It started well enough.
Hizb ut-Tahrir spokesman Wassim Doureihi was on Lateline last night, sitting across from regular host Emma Alberici.
Doureihi has been in the public eye for a long time now and, as a spokesperson for the controversial pan-Islamic Sunni party, tends to get dragged into the limelight every time journalists decide the War on Terror is worth another dig.
With Prime Minister Tony Abbott making an apology to radio shock jock Alan Jones yesterday for failing to crack down on groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, Lateline gave Doureihi the nod.
Hitzb ut-Tahrir want to see the Islamic caliphate restored to Muslim nations.
At first blush, you would think this would make Doureihi a markedly different guest to the string of blue tie wearing guests ABC one-vs-ones often host.
But as it turned out, Doureihi had something in common with the Scott Morrisons and Joe Hockeys of the world.
The spokesman took his cues straight from the standard spinners playbook.
Going on a show like Lateline is all about only answering the questions you want, and obfuscating the rest of the time – try to only talk about the issues you want the audience to be thinking about.
While it can be excruciating to watch, it also saves damaging headlines and gaffes turning up in the rest of the media the next day… except when you push it so hard it becomes a story in itself, as Doureihi did.
Alberici tried to push Doureihi to criticise the tactics of ISIS.
But at a time when Muslim are heavily demonized, Doureihi didn’t want to talk about the tactics of ISIS, he wanted to talk about – as Hizb ut-Tahrir are wont to do – colonialism.
“The fact that we don't want to have this discussion now is indicative of where the entire discussion on the war on terror narrative goes. The fact is the entire response isn't what Muslims are doing or may not be doing, but no-one legitimately or sincerely is discussing what Western governments are doing in the Muslim world,” he said.
“Groups like ISIS or al-Qaeda don't exist in a vacuum. They exist as a reaction to Western interference in the Islamic lands and they view themselves, rightfully or wrongfully, irrespective of my opinion or otherwise, as a resistance effort to what they regard as an unjust occupation.”
Alberici started to get frustrated and things went awry. She pushed Doureihi and he pushed back harder.
Alberici: You are clearly obfuscating …
Doureihi: Absolutely not.
Alberici: … and I did not invite you …
Doureihi: No, I reject that, I reject the accusation.
Alberici: … onto this program to do that.
Doureihi: I'll say very clearly: why is it not offensive …
Alberici: Why will you not point blank condemn the actions of IS fighters?
Doureihi: Why is it not offensive – because the question itself is offensive.
Alberici: Men who cut off the heads of innocent journalists and aid workers. Why will you not take the opportunity?
Doureihi: You can ask the question – you can ask the question …
Alberici: You have a national platform here.
Doureihi: Yes. And I'm quite aware of that.
Alberici: Why don't you adopt the leadership that many have obviously given you responsibility for?
Doureihi: The question is: why won't you allow me to answer the question that I deem appropriate.
Alberici: Answer it.
If you think that exchange is hard to read as a transcript, try following the actual clip, it’s not much clearer.
As Alberici began to get seriously angry, Doureihi repeated his talking points and obstinately avoided any yes or no answers.
If he ever moves on from the Hizb ut-Tahrir, you’d have to think he would be a prime target for Scott Morrison’s personal media troupe.
In an interview from Lateline in 2007, Dourihi used similar tactics when faced with Virginia Trioli who in turn pushed back, but with far less antagonism than Alberici. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xexn-bIJqjc
Despite employing relatively similar tactics to other spinners, Doureihi’s duel with Alberici didn’t seem to do him too many favours with Lateline viewers.
And even brought out a surprising ally for the ABC.
He’ll probably be hoping Alberici’s aggressive tactics were a one off though.
So, what to make of it all?
On one hand, Muslims in Australia are rightly sick to death of being asked to make dramatic public denunciations of violent Islamist groups. And further, Hizb ut-Tahrir have already taken shots at ISIS.
Uthman Badar, another media rep who was booted from the Festival of Dangerous Ideas earlier this year, posted the following on his Facebook page in September:
“ISIS is calling for mass chaos and violence, anywhere and everywhere. It's wrong, it's nutty and most importantly it contravenes the Islamic position and the example of the Prophet. It should fall on deaf ears.
Yes, the west has aggressed beyond what words can express and is responsible for injustice and violence that groups like ISIS could not do even if they wanted… but our deen guides us on how we must respond and it's not what ISIS is suggesting.”
That seems to answer Alberici’s question. Still, a simple yes or no from Doureihi would hardly have derailed the conversation.
Watch the clip here and let us know what you think in the comments.
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