Should David Hicks have been applauded?

Former Guantanamo Bay inmate David Hicks (centre) walks to the exit at Adelaide's maximum security Yalata jail, 29 December 2007 David Hicks was convicted on charges of providing material support for terrorism in 2007

Related Stories

To some it was grotesque. To others it was richly deserved. I am talking of the standing ovation that came at the end of David Hicks's appearance at the Sydney Writers' Festival this past weekend - the focus of the latest skirmish in Australia's cultural wars.

Once again, as he did in the run-up to the 2007 federal election, Hicks has exposed the chasm between what might crudely be described as 'literary festival Australia' and 'talkback radio Australia' - the 'leftist urban elites', as they are often characterised, and the populist right.

David Hicks, who was convicted on charges of providing material support for terrorism in 2007 after being held for five years at Guantanamo Bay, has always been an emblematic figure.

For critics of John Howard, he became a totem for much of what was wrong with the Bush administration's war on terror, and what they complained was the then prime minister's slavish support for the US president. Hicks's detention at Guantanamo also violated a very elemental sense of Australian fair play. For many, then, it was about a principle rather than about a man.

For the right, meanwhile, he offered proof of the left's credulousness and instinctive anti-Americanism. How could it be, they asked, that a man accused of joining the Islamic militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (we are talking here of the organisation behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks, among many others) and who allegedly received weapons training at an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan became a poster boy for progressives?

Different perspectives

In the aftermath of his ovation at the Sydney Writers' Festival, where he spoke publicly for the first time about his detention at Guantanamo, the argument over the meaning of David Hicks has flared again.

Before going on, I should point out, in the interests of full disclosure, that we share a publisher - although I have never met David Hicks, nor read his book.

You can read a report about his appearance here and listen to him here.

But let's give a flavour of the response to that standing ovation, which reveals more about Australia and its culture wars.

Here's Miranda Devine writing in The Daily Telegraph: "Listening to David Hicks's speech at the Sydney Writers' Festival last weekend you'd think he'd been over in Afghanistan wiping the brow of AIDS sufferers and holding the hands of leprosy victims.

"Certainly, the idiots in the audience who gave him a standing ovation seemed to think he was the Australian male version of Mother Teresa."

Offering a very different perspective, here's Mary Kostakidis, who used to present the evening news on the Australian channel SBS and who attended the presentation:

"The mood was not one of jubilation or adulation, but of attentiveness and reflection. No one leapt up at the end of his talk, swept up by a moment. People rose to their feet gradually and with a sense of purpose and obligation.

"They applauded because they felt we as a nation had let him down then, but it wasn't too late to stand up for him now."

I would be keen to know what you think. Should Hicks have received a standing ovation? Or was it wholly inappropriate? Some of you, I dare say, were in attendance. So your comments please...

Nick Bryant Article written by Nick Bryant Nick Bryant New York correspondent

Bloomberg's contested legacy as NYC mayor

Michael Bloomberg has overseen the transformation of New York City during his 12 years as mayor. But as he prepares to leave office the billionaire businessman's political legacy is still contested.

Read full article

More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    "Home Country" and "Patriotism" is a misnomer for this subject:
    Aus, US, Fr., European, Indian etc. does not matter.. acts committed would be AGAINST HUMANITY: civilians, women and children: Twin Tower style of ANY country.

    Extremists exist BOTH in Islam and Christianity do not obey commandments and murder in unjust, mistaken, cause.

    Al-Quada claims an Islamic cause but is extremist in nature.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    If David Hicks, as it is alleged, trained with Al-Quada knowing that it was a terrorist organisation: then he is guilty of assisting a terrorist group.
    That collusion implies the planning of and execution of "Acts against humanity"; of murder, aggression and terror.

    One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.
    A "Traitor of humanity" should be jailed indefinitely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Gillard's government is no better than Howard's both of whom follow the same lead of the US and are dogs sniffing at the tail of their US masters.

    Australia needs to grow up and be it's own master and learn to treat and support it's citizens with respect no matter the circumstances - such action demonstrate a mature confident democracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.


    "As and American, Australian, and a Scot"

    You are not a real American by any traditional sense of the word.

    "It is no harder to claim allegiance to more than 1 country than to love both your parents"

    The American oath of allegiance, and law, expects you to defend your country over foreign enemies. What then? America's founding fathers and patriots wouldn't think like you. Sorry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.


    As and American, Australian, and a Scot (born with 3 wrap your head around that) I can safely say you don't know a clue what you're talking about.

    It is no harder to claim allegiance to more than 1 country than to love both your parents or all your children.

    No one said anything about holding one over or under the other.


Comments 5 of 39



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.