Opera Australia released soprano Tamar Iveri, whom were set to perform in its production of Otello, from her contract after homophobic comments were posted on her Facebook page.
Only a few days later Sydney Opera decided to cancel Uthman Badar’s talk, part of their Festival of Dangerous Ideas, titled “Honour killings are morally justified.”
Tamar Iveri blamed the Facebook comment on her deeply religious husband, an excuse that didn’t sit well with the twittersphere. But with Uthman Badar all it took was a title that was a bit too unsavoury for the hive mind to cast its judgement and have their demands enacted.
On the surface of both these events it’s easy to cheer and claim that democracy works. Not to mention that we’ve finally, within a weeks time, observed that slacktivism can actually do more than create awareness.
A few months ago I wrote about Earth Hour and slacktivism, how it without a doubt creates great awareness, but nothing more. We still debate about climate change and how to tackle it — without actually tackling it as aggressively as we should.
This is the issue with slacktivism. That it can easily create a lot of noise, but sometimes that is only what it creates. A week later that noise and anger disappears, as if it never happened, because that week (later) it might be something else to slacktivate against.
Even academics seem to not fully agree if it’s helpful or not. As it usually focuses too much on the awareness factor. If it creates a lot of awareness, then it’s good, right? Not really. Because at the end of the day what truly makes a difference is action coupled with awareness.
With Tamar Iveri’s case it’s difficult to argue against slacktivism and Opera Australia’s reaction. Her excuse is similar to the good old dog ate my homework.
It’s Uthman Badar’s cancelation by Sydney Opera that is a bit more unsettling. Succinctly summed up in a tweet by St James Ethics Centre Executive Director Dr Simon Longstaff, “The session to explore ‘honour killing’ has been cancelled. Alas, people read the session title – and no further. Just too dangerous.”
No doubt the title and topic is too dangerous, as it’s a cultural idea that is not applicable to, nor acceptable by, western culture.
Therein lies the issue. If it’s not applicable to, nor acceptable by, western culture, it should be condemned — silenced if you will.
With that said, this condemnation— silencing —does not exclusively happen to non-western ideas by westerners. We allow it to happen to western ideas too. But that is easier to mask. As the reaction is us against us— democracy at work —instead of something that is a bit more easier to spot, us against them.
Such as the failed War on Drugs. Governments still claim that the War on Drugs is successful. So when they manage to silence those who want change and have an open debate about drug laws it’s viewed as democracy at work and staying true to the status quo. But discussing if we should allow employees wear a hijab at work, that turns into a us against them situation. Where it’s suggested there is no need to discuss it, because wearing a hijab is not applicable to, nor acceptable by, western culture — demanding people to reject their own culture and heritage (luckily we in the west are becoming more accepting of the hijab).
Sometimes we need to hear those dangerous ideas to make sense of them. To understand where they are coming from. Why they exist and how they came to be. That of course doesn’t mean we have to accept them. In the same way the court of law works, where judge and jury needs to hear both sides before they make up their mind and decide on a ruling.
Not accepting an idea does not mean to completely reject it. As in the court of law, we should at least lend it our ears first, not prejudge it because we’ve already decided it’s not compatible with our bias.
Which I witnessed on Twitter yesterday. Slacktivists banding together for the sake of, banding together. Already making up their minds, that they do not want to hear what Uthman Badar has to say. Unwilling to hear what lies beneath the controversial title of his talk. Would he actually advocate for or against honour killing?
This is the core issue with liberalists and libertarians. They talk big about individual freedom and freedom of speech. But at the end of the day, it’s all about providing those liberties to those who act like and think like them. If you do not, you do not deserve the right to enjoy individual freedom, nor freedom of speech.
I do not condone honour killing, but I would lend Uthman Badar my ear. As the old saying goes, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Featured photo by: Ally Aubry