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Clash of principles, not cultures, in Islamic lecture case

Last week The Australian reported that female attendees at a recent Islamic studies event held at the University of Melbourne had been directed to sit at the back of the lecture theatre, in breach of the…

The University of Melbourne has come under fire over reports of gender segregation at a public lecture on Islamic culture. avlxyz

Last week The Australian reported that female attendees at a recent Islamic studies event held at the University of Melbourne had been directed to sit at the back of the lecture theatre, in breach of the principle of gender equity.

Yesterday opposition leader Tony Abbott accused the university of leaping back to the dark ages while the Minister for the Status of Women, Julie Collins, described the university’s approach as disappointing.

Here, University of Melbourne’s Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis responds to those criticisms. Further perspectives will be published over coming days.


The Australian’s report on gender segregation during an event held at the University of Melbourne has provoked condemnation by politicians, academics and letter writers, all keen to defend Enlightenment values.

The facts of the case are simple. A community group booked a room at the university, after teaching hours, to run an event about Islamic issues. The group did not claim any association with the university.

In hindsight, the university poorly communicated its expectations when providing space on campus. Hiring venues is a commercial transaction. The university needs to ensure the law, and its own policies, will not be broken by activities on campus. The standard University of Melbourne venue hire rules took for granted, rather than spelled out, requirements for equality when people use a university location. This omission will be addressed.

I acknowledge the error, and do not support gender segregation at a public event on campus. Before the rush to judgement, though, the issue still raises an important question. When discrimination is at stake what matters is the rule of law – a point overlooked by the original article, and little discussed in the controversy that followed.

The religious nature of the campus meeting was advertised: an Islamic gathering to discuss and promote aspects of Islamic faith.

According to The Australian, signs directed women to one part of the room, and men to another. As the report acknowledges, this was not always followed – some chose mixed company.

The report did not indicate whether the signs were an instruction or, as others suggest, a courtesy to those whose beliefs require seating separated by gender.

Belief is the operative word. This meeting was a voluntary religious gathering.

The report in The Australian stresses gender segregation. It opens with criticism of “sexual apartheid” and attacks the university for failing to condemn the practice.

Neither the original report, nor subsequent opinion pieces, consider Australian law. Yet the Sex Discrimination Act (1984), Section 37.d is precise: the prohibition on gender discrimination does not affect “an act or practice that conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of that religion”.

Segregation is controversial within the broader Islamic world. Only some Muslim adherents see separation by sex as intrinsic to their faith – but for them, such segregation is a religious obligation.

Despite the one-dimensional commentary on the Melbourne meeting there is not one principle at stake but two – gender segregation, and the right to religious practice enshrined in Australian law.

When Tony Abbott finds it “absolutely extraordinary that a great liberal institution would take a huge leap back into the dark ages”, he defends liberalism by ignoring other liberal values such as tolerance and freedom of assembly.

Dr Jennifer Oriel condemns any exemptions for religious practice on campus. She knows this would close down Islamic prayer rooms at universities if they involve facilities separated by gender – even when such arrangements are entirely lawful.

Universities are committed to equality in everything from student selection to employment. They obey and promote the law on discrimination.

But a university must be careful when imposing its preferences on students, staff or community who rent a room on campus to hold a meeting.

If an activity is expressly protected under Australian law, the rationale for any ban must be articulated with care. Democratic liberalism accepts that others see the world differently, and are entitled to act on their beliefs provided no harm follows.

Both gender equality (article 2) and a right to “religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance” (article 18) are enshrined in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The controversy at the University of Melbourne is a clash of principles, not just a case of discrimination. It is neither naive nor hypocritical for the university to weigh morality, the law, and the liberal ethos of campus life when deciding whether to make facilities available.

Faced with contending values, there is no simple calculus to decide that one principle must be absolute. Equality of the sexes is a key value – and so is toleration of religious practice. Any response requires a reasoned conversation about how best to work with these competing principles.

If those who criticise the university believe no gender segregation is ever acceptable, even among faith communities, let them argue so explicitly – and argue why this is a defensible imposition on personal rights. In such a debate, the location on a campus is irrelevant.

Had university rules been communicated more effectively, the Islamic group may have taken their meeting elsewhere. Even so, they deserve the same respect and consideration our society extends to other religious practices. This controversy would be well served by more reflection before the pious media releases and cries of outrage. Intolerance can cut more than one way.

Join the conversation

111 Comments sorted by

Comments on this article are now closed.

  1. Phil Dolan

    Viticulturist

    Very well presented Glyn. Looking forward to further articles.

    To the Australian.............. No, won't go there.

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  2. Gerard Dean

    Managing Director

    Not a bad response to a difficult issue by the Vice Chancellor.

    While is an affront that women were sent to the back of the room in the Islamic studies event, we should remember that other religions treat men and women differently as well.

    I believe that women and men are seated differently in Jewish places of worship. This is not the case in Christian religions, however, in most of these (all?), the priesthood is the preserve of men only.

    With this in mind, no doubt there have been Catholic…

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    1. Phil Dolan

      Viticulturist

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      'I believe that women and men are seated differently in Jewish places of worship. This is not the case in Christian religions'

      'I believe' 'This is not'

      'I believe' means I heard it somewhere. 'This is not' means I know.

      The fact is that religious zealots, nutters, of all religions, including Christians, separate men and women.

      With evolution of the mind, this will gradually diminish.

      You obviously know the Christian way of life. So, go to a synagogue and see what happens there and you will learn that Jews are the same as you. They just sing different songs.

