Lachlan R Dale

Waleed Aly *almost* nails it with #SendForgivenessViral

Approx Reading Time-11Waleed Aly’s call for empathy was noble but misguided, as the gaps in understanding are far deeper than he claims.




Two nights ago, Waleed Aly presented a segment entitled Send Forgiveness Viral.

The segment was, in part, a response to Sonia Kruger’s call to immediately suspend Muslim immigration into Australia, as well as One Nation’s strong showing at the last election.

In it, Aly focused on the theme of fear: on how both the bigotry of the ignorant and abusive response to expressions of ignorance, are part of the same cycle.

Importantly, he outlined that when faced with expressions of bigotry, we are faced with two paths of action: to respond reflexively with anger or abuse and without critical thought, or to engage constructively, with empathy and understanding.

Public response to the segment has been polarised. Many people are dismayed that Aly spent his time questioning the usefulness of expressions of anger in response to Sonia Kruger’s statements, rather than criticising the statements themselves.

I can understand the negative response: Aly’s aim in the segment was highly ambitious, and his performance was not quite articulate enough to navigate these emotionally-charged waters.

In particular, his explanation of a more “constructive” path forward was quite poor, emphasising that those who feel offence should “assume the best in people, (and show) others radical generosity in the face of hostility – even when it hurts”. Many people who have experienced discrimination have taken this statement as shifting the onus for addressing racism from the perpetrators to the victims – which I believe is at least a partial misunderstanding, further hampered by Aly’s unclear language.

The explication of this idea requires greater nuance, which I intend to give it – but first I’d like to give some background.

Over the last few decades, we have seen an increasing fragmentation of the political spectrum in “Western” countries. At the same time, political discourse has tended towards polarisation, to the point where the idea of a non-partisan political project in the United States would be considered absurd. Deep rifts are appearing at a social level, creating fear and instability.

Gladly, we are seeing people from “minority groups” (apologies, I do hate that term) stand strongly against discrimination on both a personal and structural level. These voices are calling for the dismantling of discriminatory structures, and the rebuilding of outdated notions of race, sexuality, gender and national and personal identity.

We are seeing censorship presented as a valid alternative to intellectual debate…If we merely demonise anyone who expresses an ignorant view, we have missed an opportunity to engage (“we” refers to opponents of bigotry, rather than victims of discrimination).

As part of this process, individuals who experience discrimination are publicly speaking out about their experiences while also expressing their personal anger and frustration.

Now, it is absolutely reasonable that people who have experienced hurt from racism, sexism, or any other form of bigotry feel anger. Expressing or purging that anger in a healthy way is important to psychological health. Holding onto it can have destructive consequences, from the development of neurosis to the misdirection of anger back onto oneself.

Similarly, it’s also important that under-represented groups assert their right to be heard, and establish confidence across their movement.

But in parallel, we are seeing the rise of what has disparagingly been called “victimhood culture”, wherein people demand to be shielded from ideas that they find personally offensive. When individuals are offended, they become outraged and express anger. This becomes a sort of reflexive mechanism such that both the tendency to be outraged, and the projection of anger increase over time.

As a result, we are increasingly seeing censorship presented as a valid alternative to intellectual debate – but if we are not able to change minds and merely refuse to acknowledge that bigoted views exist, then we are failing to address the root of the problem: people’s attitudes and beliefs.

If we merely demonise anyone who expresses an ignorant view, then we have missed an important opportunity to engage (and please note, the “we” here refers to opponents of bigotry, rather than victims of discrimination).

For example, let’s consider Sonia Kruger’s call for all Muslim immigration to be immediately suspended. My initial reaction was one of deep sadness (as an individual who dabbles with aspects of Buddhism, I have developed a general aversion to anger), but after calming down I re-watched the segment several times with a more critical eye.

I considered the public reaction against her. By expressing a bigoted opinion, our polarised discourse has it that Kruger is automatically an abhorrent person, worthy of anger, scorn and possibly even abuse – but I do not think Kruger is an evil person. She is not some hardened politician manipulating people to her own end. Her expression of bigotry comes from a place of fear and ignorance, and therefore represents the perfect opportunity for dispassionate, constructive and critical engagement.

