There’s an old saying that the Devil’s success is to get people to think that he doesn’t exist. The same thing could be said for political correctness. Its biggest success is to celebrate culturally-transgressive, slaughter-all-the-sacred-cows, say-boo-to-their-taboo attitudes while marching in lockstep with conventional pieties.

Looking for examples?

Try the Festival of Dangerous Ideas (FODI) at the Sydney Opera House. Every year, according to the organisers, it offers a weekend when “leading thinkers and culture creators from around the world … take to the stage to bring contentious ideas to the fore and challenge mainstream thought and opinion”.

Sweet! So counter-cultural! So daring!

Until one speaker was banned from the Festival this week because his ideas were too contentious.

Uthman Badar, the Australian spokesman for Hizb ut-Tahrir, a global Islamic political party working to establish a Caliphate in the Muslim world, was scheduled to speak on the dangerous idea that “honour killings are morally justified”.

Although Mr Badar insisted that he was not actually going to defend honour killing (the murder of women who have shamed their families), the title was enough for the twitterati. The Sydney Opera House pulled the plug on the talk. It explained on its Facebook page:

“The Festival of Dangerous Ideas is intended to be a provocation to thought and discussion, rather than simply a provocation. It is always a matter of balance and judgement, and in this case a line has been crossed.”

Honour killings are horrendous and indefensible but it is not clear why other horrendous and indefensible ideas still get the FODI Seal of Approval. How about “Women are sexual predators”? Or “The rise of women has turned men into boys”? Or “In defence of flogging”? Or “All women are sluts”?

Uthman Badar was not the only person banned this week in Sydney. Georgian soprano Tamar Iveri had been scheduled to appear as Desdemona in an Opera Australia production of Verdi’s Otello. However, over the weekend it emerged that offensive remarks about homosexuals had appeared on her Facebook page more than a year ago. Admittedly they were crude. They were part of an open letter to Georgia’s president protesting a gay pride parade through the capital Tsiblisi:

“I was quite proud of the fact how Georgian society spat at the parade … Please, stop vigorous attempts to bring West’s ‘fecal masses’ in the mentality of the people by means of propaganda.”

However, it is not clear who wrote the letter, under what circumstances, or even exactly what it means, as it was written in Georgian and has been translated into barely comprehensible English. Ms Iveri claims that her husband wrote it and posted it to her Facebook account. Her husband, Raul Tskhadadze, agrees that he wrote it and adds that his wife had deleted it as soon as she saw it. It only appeared on the Facebook page briefly – but long enough for the media in Georgia to gleefully report it and translate it.

In short, the most politically incorrect thing that Ms Iveri may have done is to marry an impulsive Facebook addict. But that was enough for the Sydney Opera. It couldn’t terminate her contract fast enough.

And yet… the Opera House is promoting next week’s cabaret by Tina C, a character created by a cross-dressing English comic, Christopher Green. Tina is an American country and western singer who will be making fun of Aborigines in a tasteless performance called “Sorry seems to be the hardest word”. In the past she has outraged Americans by lampooning 9/11’s destruction of the Twin Towers and outraged Catholics with a blasphemous ballad about the Blessed Virgin, “a white-trash heroine for the 21st Century”.

The Sydney arts community’s behaviour this week exposes the stupidity of cheering ideas simply because they offend people we don’t like. The only ideas worth cheering are true ideas. They are provocative enough. 

And it shows that a cowardly heart beats beneath the bravado of “dangerous ideas”. The Opera House cancelled a speaker without knowing what he was going to say and Opera Australia ditched a diva without allowing her to explain her version of the story.

Why? Follow the money. Major sponsors of the Sydney Opera like Qantas and Mazda were unhappy with “gay slurs” and a storm on Twitter and Facebook could have hurt attendance at FODI. You can only host as much political incorrectness as you can afford.

Perhaps they should scrap the Festival of Dangerous Ideas and replace it with a Banquet of the Pillars of Society. It’s not as exciting but it’s more honest.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet. He lives in Sydney, Australia.