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    2. Gary Luke
      Gary Luke is a Friend of The Conversation.

      thoroughly disgusted

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      According to the Vice-Chancellor it was a discussion about Islamic issues, not a religious worship event. Please don't compare their separation of sexes to Jewish practices. Men and women are seated separately during Synagogue worship but not at gatherings for other purposes.

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    3. Andrej Pavkovic

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      FYI, in some Christian Orthodox churches, women and men stand on opposite sides of the church aisle - however this practice has more to do with community tradition and not much to do with church doctrine. In fact it's a practice that persists in the (more traditional, conservative) diaspora (including Australia) than in these churches' home countries, where the local doctrinal authorities insist that there is no need for segregation...

      There are also a bunch of other gender-based rules in the…

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    4. Sylvie Leber

      artist/fitness instructor/mentor/activist

      In reply to Gary Luke

      This is not true. For example, at weddings there are separations amongst the ulta-orthodox.

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    5. Edwin Flynn

      I am a early retired executive at Worked in Local Government, Education and Financial Services Industries

      In reply to Gary Luke

      Gary you are in fact incorrect. There are Orthodox Jew that segregate men and women. They disapprove of a man showing effection to his wife, even when making love. Read some of the following link: http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2013/02/women-must-walk-behind-their-husbands-but-never-along-side-them-vizhnitzer-rebbe-says-456.html

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  3. Natasha turnbull

    Student

    In the name of culture tolerance, the political left and the academics would readily surround our western principles and values to pamper minority groups.

    What is next? Letting out a room for stoning a woman because it is their cultural practice?

    University is a symbol of civilization. It should not be a place for all sorts of voodoo practice whatever it may be acceptable for that particular religion or culture.

    My next question - why the political left/ academics are so scared of Islam? In many aspects, Islam is a violent, suppressive and backward religion. Why they are so silent?

    Our tolerant society has to tolerate intolerant religion or culture.

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    1. Trevor McGrath

      uneducated twit

      In reply to Natasha turnbull

      In the dim dark past I've been stoned with a women in a room on a Uni campus. Wasn't bad either. Get over it you people. I'm sure if anyone was offended they would have left, after all, like in any religion, or club or job, if we don't like we walk, we all know where the door is. Cheers

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    2. Liam O'Dea

      Principal at Livestock

      In reply to Natasha turnbull

      Unbelievable! Gender segregation is most widely observed at most w/end BBQs right across Australia. Check it out.

      If some men choose to mingle with men, and some women choose to mingle with women what .... business is it of yours.

      It seems that some people want to proclaim themselves as haters of Muslims and/or academia.

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    3. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Trevor McGrath

      Just remember you have the luxury of living in a democracy where most things are tolerated, and where we don't (and shouldn't) accept these outmoded customs as our way of life.

      A country where the rule of law is secular, and where religion does not impinge on our daily lives.

      So your comments are empty.

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    4. Bao-Luo Zhidao

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Natasha turnbull

      In the name of culture(sic) victimisation, the political right and the ignoramuses would not readily surround(sic) their outdated prejudices and bigotry to dignify minority groups.

      What is next? Letting out a room for bashing an immigrant because it is their cultural practice?

      Church is a symbol of conformity. It should not be a place for all sorts of technological progress whatever(sic) it may be acceptable for that particular research or committee.

      My next question - why the political…

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    5. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Bao-Luo Zhidao

      ***We need to focus on removing extremes and implied intolerance.***

      My understanding is "we" are doing exactly that by focusing on the more intolerant and outmoded practices of not only Islam but other religions as well.

      The fact that not all Muslims are violent is irrelevant.

      In one sense there are no "moderate" Muslims of Christians - the teachings of both religion are held at the account of texts that are up to 2000 years old. Either you follow those texts or you don't - not pick and…

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    6. Sean Lamb

      Science Denier

      In reply to Natasha turnbull

      "Letting out a room for stoning a woman because it is their cultural practice?"
      I am sure Natasha is equally outraged when she goes to the swimming pool and sees signs directing men and women to different room for changing purposes.
      Or is that not a cultural practice?
      Anyway I think the event was involved with showing hate propaganda glorifying war - which to me is far more offensive than whether the women sat at the front or the back.

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    7. Nicky Robinson

      Communicator

      In reply to Natasha turnbull

      Whoah Natasha!

      "Islam is a violent, suppressive and backward religion."??? DId you not understand the tone of the Vice Chancellor's article. It is all about cautioning against imposing one culture's values upon another.

      Have you actually read the Qur'an?
      If so, please cite the text which incites violence, suppression and backwardness.

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    8. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Nicky Robinson

      A quote from an article on Google re the teachings of Islam....

      ****The Quran contains at least 109 verses that call Muslims to war with nonbelievers for the sake of Islamic rule. Some are quite graphic, with commands to chop off heads and fingers and kill infidels wherever they may be hiding. Muslims who do not join the fight are called 'hypocrites' and warned that Allah will send them to Hell if they do not join the slaughter.***

      I haven't read the Quran, but I'm sure that Wikkipedia will have all those 109 verses somewhere.

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    9. Natasha turnbull

      Student

      In reply to Liam O'Dea

      Typical comment from righteous people.

      Whenever someone is in disagreement with their view, that person will be labelled as a hater as if the term is their best defense - a hallmark of the shallow political left.

      Unfortunately there are certain numbers of such people in our society. There is a real risk that Australia will become a basket case.

