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Wednesday, 16 August 2017
Page: 5900


Senator LEYONHJELM (New South Wales) (19:33): I would like to make some brief observations on the challenge of Islamism to the liberal democratic state.

Contrary to the views of some, liberalism does not mean tolerance of pretty much anything. In his important book, The Open Society and its Enemies, philosopher Karl Popper outlined the paradox of tolerance: that unlimited tolerance must lead to the end of tolerance because, by definition, the intolerant seek its elimination and, faced with no resistance, they will prevail.

In his letter concerning toleration, the great exponent of classical liberalism, John Locke, neatly summed up the issue for liberalism when he argued that faiths that were tolerant of others should be respected, but those which advocated the suppression of other faiths did not deserve the freedom which they themselves sought to deny. Clearly, freedom of religious belief, including the right to have no religious belief, is an inalienable right in any free society. It's not a right granted by government; it can only be taken by government.

However, the right to believe something and advocate for it cannot extend to actions which seek to suppress the same right of others to hold beliefs which are different. To mean anything, liberty of conscience must have limits. Those limits are, of necessity, the points at which the liberty of conscience of one individual would impinge on that of another. So, if you claim that your religious beliefs justify coercion towards others, then you have gone beyond exercising your own freedom to deny it to others. Someone simply claiming a religious justification for coercion or its advocacy should not exempt them from accountability in law; otherwise, our pretensions to being a free society will quickly unravel.

This is why the very concept of sharia law strikes at the heart of the liberal society and is an anathema to the Liberal Democrats. In a liberal society, the rights and obligations of individuals should reflect the practical requirements of living and working together in a way that maximises the individual freedom of all. If you choose to limit your choices or actions because of your own religious beliefs, that should be your right. However, seeking to impose such limitations on others by force of law, even on those who are fellow members of your religion, is fundamentally incompatible with liberal democracy.

We in the Liberal Democrats respect the right of individual Muslims to practice their faith, just as we respect the rights of Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and every other faith. However, we utterly condemn those Muslims who advocate intolerance, oppression or violence and who seek to use their religion to justify this. They are not exercising religious freedom; they are using faith as a cover for tyranny. Those who seek to use their beliefs as a Trojan horse for an authoritarian political agenda must be denounced by everyone who supports freedom, not only because it's contrary to our values as a nation, but because to tolerate it actively undermines our liberty. Tolerance of intolerance is not liberalism but the abrogation of it; therefore anyone who is prepared to tolerate Islamism cannot legitimately call themselves a liberal.