You’ve heard of tabloid media going after thick sheiks. Now some are even using fake sheiks.
At about 2pm yesterday my office received a message to call someone from Radio 2GB, home to such leading lights of quality journalism as Alan Jones. I called back and spoke to a female who worked with Jason Morrison. She wondered if I knew much about a certain Sheik Haron who had apparently been charged by Federal Police after sending abusive letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan. She wanted to know if I’d be prepared to speak to Morrison on his afternoon Drive Show. I agreed.
Silly me. Morrison seemed less interested in Haron and more interested in why a group of people he described as “Moozlems” didn’t step forward to condemn the man. He wanted to know why he was having so much difficulty getting “Moozlems” to condemn this man on his program (I did remind him that many don’t listen to 2GB). Still he pressed the point about the alleged Muslim conspiracy of silence over Haron.
I said Haron hadn’t been given a huge amount of airplay or coverage (and I wasn’t just talking about the allegedly left-wing trendy “multi-culty”, the Fairfax press and ABC either). Maybe your average Aussie who ticked the Muslim box on his or her census form didn’t see the need to comment on some sheik who, by all accounts (including those of Richard Kerbaj in The Australian in January last year), was little more than a fake.
Here's an excerpt from Kerbaj's report ...
FEDERAL agents have been urged by the nation's senior Shia leader, Kamal Mousselmani, to investigate an Iranian man purporting to be a prominent Islamic
Sheik Mousselmani told The Australian yesterday the mystery cleric - who has been identified as Ayatollah Manteghi Boroujerdi on his website after appearing under the name Sheik Haron - was not a genuine Shia spiritual leader.
He said there were no ayatollahs - supreme Shia scholars - in Australia and none of his fellow spiritual leaders knew who Ayatollah Boroujerdi or Sheik Haron was.
"We don't know him and we have got nothing to do with him," Sheik Mousselmani said. "The federal police should investigate who he is. It should be their responsibility."
Sheik Haron, who insulted the family of an Australian soldier killed in Afghanistan in November, was accused by Muslim leaders of being a fake cleric deliberately stirring anti-Islamic sentiment.
Sheik Mousselmani, head of the Supreme Islamic Shia Council of Australia, which represents the nation's 30,000 Shi'ites, said Sheik Haron's website - Sheik Haron Web - gave him away as an amateur who knew little about Shia Islam.
"From the way he writes his (fatwas or religious edicts), I don't think he is Shia Muslim," Sheik Mousselmani said. "And there are no ayatollahs in Australia.
"We don't follow, we don't support and we don't stand with anyone we don't know. He's not one of us" ...
The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils president Ikebal Patel said yesterday the body's investigation into the cleric last month could not find any information on who Sheik Haron is.
"I know the community very well, and this just doesn't make sense," he said. "We couldn't find anything on the man."
Even Jeremy Jones, of the Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), was quoted in one Jewish blog as saying that Haron “works alone and has no support”.
And yet somehow fake-sheik Haron was an issue that one journalist described to Kevin Rudd at a press conference yesterday as “the question that’s dominating talkback radio today”. Rudd ended his response to the journalist’s question with: “You know, when you pick up the front page of the Tele today, I think people, I think their stomachs turn.”
The journalist asked Rudd whether he would consider changing Australia’s citizenship laws to allow “someone like that” (like what? Fake-sheik? Iranian? Crazy dude in a turban? Migrant?) to have their citizenship stripped of them and be deported. Rudd was non-committal.
It’s one thing for media outlets to use the rants of a thick sheik to cook up a divisive broth of dog whistles. But why use the imbecilic correspondence of a fake sheik to cast aspersions on 360,000 people, most of whom (including their religious leaders) have never heard of?
After my interview with Morrison, I telephoned his researcher and asked whether the show had any trouble finding a Muslim to talk on the show. She confirmed that she hadn’t called an Islamic council, an imam, a board of imams or the Community Relations Commission. She did say that Morrison may have tried calling other people about the matter.
He may have. But I somehow doubt it.
An edited version of this article was first published in Crikey on 23 October 2009.
Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf
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