      By the way, Islam and Muslim are not the same thing.

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    10. Sean Lamb

      Science Denier

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      "I haven't read the Quran, but I'm sure that Wikkipedia will have all those 109 verses somewhere."

      I think you meant wikkkipedia? Anyway you should definitely read the noble Quran. Its a rollicking good yarn.
      I don't think you would find anything there that would contradict Just War theory.

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    11. Russell Walton

      Retired

      In reply to Nicky Robinson

      What relevance does the Quran have to this issue, we could extract any meaning we choose from it, like any sacred text.

      Islamic societies are certainly violent backward, theocratic and oppressive.

      "It is all about cautioning against imposing one culture's values upon another." Of course, the attempt by Moslems to impose their values on others is an egregious example, and the've had 1400 years of practice.

      Would you agree that Moslems should be allowed to impose their values on others in the name of cultural relativism?

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    12. Liam O'Dea

      Principal at Livestock

      In reply to Natasha turnbull

      Natasha, I apologise for suggesting that you may be a hater of anything.
      I just cannot understand why anyone would make a fuss about such a trivial matter. I think the signs were only a guide to those who wished to sit with their own sex. It was reported some attendees ignored the signs, so it seems it was not compulsory anyway.
      I'm glad you don't hate Muslims.
      You may be interested in "People Like Us" (Picador) by Waleed Aly.

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    13. Russell Walton

      Retired

      In reply to Natasha turnbull

      Agreed.

      Some sections of the Multiculturalist industry have painted themselves into an intellectual corner because of their adherence to the doctrine of cultural relativism- they resort to sophistry in defence of the indefensible.

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    14. Natasha turnbull

      Student

      In reply to Nicky Robinson

      In Islam derived Sharia law - stoning women to death as a punishment, chopping off limbs for stealing, beheading and more commonly strapping explosives on oneself as suicide bomber for Alah,

      What more graphic examples do you need to prove that Islam is a violent, suppressive and backward religion?

      Don't romanize Islam too much to our country's peril.

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    15. Sean Lamb

      Science Denier

      In reply to Natasha turnbull

      "Don't romanize Islam too much to our country's peril."

      Another nutter thinking Sharia law is going to take over Australia.
      Generally I think pharmacological interventions in mental illness is a bad option - although arguably in some cases the least worst option. I am tempted to make an exception for Sharia-paranoids.

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    16. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      Sean I think you should consider what has happened in parts of Europe with respect Islamization before you dismiss entirely the 'nutters'.

      It is as much about the education level of those practicing and interpreting islam as it is about Islam itself.

      It has been pointed out before that there are parts of the bible that are a barbaric as parts of the Koran but most western Christians are educated enough to ignore those parts of the bible.

      Muslims could potentially be as educated and enlightened as most modern Christians are but the fact remains that, coming from the third world, most are not educated and enlightened.

      So they still pose some level of threat to Australia society if their numbers are allowed to build up too quickly.

      Muslim immigration must be gradual to allow time for those already here to 'discard' their third world ways and adopt more western secular values.

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    17. Sean Lamb

      Science Denier

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      "Muslims could potentially be as educated and enlightened as most modern Christians are"

      What utter arrogance. Do you think you come across as educated and enlightened, Mr Boyles?
      Let me assure you that is not the impression I personally have formed of you.
      If I travel on a bus and someone is occupying half of every double seat, you will almost invariably find that a single woman will prefer to sit next to another single woman. That is our culture.

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    18. Natasha turnbull

      Student

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      Wow! What more I can say?

      "nutter" another favored term of the shallow political left.

      Guess what? I feel very sick and guilty in thinking that one day a bomb explosion wipes off that smarty-pant, snipping expression while running a marathon.

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    19. Sean Lamb

      Science Denier

      In reply to Natasha turnbull

      " I feel very sick."
      Natasha, the first step is to acknowledge you have a problem. But if its any help I have no intention of running a marathon so my smarty-pants sniping expression should be quite safe.

      And remember, in Australia you are far more likely to be shot by a policeman than by a Islam inspired violence.

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    20. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      Westerners may be far from imperfect Sean, but even with our collective warts we are a far more educated and enlightened than the average muslim!

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    21. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      " in Australia you are far more likely to be shot by a policeman than by a Islam inspired violence."
      For now!

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    22. Sean Lamb

      Science Denier

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      "we are a far more educated and enlightened than the average muslim!"

      Oh marvelous. I am so glad I have finally found an expert on the hierarchy of races and cultures.

      So taken as a whole - are whites more educated and enlightened than blacks?
      On average - are inner city folks more educated and enlightened than Westies?
      Don't feel shy Mr Boyles, tell us what you really think

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    23. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Nicky Robinson

      Your wrong about the quran but if we put that aside your even more wrong about religion.

      So when someone says "Christians have been burning non believers to death for hundreds of years..."

      To respond with "Where in the bible..." is nonsense, as we all know all believers pick and choose which parts of their favourite book to follow and just because the bible doesnt specifically call for christians to burn non believers, some how, they managed to figure that part out by themselves and then did…

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    24. Bao-Luo Zhidao

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      please... what a dogmatic view you have of a theory. religion and science both have theories of the world. whether you believe in one or the other or both is up to you. it's up to you to make up your own theory of the world.

      everything you know is a theory. law is a theory - it uses an ambiguous concept like language to describe it, and as such it needs to be "interpreted" by a legal expert, and then a seemingly rational decision is made upon it by a guy who is meant to be an expert on it due…

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    25. Bao-Luo Zhidao

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      Don't be like that Sean, the correct term is ignoramus, and ignorance is usually not a chosen path in our society, unfortunately...

