Khaldoun contributor interviewed on 2SER

September 13, 2008

Reporter Jordan Bryon interviewed me about Barry O’Farrell’s attempts to censor Khaldoun this week.  The podcast of the interview is available online, if anyone is curious to hear what my voice sounds like!

–L.L. Wynn

What is the link between Macquarie University and Khaldoun?

August 20, 2008

Barry O’Farrell, the opposition leader for New South Wales, has recently written to the Vice-Chancellor of Macquarie University and to Australian Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard urging them to investigate and censor Khaldoun for being a “hate-filled,” “anti-Israel propaganda website.”  A Macquarie University spokesperson, Greg Walsh, has provided the following response which affirms the university’s commitment to the principles of freedom of speech.  Instead of calling for censorship of perspectives they disagree with, Walsh patiently observes, Khaldoun’s critics might better uphold the principles of democracy and free speech by engaging in reasoned debate on this site, or “better still start a blog of their own.”

With Greg’s permission, we thought it worthwhile to publish the entirety of Macquarie’s response here to clarify the relationship between Macquarie University and Khaldoun.

–L.L. Wynn

The recent case of internet censorship by the Chinese Government during the Beijing Olympics is a timely reminder that freedom of speech and access to differing points of view are not rights shared by all peoples of the world.

Throughout history, universities have contributed toward the development of democracy and freedom of speech in society by being places where academics could present and argue theories and points of view – no matter how controversial.

The academics commenting on the Khaldoun blogsite – which is not a Macquarie University site – are expressing their professional opinions on subject matter well within the area of their appointment: Middle East politics. The University does not either endorse their views, or those of their critics, our role is simply to ensure the University is a place where different views are tolerated and debated without prejudice.

A measure of the strength of freedom of speech in a society is its ability to tolerate the expression of ideas, even those that may cause some within that society to feel annoyed or hurt. The alternative – the suppression of ideas – only erodes free speech and democracy.

The University does not expect everyone who reads the postings on the Khaldoun blogsite to agree with them, that is the nature of debate – particularly in the area of politics. But rather than calling for the site to be censored, those with a differing point of view could always post a critical response backed up by their evidence, as others have done, or better still start a blog of their own. If they feel statements on the site contravene any specific legislation, then they should pursue complaints with relevant authorities. These are the sorts of measures that democratic societies provide in order to protect freedom of speech.

Macquarie University will not monitor the blog site or try to tell the blog’s authors what to publish or what views to hold. That would be the antithesis of what a university in a free society stands for. Read the rest of this entry »

“We will not be celebrating”

May 5, 2008

“We’re not celebrating Israel’s anniversary”

The letter linked to above (full text at the end of this posting) appeared in The Guardian‘s letters section on 30 April.  It’s notable that all signatories are Jewish activists.  It made me think about how credibility is conferred (or not) on one’s ideological and theoretical positions by virtue of one’s ethnic, religious, national or sexual identity.  For example, remember when a few weeks ago Khaldoun experienced some racist comments posted to the blog that provoked a rethinking of our comments policy?  One of the comments that we decided not to publish claimed that our blog postings and positions were transparently the thinking of “Arab Moslems.”  This comically points to the fallacies of simplistic reasoning about the relationship between identity and theory, since most of Khaldoun’s contributors are not Muslim and only a couple of us are Arab.  But it is a reminder that people do make those links, and that knowledge or assumptions about an author’s identity influences how people read her or his theories.  In the case of this Guardian letter, the authors clearly decided that their position on Israel’s 60th anniversary would be strengthened by pointing out to readers that they were Jewish.

I had reason to think about the links between ideological credibility and identity recently when I was in Cairo. Read the rest of this entry »

Comments policy on Khaldoun

April 1, 2008

As some of you may have noticed, the comments were flying fast and furious over a couple of recent postings. When they started turning racist, we had to stop comments for a few days and think carefully about the blog’s comments policy. I met with Noah, Maryam, and Jumana and we struggled over the question: how do we balance our desire to see ideas shared freely without letting this become a forum for people to vent offensive points of view?

Most of the blog contributors are also on the staff at Macquarie University, and our backgrounds as academics shapes our ideas about how dialog should take place and gives us responsibilities as public intellectuals. Anyone who has sat in on any of our classes knows that we love a fierce debate, but we have little tolerance for those who express themselves in offensive and simplistic ways. When we moderate discussions in our classes or when we give written assignments, we continually press our students to think through their arguments thoughtfully, express them courteously, and provide references to back up their assertions. We hope that we can ask for the same high standard from participants on this blog.

With that in mind, the following is our comments policy at Khaldoun, drafted by Noah and endorsed by all of us:

Khaldoun is a site that places scholarly and informed perspectives into the public realm to promote understanding, tolerance and ultimate peace in the Middle East. Racist and discriminatory remarks are not acceptable. Comments that are deemed racist, discriminatory and vilify on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexuality or sexual orientation will be removed and the responsible party barred from commenting on this blog. Free speech comes with obligations of human decency and comments must meet the basic expectations of a rational, tolerant and inclusive society. We value your comments and will only censor material that is overtly racist and offends on the basis of religion, race, gender, sexuality and sexual orientation, and we will not cease to post political views that differ from those held by the individual contributors. Thank you for being a part of Khaldoun and contributing to the wider understanding of the Middle East.

– Lisa, Noah, Jumana, and Maryam