• "When did the right to offend become greater than the right to be offended?" (File)Source: File
When did the right to offend trump the right to take offence?
Sunil Badami

22 Jul 2016 - 9:58 AM  UPDATED 22 Jul 2016 - 10:02 AM

We all know what’s coming when someone says they’re not racist.


And it’s bemusing how even those expressing offensively racist views strenuously deny that they are, suggesting even they know that racism is wrong, in the way the chiropractor recently found guilty of vilifying former Senator Nova Peris with horrifically racist abuse online said “I’m definitely not a racist. I’ve got friends who are Aboriginal and family who are Aboriginal.”

Sound familiar? Perhaps it’s because television presenter Sonia Kruger mentioned her many Muslim friends, “who are beautiful, who are peace loving” before vilifying all Muslims by suggesting they were like the crazed Nice attacker and that all Muslim immigration should be stopped.

In the face of widespread criticism, Kruger then went on to tweet that “as a mother, I believe it’s vital to be able to discuss these issues without automatically being labelled a racist.”

In many respects, I agree with Kruger, and with former “Freedom Commissioner” Tim Wilson, who argued that no topic should be off-limits for discussion.

But while Wilson has argued that victims of racial abuse should reclaim their dignity by defending themselves and “fulfilling their responsibility to stand up against unjust prejudice, including racism,” and giving racists the opportunity to “interact, learn, grow and have [their views] challenged by… outlining why it’s so foolhardy,” what’s particularly frustrating is that when victims of racial vilification do stand up for themselves, they’re immediately shouted down by those champions of free speech who demand the “right to be bigots,” with any refutation labelled “shutting down debate” or “infringing free speech.”

What’s even more perplexing is how deeply offended such people become when they are called out for their racist behaviour, as though the most offensive thing in the world is being called racist.

When did the right to offend become greater than the right to be offended?

What’s even more perplexing is how deeply offended such people become when they are called out for their racist behaviour, as though the most offensive thing in the world is being called racist, rather than actually being racist.

It’s interesting how the entire discussion became about Sonia Kruger, and how she feels. Refusing to apologise for the hurt and offence she caused, she tearfully justified her comments by saying that seeing “the image of a baby covered in a plastic sheet with a doll lying beside her and it rocked me to the very core.”

If she was moved to brand all Muslims as potential terrorists by this heartbreaking image – even as it’s likely the child, like a third of the victims, may have been Muslim ­– why wasn’t she equally rocked to the core as a mother by the image of little Alan Kurdi on a Turkish beach to publicly call for more refugees to be given asylum in Australia by this equally distressing image?

What her performance suggested was that there was nobody more hurt by her racism – or at least it being condemned – than her, and that the only thing she was really sorry about wasn’t comments “which may have been extreme” (like the article she thought had relevant points, including condoning anti-Muslim violence) but the storm of criticism following them.

Channel Nine defended Kruger’s bigotry as free speech, with a number of Kruger’s colleagues rushing to her defence, saying that she isn’t racist at all. “Anyone who says she’s a racist doesn’t know her,” said one.

Where are all Kruger’s “beautiful, peace loving” Muslim friends, and why aren’t they defending her?

So by that logic, if you actually knew any Muslims, would you say they’re all potential terrorists, or reduce them to a demographic to justify your racist attacks upon them?

Where are all Kruger’s “beautiful, peace loving” Muslim friends, and why aren’t they defending her?

You can’t imagine she’d have many left, if any, after what she said this week.

Like starting a statement with “I’m not racist,” mentioning your minority friends before laying into them is as oxymoronic as me saying “some of my best friends are racist… but…”

Why on earth would I be friends with people who, #asafather, I’m afraid of hurting me and my family? Unlike Kruger, I actually have been abused, vilified and, in some cases, physically threatened by racists with threats as frightening as those against a new mosque in the Hunter Valley.

Despite Kruger proclaiming she has “a complete respect for people of all races and religions” what to make of her saying about her Melbourne Cup outfits “let’s just say there is a sweat shop of illegal immigrants working on them right now” then turning to a crew member and asking “how’s the family, Chong? Alright?”

In response to the outcry then, as now, she refused to apologise, saying that “I certainly didn’t say anything with any intention for it to be racist… in all honesty, political correctness does get up my nose.”

But what is so wrong with treating others, regardless of their gender, sexuality, physical disabilities, religion or race, the way they wish to be treated, the way we all wish to be treated, with respect and dignity?

Like Waleed Aly, I don’t think Kruger’s evil. She’s no doubt a caring mother and good friend. But equally, I agree with Wilson that “the right of freedom of thought and freedom of speech… both come with responsibilities.”

Surely the best way to discuss anything without being labelled racist is by not saying racist things when you do?

That means telling the truth, not distorting it, not assuming that your freedom of expression precludes anyone else’s right to respond, and apologising when you’ve gotten it wrong or caused hurt.

And surely the best way to discuss anything without being labelled racist is by not saying racist things when you do?

Equally, as commentators like Aly, Susan Carland, Jamila Rizvi, Randa Abdel-Fattah and others have shown, we can discuss these issues without abuse or threats in a civil and persuasive way – and without shying away from the facts: Kruger’s comments are racist.

And saying you’re drunk or on pain killers or afraid or a mother – least of all you’re not racist – isn’t any defence. If you’re willing to say such reprehensible things, be prepared to defend them or acknowledge your culpability when people respond, rather than evading responsibility.

There’s no doubt Kruger has been shaken by the torrent of criticism and, in some cases, inexcusable abuse, directed at her as a result of the racist things she’s said. But being criticised for something you’ve said or done is hardly the same as being vilified for who you are.

And no doubt she’ll feel the same unease around others, wondering what they really think of her – as many Muslims (including her “beautiful, peace-loving” friends) and other victims of racism do almost every day.

But that doesn’t make her the real victim, nor should she continue to play it.

Watch: Australian Muslims react to Pauline Hanson and Sonia Kruger.

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