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    26. Bao-Luo Zhidao

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      Integration of muslims is a great idea! The sooner the better. Tell me, how can we speed that process up if we point the finger at them for some technicality of their culture that we hypocritically and implicitly apply in our own?
      if i were to sum my understanding of the Quran it would be an extension of Christianity of which their holy leader rose up in arms over the oppression they faced in their area of the world to create a better society to enforce society - and of course this was very much…

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    27. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Bao-Luo Zhidao

      If you are basing your teachings on 2000 year old texts - who's dogmatic.

      I think you'll any of the " interpretations " you speak ever come out in favour of a progressive view of the teachings (such as they are).

      I don't see any interpretation of Christian or Islamic teachings that gives the green light to homosexuality. Interpretations is usually another version of the same dogma, but phrased differently.

      And as you say it's up to me to make my own theory of the world, and I have - and it doesn't include any religious diatribe. You seem to want it all ways.

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    28. Bao-Luo Zhidao

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Natasha turnbull

      wow 3 (innocent)people died in America from a bomb! Sarcasm aside and as tragic as it is, on that same day approx 50 (innocent)people died in Iraq and Afghanistan with an extra 300 injured from bombs alone - i find it very sickly when we mention rhetoric along the lines of "this will not destroy our way of life" when clearly our (and our allies) involvement in their countries has destroyed theirs.

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    29. Bao-Luo Zhidao

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Natasha turnbull

      "civilisation" - such a term was used to discredit first australians' right to land when we first came here - would you consider the practice of life slavery and corporal punishment to colonise a new area for petty crimes as well as genocide and other disgusting things they did to them? I'm sure currently there may be many people in the world who would view our nations and way of life as uncivilised too...

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    30. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      Oh Sean....not only are you a 'science denier', you are a reality denier as well.

      I am sure there are individual westerners who are ignorant and poorly educated as the average muslim but I hope you are not going to sit here and tell me you would rather live in enlightened and tolerant Pakistan society than ignorant and backward western/Australian society!

      The facts speak for themselves Sean.

      At this point in human history, despite its 'warts' western/Australian society is superior to most islamic societies around the globe.

      However I freely acknowledge that in the past one could argue that the converse was the case and that the converse could again be the case in the future.

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    31. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Bao-Luo Zhidao

      "Look up unmanned drones if you don't believe me. How in the world did we ever come to the conclusion that their "voodoo" "violent" religion is simply dogmatic doctrine."

      I don't think many Australians condone what the US has done in the middle east - there is a fair amount of hostility towards US foreign policy in Australia.

      I only care about Australian/western society as it applies to my daily life, and that is superior to what the Islamic world has on offer.

      I do not want my society to end up being Islamism due to immigration careless over the long term.

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    32. Sean Lamb

      Science Denier

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      I would rather live in Australia than Pakistan or Bolivia or Moldovia or Papua New Guinea.
      Personally I enjoyed my time in Pakistan and it rates quite highly as a tourist destination for me. The reason I would not want to live there is mostly due to poverty. The increase in conflict and radicalisation there since American intervention and drone attacks is another major factor. But it was a very warm and welcoming country in 2000.

      I should point out that if you took public transport unaccompanied men and women sat in different seats. If this causes you distress then you would be well advised not to travel there.

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    33. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      Never the less you agree that the sum of their society is inferior to Australian society!

      Otherwise, logically, you would wish to live there rather than just visit!

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    34. Bao-Luo Zhidao

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      You're absolutely right! I do want it all ways. There is nothing wrong with that. Why should you be discriminate of things that you can't make sense of - and the truth is you cannot truly comprehend the concept of the world, even if you have 100% complete faith in it. We are all inherently nescient no matter how much we know of the world because our view of the world will always be subjective.

      Take the basic concept of Karma for example - what you do comes back to you. Although in reality, if…

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    35. Sean Lamb

      Science Denier

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      "Otherwise, logically, you would wish to live there rather than just visit!"
      That isn't a logical statement at all. It means I like having money and living in an affluent society. Nor can one logically assume that a society more pleasant to live in is morally superior. I would prefer to have lived in 19th century Hobart than 19th century Flinders island. But I can't say one is superior or more enlightened than the other.

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    36. Bao-Luo Zhidao

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      I definitely understand and share your sentiment in that regard. But I think we can apply better methods to address the issue than smear campaigns over hypocritical technicalities. As much as I am for world progress, I too would not want to jeopardise my safety and greater freedoms for it.

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    37. Bao-Luo Zhidao

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to John Phillip

      I fail to see how you could have made the correlation between terrorism and Islam before making the correlation between terrorism and severely traumatised and damaged people from war brought about by having had their relatively defenceless countries invaded without a high level of ignorance on the topic. Google "unmanned drones" for a bit of education; let me know if you think such a thing is terrorising and let me know if you get any grumpier ;)

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    38. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Bao-Luo Zhidao

      When you say the old texts were not meant to be taken literally, I disagree on two levels.

      When the bible says "Thou shall not lay with a man as with a woman", it is undeniably saying one thing only, no interpretation is warranted, and indeed none has been forthcoming. The Christian stance on homosexuality is undeniable - it's not to be accepted under any circumstances. Even further, homosexuals have been persecuted (burnt at the stake, hung etc) throughout history because of that religious teaching…

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    39. Edwin Flynn

      I am a early retired executive at Worked in Local Government, Education and Financial Services Industries

      In reply to Bao-Luo Zhidao

      The problem Bao-Luo Zhidao is that our society has now been acclimatised to relate Islam with the politically motivated terrorist groups that claim to be fighting for Islamic justice.

