Free speech should be robustly protected – just as calls to “behead” people on the basis of their religion should be called out by the authorities, writes James Morrow.

James Morrow
The Daily Telegraph
September 7, 2020

Where does robust speech end and hate speech begin?

It’s a tough question – but one the NSW Government has a real chance to tackle, with the surfacing of videos taken in 2017 of the local leader radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, Ismail al-Wahwah, spewing bile against the Jews.

Revealed Monday in The Daily Telegraph, the tapes show al-Wahwah banging on about how “the entity of the Jews … will cry blood” in response to Donald Trump’s decision to formally recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

In one sermon al-Wahwah goes on to say, “The very knife with which you cut Palestine is a criminal, infidel, hypocritical knife, and it will be turned against you and will cut your bodies and behead you.

“This knife will sever your heads from your bodies, just like you severed East Jerusalem from West Jerusalem.” Got it.

The big question is, will the authorities do anything about it?

Certainly if a neighbour or ex-partner or disgruntled customer threatened to cut your head off, there would be a pretty good chance they would be prosecuted under the Crimes Act, which punishes such threats and intimidation with up to five years jail.

And in 2018 laws were brought in under the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act making an offence to publicly threaten or incite violence on the basis of race, religion, or a number of other attributes, potentially making whomever uploaded the video this year liable.

If the government were looking for a test case to try them out, this would seem to be a strong one.

Certainly as someone who counts himself as a strong free-speech absolutist, there isn’t much of a question to me on which side of the law this sort of thing falls.

These sorts of violent ramblings are to free speech what child pornography is to a Renaissance fresco: there is simply no comparison.

They are entirely beyond the pale of any of the contentious issues of expression Australia has debated over the past several years: think of Israel Folau’s holding true to his faith on gay marriage, or lockdown protests, or George Brandis’s comment that, as unpleasant as it may be, “people have the right to be bigots”.

It’s also worth noting that while Hizb ut-Tahrir – which is banned in a number of European nations as well as most Arab nations, but which is allowed to operate with impunity in Australia – may claim to speak for Muslim community, evidence suggests that they do anything but.

While some predicted mayhem and anger from the so-called “Arab Street” when Trump moved to recognise Jerusalem, the reality has been just the opposite. Just last month Israel and the UAE signed a peace deal, rather than a declaration of war.

Which suggests that happily, the sorts of lunatic fringe views espoused by Hizb ut-Tahrir are in the minority. It’s now up to the government to decide if there are consequences beyond mere isolation and unpopularity.