Monday, September 05, 2005

Turning Fruitloops Into Criminals

Some people believe the earth is flat. Others claim God is a potato. Still others claim that Hitler had the right idea but the wrong race. And then there are those who think Muslims are a threat to national security.

All these groups are fruitloops. They exist on the fringe of the national discourse. Every now and then, they raise their heads with trepidation, hoping they will not be beheaded. But most of the time, they swim just below the surface.

How should we approach them? Should we go in all guns blazing? Should we legislate and then litigate?

I have a lot of admiration for the work of the Islamic Council of Victoria. Unlike most Muslim peak bodies, ICV has made a genuine attempt to engage with the broader Australian community. ICV membership reflects its faith-community.

Muslims have been at the heart of Australian life for over 150 years. One Muslim Victorian, John Ilhan, was quoted in the August issue of the Australian Financial Review Magazine as stating that his religious values affect his business. And what were his Islamic values?

The first and most important value for him was to always be prepared to say sorry when you have offended someone.

Two people who refuse to follow this Islamic value are pastors Danny Nalliah and Daniel Scott. The ICV commenced proceedings against them in the Victorian Consumer & Tenancy Tribunal (VCAT). Those proceedings are now subject to appeal, and I am mindful of writing anything which might compromise the court’s consideration of the appeal’s merits.

When ICV first commenced proceedings, a number of Muslims were concerned about the impact of such proceedings. Some were concerned about turning these 2 fringe clerics into free speech martyrs. Whilst it is true that the 2-Dannys are hardly in favour of free speech (they have, after all, been accused of calling for the Qur’an to be banned), litigating against them ma not have been the wisest move.

Further, their message has some appeal in the broader community. Muslim imams and leaders have proven incapable of articulating their beliefs in a proper and sensible manner. As such, extreme responses to mainstream Islam have gone unanswered. Or worse, fringe Muslims have appeared projecting fringe views. At least one fringe imam has claimed that Usama bin Ladin was “a great man”.

The fact is that you cannot legislate against fruitloops. Muslim leaders have to learn that hiding behind the coat tails of some anti-discrimination body will not serve their interests. If anything, it will serve to marginalise Muslims even more.

Aussie Mossies are not foreign to Australia. Burke and Wills may not have made it back to safety, but their cameleer Muslim colleagues did. No Makassan fishermen ever slaughtered Aboriginal tribesmen. And I challenge anyone to suggest that John Ilhan doesn’t understand Aussie values.

Our mandatory detention policies are the stuff all true blue Aussies are allegedly proud of. Many of those who demonise Muslims are happy with this policy, despite the fact that the bureaucrat responsible for its implementation is an Aussie Muslim chap named Abdul Rizvi.

We do not have to justify our place in this country. But unfortunately, many of our leaders want to lock us into the whirlpool of irrelevance whereby our existence is justified by how many cases we can flick to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board and other similar bodies.

I don’t think the ICV is in that category of Muslim leaders. I think the ICV wants to engage with the broader community. ICV executive members like Waleed Aly and Malcolm Thomas are fiercely proud Aussies and excellent spokespersons for their community.

Yet my fear is that ICV, in pursuing the Catch The Fire Ministries, is really not helping their cause. If anything, they risk turning a bunch of fruitloops into criminal martyrs. The might actually end up giving CTF credibility they simply don’t deserve.

Of course, I have to admit that I have fundamental ideological objections to any legislation making vilification a criminal offence. In that regard, I am more in line with the views of Amir Butler and Catholic MP Hon David Clarke MLC.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005