      Even in this exalted forum of intellectuals, this correlation is very evident.

      Silly isn’t it. That young man being accused of the Boston bombing is now being charged with using weapons of mass destruction. His bomb was an improvised pressure cooker. Yet the USA can use ballistic missiles, drones with rockets, napalm bombs, cluster bombs and mines, but it is not using weapons of mass destruction.

      The double standard is truly in your face, well it is in mine any way, and is carried through to any discussion about Islamic people.

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    40. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Bao-Luo Zhidao

      Bao, it isnt just the bombings. Think of the murders committed by muslims every time someone 'offends the prophet'. Time and time again these events happen. Until Islam becomes less precious and more tempered in its response, it is going to have more than an image problem. (always room to get grumpier :) Cheers.

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    41. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Bao-Luo Zhidao

      Bao it still does not change the fact that we would do well to be cautious about Islamic immigration.

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    42. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      Either you were visiting a very 'sheltered' part of Pakistan or else you are simply being disingenuous.

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    43. Bao-Luo Zhidao

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      absolutely - or any other culture that would clash with ours to such a great extent. however I believe the discussion has centred around the concept of a known right-wing source of media pointing out a hypocritically, negatively-perceived value about their culture being helped along by their (and of course, the public's) enemies the academic left. although, as Edwin Flynn had said that the stigma following these people has been with them so long, even something that would not normally be considered a problem if the word "muslim" was taken out of the story has generated so much negativity in favour of the right's agenda without so much as a critical thought. i view your arguments relevance to be a reflection of this negative perception that has nothing to do with the context of the discussion.

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    44. Bao-Luo Zhidao

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to John Phillip

      oh John, didn't you google the unmanned drones? Think of the murders committed by the robots every time someone 'dresses in normal clothes'. Time and time again these events happen. Until the media starts portraying poor oppressed muslims as victims trying to maintain control of their identity and resistance fighting against the invasion of a high-tech self-interested country with pea-shooters in a lord-of-the-flies-level-of-civilisation scenario, it is going to have more than an image problem.

      When we are all starving, all oppressed, unprotected and desperate, it'll be interesting to say how we will maintain our level of superior "civility".

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    45. Sean Lamb

      Science Denier

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      Rawalpindi, Peshawar and the North west region including Chitril. Oh and I did go via Quetta and then on to Kashgar. I did skip the entire Punjab, I am afraid. The moutain areas were wonderful. Happier times I suspect.
      It is a race to visit parts of the world before we "liberate" them.

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  4. Luke Weston

    Physicist / electronic engineer

    "Yet the Sex Discrimination Act (1984), Section 37.d is precise: the prohibition on gender discrimination does not affect “an act or practice that conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of that religion”."

    This is a succinct illustration of the absurdity of our current anti-discrimination laws, which provide a complete exemption if you religiously believe in discrimination.

    But while the law in its current form allows discrimination, it's still not right.

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  5. Clive Bond

    logged in via Facebook

    Pathetic excuses by the university. This is an enlightened country, doing its best to provide a nondiscriminatory good life to all. Backward cultures need to be brought into an enlightened era. Yes, we are not perfect. However we are moving forward, not backward.

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  6. David Thompson

    Marketing Research

    This article very powerfully reveals the second real nature of the modern university, and role of Vice Chancellor. The first involves educating tens of thousands of students at any one time, in return for money from the students, governments, and anybody they squeeze money out (foreign students being the obvious current magic pudding). The second role is a huge corporate property development and management corporation. The Vice Chancellor is wearing his "property tycoon" hat on this issue. Like all…

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    1. Clive Bond

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to David Thompson

      Would you allow the KKK to have a meeting there and segregate coloured people from whites? We either believe in equal rights or we don't.

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    2. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Clive Bond

      Yes, I would such a meeting to to take place. Again, all for the right price. If "coloured people" are so keen to make their way to such a meeting and sit away from the whites, more power to them. None of my business. Or yours.

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  7. Stephen Ralph

    carer at n/a

    Re the meeting itself.......another example of the "progressive" nature of Islam.

    It's like revisiting the South's "back of the bus" for black Americans, but sadly this is Melbourne 2013.

    This religion needs to have a serious look at itself.......but then again so do other sects.

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    1. Clive Bond

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Agreed. It's outrageous that the taxpayer pays to keep Stone Age ideas alive by giving these religions taxation exemptions to the tune of a reported 29 billion per annum. Yes, Scientology, the brethren, Islam and dare I whisper the Catholics and the rest are tax exempt. You are footing the bill.

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    2. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Clive Bond

      Oh, I agree entirely about the tax rort. Our tax system is far, far too complicated with too many incentives for people to not pay up, b establishing charities, and so on. I would kill of the whole legal concept of a "tax exempt charity" altogether, especially religious ones. But it seems as though in this Melbourne example, the uni was able to get the religion to cough off for once.

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  8. Colleen Murrell

    Senior Lecturer at Deakin University

    I am glad the vice-chancellor has stated clearly that he does “not support gender segregation at a public event on campus”. Clearly the university has to do more to make its policies more explicit before renting out campus rooms to external groups.

