Questioning the limits to freedom


The bloke with a book at the barAuthor and former priest Paul Collins put himself on the line earlier this month while talking about his new book, Burn: The Epic Story of Bushfire in Australia. Usually known for his left-of-centre views, Collins openly advocated draconian, anti-civil libertarian measures to control pyromaniacs, who are believed to start a large proportion of bushfires.

"Part of the problem has been that I think many people tend to take this therapeutic approach. You know, something must have happened to them in childhood or whatever," he said. "So basically what I'm suggesting is that the police, if they suspect that a certain person is a fire lighter, in periods of high fire danger they need to go to a judge and get permission to have that person tagged with a GPS bracelet of some sort."

Last Wednesday, Clive Hamilton of the progressive Australia Institute raised a few eyebrows when he told the ABC's Stephen Crittenden that it is the churches—long regarded as bastions of conservatism—that offer the best hope for progressive politics in this country.

"I think the error of post-modernism which is so dominant, is that it has no metaphysical foundation for a moral critique," he said in an interview which prompted a longer essay in this issue of Eureka Street.

He remarked that the Institute's traditional supporters were puzzled when one of its reports criticised pornography not only from a factual basis, but a moral basis. The supporters saw the Australia Institute entering "territory that's more often associated with those of the moral right". But Hamilton believes that the ideology of the left is not equipped to help Australians "transcend the individualism and materialism and selfishness of modern affluent societies".

Over the past week, the al-Hilali comments controversy has demonstrated that there must be limits to free speech. As far as we know, no advocate of democratic freedoms has defended al-Hilali's right to compare immodestly dressed women to "uncovered meat". The message from these examples is that freedom is not an end itself, but that upholding it often—but not always—a valid means of recognising values that enhance individual and collective humanity.



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Existing comments

I think that what is really required is a bill of rights that guarantees freedom of speech. While I find Al-Hilali's comments abhorrent, I do think he has the write to speak. Of course, we don't want to go too far in the 'american' direction of condoning a free-for-all, but a system of guarantees would be a good thing.

Joyce B | 31 October 2006  

The speech by Al-Hilali is no different to the attitude of men throughout the ages. The female rape victim has always had to defend herself, what she was wearing, what she had to drink that night etc. If she led the man on at all the man was excused.
Al-Hilali's comments are indeed sexist. The government and media have used his comments to stir up racial hatred, rather than admit they secretly agree with him.

Sue Fleming | 12 November 2006  

Just read your article on the show 'Hold the man', and felt really touched by the tragic but praise-worthy relationship between Tim and John. The intacit approval of the teacher is a real highly sought-after character in many high schools these days, where homosexuality is still a highly sensitive topic, and no teachers dare to broach the discussion of it for the fear of losing their jobs.The extended season of the show strongly indicates a strong sense of recognition by many people in the community of a pure unblemished love between two people, gay or so-called straight.

Simon Grant | 25 December 2006  

twas NOT comparison between women and anything,OR men and flies.twas ANALOGY showing sameness of INEVITABLE ATTRACTION in both cases.If we must hang him,lets get paperwork right.Also check Arab use of word 'meat',as in Old English.Maybe noticed no offence in it.

david mckinley | 22 August 2007  

Did al-Hilali suffer from a poor translation? What about 'bare flesh' - I heard people use this term in Australia to describe a person who is skimpily dressed, long before al-Hilali spoke. I think this is the translation that should have been used.

richard | 08 September 2008  

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