The Festival of Dangerous Ideas

Image credit: FODI

This story first appeared on former NRMA site Live4 on August 26, 2014.

The Festival of Dangerous Ideas (FODI) turns six this year. Presented by the Sydney Opera House (as part of its ongoing Ideas at the House program) in conjunction with independent not-for-profit organisation St James Ethics Centre, it brings together local and international thinkers and creators whose beliefs and ideas challenge the norm.

Indeed, among this year’s lineup was writer, activist and public face of Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, Uthman Badar, whose highly controversial talk ‘Honour killings are morally justified’ (rightfully) outraged the public, and was subsequently cancelled by organisers not long after.

In a statement on its Facebook page on June 24, the Sydney Opera House wrote: “The Festival of Dangerous Ideas is intended to be a provocation to thought and discussion, rather than simply a provocation. […] It is clear from the public reaction that the title has given the wrong impression of what Mr Badar intended to discuss.  Neither Mr Badar, the St James Ethics Centre, nor Sydney Opera House in any way advocates honour killings or condones any form of violence against women.”

The incident serves to highlight the ‘dangerous’ element of the topics the festival aims to explore – many of which are highly sensitive, contentious and political. Thought-provoking subjects that prompt debate, discussion and, in some cases, action.

Controversy aside, the weekend-long festival’s lineup – to be held on August 30 and 31 – is brimming with interesting individuals looking to share their views and tell their stories. Here’s a pick of four highlight sessions.

Freedom to write – Salman Rushdie

Celebrated author and Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie will talk about his life, writing and the contemporary world, particularly in relation to freedom of expression. A concept he understands wholeheartedly having been forced to go into hiding after the controversy caused by his book The Satanic Verses in the ’90s. His latest work, Joseph Anton, is a memoir of this time.

August 30, 9pm

Pussy Riot/Zona Prava – In conversation with Masha Gessen

Masha Alekhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova, former members of Russian punk activist group Pussy Riot and founders of Zona Prava, a non-governmental group promoting prisoners’ rights, will speak with Masha Gessen, journalist and author of Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot. The Russian pair will talk about their time in prison – they served 21 months for protesting against Russian president Vladimir Putin – and fighting for their beliefs.

August 31, 7.15pm

The price of modern life is depression and loneliness

Rates of depression and loneliness have increased dramatically in recent years – is modern life and the way we work and live today to blame? This panel discussion with writer and social commentator Anne Manne, David Baker of The Australia Institute and Gordon Parker, Scientia professor of psychiatry at the University of New South Wales, may make you think so.

August 30, 2.30pm

Cat videos will save journalism

Where does the future of ‘serious’ journalism lie when readers favour the internet over traditional newspapers for their news? Are the same publishers sharing cat videos also going to give us quality journalism? BuzzFeed Australia’s editor Simon Crerar, deputy editor of The Australian Peter Fray, Sound Alliance’s co-owner and content director Tim Duggan and Mark Scott, managing director of the ABC, will discuss just that.

August 31, 10.30am

The Festival of Dangerous Ideas is on from August 30-31. Visit FODI for the full program of events.