Controversial Conservative Raheem Kassam Challenges Australian Senator to Public Debate

August 7, 2019 Updated: August 7, 2019

SYDNEY, Australia—One of the Commonwealth of Nations’ most controversial political thinkers is inviting a critic of his from Australian politics to join an open debate in Sydney on Aug. 9.

British conservative political activist Raheem Kassam is challenging Australian Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Kristina Keneally to a public debate at Rydges World Square during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) proceedings.

“Senator Keneally should come along, she might learn something,” Kassam told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement. “I’ll even let her ask the first question … I’d let her on stage to debate me if she likes.”

Kassam is scheduled to speak at CPAC Australia, to take place Aug. 9-11. Organisers say they see CPAC Australia as a rallying point for those who identify with conservative and libertarian values to gather and share their vision for the nation’s future.

Keneally used parliamentary proceedings on Aug. 1 to compare Kassam to another controversial political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos in an attempt to revoke his visa. Yiannopoulos was refused entry into Australia back in March due to his remarks on social media about the Christchurch mosque massacre.

“Raheem Kassam has campaigned against Muslim migration, described Islam as a fascistic and totalitarian ideology, and said the Koran was ‘fundamentally evil.’ Yet the government is refusing to ban Mr. Kassam from entering Australia,” Keneally said, according to parliamentary transcripts. Kassam is a former Muslim.

Kassam says that his public remarks are given in the spirit of being sardonic, or even mildly humorous and jovial—not as hate speech. He added that his remarks “only ever direct blame at one group of people: the establishment.”

Kassam said he cannot imagine how anyone can call his criticism of the establishment “hate speech” when there are far worse left-wing militant groups causing damage to property using physical violence, and harassing anyone who they consider to be fascist, racist, or far-right.

“I struggle to see how when Antifa is threatening (and indeed carrying out threats) to smash property and people up, my opinion on the religion I spent 20 years in can be counted as ‘hate speech,’” Kassam told The Epoch Times.

Of his appearance at CPAC, he said, “I make no claim that Australians ‘need’ to hear me, it just so happens that some wanted to and I’m happy to oblige.”

Keneally is not the only left-leaning Labor party member to raise alarm at the prospect of conservatives and libertarians debating ideas at CPAC. Fellow Labor Senator Penny Wong used social media to share her view that CPAC was anything but a forum of “harmless ideas.”

“CPAC … has been an extremist breeding ground in the United States,” Wong said on Twitter. “We do not need to import its anti-Semitism, white supremacy, and bigotry to Australia.”

However, One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts questioned the motives of those who accuse the CPAC of being hostile towards Jewish people, especially when the Jewish lobby is an event sponsor.

“I note the irony that the Jewish lobby provides funds to set up the CPAC yet opponents of CPAC, opponents of freedom and opponents of free speech call CPAC anti-Semitic,” Roberts said in parliament Aug. 1. “When opponents resort to name call—racist or anti-Semitic—it confirms they lack data and a logical, coherent argument.”

“I’m not the only one calling Senator Keneally to account, Donald Trump Jr. has blasted Senator Keneally for wanting to ban Raheem Kassam … to keep him from Australia,” Roberts said.

The son of the U.S. President Donald Trump had expressed concern about the Labor’s attempt to bar Kassam from Australia, posting to Twitter that the “insanity needs to stop.”

Kassam said that he has never seen a major political party appear to have “lost its collective mind” over him, adding that how ironic it was as the left used to protect the underdog.

“This is the first time,” he said. “The funny thing is, the left used to pretend to stand up for minorities and speech; they were the ones who encouraged dissent from the norm in the 60s. Now, they’ve become automatons demanding fealty to their new god: multiculturalism.”

Centre-right Liberal Leader of the Government in the Senate Mathias Cormann said in response to Keneally that it was “inappropriate” to detail individual visa cases in the way she had invited him to do.

“If Senator Keneally understood the Migration Act and how that is appropriately administered, she would not have asked me that question,” Cormann said in parliament on Aug. 1.

He also reiterated Australia’s commitment to freedom of speech balanced with character tests.

“The government fundamentally believes in and supports the principles of freedom of thought, speech, expression, and association,” Cormann said. “It is those freedoms which underpin a strong and healthy democracy.”

The Epoch Times understands that Keneally has “no plans nor desire to attend” the CPAC conference, according to her office.

“She won’t because she’s a chicken,” Kassam said.