Michael Burrill

Current Affairs Wrap: Free speech, IS, Syria

free speech
Image: AAP

Brutality and the suppression of free speech are the order of the day in Michael Burrill’s weekly current affairs wrap – whether it be in Texas, the Middle East or care of our very own asylum seekers policy.


Two men were killed by police in Texas this week in what can be described as either an act of violent jihad or suicide by cop, depending on your perspective, as they attempted to shoot up a heavily guarded “draw the prophet” contest. The men, Elton Simpson (already known by the FBI in relation to Salafist jihadi sympathies) and Nadir Soofi were more Numan Haider than the Kouachi brothers; unaffiliated young men acting out of anger and impulse, rather than calculated planning with overseas jihadist training. However, IS has still attempted to claim responsibility for the act, describing the men as “soldiers of the caliphate.” In response, officials involved with the investigation have said it was likely IS’ role was more “inspirational” than “operational.” Pamela Geller, co-founder of the American Freedom Defense Institute (the group that organised the event targeted, who are opposed to the perceived “Islamification” of America), responded to the incident by declaring, “This is a war. This is war on free speech.” If such a war exists, then people like Pamela Geller are just as guilty of conjuring and nourishing it as Salafi jihadist organisations – a conflict which crushes most into a cramped no man’s land, as those that prosecute it constantly implore us to take sides, seemingly unaware that despite some slight variations they both believe that extremist Islamism is the only true Islam, and that Western Culture and Islam are incompatible. When it comes to the free speech angle, while I affirm their right to do so, the “draw the prophet” competition was not adding anything to the discussion. In fact it seems the purpose was to be childishly inflammatory, and bring about feelings of smug self satisfaction, an ideological circle jerk if you will. Imagine you have the misfortune to end up in an emporium of expensive drinks and bad music, being stared down by a predatory specimen that’s angry his dad didn’t love him enough, whose sole goal for the night is to “fuck someone’s face,” whether with his fists or his steroid-shrunken genitalia. The aroma of bad cologne and malice that surrounds him seems to be repelling women, and you can tell from the look in those cruel eyes that he’s seriously considering your face as the one he mashes into churned up luncheon meat. Maybe he even claims to be the Australian representative of US gang the Gangster Disciples. While there may be a certain nobility in being punched trying to walk away or diffuse the situation, if you decide to mockingly bring up his father’s cold demeanour or the rapid decline of his testes, you still deserve sympathy for getting punched in the head, but don’t expect to be praised as a hero of free speech. Occasional physical attacks by troubled individuals don’t count as systematic suppression of free speech.

In the Middle East, a place with actual wars and severe curbs on free speech (largely by Western allies), a number of more brutal incidents got a lot less coverage this week. In Syria, the regime of “sorta enemy, kinda ally” of the West, Bashar al-Assad, has been accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity by Amnesty International for extensive use of barrel bombs on civilian areas. The US joined in as well, with airstrikes killing at least 52 civilians in the north of the country. Some may point out the difference in intent between the two, but I doubt the funerals in northern Syria were populated by diplomatic suggestions that, “Ah, you know it was an accident…sad, but no one’s fault – what can you do?” Elsewhere, surprisingly not tired out from their extensive involvement in the aforementioned Texas shooting, IS killed 300 Yazidis in Iraq. As the US train moderate Syrian rebels to combat them, and with Saudi Arabian ground operations in Yemen seemingly only a matter of time, things don’t look like they’ll be improving any time soon.

Much like US foreign policy, Israel gets it’s own special section away from the rest of the region this week. Amid allegations, based on testimonies of soldiers involved, that the IDF actively ignored their responsibility to avoid civilian casualties in last year’s conflict in Gaza – and amid heated protests by Ethiopian Israelis over police brutality and general discrimination – PM Benjamin Netanyahu implored Israelis to “stand together as one against the phenomenon of racism, to denounce it and eliminate it.” Bibi decided the best way for him to personally contribute to ending discrimination was to follow his campaign tactic of siding with the far right, forming a coalition government with nationalist and religious ultra-orthodox parties. Oh to live in Israel, “the Middle East’s only liberal democracy,” as some describe it. Somehow I doubt Palestinians, Ethiopian Israelis and other minorities feel the same way. With asylum seekers imprisoned and indigenous incarceration rates at record highs, I’m not sure it’s that much better here, nor indeed in the “land of the free,” who you may have heard are experiencing a bit of racial tension themselves

On the topic of imprisoned and/or drowned asylum seekers, Labor immigration spokesperson Richard Marles described our PM Tone’s triumphant reading of the deaths of 800 and the psychological and physical violence inflicted upon thousands, as “the low-rent act of a snake-oil merchant.” Rich was oddly silent when Short William seemed to make a equally triumphant reading of both those things, claiming his support of mandatory detention helped him “live a little better each day,” and invoking the aforementioned deaths when he refused to be party to policies which “drag people here to drown at sea.” The thing Bill seems to have missed here is that one of the factors in the recent Mediterranean tragedies was the suspension of search and rescue patrols as they were thought to encourage people to “hop on unsafe boats.”

