Rebutting Julian Burnside

March 10, 2015 by Geoff Bloch
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It is Julian Burnside’s opinion that the Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Andrew Bolt pose the greatest threat to our way of life (“The Islamophobia stirred up by Abbott and Bolt is a bigger threat to us than terrorism” The Guardian 26/2)…writes Geoff Bloch.

In addition to this absurdity, Burnside expresses a range of views on related matters, each of which is easily rebutted –

Argument No. 1 –

Geoff Bloch

Geoff Bloch

“I detest extremism of any persuasion. One reason I think we should be less hysterical about boat people is that most of them are fleeing the same extremists we dread.”

Rebuttal –

Some boat people inevitably are fleeing danger, but I suspect relatively few. Once they fly in and make landfall in Indonesia, they cannot reasonably be regarded as escaping any immediate threat. The unimaginable misery caused by many hundreds of deaths at sea was the result of the ALP relaxing our border protection laws. It amazes me that those involved in relaxing those laws take no responsibility whatsoever for those deaths. It should shame them for the rest of their lives. It was all so tragically foreseeable and the ALP was warned that its irresponsible amendments would result in deaths at sea.

Argument No. 2 –

“I would make exactly the same point about people who stir up hatred of any other group.  Right now, Islamophobia is the new antisemitism, and it is dangerous.”

Rebuttal –

Even accepting, for the sake of argument, that Islamophobia is as widespread as Burnside impliedly suggests, his analogy with antisemitism does not withstand even the briefest scrutiny. Anti-Semitism has historically been directed against a helpless minority which has never posed a societal threat within host countries. Anti-Semitism is therefore irrational by any objective measure and has deep roots caused by millennia of negative stereotyping of Jews. In stark contrast, a fear of violent Islam is perfectly understandable, especially in the modern world, as we see atrocity after atrocity perpetrated in the name of Allah. The new phenomenon of targeting civilians in host countries poses a real and present danger.

Argument No. 3 –

“(T)he Lindt café siege was not a Muslim terrorist event: it was not any sort of terrorist event.  It was the terrible act of a madman.  The fact that he was a Muslim is utterly irrelevant.”

Rebuttal –

While Man Haron Monis was a known criminal, he was clearly motivated by the call by ISIS to wage war on civilians in host countries and his was similar to other terrorist acts around the world. Abbott would have been remiss had he not made specific reference to Muslims in his national security address because Islamic terrorism is the only brand which realistically exists in Australia. Abbott gets it, unlike President Obama who is presently the butt of ridicule, even from the Left, for his recent speeches at the ridiculously termed “conference on violent extremism” where the known enemy cannot even be named.

Argument No. 4 –

“But most Muslims do not support terrorism, either here or overseas.”

Rebuttal –

So what? Most Germans didn’t support the gassing and burning of innocent Jews yet it was undertaken on an industrial scale. The recurring refrain we always hear that “most Muslims do not support terrorism” is irrelevant to the question whether the Government and our security agencies are correct in calling out Islamic terrorism and taking steps to prevent it. Moderate Muslims should welcome the expression “Muslim extremist” because, by definition, it differentiates them from those followers of their faith who shame their religion.

Argument No. 5 –

“A small group of zealots support ISIS and want to join its fight.  If there are 50 jihadists in Australia who would fight with ISIS (unlikely), that represents about two Australians in a million who are sharply at odds with us.  Is two in a million really a big enough threat to encourage us to abandon long-held principles of justice, fairness and liberty?”

Rebuttal –

It is misleading to represent an assumption as fact and then base an argument on that assumption. Burnside offers no proof supporting his statistic of 50 Australian jihadists and he fails altogether to number their supporters. Many more have travelled overseas to join ISIS and the Prime Minister last week publicly disclosed that ASIO is currently carrying out over 400 terrorism-related investigations. The argument is hollow in any event. We are living in a world where even a small minority actively engaged in terrorist activity can do great evil. It took only 19 terrorists to murder over 3,000 innocent civilians on 9/11 and to bring the Western World to a standstill.

Argument No. 6 –

“Mr Abbott has suggested that we should not give the benefit of the doubt when making decisions about bail.  A person charged with any offence (other than the most serious) is presumed to be entitled to bail, so they do not have to stay in jail until their trial.  Those charged with, for example, murder, are presumed not entitled to bail.”

Rebuttal –

Indeed. And those arrested on terrorism related charges should fall within the “murder” category and be entitled to bail only in exceptional circumstances. That is logical because the ultimate objective of the terrorist is wanton murder for political or ideological purposes. If left to roam free in society, they pose a very real danger.

Argument No. 7 –

“Abbott’s recent comments about the threat of terrorism were plainly directed at the risk of Muslim terrorism.”

