I'll probably disappoint some of y'all by not replying at full length to Uthman Badar's recent piece over at The Drum, which is meant to reply to my own article in the same forum. There are many aspects that I want to say something about, and I'd end up writing a book if I dealt with them all exhaustively. I'll do what I reasonably can, but it will take me more than one post. This one deals with an assortment of preliminary points.
I see that Badar has ended up with over 800 comments, most of which seem to be unfavourable. So it's not as if his views have gone down well with his audience. On the other hand, he has been given the opportunity to propagandise in a fairly high-profile forum for the organisation that he represents, which is a rather unpleasant one to say the least. On the gripping hand, that may not be such a bad thing on this occasion: the audience has had a chance to learn of the existence of Hizb ut-Tahri and its presence in Australia (which many would not be aware of). They've also had a chance to learn something about what the organisation stands for and why it is dangerous. We can only hope that the experience proves to be salutary.
In any event, I don't share the views expressed by some of Badar's commenters that he should have been denied a platform.
Freedom of speech doesn't entail getting a platform, just that the government won't shut you up. Getting a platform is still your responsibility, and if your views are especially hateful you might struggle to find one. Indeed, I'm not sure that I would want to share a stage with somebody from Hizb ut-Tahri - that tends to give the organisation legitimacy and requires engaging in pleasantries with someone whose views are inevitably going to be highly illiberal, theocratic, and misogynist. There's a limit to how far we should play nice with opponents. Reasonably progressive evangelical Christians are one thing; Hizb ut-Tahri is quite another.
In this case, though, the views put by Badar are probably best aired. I'm not going to argue at this stage of events that Hizb ut-Tahri should be starved of platforms for its views in Australia. It's a matter of judgment, no doubt. Even on the most benign interpretation, this is not a benign organisation. However, whether we like it or not, it exists, exerts influence worldwide, and should be seen in action (at least where "action" is no more than offering its viewpoint and arguments). I wouldn't necessarily support it getting a platform on every possible occasion and in every possible circumstance, and as I said I wouldn't necessarily want to appear on the same stage, but I think that the ABC was well within its reasonable discretion to let us sample Hizb ut-Tahri's thinking this time.
It does seem sort of odd that the ABC didn't use someone more anodyne, such as a local Anglican bishop - I might have expected a reply from somebody like Tom Frame - but getting an Islamist replying to me certainly makes life that much more interesting.
The bottom line of Badar's piece is one that I don't actually disagree with. He says: "In any case, our response to the call for rational scrutiny of religious teaching is, quite simply, bring it on." To Badar's credit, that's a refreshing approach - compared, say, to that of Chris Mooney. While he says many other things that are highly dubious, at least he is not telling atheists and others who are sceptical about religious claims to shut up. Whatever his underlying views, his piece welcomes intellectual scrutiny of religion, and to that extent it's consistent with mine.
Needless to say, however, there's much to take issue with. It's not just the detail of the traditional arguments for the existence of God, though I'll have to say something about those - however brief and unsatisfactory - but various assumptions that he makes as to where people like me might be coming from and what motivates us. That, however, can wait for my next post.