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The attack on free speech at the Adelaide Writers Festival

By Maria Millers

From the coffee culture of our suburbs, barbeques and dinner parties to our various media outlets there is an ingrained reluctance, in fact a determined avoidance, to discuss contentious or alternative views to issues that are preoccupying us, among them the war in Ukraine and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

In a society that likes to loud hail its democratic credentials, surely a free and uninhibited exchange of ideas – no matter how challenging – is the hallmark of a healthy, mature democracy.

It would seem that an event like the Adelaide Writers Festival is the ideal venue for civil dialogue on contested issues but as Louise Adler has discovered, this is not the case. Her programming of Abulhawa and Moammed El Kurd, writers with strong views on ‘lands, homelands and dispossession’ has come under intense fire from many quarters including Jewish organizations and festival sponsors.

The withdrawal of sponsorships is disappointing and particularly hard to understand when publisher such as Morry Scwartz withdraws his support for a festival whose theme for 2023 was, “Truth be Told” – a look at relativism, truth in fiction and the importance of truth in an age of misinformation.’

But we live in an environment where groupthink dominates our social and political discourse where dissenting and critical or alternative narratives to the prevailing zeitgeist are silenced or ignored. Even in the case of the tragedy that is Ukraine, more nuanced and contextualized commentary is absent and alternative views never canvassed.

As Adler pointed out, to only gather with and agree with people who think the same way we do is not the point of a Writers Festival. And if we “cannot with care and considered approach engage with complex and contentious issues, then we have a problem in civil society.”

And our democracy is diminished.


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  1. Murray Maxwell

    How to say something without say anything at all !!! how about mentioning the points of view ?????

  2. frances goold

    Libertarianism is such a broad church, til it ain’t.

    (Ka-ching etc).

  3. Douglas Pritchard

    Living in a democracy, however.
    I did follow a talk by Labrov (Russia foreign minister) to an audience in India, and he put forward arguements which the system would not permit here.
    It could influence how we push tax payer funds towards Ukraine if we listened.
    Wouldnt it be great to listen to a spokesman from Palestine on their struggle, and BDS project.
    Maybe thats why we really need an “Independant Media Forum” where critical thinkers can digest world events

  4. Murray Maxwell

    Let me tell you Doug, Sergey Lavrov is as bad as Putin when it comes to outright propaganda I have been following the Ukraine conflict closely since 2014 and almost every thing Lavrov says is complete bullshit so always take what he says with kilo size grain of salt as for Independent Media in Australia if you want to be informed you can be just search not like Russia

  5. Douglas Pritchard

    Murray. I hate to be a pain, but his account of events has a far better fit to the way this conflict unravelled,
    and he was exposed to a big audience in Delhi, very recently.
    What is quite relevant (i think) is that India is a strategic partner of ours, a busy trading partner, and has not condemned Russia for taking the role it has over its relationship with NATO.
    There are 2 sides to this dispute, and I would hate to think that Australia got it wrong because of who we listened to.

  6. Terence Mills

    I find this cancel culture deeply disturbing : who are these people who have taken away our right to choose whether we hear these speakers or not – it is for us to choose !

  7. Andrew Smith

    One can keep an open mind, but one does not need to encourage opinion based ‘grifter’ analysis that egregiously ignores the facts or the topic of discussion by presenting proxies and ideology, to avoid the actual empirical field and facts on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? In other words echoing Anglo faux anti-imperialism but ignoring actual analysis from informed analysts in the field does not qualify for platforming or being taken seriously?

    Douglas Pritchard, you missed a detail of Lavrov’s speech, several seconds of incredulous laughter at his statements i.e. not taken seriously; claiming ‘two sides’ is base ‘whataboutism’ masking complex issues (classic conservative tactic).

    More importantly, these demands for free speech, different points of view etc. not only follow the right wing nativist libertarian ‘Trojan horse’ masquerading as talking points or ‘analysis’, but are tactics integral to up end grounded analysis, (climate/Covid) science and empowered citizens; e.g. see transnational GOP, Tory & LNP focus or obsessions with K12 & higher ed curricula.

    Go back some years in the US it was the FCC’s ‘fairness doctrine’ e.g. truth, balanced analysis, science process etc. but this was subverted by FoxNews’ ‘fair & balanced’ meaning every centrist talking point, science theme etc. had to be challenged, creating the ‘dreaded binary’; misrepresents complex fields, creates much antagonism and then suggests simplistic ‘solutions’….