Rebuttal –

This is undoubtedly true and it is justified. No other brand of terrorism realistically exists in Australia.

Argument No. 8 –

“Andrew Bolt’s writing frequently plays up the risk of Muslim terrorism. Both Abbott and Bolt have voices which are widely heard and uncritically accepted. They are both significant elements of an increasing anti-Muslim sentiment in the community.”

Rebuttal –

There is a distinction between calling out and opposing Islamic extremism (which is legitimate) and demonising Muslims in general (which is not). Burnside fails to provide any example of where Andrew Bolt has focused on the latter.

Julian William Kennedy Burnside QC is an Australian barrister, human rights and refugee advocate, and author.

Geoff Bloch is a  Melbourne Barrister practising in contract and property law.



6 Responses to “Rebutting Julian Burnside”
  1. Everett Benson says:

    The “way of life” that Julian Burnside says is threatened by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and media figure Andrew Bolt is, I suppose, the one that insists on freedom of speech even for views that one objects to.

    That being the case, it would follow that Julian Burnside is self-evidently the one who threatens our way of life, not Prime Minister Abbott or Andrew Bolt.

    He calls for example for a ban on any discussion of the actual “refugee” status of Muslims fleeing Middle Eastern states and passing by neighbouring and all other Muslim states, travelling for thousands of miles to enter Australia, making use of criminal syndicates to smuggle themselves into the country, and often destroying all travel documents just before arrival to hide their actual names and backgrounds. The propensity to violence by very many of these “refugees” is shown in riots, attacks on security guards, abuse of fellow “refugees” including children, and burning down whole detention centres, something not done by any other refugee groups including Vietnamese refugees incarcerated for years in camps, and European Jewish refugees detained in abominable conditions in central Australian camps during World War II as “enemy aliens.” Anyone challenging such criminal refugee behaviours “threatens our way of life,” according to Julian Burnside. However, the opposite is the case: enforcing silence about these matters is already a violation of “our way of life.” One needs no diplomas in law to know that, and Burnside’s expertise is evidently devoted to subverting what he allegedly “defends.”

    He then goes on to extend this into advocacy of suppression of criticism of Islam itself and/or Islamic terrorism and their extremist supporters, even though the reality of the problem is shown around the world in every day’s newspaper. His views therefore constitute a threat to the norms governing our way of life.

  2. Andrew Mezei says:

    I think your rebuttal to argument No.1 is flawed because it fails to address the complexity of assylum seeker’s circumstances. According the the UNHCR , on arrival to Indonesia, assylum seekers are stateless and therefore inelligible for employment, health care etc. So you may be right that the immediate threat to their safety is passed, but as a stateless person in Indonesia, they have no foundation for a life.

    It’s very dissapointing that successive Australian governments have broadly painted refugees as either possible terrorists, or economic opportunists. However, Iraq and Afghanistan did not produce refugees in significant numbers until war broke out. Therefore I assume nearly all are genuinely fleeing unacceptable danger.
    If this is true, how should we treat them?

  3. Otto Waldmann says:

    There are a few points in the area of rebuttal which need refining.

    Argument 2.

    There is a fundamental distinction between ANTIsemitism and islamoPHOBIA.
    In concrete terms ANTIsemitism has manifested itself by precisely the meaning of the prefix “anti” , through clear acts of oppression, persecution, active acts of violent physical extermination. Jews have SUFFERED a seemingly infinite types of physical persecution.

    Islamophobia has as suffix “phobia” which is ONLY a manifestation of
    F E A R , reaching morbid stages. It is, therefore, an internalised process which AT WORST will manifest itself by distancing the subject of phobia from the object causing fear. It is a rejection as such, but, as evinced by events, NOT affected by violent rejection, intent of extermination. Islam itself contains explicit oppressive norms against others, leading to incitement to violent means, indeed acts of antisemitism among OTHERS.
    Islamophobia, therefore can also be seen as a measure of LEGITIMATE DEFENCE.

    Argument 3.
    Moms DISPLAYED THE ISIS flag during his siege, therefore his connexion to islam is more than evident.

    Argument 4.
    Faulty in rebuttal. Nazism in Germany by 1938 reached almost complete approval by the German population left outside concentration camps or in political emigration. All Nazi policies, including the persecution of Jews received massive popular support. One example stick to my mind. Nazis came to power by March 1933. Approximately by May the same year the Berlin Music Conservatory voted unanimously the firing of Arnold Shonberg from the institution on account of being Jewish, ALTHOUGH he converted some thirty years earlier AND the Nurnberg Laws (1938) were NOT yet promulgated !!!Most of those voting Schonberg out were not even nazi party card carrying members . With the mass persecution of all anti nazi political parties ( Social Dem. and Communists in particular ) immediately after the ascent to power and a large abandonment of those parties by the initial voters, Germany became a solid nazi entity.