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That isn’t to say that her views aren’t hurtful or dangerous – on the contrary, this is precisely why it’s so important that we address them in the most effective way possible.

There are many such people who express hurtful or bigoted views. Sometimes their motives are pure, but their logic is flawed. Their fear might lead them to latch onto the populist policies of dangerous individuals like Donald Trump, who offers simple solutions to highly complex problems (Andrew Bolt’s ridiculous proposal to cease all Muslim immigration falls into the same category).

I call these people the “bigoted middle-ground”, and it is absolutely vital that we reclaim them through engagement and conversation. If we want to work towards the end-goal of a more humane, caring, and fairer society, there is no other option. Merely blacking them out through no-platforming and call-outs runs the risk of hardening and reinforcing their views.

Attempting to understand what drives the bigotry of such people does not equate to excusing it: it is a matter of constructing the most effective strategy for neutralising and reducing bigoted arguments. If ideas are like memes or a virus, then inoculation can only come in the form of counter-argument.

Now I acknowledge that for some, the pain and hurt may be too much to overcome. I also knowledge that there are some individuals with whom there is no reasonable discussion to be had (I’m not about to start reaching out to neo-Nazi gang members, for instance) – but this is work that still needs to be done.

If we continue down a path of merely demonising and ostracising our enemies, then it must be said that we too are building walls.

As a final note, I found it rather incredible this week that in the face of abuse from Gulf Aboriginal leader Murrandoo Yanner, Pauline Hanson responded with an offer of engagement.

I was similarly stunned with her appearance on Q&A, where she seemed to accept an invitation to dinner from Muslim audience member Mohammed Attai and his family.

While Hanson’s past should no doubt temper any optimism, it is attempts like these to bridge gaps between us and our enemies that will help bring us towards a place of mutual respect and understanding.

For that, I applaud Mr Attai, and hope that we might have the strength and patience for following his example.


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  1. Lachlan R. Dale said:

    I do write this piece based off conversations I’ve had on the past which ended in positive shifts of viewpoint (and in those conversations, I have come to understand my own misrepresentations of those peoples views).

    Still, if a policy view is supported, for instance, off the back of the idea that Muslim leaders never speak out against jihadi terrorism — then the ability to correct that false statement can therefore lead to changes in policy position.

    Facts can still play a role in a rational discussion. I’m confused at why you’re so against this idea — that some views are supported by species arguments or lack of information.

    I spend a large amount of time reading and engaging with views different to my own (for instance, my reading list has the Harris/Nawaz book in it). My own views are not fully formed — but this is not the same thing as conceding to your demand that I think it likely Sonia Kruger will be the person to shift my views. It’s not impossible, but I find it unlikely.

    In any case, while I appreciate your consistently passive-aggressive tone, we’re spinning in circles here.

  2. Phantom said:

    Thanks for your latest response. In it, you seem to have ignored, dismissed, misunderstood or misrepresented about 90% of what I have said (the remaining 10% being about patronising or belittling language). You say, “I do take your points,” but this is contradicted by everything else you say.
    It seems that it woulwouldbe only a conversation with Kruger that would see you try to convince and educate someone whilst simultaneously being unwilling or unable to objectively reassess your own positions. That type of conversation isn’t you talking with someone; it’s you talking down to someone. It isn’t even a real conversation; it’s a lecture.
    So if you ever meet someone of the “bigoted middle-ground” and try to give them a lecture, don’t be surprised if they dismiss, ignore and misrepresent your arguments in such a way that they, just like you, end the conversation with exactly the same opinions as before, only more strongly held.

  3. Lachlan R. Dale said:

    I revisited One Nation’s policies last night and find them deeply disturbing. I will maintain caution and skepticism for the time being. In contrast to Kruger, Hanson is a particularly extreme and dangerous case.

    With an individual like Yanner: I understand his anger but don’t condone his actions (is there not a parallel here with Aly saying he understands the fear that fuels Kruger’s views?).

