Senator Kristina Keneally and Shadow Health Minister Chris Bowen are missing the point.
Senator Kristina Keneally and Shadow Health Minister Chris Bowen are missing the point.

Labor continues to ignore what free speech really means

THE left may think it has a monopoly on calling out extremism, but the inconvenient truth is it's so busy trying to silence others, it doesn't acknowledge it in its own ranks.

The latest target has been Raheem Kassam, hitherto a little-known figure among Australians, but the former London editor of Breitbart News as well as an ex-adviser to Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage.

Kassam was a guest speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) over the weekend, but only because Labor's home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally didn't get her way.

The senator had used parliamentary privilege to accuse Kassam of being a "career bigot" and "a person who spreads hate speech about Muslims, about women and about gay and lesbian people", demanding he be denied entry to the country.

Keneally also shamed the Liberals speaking alongside Kassam at the conference - Senator Amanda Stoker and MP Craig Kelly among them - and said the conference represented the "normalisation of the extreme right wing in Australia."

Now, it's true this Kassam bloke has said some unsavoury things in the past, not least his remark about Scottish National Party leader Nicole Sturgeon whose legs he said should be taped shut so "she can't reproduce", particularly insensitive given she'd had a miscarriage.

It's worth noting he later apologised for the comment.

Senator Kristina Keneally fought to have Kassam’s visa denied. Picture: AAP/Sam Mooy
Senator Kristina Keneally fought to have Kassam’s visa denied. Picture: AAP/Sam Mooy

But to try to have the bloke banned for his comments on Islam, given he is an ex-Muslim who spent 20 years in the faith, is nothing if not an extremist position in itself.

Elsewhere, there are mad mullahs and tyrannical Islamist leaders who rule by Sharia law and would have apostates like Kassam executed for blasphemy.

Guardian columnist Jason Wilson even tried to blame Kassam, whose family is still Muslim, for the Christchurch terror attack.

"Any Australian activist or leader who appears on the same stage as Kassam has clearly not reflected on the contribution that Islamophobic political commentary may have made to an Australian allegedly murdering 50 Muslims in Christchurch not five months ago," Wilson wrote.

Kassam should have every right in a free society to criticise his former religion and Australia should play no role in censoring that.

After all, as Kassam pointed out in his CPAC talk, it was the extremist elements of Islam that turned him off the ideology for good.

He was in the year below Jihadi John - the now dead Islamic State terrorist who notoriously starred in the group's videos of hostage beheadings - at London's University of Westminster and says he was first put off Islam when he attended an Islamic Society meeting, where members were cheering footage of the September 11 attacks.

British political activist Raheem Kassam has offended the left wing while visiting Australia. Picture: AAP/Bianca De Marchi
British political activist Raheem Kassam has offended the left wing while visiting Australia. Picture: AAP/Bianca De Marchi

He later started a counter-extremism pressure group in the UK, which highlighted instances of radical Islamic preachers going onto university campuses to talk about throwing homosexuals off buildings and mountaintops, how it's appropriate to beat your wife "lightly" and advocating for female genital mutilation.

So Kaseem knows a thing or two about extremism.

"(Keneally) would probably prefer Jihadi John was standing on this stage, quite frankly," he quipped on stage.

The hypocrisy is that Keneally herself is no stranger to critiquing religion - in her case, Catholicism - but you don't get accused of phobia or bigotry for that; you get accolades.

Keneally's leader Anthony Albanese also played along, telling Sky News on Sunday that another speaker at the conference - Kassam's former boss Nigel Farage - was "extreme".

"There's enough extreme right-wingers here in Australia without us importing them and I think his comments have largely been very negative," Albanese said.

There is some irony in the fact that at the same time the ALP was denigrating conference speakers for apparent extremism, it was merrily welcoming UK Labour's Emily Thornberry, a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, to Australia.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said that “rhere’s enough extreme right-wingers here in Australia without us importing them”. Picture: Kym Smith
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said that “rhere’s enough extreme right-wingers here in Australia without us importing them”. Picture: Kym Smith

Both Albanese and Keneally were only too happy to pose grinning alongside the shadow foreign secretary in snaps posted to her Twitter feed.

That's despite her party being absolutely riven by claims of antisemitism driven by its hard-left leader Corbyn.

This is a man who has infamously described terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah as "friends", posed a few years ago with a wreath near the graves of terrorists who killed Israeli Olympic athletes in 1972, and appeared at a pro-Palestinian protest alongside the Hezbollah flag.

The party he leads is now haemorrhaging members at a rate of more than 100 a day, and has received many hundreds of complaints of antisemitism in the past year.

Yet Albanese has been content to meet with Corbyn at least three times in the past 17 or so months and the pair are reportedly close.

It all makes Keneally's comments to the Senate about CPAC leaders "having links to anti-Semitism" a big joke.

But Labor can't grasp its own double standard here.

If it could, perhaps it would begin by asking why it never denounces the many socialist conferences that are freely held in the country, including one later this month in Sydney billed as the city's "biggest festival of radical ideas", despite that ideology being responsible for the deaths of close to 100 million people around the world?

Caroline Marcus is a senior reporter at Sky News.

@carolinemarcus