It’s plain to me the true root causes of people smuggling is poverty, oppression, war and desperation. Despite all their grandstanding about stopping boats, both Tone and Short William seem only set to increase those root causes through their climate policy (yep it’s that time again! This week it’s brought to you by Dengue fever!). As the government and Labor finally came to an agreement over a minuscule RET, the Grattan Institute found that direct action’s “impact on reducing emissions is likely to be zero,” and went on to claim “it is not designed to achieve this goal.” While in the UK, economist Nicholas Stern reported that when it comes to dangerous climate change, “It seems likely that there will still be a significant gap between aggregate national intentions and a pathway that is consistent with avoiding.” With global carbon dioxide concentrations at levels never seen, it’s all pretty fucking depressing isn’t it? No wonder Christine Milne chucked in the towel. It’ll be interesting to see how long Richard Di Natale will last. As the probability of dangerous climate change accelerates from eventuality to reality, I wouldn’t be surprised to inherit the Greens leadership myself in a couple years, finding it discarded in an empty rolling tobacco pouch, at a warehouse party in Marrickville…


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  1. Michael Burrill said:

    He was sent back to prison by a judge for violating the conditions of probation, maybe there was some political pressure but in the end he was sent down for violating the conditions of the probation, if he hadn’t have committed previous fraud(that’s your fucking hero there mate), they wouldn’t have had anything to put him behind bars for. What you mean the 10,000 members of IS that are thousands of miles away in Iraq and Syria? Can you tell the difference between those actual members fighting for IS and those few individuals attempt to commit attacks in the west, that have at best a tenuous relationship with IS? From your mention of Rotherham(a small group of men) and a protest of 500(out of over a million),you obviously have both a problem understanding Islam like any religion is made up of a number of different interpretations, sects and individuals. Again, obviously I’m no where near the Islamic scholar you are, but last I checked, the Islamic cultural taboo is on drinking beer rather than seeing pictures of it, as for “uncovered women”, the idea that a woman should be covered and how much is another thing which varies from person to person/ group to group, but even ignoring that nuance(nuance! edgy I know!), it’s still completely different, aside from the fundamentalist minority, the Islamic community isn’t expressing feelings of offence and alienation over pictures of scantily clad women, whereas they are over insulting pictures of the prophet. If I thought a picture of bikini babes, beer or even Muhammad would add something to the discussion I’d be happy to include them.As I did, while admittedly I felt a lot more comfortable posting depictions of the prophet done by Muslims rather than cartoons intended to insult,the idea of “acceptable” depictions goes against the basic premise of your argument. What you seem to be proposing is that I post such things purely for the sake of them, to prove that I’m not scared. which rather ironically would be doing so because I’m scared of people thinking I’m afraid to. Remind me, who’s the one that thinks they are edgy? In the soggy cheese and vegemite sandwich that passes for your mind, free speech seems to stand for the idea that everyone should repeat your opinions.

  2. LewSkannen said:

    Yeah. Amazing coincidence that he was jailed for ‘parole violations’ a couple of days after Clinton said she was going to go after him for his film. She did not say for his parole, for his film. I thought that would concern someone like yourself.

    “occasional violent attack by troubled people”
    Yeah. Like Fort Hood was ‘work place violence’. I guess ISIS are just a handful of 10,000 ‘lone wolves’.
    You really are beyond parody.

    “There is no widely held cultural taboo around pictures of or comments about Netanyahu or Abbott,”

    Oh I see! SO the measure of what we do in our country is whether there is a ‘widely held taboo’ amongst some religious group somewhere? OK. Got it.
    I assume you refuse to show pictures of alcoholic beverages for the same reason eh?
    No. You have no problem with that because you know you are not going to be attacked for doing so. Later when things change you might give me the same lame excuse for why you no longer think it is ‘appropriate’ to show bottles of beer or uncovered women in any of your articles. Because it ‘adds nothing’ blaa blaa blaa.
    Glad we can rely on you to hold the line on free speech etc. Cheers mate!

    “Any extra sensitivity I have for Muslims is because they are maligned and marginalized group in our society ”
    LOL! Yeah sure!! So when you saw 500 of then violently protesting in central park and holding banners threatening to cut your head off you thought “poor victims! they are so marginalised!”
    Who are you trying to convince mate?? Me or you?

    “If I was scared of “Islamic loons” then why would I criticize/mock IS or other groups all the time?”
    I have not seen much evidence of you doing so. You dare not do anything that might even get near the edge. You only post pictures that are ‘acceptible’. Jeez!