    Argument 5.

    ISIS function on a variety of support, obviously the most important is the most evident, military one , yet it may be assumed that ISIS as well as islamic extremism of similar kind has a more extensive support among muslims. It does not have to be the ISIS kind of support to be extremist and terrorist. Hezbolah as well as Hamas are also terrorist organisations as well as a myriad of others which in part and collectively speaking form a much greater cause for concern than even a mere four hundred known or suspected active military volunteers.

    Julian Burnside offers a typical lawyer’s selective argument. In syllogistic terms he starts with a favoured false first premise and carries on with series of tendentious follow-ups which, when revealed through comprehensive causistics, are all but absurd, serving pernicious political agendas, not even an elementary exercise in logic. It is simply amazing that he has the temerity, actually hubris, to come out in public with such embarrasing stuff devoid of any intellectual pertinence. Who is this guy and why is he given public space on opinions !!! Did someone say “lawyer” !!!!!

    • GEOFFREY BLOCH says:

      While I acknowledge almost all of Mr. Waldmann’s interesting insights, his attempt to disprove my statement in argument No. 4 that “(m)ost Germans didn’t support the gassing and burning of innocent Jews yet it was undertaken on an industrial scale” by referring to the approval of Nazism by the German population in the 1930s, is somewhat illogical. As obscene and as anti-Semitic as Mr. Waldmann’s specific examples of persecution against Jews were, they did not involve the systematic murder by gassing and burning as ratified by the Wannsee conference in January, 1942. There is a distinction to be drawn between a population bearing responsibility for the outrageous actions of its leadership and the express approval of those actions. So when, in the present context, Julian Burnside inanely parrots that “most Moslems do not support terrorism,” that is of no comfort to us, just as it didn’t help those millions of innocent Jews murdered in the final solution that their fate was not expressly ratified by “most Germans”. Geoff Bloch

      • Otto Waldmann says:

        While I admit that some of Mr. Bloch’s comments are acceptable, it must be agreed that the ASSUMPTION as per the majority of Germans not coalescing into the “final solution” is to a great extent false. Mass exterminations as method were introduced by the nazis well before 1942.Dachau concentration camp ( and extermination) was created shortly after the nazi ascent to power, in 1933. Dachau is in the heart of Bavaria, in a densly populated rural and semiurban area.I visited it.
        It was a vast detention camp and, at first, most German communist leaders ( including Ernst Thaleman ), were interned and murdered there. Later it took large numbers of Jews as well. My own Uncle, Rabbi Briszk Otto was murdered at Dachau. While the actual “final solution” was not publicised as such, therefore it does not follow that express disapproval by the great majority of Germans could have been recorded, it was not apparent, ( and it may be falsely assumed that “approval” as such did not occur )it may be safely assumed that radical antisemitic measures, tantamount to extermination, did meet tacit approval by a Germany dominated by ALL nazi known policies, no matter how extreme. Pervasive acceptance of nazi ideology among the Germans was comprehensively studied in the seminal “Authoritarian Personality” and all successive reliable studies of the same. It is, therefore, safe to assume that most Germans were aware of the fate of the Jews who encountered nazified Germany. It must also be noted that the massive extermination of Jews on the Eastern front by SS auxiliaries was a known fact among the rest of the Wermacht, an army which numbered practically millions of Germans. It was done openly in territories controlled by the Wermacht. That included the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto etc.A Judenrein Germany was not, after all, a secret, it could not have been. Bloch’s assumption could be seen as ( I will grant, unintentional )absolving the great majority of Germans of tacit coalescing into the Shoah.
        It is important to note that today Germany is making overt efforts in exposing precisely the FACT that , during the nazi period, a great number of Germans DID aid murderous policies by their inactivity, as I said, tantamount to support. Recently I was in Berlin at the concert hall of the Berlin Philarmonic. RIGHT in front of it there is a bus stop. On one of the sides of the shed there is a fairly large poster representing the picture of a nazi concentration camp commander, his criminal past described in details and the title of the text is “There Were Many Like Him “. It was placed there by German officials, not by some NGO etc.
        Also one notices IN THE MIDDLE OF BERLIN “Ben Gurion Strasse” and “Itzhak Rabin Strasse”.
        It is fair to say that Germany has come a long way…..

  4. Rabbi Pinchos Woolstone says:

    I have known Tony Abbott for 20 years, he is a strong believer in fairness.
    He never expressed any Islamophobic comments to me.
    He is, against extreme Jihad thinking and promotes the idea of moderation
    He is a stronger supporter of the Jewish Community and the State of Israel.

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