It’s tough being a Muslim. When we’re not being hounded by fellow Aussies for having "zero tolerance for a can of VB", we also have the fun task of policing the many fringe elements of our religion who have absolutely no regard for the way their behaviour reflects on the rest of us. These fringe elements are given much more than their fair share of airtime — and it’s time to start asking why.
I’ll be the first to admit that there’s a long history of Australian Muslim figures making headlines for questionable statements. Many of us are still cringing six years after the infamous comparison of women to cat’s meat. That charming metaphor came courtesy of Sheikh Taj Din Al-Hilaly, who was at the time the Mufti of Australia. Holding such a senior position gave his comments authority, as was the case when Sheikh Feiz Muhammad of the prominent Islamic organisation Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama’ah (ASWJ) made similar remarks about women’s dress in 2005.
It’s certainly embarrassing when Muslim community leaders make comments of this nature. These individuals are popular representatives of large organisations, and as such their comments are understandably seen to reflect on the majority. But we are now facing a far more dangerous problem: the emerging phenomena of self-appointed spokespeople being given a voice in mainstream media.
Take the recent rise to fame of Ibrahim Siddiq-Conlon. Siddiq-Conlon is known for being the founder of the group Sharia4Australia and is a convert to Islam of self-described "Aussie" heritage. Siddiq-Conlon is an architect by training and his website makes much of the Islamic approach to his field, complete with picture galleries of recent building projects. It all sounds rather fluffy and harmless until he gets started on Sharia law, his other pet topic.
Siddiq-Conlon has recently called upon the Australian government to step down and make way for the impending instatement of an Islamic state. He has also been known to refer to the late Osama Bin Laden as "our beloved" and believes that Aussie troops "deserve to die" in Afghanistan.
But who is Siddiq-Conlon? His group Sharia4Australia emerged only last year and has since commanded plenty of media attention, while in the Muslim community he was a virtual unknown until he appeared on our TV screens. To me and those I know, it’s perfectly obvious that anyone who speaks of effecting a "peaceful transition" from the nation we live in to an Islamic state is not quite kosher (or halal, as the case may be). Even the aforementioned organisation ASWJ, not usually known for moderate views, has distanced itself from the position held by Siddiq-Conlon. Sheikh Taj Din al-Hilali too has cautioned against preachers such as Siddiq-Conlon, warning of their potential to influence Muslim youth against interacting with wider society.
Despite this lack of support within his own community, Siddiq-Conlon continues to be sought after for media appearances. In these appearances his lack of support within the Muslim community has been referred to on many occasions, such as in his appearance on 60 Minutes earlier this year. It is therefore difficult to explain why he is asked to speak on the very issues on which he is known to stand alone. Is it for comedic value? Michael Usher certainly seemed both bemused and amused when Siddiq-Conlon referred to hating democracy with his "heart, speech and hands", gesturing at the respective body parts to better illustrate his point. I’d be happy to laugh along if I knew everyone was in on the joke, but somehow I’m not so sure.
Perhaps the latest in a series of Muslim-related news items will help to clear things up. As Rupert Murdoch’s fall from grace dominated international headlines this week, local headlines were buzzing with a supposed exercising of Sharia law. Christian Martinez, a convert to Islam, was awoken by four men in the early hours of the morning and lashed 40 times with an electrical cord for allegedly drinking alcohol. I was pleased that the incident was referred to as the exercising of "Sharia law" in inverted commas and not automatically slated as the real deal.
Perhaps this is due to Muslim groups actually managing to present a united front in condemning this attack, with Ahmed Kilani of the popular online forum muslimvillage.com being widely quoted as saying "I hope these guys are caught and face the full force of the law". Kilani also was able to secure an exclusive interview with the victim, Christian Martinez, who claims to have been "hounded" by mainstream media. In this interview, Martinez also clarified that this incident should not be seen as reflective of Islam, which he described as "a beautiful religion". I breathed an inward sigh of relief as I heard these measured responses and thought that the damage control had been executed with an efficiency that even 2UE couldn’t combat.
I shouldn’t have let my guard down so soon.
Once again, someone felt the need to seek Ibrahim Siddiq-Conlon’s opinion on the incident. This time the offender was George Negus’ 6.30 Report. As could have been predicted, Siddiq-Conlon’s response to the lashing was to ask "Why only 40?" — and not the standard 80 lashes the Sharia law stipulates. Negus could barely contain his amusement at Siddiq-Conlon’s description of democracy as "the law of the devil". I must confess I also had a good laugh at Siddiq-Conlon’s grand posturing, but was simultaneously struck by the uncomfortable truth that there are undoubtedly some watching who would take him as a representative of my beliefs. Judging by the many hate pages and responses he has inspired, Siddiq-Conlon’s message is seen as real and threatening by some.
It’s time that people such as Siddiq-Conlon are no longer given the attention they obviously covet. It might have been fun for some but he has caused perhaps irreparable damage to the image of the Muslim community in Australia and it is left to us so-called "moderates" to pick up the pieces. My advice: next time someone like him comes along, do us a favour and nip the bud before it grows into a massive thorn in our side.
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