Comment From Dr. Michael McKinley: Rationality Of Terror

The decision by a group of ANU academics to withdraw from the Woroni‘s conference on terrorism is, to say the least, curious, and lacks more than a little in explication.  And this is not to deny that all those who engage in public debate have the right to make decisions as to where and when they will speak and write.

That said, it is not clear, for example, whether the academics in question withdrew because Mr. Doureihi was a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, or because he refused to condemn the actions of ISIL on an ABC television programme, or because ANU public relations found his presence and views distasteful, or all three.  Ultimately, I don’t think it matters:  on the basis that his views are reprehensible, he has been declared anathema.

But that is not the end of the matter.  What this collective decision does is to raise questions about who is to be heard and who is not, on what, and under what conditions – and what all of this means for the ANU’s ethical sensibilities and academic freedom.

So . . . to start with one declaration: I find ISIS to be theologically and politically reprehensible to all the values I hold and by any analysis I can muster. And one other:  I have to say that I find totalitarianism, beheadings in general, treason which results in large-scale death, war criminality, and genocide also to be reprehensible. The same goes for political and economic theories-as-practices which result in the same carnage.
In other words the category, REPREHENSIBLE is over-stocked with constituent organisations and personnel.
In my 30 years at the ANU, I have seen and heard defenders of all the above in seminars and conferences. Many were luminaries in their areas of study and profession who were heard out and not infrequently welcomed.  To the best of my knowledge no one was converted; indeed, my impression was that such occasions allowed for a deeper, but generally unchanged disposition towards the views presented.
What I recall well is the fact that, when views which were politically and ethically offensive to the declared values of so many present were articulated by (say) an Australian ally, no senior member of the Australian Government, or of the academic community, was asked to repudiate them – the latter being an interesting disposition in itself.

Expressed differently, is it now the case that, should Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, or Henry Kissinger be invited to the ANU by Woroni (always assuming that it could pay the exorbitant speaking fees they charge and the Australian Government could guarantee in Kissinger’s case, that he would not be arrested and / or extradited to Chile), they also would be ostracised in the manner accorded to Mr. Doureihi?

Rhetorical question.  I expect that, to the contrary, their presence would be heralded as a benediction upon the ANU in general and Woroni in particular.

My concern, then, is that this decision looks all too much like an exercise in cheap ethics, political opportunism, and the further corporatisation of the ANU.  None of the are consistent with the University’s dedication to know the nature of things.


Mike McKinley

Visiting Fellow

The College of Arts and Social Sciences, ANU