I’ve just returned from Ian Burama’s ‘Freedom of speech: should there be limits?’ at the Melbourne Town Hall.
The debate on multiculturalism and offensive speech is a burning topic in Europe right now, affecting everything from politics to literature. In this keynote address Ian Buruma will touch upon the Danish cartoons that depicted the Islamic prophet Muhammad, the persecution of Geert Wilders and the debate that could tear Europe apart. (www.mwf.com.au/2009/content/mwf_2009_events.asp?name=Keynote_2)
What I found most interesting about Buruma’s speech was his description of the generally perceived relationship between Weimar era policy, its consequence (WWII), and current debate. There are those who believe that migrant cultures undermine Western values such as gender equality, and tolerance towards sexual minorities, that tolerance towards migrant cultures is an act of appeasement similar to 1938.
Buruma, however, was urging tolerance. Western society should be open-minded towards migrant customs (such as the head scarf or the turban), since such concessions would cost little unless they condoned violence. In his speech, he explained the difference between criticising Christianity and criticising Islam: the former attacks a major institution while the latter stigmatises a minority.
Though I found myself nodding to most of Buruma’s rhetoric, I knew too little about the issue to hold an opinion. Everything sounds hunky dory when one doesn’t speak the language.