Thursday, July 14, 2005

COMMENT: Heads in the Sand on War & Terror

Today’s Australian (i.e. 13 July 2005) contains two interesting opinion pieces. Both reflect a ‘heads in the sand’ approach to reality.

The first is a refreshing and intelligent piece by Waleed Aly, a Melbourne commercial lawyer and executive member of the Islamic Council of Victoria.

It is not often that I can find words of praise for Muslim leadership in Australia. Muslim Australians have become accustomed to the reactionary and reactive (as opposed to proactive) nonsense that often passes for public comment amongst Muslim organisational leaders.

It seems I am not the only one to share these views. A growing number of Australian-born Muslims are reaching the edge of patience with imams and mosque presidents who just never know when to shut their mouths.

I was shocked when I saw the interview between Tony Jones and Mohammed Omran. Here was a man claiming to be a scholar and spiritual leader. Traditionally, Muslim scholars have been sensible and moderate in their views. They understand that Islamic theology and law are complex subjects, and they tread hesitatingly lest they stray. They also know not to speak in areas beyond their expertise.

But when questioned and probed on ultimate direct responsibility for the September 11 attacks, Omran was clearly out of his league. What makes things worse is that Omran brought up and spoke in bin Ladin’s defence in the first place.

But does this make Omran an apologist for terror and a man worthy of being defamed or even worse? Omran is a typical caricatured imam – large face, beady eyes, like some figure out of an old Hollywood classic of the Arabian nights.

And this makes him the complete opposite of what Muslim Australians have come to expect from Muslim scholars. Muslim Australians are more accustomed to the views of Western Muslim scholars and writers such as Tim Winter, Michael Wolfe, Feisal Abdul Raud and Hamza Yusuf Hanson. All four have condemned terror. All four reflect mainstream classical Islamic learning.

And all four find it impossible to speak against the overwhelming body of evidence, much of it produced by bin Ladin and his colleagues, of al-Qaida involvement in September 11. And until someone can provide better evidence, mainstream Muslims will continue to point the finger at bin Ladin.

In the case of bin Ladin, the evidence is clear. In the case of claims in the Australian editorial of 13 July 2005, the evidence is sadly lacking.

The Australian’s editorial uses the flimsiest of evidence to defend its claim that Western countries lack any direct or indirect responsibility for any terrorist attack anywhere in the world. It is a claim about as infantile as claims by Muslim extremists that no Muslim could ever plant a bomb in a bus or fly a plane into a skyscraper.

The Australian speaks of Western nations who sent armies and airpower to defend the Bosnians. To make such a claim on the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre is an insult to the memory of the victims. On that occasion, British and other troops under UN auspices stepped aside and allowed Bosnian Serb forces to massacre over 6,000 innocent civilians.

Human lives are human lives. The Qur’an and the Bible both say that the one who takes one human life unjustly is like one who kills all humankind. But if it has any meaning, Srebrenica deaths numbered over 100 times those in London. Yet the Australian has hardly reported on the 10th anniversary, instead glorifying the role of Western troops who engaged Bosnian women as sex-slaves and Western countries who enforced an arms embargo knowing it would stifle Bosnia’s attempts to defend itself.

The editorial then speaks in praise of the same multiculturalism which many neo-Conservative columnists from the same paper love to attack. But the real gem is the attack on Tariq Ali.

Mr Ali is from Pakistan. His father was a newspaper editor. Ali left Pakistan and fled to London, one of hundreds of dissidents from various third world countries seeking refuge in this truly international city.

So did Ali leave because of his religious views. Was Ali a democratic activist? Was he a poor suffering political refugee? No. Ali was a Marxist intellectual. He still is.

And guess what. Marxists don’t believe in God. Muslims do. They are required to. And what does all this mean? It means Ali does not speak for mainstream Muslims anymore than the editor of Green Left Weekly speaks for mainstream Australians.

You’d think the Australian would no better. You’d think the Australian would have understood enough about its tens of thousands of Muslim readers, their sentiments and their cultures. But then again, the Australian was the same newspaper that happily defends one of its columnists who accuses those same Muslim readers of teaching their kids to rape white Australian women.

The editorial in the Australian represents many of the same infantile traits that Waleed Ali criticises in his piece. But can we dismiss an entire newspaper for the sake of one editorial? I don’t think so. We are all human. We should be allowed to make mistakes from time to time. And we should be prepared to forgive. And we should be prepared to recognise the good in all people and all things.

And so I end with a quote from the same editorial that I have just trashed. Because this is perhaps the ream message in the editorial, and was perhaps the real intent behind its publication.

Unfortunately, this kind of marshmallow-mindedness is not confined to an
insignificant minority. After every terror outrage, much of the moral
middle-class appears to focus instantly on that greatest – yet, so far, most
invisible – of all horrors: the possibility of a "backlash" against law-abiding
Muslims. Between attacks, they focus on the curtailment of civil liberties
implied in new anti-terror laws, as if that were our biggest problem. In fact,
if the British Law Lords had not deemed Tony Blair's new anti-terror laws "not
strictly required by the exigencies of the occasion" earlier this year, last
Thursday's awful occasion may have been preventable.

Woops. I must have read the editorial correctly to begin with. It seems I was right after all!

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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1 comment:

Steve Edwards said...

Irf - what is your opinion on religious vilification laws?