The question from a shocked ABC presenter summed up what really divides the people yelling at each other about racism and free speech.
“Is it going to be possible to shout ‘ape’ at Adam Goodes at a football match?” fretted PM’s Mark Colvin.
In Colvin’s question we had the real divide with the Abbott Government’s proposal this week to reform the Racial Discrimination Act and allow freer debate, especially about racial politics.
But is a law against free speech really our only and safest recourse?
Six years ago The Sydney Morning Herald allowed Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, then Mufti of Australia, to peddle a bit of denialism himself: “I, like many researchers in the world, shy off the number of innocent victims that had been estimated at six million.”
Hilali already had a disgraceful record of hate speech. He’d called women who wore no hijab “uncovered meat” for rapists.
He’d accused Jews of using “sex and abominable acts of buggery, espionage, treason and economic hoarding to control the world”.
He’d praised suicide bombers as “heroes” and the September 11 terror attacks as “God’s work against oppressors”.
How did Hilali get away with that when we’ve had the RDA [Racial Discrimination Act] for two decades? Answer: because we had failed to use our free speech.
SBS* journalists actually filmed Hilali praising the September 11 terrorism but destroyed their tape to avoid giving the “wrong idea”. Other journalists, likewise cowed by social and threatened legal sanctions against criticising Muslims, looked the other way until the radical threat became too obvious. Even today, news reports often delete ethnic descriptors such as “Middle Eastern appearance” from police appeals to help identify wanted men.
Even so, what muzzled Hilali since has been not the law but public opinion…
*From Wiki: “The Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) is a hybrid-funded Australian public broadcasting radio and television network. The stated purpose of SBS is ‘to provide multilingual and multicultural radio and television services that inform, educate and entertain all Australians and, in doing so, reflect Australia’s multicultural society’. SBS is one of five main free-to-air networks in Australia.”