    “no mainstream Islamic movement is trying to use their religion to glorify or encourage pedophilia today”
    Nah! Of course not. Did you see how broken up they were about Rotherham? See all the muslims out protesting Rotherham did you? No? Me neither.

    Now that you have waffled your way through I guess you have convinced yourself
    1. you are a right on guy
    2. you are really not self censoring or walking on eggshells when the topic of islam comes up because you have your ready made ‘they are marginalised’ excuse
    3. you are really pushing the envelope!!

  3. Michael Burrill said:

    I’m sure that claim of 99% is a scientific figure you’ve collated with academic prudence. The guy who made “Innocence of Muslims” was thrown in jail for violating his parole(which he was on for fraud), as for the dozen murdered in France, despite it obviously being far more organised and actually affiliated with a jihadist organisation than the Texas incident, it still basically fits into the description “occasional violent attack by troubled people”. There is no widely held cultural taboo around pictures of or comments about Netanyahu or Abbott, so the comparison doesn’t really work. Any extra sensitivity I have for Muslims is because they are maligned and marginalized group in our society , If I was scared of “Islamic loons” then why would I criticize/mock IS or other groups all the time? As for being scared of getting called a racist or bigot, I’m more worried about actually being a racist or bigot. If the prohibition on depictions on the prophet is as oppressive and powerful as you claim it shouldn’t matter who they were drawn by, I’m sure as far as IS is concerned there is no such thing as acceptable depictions. Anyway, in reality I posted them to prove the issue isn’t as simple as you seem to think it is. “Self censor” implies falsely that I had some itching desire to do it but held back out of fear, but if you wanna call thinking about the sociopolitical implications of what you do and say “self censoring”, then yeah I do that all the time for Islam and many other groups, I think it’s something that most compassionate intelligent people do. Obviously I’m no where near the Quranic scholar you are mate, but it’s my understanding there is conjecture over that, I’m sure people have many different interpretations or explanations . Either way,since as far as I know, no mainstream Islamic movement is trying to use their religion to glorify or encourage pedophilia today, it’s kinda irrelevant really.Particularly as I never tried to argue religion was consistent or personally makes sense to me. There’s a bit of sarcasm throughout this reply but I didn’t feel the need to sign post it. Avant Garde I know! Hope it’s not too difficult for you

  4. LewSkannen said:

    So we have the “it’s not just muslims” defense.
    Well yeah. True. Terrorism at the moment is only about 99% islamic.

    “no one is being persecuted or rounded up and thrown in jail for drawing Mohammed in Australia or the US”

    So what happened to the film maker who made the film that was falsely blamed for the Bengazi attacks? He was put in jail by Obama. NO? I thought that would be the kind of thing that would be of interest to someone in your profession.
    In France we have had a dozen murdered.

    “Personally I didn’t put up any pictures of the prophet because there was no need, It would have added nothing to the discussion and been uselessly inflammatory”

    Of course! Don’t want to inflame muslims but do not feel the need to take the same care with any other group eh.
    Ever shy away from comments about Abbott? Pictures of Netanyahu? Of course not and nor should you. At least try to be honest though. You are extra sensitive when dealing with muslims because
    1. You have ‘respect’ for islam more than any other group
    2. You are scared of islamic loons at worst and being called a racist at best.

    “here a collection of Islamic paintings of Mohammed from times when it was considered more acceptable”
    Wow! You posted pictures of mohammed! I was so wrong about you!!
    So you bravely post pictures that you have made sure are ‘acceptable’. How brave!!
    Are you going to tell me that you don’t self censor when dealing with islam?
    You are only fooling yourself mate.

    By the way, what word do you use to descrive a grown man who has sex with a nine year old girl?
    Is ‘paedophile’ not the correct word?

  5. Michael Burrill said:

    Aside from a few violent individuals trying to enforce their will on others(something it may surprise you to know people from other groups than Muslims also do) no one is being persecuted or rounded up and thrown in jail for drawing Mohammed
    in Australia or the US. Personally I didn’t put up any pictures of the prophet because there was no need, It would have added nothing to the discussion and been uselessly inflammatory, an act of ego masturbation that potentially alienates all Muslims, though you may be unable to tell the difference between the 2, I openly mock jihadists(those are the ones that actually kill people, not the ones that make you uncomfortable at the shopping centre) all the time
    . Just for you though, here a collection of Islamic paintings of Mohammed from times when it was considered more acceptable http://www.zombietime.com/mohammed_image_archive/islamic_mo_full/
    . Somehow I doubt there is much wiggle room in “paedo prophet” world view though. Lastly, as the sneering, I’ll keep it thanks, it my right

  6. LewSkannen said:

    So you refrain from putting up any pictures of the paedo prophet Mumammed. Presumably out of ‘respect’ for islam? Or is it because you are afraid?
    If you don’t exercise a right you lose it. You demand the rights whilst at the same time sneering at those who protect them for you.

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