An Open Letter To Rita Panahi

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Dear Rita Panahi,

I picked up your article in the Daily Telegraph recently entitled ‘Islam, you have a very serious problem’. As I began reading, I was bombarded with your overuse of hyperbolic and emotive language, sweeping generalizations and complete lack of structure.

As each paragraph progressed, I became further enraged with your utter disregard for the consequences of your rash words and bulldozer-like approach to handling the complex issue of terrorism.

As mentioned above the language you used, such as “death cult” perfectly fulfills its desired purpose of whipping loyal Daily Telegraph readers into a frenzy. It is this frenzy that terror attacks like the assault on the offices of Charlie Hebdo are designed for.

The Charlie Hebdo attack wasn’t aimed at suppressing free speech or cartoonists. It was to encourage people like you and your readers to abuse the freedom of speech to play the game of division. This game breeds resentment and hatred towards ordinary Muslims, creating a nightmarish “us” versus “them” scenario, which will drive ordinary Muslims to the stark choice between remaining victims of hatred, or joining the war of hate by turning to extremism.

But, Rita, I hear you say in your article that there is only an “imaginary backlash against the Muslim community”. I beg to differ Rita, as it was hours after the Sydney siege when I saw propositions of “bash a burka day” being made on my Facebook newsfeed, and reports of women wearing veils being assaulted in the street.

I am proud to say that these sick acts and comments promptly initiated the #iwillridewithyou campaign. But, as I type, I am reading of revenge firebomb attacks that have been carried out across mosques in France. In fact, even when I went to read your article again online, regrettably I decided to load the comments section.

This is what was found: “In my opinion, Islam is outdated and has no place on Australian shores” or better yet Rita, “I make it policy never to get into a taxi with a Middle Eastern looking driver. Not that I feel I might be in danger, but I want no part of lining their pockets with our currency”.

Do you not read your comments section before making sweeping statements Rita? Or are you so focussed on keeping up your persona of ‘telling it how it is’ to your consistently racist following that you just don’t care?

From reading the above, it is blatantly obvious that there has been backlash against the Muslim population and that a number of Australians hold strong prejudices towards them. But I do not understand why.

You attempt to make the differentiation between extreme Islamists and regular, moderate Muslims in your article, but that does not explain why you are stating that extremists are the problem of regular Muslims.

More than several Muslim leaders and scholars have publicly disassociated themselves with and condemned the jihadists from the Parisian attacks. Beyond this, they have called for Muslims to attend rallies and peaceful demonstrations so that their stance would be clearly known.

Many of the people in your comment section didn’t think this was happening at all, and that Imams’ silence was “deafening”, so at the end of this letter I have attached a few links regarding their statements.

You will have also noticed the supportive cartoons featured in the Arab press clearly endorsing freedom of speech. Perhaps the Daily Telegraph would consider giving them a little more air-time, so that their readership wasn’t so misinformed by articles such as yours.

Even though Muslims in positions of authority are speaking out, I do not feel that extremists and the action of denouncing extremists are the responsibility of moderate Muslims. I, as a Christian, was not pressured by any group within society to speak out against the atrocities committed by the Christian Anders Breivik, who in 2011 brutally murdered 77 people in Norway.

This example also shows that your point that “in the 21st century only one religion is at the centre of terror attacks around the World” is entirely invalid, as it can also be backed up by the killings of Muslims by Bhuddists in Myanmar.

Certain elements of my own religion do not support “our cherished values of equality, freedom and democracy” as you put it Rita. Take the Westboro Baptist Church for example; they are renowned for their extreme ideologies towards homosexuals, their views on gay people do not reflect equality, yet I do not see you calling them out?

I also don’t feel the need to apologize for them Rita, because I do not remotely share their views or affiliate myself with them in any way, shape or form, similarly to how regular Muslims do not share any kind of connection with terrorists or extremists.

Yet why are you still forcing regular Muslims to apologize, take the blame for and perform damage control for the actions of extremists?

I am not asked to justify why the Bible says a man should not lay with another man. I am not asked to justify why the Bible states that a woman should remain silent. I am not asked to justify basically everything that is written in the book of Leviticus, Rita! Why the double standards?

The “cherished values” that you speak of are also as cherished by Muslims, as they are by the rest of Australians. That’s right, they are Australians. Not just Muslims. There are thousands of Muslims who are second and third generation Australian and call Australia their home.

There are also Australian Muslims whose ancestry can be traced right back to pre-colonial Australia. The two Kouachi brothers responsible for the attacks in Paris were both born in France. They had not “fled” from their “homeland”, they were French. Islam is a faith, stop turning this into an immigration issue.

But if it is Islam that has the problem, as you persistently mentioned in your article, how do you suggest that ordinary Muslims attack “their problem” of “radicalized elements” of their religion? You yourself say jihadists cannot be “reasoned with or counselled into adopting our values of humanity, tolerance and liberty” – values which the majority of Muslims living in the West and abroad have upheld and helped shape wholeheartedly – so how can you expect ordinary Muslims to succeed where the World’s greatest military powers have failed in terms of exterminating the cancer that is extremism.

I am one of the so called “progressives” that searches for ways in which we as united Australian people, Muslim and non-Muslim, can attempt to prevent extremism by looking inwards, something you call “insulting to victims”.

The examples you give of the “progressives’ finger pointing” are heavily weighted towards government policies and in fact do not blame the victims of these attacks, who are regular civilians off the street. Last time I checked, “raising the terror alert, supporting Israel’s right to exist and joining the US-led coalition in the Middle East” were not directly in the hands of the general public.

What is further insulting Rita, is by your reasoning, we owe it to the Muslim victims of the Paris attacks to tell them that their religion was not and is not compatible with the society they were living in. Their deaths are going to be used by you as examples or bargaining chips in the fight for division over unity.

What I find even more disrespectful, Rita, is that you chose to patronizingly say that I as a “progressive” or “enlightened soul” are disrespectful towards victims when you, Rita, write for a newspaper that actively puts lives at risk by running a front page Sydney Siege spread of hostages pressed against a window for their families to see, with a title that had absolutely zero conclusive evidence behind it.

If that isn’t disgusting, degrading and irresponsible behaviour towards victims and their families Rita, I don’t know what is. If you feel so strongly about respecting victims, perhaps you should think about finding a new place of employment.

Finally Rita, following your lead I feel “comfortable to readily call out” YOU and YOUR newspaper for being “incompatible with our cherished value of equality” through your bigoted discrimination against ordinary Muslims by insinuating that Islam alone is to blame for extremists and Islam alone has to deal with this problem.

The world shares universal values Rita, and the world will stand united and fight against the evil that is terrorism. It will not crumble to the division your article encourages.

* Gabi Meek is an 18-year-old Sydney resident, self-described as a “third culture kid” who has recently relocated back to Australia after spending the last 10 years abroad. She is preparing to move to Canberra to begin a flexible double degree in law and international relations at ANU.

 

ADDITIONAL LINKS

Muslim scholars speaking out against the attacks

Muslim countries speaking out against the attacks

Arab newspaper reactions to the attacks

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