Let's not use 'free speech' as a cover for hate — it helps the terrorists

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Image vie freespeechaustralia.com

"Is securing a following by peddling hate under the cover of "free speech" more important than the peace and prosperity of our nation?" ~ Junaid Cheema 

INDEED, words matter in the fight against terrorism. 

During the Abbott administration, the Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) board (of which I am vice president) representing close to half the Muslim population of Australia, met with Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin to discuss ways to keep our country and young people safe.

The conversation took a peculiar turn and the question was asked as to why is it just in the last year or so that terror raids have exponentially increased, hate groups have emerged from the woodwork and the terror threat is at an all time high in Australia?

In the spirit of a clinical analysis, there was reflection on the comparative calm and cohesion of the previous administration — is there something the Rudd/Gillard Government did that we should perhaps consider?

The response from the board was unanimous and had a central thread — it's actually what we shouldn't do. We shouldn't imply that the Muslim community are a bunch of liars as has been done. We shouldn't have parliamentarians deliberately ignoring inconvenient facts and attacking the Muslim community as a whole for crimes not of their making. And we shouldn't antagonise Australian Muslims by disingenuously identifying them as the sole problem — especially when they love this country immensely and are key to finding the solution.

Commissioner Colvin was very receptive to our advice and we much respected his sincerity. The recent Guardian article 'Federal police commissioner warns MPs "words matter" in the "debate on Islam"', clearly reinforces our impressions of the Commissioner's integrity. However, I still couldn't help but identify the chasm between what the Muslim leadership is saying and how the message is being potrayed.

Commissioner Colvin was paraphrased in the article as follows:

'... police needed to maintain a good working relationship with the community, and he said successful disruption efforts to combat terrorism threats were a direct consequence of working constructively with the community.'

In essence, what was said is absolutely correct, however, what was not said is actually the essence of the matter — since prevention is always better than cure.

Prior to meeting Commissioner Colvin, we invited various media outlets to describe the impacts of how news is reported when it comes to Islam — not just for the Muslim community, but the Australian community at large.

The Guardian journalist at the forum picked up on the salient point in her piece 'Tony Abbott's rhetoric on Muslims is damaging and dangerous' and quoted our very words:

'ISIS appealed to youth to join up because it tells them Australia does not want you ... are we at the point where some Australians hear that message and feel it to be true?'

Some months later, Waleed Aly's powerful segment 'ISIL is weak' carried a similar message and went viral around the world:

"If you are a member of parliament or a has-been member of parliament preaching hate in a time when we actually need more love, then you are helping ISIL, they have told us that."

And this is precisely the essence of the matter that we continue to miss.
If we are sincere about the security of our nation and we love this land as much as we say we do then we need to stop helping ISIL or ISIS – "Don't call us Daesh!" – as the evidence that such rhetoric threatens the security of our nation and echoes the lies of the terrorists is now undeniable.

No doubt free speech is synonymous with our secular democracy and it must be protected at all costs; however, educating ourselves about the implications of what we say is also our democratic responsibility.

In order to protect our secular democracy let's ask the question: 

"Is securing a following by peddling hate under the cover of "free speech" more important than the peace and prosperity of our nation?"

Rather then considering the gravity of this question we find ourselves being deluged with more red herrings by those who peddle hate: "Islam is not a religion", "Islam is a totalitarian ideology" and so on.

Yes, according to some, such as Pauline Hanson and her party, Islam is not a religion and climate change is not happening — despite the overwhelming evidence and centuries of credible expert opinion. Rather, squat toilets in government buildings are a threat to our way of life, according to the same parliamentarians. Of course, we wouldn't want those who have come by boat squatting on our land, now would we?

Nonetheless, if we continue this hate filled small-minded thinking, missing the very real issues of human rights, climate change and the challenges of globalisation and focus on toilets, then that is precisely where this great nation will head: down the toilet.

Junaid Cheema  is an IT executive, writer and activist. You can follow Junaid on Twitter at @Junaid_m_cheema.

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