A senior Palmer United Party adviser is standing by a series of alarming predictions he made about the threat Sharia law poses to Australia, despite facing criticism from an expert in both Australian and Islamic law that he does not understand either.
Rob Messenger, Chief of Staff to PUP Senator Jacqui Lambie, told New Matilda he believed anyone in Australia practicing sharia was in breach of the Australian Constitution, and that he had not changed his mind since authoring a series of posts defending Dutch anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders and calling on leaders to speak out against “extremist Islamic religious ideology”.
“I’m concerned about any law that’s not Australian operating in Australia. Any law other than Australian law indicates a divided loyalty, is a breach of section 44 of our constitution and possibly treasonous,” he said in an email.
The Palmer United Party remains tangled in a public feud after Messenger’s boss called for supporters of Sharia law to leave Australia, but then failed spectacularly to define the term ‘Sharia’ when probed on ABC program Insiders.
Despite signs of division in the PUP camp, Messenger was not backing away from the issue when quizzed on Monday evening.
In his correspondence, Messenger posited his own definition of Sharia.
“It’s a law that’s not Australian and being promoted by terrorists, extremists and murderers,” he said.
But Dr Ghena Krayem, a lecturer in law at the University of Sydney, ridiculed Messenger’s understanding of both Sharia and Australian law, saying the former had nothing to do with terrorism or extremism.
“That’s an incredibly ignorant definition,” Dr Krayem said.
“Sharia is not just the legal code that we associate it with, so it’s not just about law.
“Sharia is the whole framework that Muslims live by, their day-to-day things like how they pray, their interaction with people, the food that they eat, all of the things that we don’t normally associate with any legal system.
“It’s kind of like our moral code.”
Dr Krayem said that banning Sharia would in effect mean banning Islam, an act that, ironically, would not be supported by the Australian Constitution, which prevents the Commonwealth making laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
“Perhaps Mr Messenger hasn’t heard of Section 116 of the Australian Constitution,” Dr Krayem said.
She also noted that Section 44 of the Constitution, cited by Messenger, outlines the conditions under which someone may be banned from sitting as an MP in the House of Representatives.
“I’m not sure what he’s talking about there,” she said.
A former member of the LNP and of the Queensland Parliament, Messenger has previously compared the danger Islam presents to modern Australia to that faced by the people of Germany in the 1930s.
“There was a time when the German people could have emphatically said ‘No’ to the Nazis’ special message of hate and crazy,” Messenger wrote in a May 2013 letter to the Brisbane Times.
“We are living in similar times and face a similar evil. And the world will suffer a similar fate as the generation of 1930s and 40s, if we do not loudly condemn the leaders and followers of the extremist Islamic religious ideology driving this current world madness.”
Asked if he had gone too far in the comparison, Messenger upped the ante: “Given the recent level of barbarity displayed by the sharia extremists – the comparison didn’t go far enough.”
Pushed to expand on the number of “extremists” he thought were active in Australia, Messenger replied: “We’re in a new world. It only took 19 sharia extremists to bring America to its knees at 9/11.
“There are hundreds of Australian extremists fighting overseas. It’s not a case of numbers it is a case of capacity and motivation to inflict harm. The extremists have both.”
Dr Krayem said that in her experiences researching Sharia in Australia, no-one she met had advocated establishing a parallel legal system.
“My research indicates that certainly the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Australia would find that it’s their legal and moral code that makes them feel comfortable to be Australian and to abide by Australian law,” she said.
“I mean I’ve heard repeatedly from the Imams that have been interviewed that your first obligation here in Australia is to abide by the law of the land.”
While still an MP, Messenger also introduced a bill calling for the “pre-emptive banning of Islamic Sharia Law” in Queensland.
“Not one media outlet reported on my speech,” he lamented in a blog post. “Not one member of the LNP or Labor Party spoke to support a debate on this matter.”
On Monday, Lambie hit back at her critics in Parliament, defending her Sharia stance.
“I’ve been criticised by some because I couldn’t properly define what Sharia law is. It’s not going to come as a shock when I tell you that I’m not an Islamic scholar,” she said.
“However, I will tell you what I do know about the supporters of Sharia. Every major terrorist attack on Western world citizens and Australian citizens — 9/11, the Bali bombings, the Boston marathon bombings, recent beheadings and massacres — have all been carried out by supporters of Sharia law. If people want more detail on this law, my advice is to google ‘Sharia’.”
Days earlier, the Senator was called out for sharing an image from her Facebook page showing a Muslim woman dressed in a burqa and holding a pistol, with text superimposed calling for the burqa to be banned.
Lambie was apparently unaware the image was of Afghani policewoman Malalai Kakar, who had formed a women’s crimes unit and been assassinated by the Taliban as a result of her work.
Messenger denied being responsible for the Kakar post but said that, with Lambie’s permission, he took a role on advising in all areas, including policy matters relating to Muslim communities.
“Senator Lambie and I have been working together as a political team since before the last federal election for about 18 months.
“We’ve done so because like most politicians and their [Chiefs of Staff] we share similar political views,” he said.
Dr Krayem said she intended to offer her assistance to Lambie in understanding Sharia and its Australian context, but that Messenger’s assumptions appeared to be on shaky legal ground.
“I think maybe he should come to some of our Constitutional law classes 101, because he’s got to get some basic facts straight,” she said.
“Before Mr Messenger or Jacqui Lambie talk about banning anything, they need to get their facts right first.”
In his letter to the Brisbane Times, Messenger said “Islamic terrorists… cleverly hide amongst us” and made alarming predictions about the kind of weapons they would use to do harm to Australians.
“One of the greatest risks our children face is that meat cleavers, knives, home-made bombs and guns will be replaced with sophisticated modern weapons of mass destruction – poisonous chemicals, nuclear bombs and deadly viruses,” he wrote.
New Matilda asked Messenger why he had singled out “meat cleavers” at two points in his letter to the Brisbane Times, and whether he saw any need to restrict the sale of the implement.
“The use of “meat clever” [sic]was a direct reference to one of the weapons that the killers of Trooper Lee Rigby used. The letter was a direct response to that horrifying event,” he replied.
“Your simplistic, leading question disturbs me because it indicates a complete lack of knowledge about that extraordinary terrorist attack and a predetermined editorial position.”
For the record, New Matilda has no editorial position on the sale of meat cleavers. We do, however, have pretty strong views on ignorance.
Donate To New Matilda
New Matilda is a small, independent media outlet. We survive through reader contributions, and never losing a lawsuit. If you got something from this article, giving something back helps us to continue speaking truth to power. Every little bit counts.