    I am not an individual who would criticise Abbott for his volunteering work – and, as this piece attempts to articulate, I do not believe individuals with more right/conservative views are evil.

    In fact, while I was a strong critic of Abbott’s time in power, I think he honestly followed the principles he believed in, and did what he thought best for the country.

    Regarding Krueger: my point is the policy she puts forward is flawed. The idea that a strong correlation/causative relationship can be established is incorrect. Her statement regarding Japan is incorrect.

    I suggesting engaging with this argument on the level of logic, fact, and research. I hold that a strong rationale for the policy does not exist (which you are free to disagree with). What I would like to understand is what fuels the concerns and fear of people like Kruger.

    I recognise I can come across as patronising and condescending, and that this is a flaw of mine. Realistically, while I’d be very interested in understanding where Kruger is coming from, my guess is she will not be particularly articulate on the subject of foreign and domestic policy, on the nature of Islam, on the factors involved in the rise of jihadi terrorism, or on effective strategies to combat terrorism.

    I’d be very open to her surprising me on this front, but I don’t consider it likely. I’d be more likely to have my views more effectively challenged by an orator, intellectual or academic. I apologise that I cannot pretend otherwise.

    I do take your points, and they are worth me pondering further — but these things take weeks and months rather than the course of a few comments on a blog. Thank you again for taking the time to write.

  4. Phantom said:

    It is possible to praise Hanson for the specific act of being open to discussion without agreeing with her policies or even her opinions. The fact that you praised Attai but not Hanson (and didn’t criticise Tanner) is typical of the poor response Hanson, or anybody, receives when their opinion is not aligned with the “right-minded” left, even when their actions are commendable. The lack of recognition Tony Abbott received for his volunteering is a classic example.

    The main problem I see with both your (and Aly’s approach) to Krueger is that you assume any conversation would give you an opportunity to correct her views or to educate her (how patronising), rather than an opportunity for the two of you to discuss and reach an understanding with both of you adjusting your opinions.

  5. Lachlan R. Dale said:

    Oh and I forgot to say: thanks for commenting, I appreciate you taking the time.

  6. Lachlan R. Dale said:

    Hey Phantom,

    Not sure who edited out my line that Kruger isn’t the brightest spark (I don’t have access to the CMS). I stand by that statement, in that when I hear her I don’t exactly associate her with the greatest minds of our time.

    My intention isn’t to belittle her, but rather to suggest she has reached her position through emotional, non-rational means. As Aly skims over, the argument that there is a correlation (and assumedly a causation) between Muslim immigration and terrorist attacks is flawed, as is the follow-on policy that we should immediately suspend Muslim immigration.

    My point it she has expressed an emotional reaction driven by fear which leaves ground to engagement and conversation. (Perhaps your point of my belittling language still stands, but I openly admit I’m no perfect human.)

    In my piece I note Hanson’s gestures, and my surprise at them – but also note that I am skeptical and reserve judgement. I am cautious because she has a very long and troubled history, and I still hold a deep aversion to essentially every single One Nation policy.

    Suspending judgement is a sensible thing to do. Let’s see where she goes in the coming weeks and months, shall we?

    On your point about the other side of the spectrum – I would view her equivalent on the Left to be an anarchist who openly advocates for the abolition of the government. Perhaps thats too far Left. Maybe an extreme Trotskyist advocating for a dramatic redistribution of wealth.

    I’d feel as equally distant from a Hanson type voice on the Extreme Left – the difference is their views are less relevant at the moment.

  7. Phantom said:

    So, instead of angrily attacking Kruger, you belittle her by calling her “not the brightest spark” (which you have now edited out), fearful and ignorant, and calling her views dangerous (without actually explaining why you think that).

    Attacking angrily, or patronisingly belittling somebody. I’m not sure which is worse.

    Then you go on to applaud Attai for extending an invitation but don’t offer Hanson any praise for how she handled the two situations, and her willingness to engage. I guess you consider only people on one side of the political spectrum worthy of applause.

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