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.
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 »