The Murdoch apparently press has no trouble identifying homophobia in Muslim clerics. But some other religions seem to get a free pass, writes Michael Brull.
A few months ago, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull invited some Muslims to Kirribilli House for an Iftar dinner. The Murdoch press, led by the Australian, responded with a volley of articles reporting on homophobic statements by Muslim clerics.
Many of the statements were reprehensible. Yet there seemed something strange about the Australian’s sudden concern about homophobia. For example, a recent editorial pondered whether the Safe Schools program was “akin to an insidious form of child abuse”. I responded in New Matilda by putting a challenge to them: would the Australian also report on homophobic rabbis?
Two months later, we have an answer. Sort of.
The Murdoch press has reported on one of the rabbis I discussed in my article, Rabbi Shimon Cowen. The heading observes that “Rabbi Cowen compares homosexuality to incest, bestiality”. The lead paragraph also paraphrases his argument that “just because people have gay urges doesn’t justify acting on them.”
Rabbi Cowen wrote in his book: “Much of the appeal of the same-sex marriage movement is an appeal to ‘compassion’… Truly compassionate parents know very well that they have to apply ‘tough love’ to children at times.”
Presumably, his position was that compassionate parents should direct “tough love” to their children, if they are gay.
Rabbi Cowen also seems to view homosexual relationships as inherently destructive: “Compounded promiscuity in male-male sexual relationships (whether married or unmarried) has contributed significantly to the devastating plague of AIDS; whilst compounded possessiveness in lesbian relationships accounts for the extraordinarily high level of violence and abuse found in them”.
The article did not canvas Rabbi Cowen’s position on the “right” of Jewish schools to not hire openly gay teachers.
It did note Rabbi Cowen’s attitude towards conversion therapy for gay people. Tessa Akerman reported that, “Dr Cowen criticises the Victorian Health Complaints Act passed this year, claiming the intent was to seek out and punish those offering reparative or conversion therapy for homosexuality.”
“The homosexual is locked in by the ban on therapy, his or her destiny sealed.”
Akerman concluded by noting that Catholic Archbishop of Hobart, Julian Porteous said on the archdiocese website the book was a “balanced, fair and courageous study of the nature of homosexuality”.
That review can be found here. It happily identifies the book’s message as part of a Judeo-Christian understanding. To my knowledge, the Australian has not campaigned similarly against homophobic priests, ministers and archbishops.
Since the report by Akerman, there has not been a similar campaign against homophobic rabbis in the Australian. Yet the editorial pages of the Australian lit up with outrage in the wake of its reporting on homophobic Muslim clerics.
For example, Janet Albrechtsen wrote under a heading “Shut down the sheiks who incite violence by Muslims”. She began by citing the famous poem by Pastor Martin Niemoller, drawing a connection between Muslims and Nazis.
Gerard Henderson had the more subtle, “Other religions do not preach hate like radical Islam”.
One Australian editorial complained that “the Left’s loathing of our Judeo-Christian ethic and liberal democratic heritage” has “blunted discussion” about the “insidious influence of radical” Muslim leaders. Fear of tarring all Muslims has led to “important facts” being “glossed over” in public debate. These include “the beliefs of prominent Muslim leaders that homosexuals are ‘evil’ and should be ‘treated’.”
They didn’t consider why the Left might have any reservations about “our Judeo-Christian ethic”, or whether it shared any similarities with Islamic ethics. Rabbi Cowen happily recognises this similarity, identifying his position as Abrahamic – that is, incorporating Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
An Australian editorial from a few days later announced that they “won’t accept hate preaching. We defend equal rights for all, regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual preference”. Alas, “because the issue involves dealing openly with issues of the Islamic faith and Muslim communities there seems to be reluctance from many in the national debate to deal with it.”
Two months later, the op ed pages of The Australian haven’t found any Jewish homophobia worth denouncing, let alone commenting on.
The Australian complained of those reluctant to denounce Muslim homophobia, unlike the Australian¸ which sticks to one standard of always opposing hate preaching. Yet it is hard to square their aggressive campaigning against homophobia in one faith with their more relaxed attitude to homophobia in another. Whereas the Australian was particularly alarmed at the Muslim view that homosexuality could be “treated”, a prominent Jewish proponent of that attitude is apparently less alarming.
They didn’t even report on a coalition of Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and other organisations condemning the book as “the worst type of homophobia”.
If the timidity of The Australian is striking, stranger still is that of the most aggressive critic of Muslim “hate preachers”, Andrew Bolt. Bolt was not just angry at anti-gay comments that had been made, but complained that public Muslim figures had failed to denounce them.
Yet a few days after the Australian reported on Rabbi Cowen’s book, Bolt invited him onto Sky News. You can see a clip of their friendly chat here.
Readers may think perhaps Bolt was unaware of Rabbi Cowen’s views (on his blog, Bolt identifies his first name as “Shlomo”). Yet the Sky News page on the interview notes the rabbi is “controversial”, and has made “incendiary remarks about homosexuality, including his support for reparative or conversion therapy for homosexuality. He also writes that parents should administer ‘tough love’ to their children who come out as gay.”
Though the Rabbi’s comments are at least comparable to those the Australian campaigned against, it seems there is no appetite for similar denunciation of Jewish homophobia. Nor for the Catholic Archbishop who endorsed Rabbi Cowen’s book.
One might understand a non-Jewish person’s reluctance to criticise someone in the Jewish community for a number of reasons. They may worry that they don’t understand the complexity of the community. They may worry that if they give undue prominence to one particular rabbi, it may distort the public image of Jews in Australia. They may believe that religious Jews are in a better position to critique rabbis, whereas non-Jewish critiques have limited credibility. They may worry that denunciations simply encourage the Jewish community to become more defensive, rather than introspective.
Personally, I do not pretend to know the best way to redress religious homophobia. What troubles me is that the Murdoch press weaponises the issue of homophobia to target only one particular faith community. The result is that those valid concerns become associated with an Islamophobic agenda.
If it recognises there are good reasons for them not to campaign against rabbis, it should also recognise there are good reasons not to campaign against Muslim clerics. If it wants to campaign against religious homophobia, then it should widen its scope to the other Abrahamic faiths.
In short, if the Murdoch press wants to campaign against religious homophobia, its record on the other Abrahamic faiths should consist of more than one article.
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