    I think it is important to separate private faith worship from public meetings. If people in private worship (or prayer rooms) want to do pray separately then they have made that decision on taking part. Women within those communities may or may not…

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  9. Russell Walton

    Retired

    Yes, I can understand the dilemma the University faces given that the relevant law is an ass, the solution is to repeal the law. Did those geniuses who drafted the Act realise that it would be used by the followers of one religion in an attempt to impose their prejudices and superstitions on the infidels? This is simply the first move in a very long game.

    "Religious freedom" should be limited by the parameters set by the principles of liberal democracy.

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    1. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      I would repeal the exemptions in those cases where the religious bodies rely on significant public funding. OTOH, I would pare back the whole Act to focus much more on the State. Other agencies, bodies, associations, and individuals would become subject to the law, the more state-like they become. The Catholic Education Office would be out of pocket billions of dollars per year. But the Melbourne Uni would remain free to lease lecture halls to misogynist sex segregating Muslims, and their guests,

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  10. Greg Boyles

    Lanscaper and former medical scientist

    "gender segregation, and the right to religious practice enshrined in Australian law."

    Interesting.......I was going to launch into a criticism of this however on second thoughts I can think of a number of areas in Australian society where sexual discrimination and segregation is subtly practiced.

    Not least the catholic church where woman are banned from certain positions within the church.

    So short of the Muslim extremes, such as stoning woman for adultery etc, who are we to say that your Muslim community group cannot direct woman to one area of the room and men to another.

    I can't even say anything about the mindset behind directing woman to one particular area of the room, because, in the case of the catholic church the mindset of banning woman is clear - they are inferior.

    If we ban Muslims from practicing sexual segregation and discrimination then, to be consistent, we must also ban the Catholic Church from practicing it.

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  11. James Jenkin

    EFL Teacher Trainer

    Basically the article is trying to get Melbourne Uni off the hook. It uses an array of technical, legal arguments to show the incident was not the university's responsibility.

    Which is all fair enough.

    But it doesn't make us proud of the university as a moral and intellectual force.

    I wish the article would take a stand one way of the other - either 'we have to be tolerant of what people do in their own space' or 'segregating the sexes is wrong'.

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  12. Sarah James

    Psychologist

    The Christian religion continues to actively discrimintae on the basis of gender. The entire senior hierarchy of the Catholic church, from the pope down to the local parish priest, are all men. The Jewish religion insists that women are seated separately in synagogues. Guess who gets the best out of that deal? I suspect women are treated differently in the Liberal party too, being good loyal girls and all that.

    The author does a good job of explaining the complexity of the University's position, quite disgracefully attacked by the Leader of the Opposition. The problem isn't Islam, the problem is discrimination.

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  13. Edwin Flynn

    I am a early retired executive at Worked in Local Government, Education and Financial Services Industries

    Another case of Islam bashing in my opinion.

    Most religions have discriminatory practices. If you are a good Catholic woman you wear a veil in church, and you’d better accept that you are not ever going to hear confession as a priest. If you are a Jewish woman, then you sit on the top parapet in the Synagogue, if it has one, or at the back of the room if it is a single story synagogue. In addition if you are a really good Jewish woman than you never walk beside your husband or in front of…

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  14. Greg Boyles

    Lanscaper and former medical scientist

    Here's an interesting question!

    What if it was a private catholic group who wanted to discuss why woman should not be permitted to become priests etc.

    That is sexual discrimination so would the anti Muslim contributors here be protesting about University of Melb allowing them to conduct their discussion?

    Don't get me wrong - I am all for stamping out of sexual discrimination in all its forms.

    But if we ban any form of sexual discrimination and segregation in Muslim church then we should also stamp it out in the Catholic Church, any time that both hire venues at the University of Melb (and else where).

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  15. Sean Lamb

    Science Denier

    I was at Sydney airport recently and I was horrified to discover that they had sex segregated bathrooms.

    Where do such barbaric stone-age attitudes come from? Why does no one complain to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner to have this unenlightened discriminatory practice stamped out?

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  16. Stuart Smith

    logged in via Facebook

    Was this a meeting where people were free to choose whether they attended or not?

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    1. Stuart Smith

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Michael Shand

      So people choose to attend. Are they also free to choose their religious beliefs, presumably knowing what is and isn't practiced as part of those beliefs?

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  17. Babette Francis

    Coordinator of Endeavour Forum

    Congratulations to Glyn Davis, Vice Chancellor of Melbourne University, for pointing out that the sex segregation at the Islamic meeting at Melbourne University was not merely a matter of culture but of principles.
    Sex segregation is not the only way in which mainstream Islam oppresses women. There is polygamy which allows a man to have four wives, there is the requirement that a raped woman has to produce four male witnesses (one wonders why if there were four male witnesses they did not stop…

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    1. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Babette Francis

      What about the Catholic Church's discrimination against woman and gays Babette?

      If you want to criticism Islam then fine, I have my own criticisms of it.

      But you need to be consistent here.

      We can't have one set of rules for Islam and a whole lot of exemptions from those rules for Catholics.

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    2. Edwin Flynn

      I am a early retired executive at Worked in Local Government, Education and Financial Services Industries

      In reply to Babette Francis

      Shutting away 1/3rd of the world's population is not going to change Islam. It is through contact with other cultures that cultures adapt and change.

      The west was not always a panacea for women. Remember it was only in 1893, New Zealand woman became the first women in history to be granted the right to vote. Good old Oz waited until 1962 until it granted Aboriginal Women the equal right to vote. If we look at that shining beacon of equality and democracy, the U.S.A., it followed most of…

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    3. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Edwin Flynn

      No body suggested that 1/3rd of the worlds population should be shut away.

