Defending Freedom of Speech

Sergio Redegalli is an artist who has become an eloquent spokesman for freedom of speech. He has also become a friend – as much as you can be friends with someone you have never met.

Unfortunately, he has been subject to a most appalling campaign of hate and violence, legal threats and personal attacks that now has him living in fear for his life.

His crime? Mr Redegalli is the artist responsible for the “Say no to burqas” mural in Sydney’s Newtown.

To suggest that the six foot high mural has caused controversy would be an understatement but the campaign against Mr Redegalli has highlighted the growing threat of extremism that lurks in Australia.

Artists pushing the boundaries of community acceptance is nothing new. Personally, the quasi-pornographic Bill Henson images of naked pre-pubescent teens masquerading as art appalled me.

I am also offended by the ritual humiliation of Christian belief in the name of art but I accept that my taste is not shared by everyone. To me, artistic expression is a small price to pay for living in a free country.

In fact, any suggestion that an artist has gone ‘too far’ in their craft for mainstream sensibilities is usually met with a vigorous defence by those claiming we need to be more tolerant of freedom of expression.

Unfortunately, it seems this tolerance only extends to those who agree with them.

Now I happen to agree with Mr Redegalli that the burqa has no place in Australia. I consider it a security risk and a symbol of repression and Islamic fundamentalism. Many Muslims (and opinion polls suggest a vast majority of other Australians) agree with me.

However, even if I didn’t share Mr Redegalli’s views, it is hard to accept that any sensible person could endorse the violent campaign of hate that he has been subject to.

On dozens of occasions the mural has been vandalised. Mr Redegalli has been the subject of repeated threats. He has been forced to hire security guards to protect his business premises. He even performed a citizens arrest of one alleged vandal who turned out to be a Danish tourist recruited by local lefties.

Unfortunately for this rent-a-rebel, his comrades in arms gave up their solidarity when challenged, preferring instead to run away and leave him to face the Australian court system alone.

Redegalli is currently having to defend himself before the anti-discrimination board of NSW from a complaint by a non-burqa wearing woman who feels outraged on behalf of her masked sisters in Islam that the mural is “racially vilifying”.

One crazy extremist using the Facebook moniker of Sinan Saifullah (which basically means the sword of Allah) sent Redegalli a message on January 27 at 8.06am: “you racist dogg ! .. ill paint over your painting with the blood i drain from your body when i slice your throat you redneck !! ..”

What a way to start the day. Enjoy some breakfast after morning prayers and then launch a death threat via Facebook!

Mr Redegalli has been condemned as a racist even though not one of his detractors can establish what race the burqa actually is, or for that matter, explain how Islam is a race rather than a totalitarian political ideology every bit as alien to democracy as communism.

But it is not just the Islamists who are targeting Mr Redegalli. The extreme leftist movement have also led a campaign of hate, circulating materials that are designed to incite violent action within the community. This has prompted Mr Redegalli to take the unusual step of publishing his own rebuttal through a paid advertisement in his local paper.

Of course there will be many who wholeheartedly disagree with Mr Redegalli’s opposition to the burqa. Many will also feel deeply uncomfortable with such a confronting public display of his sentiments. They have every right to do so.

However, we should all be worried that disagreement with another’s opinion has resulted in a continuing campaign of violence and intimidation. It suggests that the hand of extremism is tightening its grip on sections of Australian society – a problem that should concern us all.

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to Confidential Daily.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.