic, and the title gives the impression that he would be advocating not just violence against women, but for their actual murders.

Talk about neatly complying with the stereotype of the violent Muslim male. Is it any wonder that the west has such a dim view of Islam when this is what is often presented to the public?

Both the festival and Badar have since strongly stated that they do not advocate any sort of violence against women. Curator Ann Mossop told the media the talk “obviously” would not promote honour killings. In that case, the title clearly misrepresented what Badar intended to say, doing a disservice to him and to Muslims in general who have once again been singled out.

Badar himself has used the debacle to call hypocrisy on the west, saying his freedom of expression has been curtailed, and put the outrage down to Islamophobia.

Yes, it is, but not in the way he thinks.

Firstly, it is rather disingenuous of Badar to call Islamophobia on this, considering it is radical, anti-western organisations such as his that many Muslims expend so much effort trying to distance themselves from. Islamophobia is when non-Muslims point to extreme forms of Islam as an excuse to condemn all Muslims.

Secondly, the title of the talk simply perpetuates the stereotype of violent Islam. This is some seriously heavy ammunition FODI has just handed to the anti-Islam crowd, who are always looking for an opportunity to remind the rest of us that Islam is incompatible with “western values.”

As such, simply cancelling the talk is not enough. The Festival owes an apology to the Muslim community who have once again been tarnished through no fault of their own. It owes an apology to victims of honour crimes, and -as much as I disagree with the views of his organisation- it even owes an apology to Badar.

Clearly, FODI were unprepared for the scale of the backlash but it seems pretty clear to me that Badar was used. He was used to provoke, to frighten, to create publicity, and to sell tickets. The festival set him up for a fall. They chose the topic and the title, and then they put his scary, brown Muslim face on it.

FODI traded on the suspicions the west already harbours towards Muslims and now that it has blown up in their faces, they need to own it.


  • I was reading your points and agreed with them, for the conclusion to be disappointing, because you distance Badar like he has had no role to play in this debacle, when he has. At no point has he come forth to disapprove the marketing of this talk, it seems as though he approved the approach taken. No apologies were made by the Opera House, by the ethics centre organising th talk or by Badar himself. This avoidance of an apology is the most disturbing detail in my view.
    Badar allowed himself to be used, and he took advantage of it as the FODI website marketed the organisation he is affiliated with as well by providing links to that organisation.
    So no, I don't feel sorry for Badar. He is arrogant and unapologetic and thinks it's okay to dismiss the deaths of those who died via honour killings to market his talk.

    Date and time
    June 25, 2014, 2:06PM
    • Anna

      Agree, An interesting article and confusing conclusion.

      Let me explain further. Ruby prefaces the article with the following statement:

      "I tried to reach the festival curators for comment but since they are unwilling to give more statements at this time, I can only go by what has already been released to the public".

      And then concludes with this:

      "..... but it seems pretty clear to me that Badar was used. He was used to provoke, to frighten, to create publicity, and to sell tickets. The festival set him up for a fall. They chose the topic and the title, and then they put his scary, brown Muslim face on it".

      So, Ruby is responding to what has been publicly releasedm but concluded with her own assessment as to the reasons why he was featured in the first place.

      Can't have it both ways Ruby!

      Date and time
      June 25, 2014, 2:36PM
    • Yes, Badar should apologise too. He must have known the title of his talk, he's no fool so he surely knew what was going on. It seem disingenuous at best, racist in its own right at worst, to suggest he was just an unsuspecting "scary brown face" being used by the evil white organisers.

      Date and time
      June 25, 2014, 2:44PM
    • I would've loved to hear this talk. You can't defeat evil if you don't understand it.

      Malik the magic sheep
      Date and time
      June 25, 2014, 3:59PM
  • GREAT response, thank you Ruby Hamad - It's unfathomable that no-one within the organising group of the Festival for (bad) Dangerous Ideas could see this response coming to their wording of the event, and structuring of the program. But why has Hamad's critique been run here in Daily life, on Fairfax's lifestyle women's pages, and not in the op-ed section of the main paper where the (white, male) adults get to speak?

    Date and time
    June 25, 2014, 2:09PM
    • Ruby, thanks for being so articulate on this topic. Nuff said

      Ms Patonga
      Date and time
      June 25, 2014, 2:12PM
      • I am more than sick and tired of all the trendies excusing their foul ups and monumental blunders on freedom of speech and momentary lapses and anynone of a million other excuses.
        the people who are making these crazy decisions are paid big bucks TO DO THE RIGHT THING, NOT NECESSARILY WHAT THEY BELIEVE IN.
        I think it's time there was some accountability and MUCH less pandering to the minorities and outright idiots.

        Date and time
        June 25, 2014, 2:12PM
        • If this incident shows anything it is that the festival of dangerous ideas is a joke. It should be renamed the 'festival of dangerous Left-wing approved ideas'.

          As Uthman Badar said, he wanted to give a talk on how Islam could save the West. Now that would have been interesting to find out why these Western born Muslims want the West to be as miserable as MENA.

          But no, let's force him to talk about the de rigueur female oppression angle.

          That worked well.

          All in all, thanks for the laugh Ruby. I can just feel you channeling the almighty edward said.

          Date and time
          June 25, 2014, 2:13PM
          • I'm not sure Hamad agreed with either Edward Said or the organisers of the event, did she, in arguing that they now needed to apologise to Badar. Arguing that FODI now needs to apologise is not the same as saying that what he said, or what was said, was right. She argued that they needed to apologise to him for using him in a cheap publicity stunt. We can disagree fundamentally with his position, but in a civilised society we can also agree that he should be apologised to for being used in such a stupid and clumsy way by someone in marketing within the Sydney Opera House or FODI itself- if that is in fact what happened - (Anna in the first comment suggests that he has a role to play.) Agreeing with this doesn't make me a 'soft lefty' it just makes me civilised.

            Date and time
            June 25, 2014, 2:33PM
        • Sounds more like a festival of ignorance.

          Date and time
          June 25, 2014, 2:17PM

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