    It’s a concern as to how many formerly right on centrists now transmit right wing talking points e.g. claiming Putin’s imperialist Russia invading Ukraine as a victim of US/NATO while ignoring interests of bordering nations and the EU (which is despised by both Anglo right & Putin’s Russia).

  8. Douglas Pritchard

    Cherrypicking is in constant use, and I am very familiar with building on morsels, and ignoring the bigger picture.
    I am not suggesting events in Ukraine are civilized by our standards, but in the light of all other things on this planet we choose blowing up more stuff, over discussion about a peacefull resolution.
    I watched a 1 minute clip at a 2.5 hour press conference the other day and it was blown into a long news item about the love affair between Zeliinsky, and Australia and how bushmasters are saving the “rules based system”.
    Over 8 million have scattered, and what remains of Ukraine is being reduced to dust by ordinance from both sides
    Its simply more propaganda.
    Mind you, we might have wondered about 9/11 if it hadnt been for the pilots passport falling to earth just outside the perimeter of all the debris? CIA was on the ball for that one.

  9. Murray Maxwell

    Douglas Pritchard I think you must be terribly naive if you cannot see that Ukraine is a sovereign nation that was brutally and ruthlessly invaded both in 2014 and in 2022 using the pathetic lie of an excuse that Russia was some how under threat by Nazi Gay Satanists and that there was a coup d’etat in 2014 it was not a coup d’etat it was a popular uprising or peoples revolution , Myanmar was a coup d’etat there is a BIG difference !!! And for a start NATO is a DEFENCE origination and every member that is there is there of their own FREE will and in no way coerced to be there . also Lavrov was almost laughed off the stage at the G20 in India for his absurd assertions that Russia is somehow a victim in this war and the reason India dose not want to offend Russia is that India gets their missile defence systems from Russia to protect from Nuclear attack from Pakistan and also a lot of other weapons from Russia . The facts don’t lie Ukraine IS a sovereign state and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a violation of its territorial integrity and of the Charter of the United Nations. so the ONLY resolution to the conflict is for Russia to pull ALL it’s forces OUT of ALL of Ukraine and to pay restitution then face the ICC for all the war crimes it committed . These are FACTS not up for interpretation just FACTS !!!!

  10. Andrew Smith

    Douglas Pritchard you are welcome to your opinions, but as you offer no (credible) sources, it’s merely subjective, suggesting Putin is a willing good faith negotiator and Zelensky is granted too much attention by Oz media?

    Good analysis focuses upon credible and verifiable research using Russian, Ukraine, European, other and Anglo sources, academic &/or journalistic, to understand both Russia and Ukraine (mainstream media barely counts), then presented well for ease of analysis (vs. ABC RN removing transcripts of interviews….).

    Issue in the Anglosphere, esp. US, media encouragement to follow US sources promoted in media, and oppose anything credible from Russia, Ukraine & Europe? Conga line includes old fossil fuel oligarchs (coincidence?) Mearsheimer (Charles Koch), Sachs (Rockefeller Foundation), Kissinger-Chomsky (old Nixon, now a Koch Inst.), the former two have both kissed the ring of Hungarian PM ‘mini Putin’ Orban also chum of Tony Abbott and popular with FoxNews & CPAC?

    Others include those around the ‘Grayzone’ (pro Assad/Syria & Russian conspiracies e.g. vs. ‘white helmets’) inc. Mate & Blumenthal, and Greenwald formerly of The Intercept but now turns up on FoxNews; described by Draitser of CounterPunch as ‘fake anti-imperialist sh*theads’ plus an Oz ‘writer’ has emerged Caitlin Johnstone, who echoes right wing talking points (via Pearls & Irritations being astroturfed?)? Does this reflect a need for money with no social security fall back or is it simply a stark example of how dumb US media and media types have become?

  11. B Sullivan

    Talking of free speech, it seems you’re not allowed to speak Russian in Ukraine. Not since the anti-democratic US/NATO backed coup to install an anti-Russian government took over. Talk about cancelling Russian culture, how could that possibly provoke Russian-speaking Ukrainians and lead to conflict?