      All I said was that we want Islam to adapt to our progressive and enlightened secular values rather than our society adapting to backward Islamic values.

      Therefore Islamic immigration should be slow and cautious.

      Let's remember human nature here.

      Individual humans are often highly adaptable and open but mobs of humans are often not adaptable or open at all!

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    4. Edwin Flynn

      I am a early retired executive at Worked in Local Government, Education and Financial Services Industries

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      Greg the comment I made is in relation to Babette Francis's comment that "We have repeatedly asked Kevin Gosper, Australia's representative on the International Olympic Committee why if South Africa was banned from the Olympic Games because of racial apartheid, Muslim countries are not banned because of gender apartheid." end quote.

      If this is not excluding the world's Islamic Countries from contact with the rest of the world then I ask "What is?"

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    5. Edwin Flynn

      I am a early retired executive at Worked in Local Government, Education and Financial Services Industries

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      Quote ":Individual humans are often highly adaptable and open but mobs of humans are often not adaptable or open at all!"

      Yes Greg in part I agree. All one has to do is go to any Walkabout bar in London or any other part of England to see how many expat Australians congregate in that one space at any time.

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    6. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to Edwin Flynn

      I agree with most of your comments here, having been born in NZ, and not to be spoilsport, but: 'Remember it was only in 1893, New Zealand woman became the first women in history to be granted the right to vote.' is not so.

      Two, before they became states, in the US around about 1720, 1730, adopted universal suffrage. but had to surrender these rights to join the Union.

      I apologise, I cannot remember which territories they wereand cannot turn them up with a quick search..

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    7. Edwin Flynn

      I am a early retired executive at Worked in Local Government, Education and Financial Services Industries

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      Thank Peter,

      You have confirmed that my statement remains correct as I was referring the the USA.

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  18. Eva Cox

    Professorial Fellow Jumbunna IHL at University of Technology, Sydney

    what a disconcerting range of examples of the ill informed prejudices against Islam and Moslems. As a public long term feminist, i am not supportive of any

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  19. Michael Shand

    Software Tester

    Descrimination versus Religious right to descriminate

    The religious should always loose this, always, personal beliefs do not / should not exempt you from the law

    What they are saying is that unless we allow people to teach and practice bigot then we are being bigots...nonsense, you cant tolerate the intolerable and we should be giving special privilages to religions who want to hate on gays, women, other religions

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  20. Eva Cox

    Professorial Fellow Jumbunna IHL at University of Technology, Sydney

    Sorry the last effort escaped! I am not supportive of any discrimination and wrote in Crikey that this example should not have occurred. Separation which places women at the back is doubly problematic as it reinforces the presumed inferiority of the back rows. On the other hand, as some have pointed out, there are many religious forms of separation and the vitriol that many commentators have revealed scarily only show the level of Islamophobia that exists. There are as many forms of Islam, ranging from the almost secular to the deeply fundamentalist, as there are of Christianity. No one attacks orthodox Jewish separate worship with such fervor, where women have to go upstairs and are excluded where there is no disability access. As this is supposed educated list, can I ask the frothers to consider their prejudices and remember Hannah Arendt's plea to use thinking and judgment to avoid the banality of evil.

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Eva Cox

      I think you'll find a lot of the comments herein treat all religions as bad as one another.

      But at this moment in time it's Islam in the spotlight.........

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    2. Natasha turnbull

      Student

      In reply to Eva Cox

      Professor, you are so confused.

      The sticking point here is that this is a western university, as a symbol of progression and civilization, should not allow such a discriminatory practice occurring within the campus in the name of cultural tolerance. Where are our western principles and values you care about?

      You can be rest and reassured that I would not give a damn if they want to practice whatever form of their religious rituals in their religious places or homes - female genital mutilation, multiple wives for one husband etc , you name them.

      I really detest these hypocritic feminists.

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    3. Russell Walton

      Retired

      In reply to Eva Cox

      "many commentators have revealed scarily only show the level of Islamophobia that exists."

      You've assumed the moral high ground with that comment, particularly with implication that opposition to the Islamic ideology is necessarily animated by prejudice, so--

      Which comments have revealed the "scary" level of Islamophobia in the country?

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    4. christopher gow

      gainfully employed

      In reply to Eva Cox

      "As this is supposed to be an educated list", ah Eva, if only.
      I have noticed that even in The Conversation certain issues (homeopathy and vaccination come to mind) generate the usual disrespectful responses that tend to deteriorate into personal abuse or more and more extreme outpourings (as evidenced in some of the postings on this topic). This is despite the clearly stated intentions of this site.
      Glyn Davis' article appears to be a reasoned defence of the university's actions. There are some…

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    5. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Natasha turnbull

      Natasha could you direct me to any organisations you belong to that are challenging this appalling gender iniquity? Presumably you'll also need allies to get the Uni of Melbourne permanent space for Melbourne Uni's most privileged group closed down - the 55% majority women population. The "sunlit Wom*n’s Room" won't even allow men to sit in the back. They're not allowed at all.
      http://union.unimelb.edu.au/womens/about
      No doubt you are outraged, given "this is a western university, as a symbol of progression and civilization, should not allow such a discriminatory practice occurring within the campus."
      Let me know how I join the fightback against these misogynist outrages.

