The fallout from Malcolm Turnbull’s Iftar dinner has seen a consistent effort to make links that are not there, writes Michael Brull.
This election campaign may involve the most overtly anti-Muslim and anti-Islam campaigning I’ve seen yet. Part of this is because of aggressive anti-Muslim candidates in this election, repeatedly given platforms by the Murdoch and mainstream media. The overt Islamophobia has been stepped up in the wake of the Iftar hosted by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Anyone who follows Malcolm Turnbull’s Facebook page would notice the intense anti-Muslim sentiment that have been expressed on it since the event. The most popular comments on his subsequent posts were about the dangers of Muslims and Islam. Such as this one, appalled at Turnbull’s “ignorance re Islam”, as shown by his hosting of an “Eid if Fatal”.
Much of this sentiment has been taken up by Fairfax, and Murdoch, with the Murdoch media particularly relishing singling out individual Muslim clerics in attendance to scorn them for their views on the position of Islam on homosexuality. In this environment, there have been harsh, even vicious attacks, by a media that has showed little interest in accuracy and fairness in reporting on Muslims.
The Unsympathetic Links To al Qaeda
One Iftar guest has been subjected to particularly dishonest misrepresentations of his views. Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman has been subject to harsh criticisms, leading to Malcolm Turnbull publicly regretted having invited him. Sheikh Shady has over 200,000 Facebook followers, suggesting he commands a significant following in Australia. He is the President of the Australian National Imam’s Council.
Rita Panahi in the Murdoch press claimed he had “links to al-Qaeda terrorist and recruiter, Anwar al-Awlaki”, who has since assassinated by the US. Right wing shock jock Michael Smith called the Sheikh a “hate preacher”, including in the Sheikh’s name “can we kill civilians yet?” He embedded a video of Sheikh Shady, with the introduction: “And here’s the Sheikh of Hate asking that question on everyone’s lips – can we kill civilians who aren’t Muslim?”
In fact, in the video in question, the Sheikh doesn’t ask that question. He is asked by someone else if he agrees with Al-Awlaki’s opinion that it is permissible under Islam to kill civilians in the West. The Sheikh passionately denounces that position, saying it is not permissible, that Islam “is here to save people from oppression, Islam is here to save people from injustice”. He declares that the Prophet was not sent by Allah just to kill people.
You can watch the video yourself.
On another occasion, he was asked if people should listen to Al-Awlaki. His answer – every scholar has good things you can take from, and “things that you reject”. Al-Awlaki “has good things”, and also says things that “we totally disagree with, and not healthy for our youth”. He said those who can’t distinguish the two shouldn’t listen to him. He thinks some people can learn from Al-Awlaki on stories of the Prophet, and the Day of Judgment, but disagrees with Al-Awlaki’s views on the West. “For the vast majority of our youth, I will say no to you, not to listen to him”, because they can’t distinguish from what can be learned from, and what he rejects. Anyone who is new to Islam, or is unsure about the level of their religious learning should not listen to Al-Awlaki.
It seems his views on Al-Awlaki might be relevant to gauging the Sheikh’s “links” to him. Yet despite his clearly expressed views on Al-Awlaki and the murder of civilians, there are now probably hundreds of thousands of Australians who believe in or wonder about his connection to al Qaeda, and suspect him of supporting terrorism.
Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been Friends With
The Daily Telegraph followed up the Iftar guest inquisition with an investigation of an ALP candidate in a safe Liberal seat. The candidate in question, Christian Kunde, was alleged by the Daily Telegraph to have “close ties” with Hizb ut Tahrir. Kunde has argued that Uthman Badar, spokesperson for the group, isn’t an advocate of honour killings, and criticised ad hominem attacks on Badar. Kunde went on to say that he was friends with Badar and would trust Badar with the guardianship of his children.
I don’t agree with Kunde’s arguments. For example, I don’t agree that calling someone a fundamentalist is ad hominem, for the same reason I don’t think that calling someone conservative is ad hominem. Though some people may consider the term insulting, it is a substantive term that addresses a person’s beliefs. There may be reasons to argue against it, though I wonder if Badar himself would reject being identified as a fundamentalist.
Yet there is no suggestion that Kunde joined Hizb ut Tahrir, agrees with it ideologically or politically, or even sympathises with it. He says he would be expelled from Hizb ut Tahrir for being part of the ALP in the first place. Still, he immediately resigned. ALP leader Bill Shorten got word to the Tele that he was “furious” about Kunde’s undisclosed links to Hizb ut Tahrir.
Kunde did give a lecture in 2013 where he argued that Islam does not permit homosexuality, which he regards as immoral, and opposed gay marriage. In response to the controversy, he says that he supports gay marriage, while dubiously claiming that he had also supported it in his speech.
While one may object to Kunde’s speech, he would not be the only ALP candidate who opposed gay marriage in 2013 but supports it now. It seems plain that the reason Kunde has resigned is because he is vaguely linked to an Islamist group that the Murdoch press and Liberals have been hoping to ban.
This is McCarthyism in its crudest. There was a time when an ALP candidate would have been forced to resign for daring to be friends with a communist. Now, candidates aren’t allowed to be friends with Islamists. Even expressing scepticism over media attacks on Islamists now appears to be a sign of incipient extremism, sympathy for terrorism and so on.
Calling Out Vs Collaboration
There is a conversation to be had about homophobia in Muslim communities, and the value of “calling out”, as opposed to seeking change through more collaborative and less confrontational approaches. The febrile atmosphere created by right-wing smears makes it harder to have those conversations.
This election campaign is unlikely to be the last featuring media attacks on Muslim clerics. The Liberals clearly struggle to present themselves as friends of the blue collar working class on based on economic policy. In 2011, Scott Morrison urged the Coalition shadow cabinet to capitalise on anti-Muslim sentiment in Australia. At the time, other members of the Coalition rejected the advice, such as Julie Bishop. Turnbull’s Iftar suggests a continuing reluctance to engage in an aggressive anti-Muslim campaign.
Yet the tit-for-tat that seems implicit in the Iftar denunciations and apology, followed by the resignation of the ALP candidate, suggests that both parties are worried about the electoral clout of anti-Muslim voters. It seems likely that the next election will involve more aggressive anti-Muslim campaigning. If that does happen, there seems little doubt that it will be inflamed by aggressive and inflammatory reporting about the evils of Islam, Muslim, and Muslim clerics. And it won’t be unduly concerned about old-fashioned concerns like accuracy and fairness.
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