    It is good that Ukrainians can still listen to Prokofiev when the radio is working. It is a shame they have to give up Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky, Shostakovich and not even listen to Mussorgsky’s wonderful ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ with its inspiring piece ‘The Great Gates of Kiev’. All because those composers were born in the wrong place making appreciation of their work ‘unpatriotic’.

    And it is also good that they haven’t succumbed to public book burning. They pulp Russian books and recycle them instead. Even ethnic cleansing can be made more environmentally acceptable if you are willing to put in a bit of effort.

    Andrew Smith, “…one does not need to encourage opinion based ‘grifter’ analysis that egregiously ignores the facts or the topic of discussion by presenting proxies and ideology, to avoid the actual empirical field and facts on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?”

    The word egregiously is supposed to mean that what you refer to stands out amongst the many. Consequently, it is difficult to understand what you mean by it. I would however say that Russia’s invasion is egregious in that it is condemned by the West which really stands out given the lack of condemnation or sanctions imposed on other countries that resort to invasion at the slightest chance, such as the US, Britain and Australia.

    The empirical facts are that Russia was provoked into this conflict. The empirical facts are that the massive evidence of deliberate provocation is being deliberately suppressed in our society. The empirical facts are that the Provocateurs who have planned, engineered and maintained this war for ten years now are not being held to account. Which is the worst crime, provoking a completely unnecessary war, or being provoked into fighting a completely unnecessary war? Be very clear, you cannot blame one without blaming the other. Why aren’t we sanctioning all of the protagonists?

  12. Canguro

    B Sullivan, re. ‘The word egregiously is supposed to mean that what you refer to stands out amongst the many.’, while correct in the etymological origin, in its more common & modern usage it’s a little bit more than that.

    Dictionaries will add that it also means ‘conspicuously and outrageously bad or reprehensible’, ‘outstandingly bad; shocking’, ‘extremely bad.’ The ‘standing out amongst the many’ or the ‘illustrious’ or ‘remarkably good’ interpretations are generally taken to be archaic.

    Contemporary synonyms include flagrant, glaring, gross, rank.

  13. Steve Davis

    Murray Maxwell asked, in a somewhat aggressive tone, “…how about mentioning the points of view ?????”

    There was no need to give the points of view. The author was outlining a principle.

    Do you agree with the principle or not?

  14. RomeoCharle29

    I am disappointed that Morry Schwarz has withdrawn his support from the festival. Presumably this is because one of the two Palestinians has some nasty things to say about Zionists. If Morry is alleging anti-semitism in the writer’s offerings it appears he might be subscribing to the discredited view that any criticism of Israel is anti-semitism. Israel is rightfully condemned by almost everyone for its illegal expansion of settlements in Palestine and its persecution of the Palestinian people. This is not anti-semitism. Even blaming Jewish settlers for their expansionist activities is not anti-semitism. Those who are not anti-semites but oppose Israel’s war on the Palestinians must keep pushing back against the idea that criticising the actions of Israel is anti-semitism, a charge that’s increasingly being used to defend Israel’s indefensibility. If Morrie Schwarz is joining that team, as his withdrawal from the Adelaide Writers Festival seems to suggest, then perhaps some of us, reluctantly, might have to withdraw our support from his various publications. The idea that a publisher would boycott a writers festival because of those it offers a platform, no matter how much we might not like their views, seems somewhat hypocritical to me.

  15. Douglas Pritchard

    At the Adelaide writers festival, or at any similar event in this country, we are not likely to have the chance to listen to a speaker who may rock the boat.
    Call it “Big Ideas” or “Dangerous Ideas” but it will be a bland soup, while all around us the world changes at an alarming pace
    We may bankrupt the nation paying for war toys that will be obsolete when they may be called on for use. Meanwhile cyber war overtakes our world and if it was up for discussion most of us could not even conjure up a question for the speaker at the festival.
    I have noticed comment from folk who are alert to audience reaction at Lasrovs talk while not listening to the core of his talk. He reminded those listening that for the previous 10 years the red line which the west agreed was going to determine what happened next.
    10 years of Ukraine beating its chest (coaxed by US?), and trying to avoid the fact that it was trying to ignore its neighbouring nuclear-armed substantial nation.
    What Putin did was simply what he had threatened to do. The nervous laughter from the audience was a reaction to the fact that the guy was honest, and not going to be intimidated any longer. That’s history now.
    And RC29 is on the team looking for a bit of critical thought

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