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    6. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Natasha turnbull

      "I really detest these hypocritic feminists."
      Even more detestable are the uneducated ones, who don't understand basic western principles, such as freedom of association.
      Simply shocking.

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  21. Andrej Pavkovic

    logged in via Twitter

    Latest media release from Senator Michaelia Cash (apparently the Liberal Party's Spokesperson for Dogwhistle Politics) calling on PM to join Coalition in condemning gender segregation at Melbourne Uni:
    http://www.wa.liberal.org.au/sites/www.wa.liberal.org.au/files/mp-news/%5Buid%5D/13.04.29%20Prime%20Ministers%20Silence%20Deafening%20on%20Gender%20Segregation.pdf

    Here's her twitter status:
    https://twitter.com/SenatorCash/status/328690731504005121

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    1. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Andrej Pavkovic

      I dont think thats going to be helpful, such a minor issue, shouldnt we be asking the PM to act further on climate change or something more substative rather than asking her to state the obvious?

      Like what is your guess? do you think the female prime minister supports descriminating against women or is against it? hmmmm tough one, lets demand an answer.....its just waste of time hate spreading and fear mongering

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  22. Sean Lamb

    Science Denier

    The strangest aspect of this strange beat up is this part of the Vice Chancellor's remarks
    "A community group booked a room at the university, after teaching hours, to run an event about Islamic issues."

    That, I would submit, is a remarkably coy description of the event
    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:bVBqrKcwk58J:hikmahway.com/2013/03/12/syria/+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=au
    I assume this verse: "And whoever kills a believer intentionally, his punishment is hell; he shall abide in it, and Allah will send His wrath on him and curse him and prepare for him a painful chastisement."
    wouldn't rate highly on the Sheik's or Glyn Davis's list of go to Islamic texts.

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    1. John Doyle

      architect

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      That verse wouldn't rate highly with the Taliban or Al Qaeda either!
      We have to face up to our tribal nature, which has only recently been [mostly] overcome with the industrial revolution. We all want to be in a "tribe" of one kind or another.
      Religions have obviously been around for 100-200,000 years but only became sacred texts when able to be written down, which at the time was by a lot of farmers and herders, whose values we find difficult today to follow.
      Only time will make a difference, in my opinion.
      Islam is 1400 years old. Think back to 15 th Century Christianity. and how backward it appears now to us.

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  23. Geoff Sharrock

    Program Director, LH Martin Institute at University of Melbourne

    This article’s explanation of the social issues and institutional dilemmas raised by the case is more “enlightened” than the allergic reactions and calls to outrage reported in The Australian.
    Anyone whose initial response to reports of the case was ambivalent (as mine was) can see here valid but competing principles informing what stance a university should take.
    No-one knows how many of the women attending this forum felt “humiliated” by segregated seating, and how many felt “accommodated…

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    1. Sean Lamb

      Science Denier

      In reply to Geoff Sharrock

      Leaving aside vexed question of whether women and men seated themselves separately or together, does the University have a policy about leasing its facility to assist recruiting for armed insurgencies?

      I assume the University broadly supports violence in Syria - but what about violence in Afghanistan?

      Can I hire out a lecture hall to justify and encourage the resistance of the Taliban in Afghanistan? What about if I promise to exclude Australian troops?
      How about a lecture to rekindle the Tamil insurgency in Sri Lanka - is Melbourne OK with that? Or a justification of ETA or the real IRA?

      In short does the University have a list somewhere of approved armed conflicts that can be promoted on campus?

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  24. Babette Francis

    Coordinator of Endeavour Forum

    In response to Eva Cox, please read the Koran which in in innumerable pssages, enjoins the believer to slay the infidel? (See, for example, suras 2:191, 193; 8:39; 9:5; 9:29; 9:73; 47:4; 66:9; etc. etc.) Is not violence and slaughter an intrinsic part of a canonical imperative when it comes to Islam and its holy scriptures?
    Unlike in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, the commands to maim and kill in the Koran
    are truly extraordinary. The major passages dealing with violence in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible are chiefly narrative and descriptive, whereas in the Koran they are largely hortatory and prescriptive. The disparity is critical. “Islam,” writes former Muslim Nonie Darwish, “is the only religion that requires its followers to kill those who do not believe in Allah.”
    Babette Francis

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  25. Babette Francis

    Coordinator of Endeavour Forum

    What fascinates me is the silence from Julia "I will not put up with misogyny" Gillard about the sex segregation at Melbourne University and other oppressions of women under Islam.
    Babette Francis

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  26. Peter Hindrup

    consultant

    The allegation that Islam is a violent religion has been made repeatedly in this discussion. Yet the most publicly ‘christian’ nation would surely be the US, and in modern times the US would have to be the most violent nation on earth.

    Nor does Judaism get a mention, and yet Israel, where to be a full citizen one must be a Jew, is an extremely violent and aggressive nation.

    It is somewhat disheartening to the anti Islam/Moslem expressions on this site, especially when Australia is, or gives every appearance of being, a secular state.

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  27. Sylvie Leber

    artist/fitness instructor/mentor/activist

    Would the media have made such a fuss if it was an Orthodox Jewish religious group? They also have strict gender separation rules. In their synagogues the women are at the back or upstairs.

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    1. Edwin Flynn

      I am a early retired executive at Worked in Local Government, Education and Financial Services Industries

      In reply to Sylvie Leber

      In a word, No.

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  28. Trevor McGrath

    uneducated twit

    If this is the responses from the people who can read and write. No wonder that the Mad Monk will be in the Lodge by the summer solstice. Cheers

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