Muslim Bashing: The Facts That Didn’t Get In The Way Of An Appalling Story

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Fairfax journalist Rachel Olding is at it again. Writing about Muslims, that is, with predictable results.

First, let’s review some of her earlier hits. She wrote a story about Bourke, claiming it was more dangerous than any country in the world (!!). The story, along with associated dog-whistling about Aboriginal people, was debunked at length by New Matilda editor Chris Graham.

In another report, Olding reported on teenage girls with a “non-judgmental” attitude towards sex. Olding replied with horror: “The question is, where are the parents in all this craziness?” She quoted a “feminist and executive” who explained that those girls having sex would be “poor white trash in another decade”.

About half a year ago, Olding reported on “real time assessments” at airports which were “not random and involve specialist officers pulling suspicious travellers aside”.

In half a year, these non-random searches harassed 75,906 people.

The government didn’t explain what basis these searches were conducted on, or how many searches actually resulted in anything being found. Any reader might think that this sounds like spectacularly unsuccessful racial profiling. But Olding assured readers that “terror suspects” had “reportedly” been stopped. And only “several” Muslims, like the “controversial” Mohammed Junaid Thorne were concerned about racial profiling. So readers could presumably rest assured at this valuable program is keeping us safe.

In her latest effort, she discusses the case of Wissam Haddad. He reportedly used to own a bookstore, Al Risalah. When he was subjected to an alleged counter-terrorism raid, police found two tasers, capsicum spray, a machete, DVDs, newspaper clippings and a Daesh flag.

The court was apparently unconcerned and unimpressed by this haul. According to Olding, Magistrate Michael Barko “recorded no conviction for the OC spray possession and handed Mr Haddad a six-month good behaviour bond. For the possession of two tasers, he fined Mr Haddad $330 and gave him a 12-month good behaviour bond.”

As for the non-lethal weapons, Haddad claims that he had confiscated the tasers and capsicum spray from troubled youths. Olding wrote that “It is understood” that many of the DVDs featured sermons by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a dead ideologue and fanatic of al-Qaeda, mostly known for his slaughter of Shi’ites in the Iraqi civil war.

“It is understood” presumably being her way of saying she has been told this anonymously, and has no other evidence for this allegation. She reports blandly that “no charges were laid because they are not illegal to own.”

So he didn’t do anything wrong, and there’s no evidence he even did that anyway. Still, even though Haddad was found by a court of law to have committed only very minor offences, readers should still be aware that he has a beard, a Muslim name, and anonymous sources are suspicious of him.

You can get a sense of Olding’s style from this passage:

Magistrate Michael Barko said it was concerning that Mr Haddad had not handed the items in to police and kept them at home where his five children, aged between two and 13, could have accidentally accessed them.

“Therein lies the criminality of the offence,” he said.

However, Magistrate Barko said Mr Haddad was otherwise a man of “impeccable character” because he has no prior convictions and looks after his five children.

“He is a person of good ilk who is a family man and a useful member… of the community,” he said.

Mr Haddad was believed to be involved in the fire-bombing of a religious rival’s juice bar and has courted controversy in the past with inflammatory comments.

He has pleaded to be deported so he could move to Islamic State territory and has professed his support for the terror group and his close friend Khaled Sharrouf, who posted gruesome photos of himself and his family while he was fighting for Islamic State.

So the Magistrate found that the criminality of his offence was not turning in other people’s weapons to the police, and that he’s otherwise a “person of good ilk” and a “useful member of the community”. One might think this would be grounds for the media to stop smearing him as a terrorist or terrorist sympathiser, but no such luck.

That’s what the last two paragraphs above are about – Olding’s attempt to make sure that whatever the court says, Haddad isn’t acquitted in the court of public opinion.

As seen, Olding doesn’t bother to show that the Magistrate’s reasoning was flawed. Instead, she simply made other unsubstantiated claims.

As for the “fire-bombing”, Olding herself reported that three other men – not Haddad – were charged with extortion over it. Whilst Olding reported in April 2013 that Haddad “and an unknown male” threatened the owner of the store, the Daily Telegraph’s court reporter wrote in September 2013 that this threat came from an “unidentified man”. Readers can decide for themselves which account they regard as more trustworthy.

What about the reported “inflammatory comments”? Olding claims 1) that Haddad wanted to move to Islamic State territory, and 2) has “professed support” for Daesh, and 3) was friends with Khaled Sharrouf, who may have been killed fighting for Daesh in Syria or Iraq.

As for “pleading to be deported so he could move to Islamic State territory”, Olding links to this article. His comments, and that of someone else, were reported thus:

Mohammad, an al-Risalah supporter, called Ray Hadley’s 2GB show to ask for his help to have his passport cancelled so he could return to Turkey.

“People like myself are happy to leave this country, leave our passport, leave our citizenship if the government allows us to go,” Mr Haddad told 2GB.

“If the government allows the people that don’t want to be here to sign away to give up their citizenship, to give up their passports, to go without being incriminated in any sort of way and mind you this isn’t to go fight or to take up arms. We don’t sound like we’re welcome in Australia.”

Those who listen to the interview will note the controversy was around Haddad saying what he cared about was the Islamic flag, not the Australian flag. Saying that he didn’t feel welcome, he would be happy to leave.

Hadley agreed he wasn’t welcome, and made a comment about his “friends” beheading people. Haddad called this an allegation, but didn’t clarify what he disputed, before it devolved into them talking over each other, and Haddad eventually hanging up.

Note how this is translated by Olding. From Haddad saying he didn’t feel welcome in Australia, and would leave, without saying where he would go to, Olding claimed that he wanted to move to Islamic State territory. And left out the not wanting to fight part, and it being because he feels unwelcome. Readers are free to speculate why he might feel that way.

As for Haddad’s “professed support” for Daesh and friendship with Sharrouf, Olding links to this story, also by Olding. The part that refers to Haddad reads as follows:

Wissam Haddad, owner of the hardline Al-Risalah prayer centre in Bankstown and a close friend of Sharrouf’s, said wannabe jihadists should be allowed to leave the country and revoke their citizenship, a view supported by Dr Rifi.

“You can’t put a wild bird in a cage and just hope it’s going to be domesticated,” he said.

“Khaled was the bird in the cage but he found a way out. It just goes to show how much people are willing to risk just to get out of the country. Cancelling passports is not going to deter anyone from jihad. You can’t kill an idea.”

Here, it is not even clear if Olding is referring to Rifi or Haddad. Olding identifies the former as “respected community figure Dr Jamal Rifi”. By respected, she is presumably referring to white people like herself who think he’s great.

Olding also reports that “Dr Rifi… has known the Sharrouf family for years”. What? Her respected figure has known Sharrouf for years too? And he holds the same view as Olding that just today she has called “inflammatory”?

That is basically the sum of Olding’s reporting on Haddad. The facts – which clear him – and the innuendo, distortions and smears which could equally condemn her favoured Muslim figure.

She claimed he said he wanted to move to Islamic State territory (in her source, he didn’t), she claimed he professed support for Daesh (in her source, he didn’t), and she claimed he was a friend of someone who fought for Daesh (in her source, so was someone she respected).

And whilst a magistrate apparently responded to a counter-terrorism raid by clearing him of all serious wrongdoing, recording only negligible punishments and attesting to his “impeccable character”, Olding decided to once again drag his name through the mud.

Stellar work.

Michael Brull

Michael Brull writes twice a week for New Matilda. He has written for a range of other publications, including Overland, Crikey, ABC's Drum, the Guardian and elsewhere. His writings can be followed at his public Facebook page (click on the icon below right).

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