Cory Bernardi’s Halal Inquiry: How To Make A Bitter Irony Stew

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A Coalition initiated senate inquiry into halal certification is a waste of taxpayer money and could alienate young Muslims if it is turned into a “political stunt”, according to experts.

Ahmed Kilani, managing director of Halal iQ and editor of MuslimVillage.com, said many Muslims would welcome a national standard for certification but that “right wing ideologues” inside the Coalition had sent the rest of the party on a “wild goose chase”.

The inquiry was moved on Wednesday afternoon by South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi and ostensibly aims to examine a range of food certification processes including kosher, organic, and genetically modified food.

But Bernardi’s previous criticism of Islamic cultural and religious practices – including repeated calls to ban the burka – have led those like Kilani to question his motives for moving the inquiry.

“He’s had a very Islamophobic nature to a lot of his positions,” Kilani said.

“I think he started criticising halal, realised this would not fly with his colleagues, and now has come back and said this is an inquiry into food labelling, which may well be true, but you have to question the agenda behind it.”

Halal certification has been an obsessive focus of nationalist and anti-Muslim groups in Australia in recent years, including the Reclaim Australia movement.

Despite the absence of any evidence, they have continued to insist fees for halal certifying bodies could be used to fund terrorism, a claim backed by those such as national’s MP George Christensen.

According to the Australian Crime Commission, a major investigation establishing financial links between Australia and Hezbollah in 2014 found no evidence of links between halal certification and money laundering or the financing of terrorism.

Dr Jan Ali, a senior lecturer in Islam and modernity at the University of Western Sydney, said he had his own criticisms of the halal certification process but that linking it to terrorism was “a wild allegation”.

“That’s an interesting link isn’t it. I mean you and I can also make all kinds of links about everything,” Ali said.

“I can also make an assumption that all this money actually goes into Cory Bernardi’s savings account but then Cory Bernardi might say, Jan, can you provide the evidence?”

In fact, according to both Ali and Kilani, inquiries like that Bernardi has established could further alienate young Muslims who already feel isolated.

“One among many reactions might be radicalisation,” Ali said.

Kilani does see some upsides to the inquiry, which is due to report back to the senate on November 30, and was established with the backing of senators Lambie, Muir, Leyonhjelm, and Lazarus.

“Maybe it’s good to have this so it can all be dealt with openly in public and all the myths can be dispelled once and for all,” Kilani said.

If that does come to pass, Senator Bernardi may finally have to distance himself from people like Kirralie Smith, the woman who has played a staring role in Australia’s anti-halal movement and believes the certification process is part of an international pan-Islamic conspiracy.

“Kirralie Smith, is an amazingly brave mother who wants the facts to be out there and is now under threat by legal action,” Bernardi wrote on his blog earlier this year.

“I happen to agree with Kirralie. We need to get to the bottom of what is actually happening in relation to halal certification in Australia.”

Thanks to the enduring wisdom of the Australian senate, we soon will.

Max Chalmers

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.

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