What’s worse, a woman refusing to stand in court, or police assaulting a woman and calling her kids terrorists? Michael Brull thinks the answer is clear.
It turns out, a Muslim woman sitting down is more offensive to Australian media than police assaulting a Muslim woman and calling her children terrorists.
The woman in question is Moutia Elzahed, suing the police for assaulting her family. Right-wing Murdoch blogger Tim Blair has repeatedly ridiculed Moutia Elzahed on his blog at the Daily Telegraph, calling her a “bag lady”. That is his reference to her niqab.
In a caption to a picture of her on his blog, it says “Something – could be a person – leaves court yesterday”. His comments are somewhat representative of the Tele’s feverish and obsessive coverage of the case.
Aside from showing courage in challenging the police for their alleged assault and abuse, Ms Elzahed has also shown intelligent judgment. When confronted by writers for the Telegraph, she correctly observed that, “Your newspaper is evil… The Daily Telegraph is evil.”
A more repulsive reaction to the case was displayed by the vapid chauvinists of Channel 10 morning talk show, Studio 10. For a few stomach-turning minutes, the panel repeatedly sneer at Islam and Ms Elzahed. Not a single one of them made even a vague reference to the allegations of violence she has made.
Apparently unfamiliar with her name, none of them use it throughout the clip. That ignorance of the plaintiff and her case had zero influence on their eagerness to ridicule and attack her.
Denise Drysdale took particular pleasure in mocking Ms Elzahed: “When she says she’ll only stand for Allah – where’s he?” The audience and panel burst into laughter. “Where is he? Is he going to come into the court and then she’ll stand up? Isn’t he up there somewhere?”
When another panellist suggests that her insistence on testifying whilst wearing the veil was a separate issue related to the issue of modesty in Islam, Drysdale curtly responded: “She’s living in Australia.” The audience applauded.
The insinuation that Ms Elzahed was somehow an interloper, not one of us, but one of “them” who refuses to respect “our” way of life was taken up by Nick Smith. Smith, apparently fancying himself a deep thinker, spoke as though he caught her in an ironic inconsistency: “She respected that we had a judicial system to actually get herself there, and then when she’s there, she doesn’t actually really want to respect our norms, in our country.” Note how he doesn’t mention the violence allegedly perpetrated against Ms Elzahed. And note how he so casually invokes “our norms”, and “our country”.
Is there any reason to believe this isn’t also her country? That any Australian us might also include Ms Elzahed?
It is striking that as Drysdale sneers at the primitive woman who believes in god, the panel describes it as “incredibly rude” to fail to stand for someone.
Isn’t it also incredibly rude to mock someone’s beliefs on commercial television? Why isn’t standing for judges a silly tradition to be mocked and ignored? Why is that so sacred? Why is a law which is only a few months old treated so reverentially? Why is it that the panel is so troubled that a Muslim woman won’t stand for a judge, but they don’t even mention her allegations of police assaulting her family in their own home?
It seems they regard it as crucial to respect the norm of standing when a judge enters a room, but are less interested in the norm of not breaking into a home, assaulting a woman and calling her children terrorists. Apparently that kind of behaviour doesn’t break any deep-seated Australian norms that would make them unwelcome in Australia.
Sarah Harris was apparently unsatisfied that those children still had a parent out of jail to look after them. She wondered, “Why is the judge still pussyfooting around though?” She demanded the judge “Make a move. Don’t threaten it. Chuck her in jail.” Though the panel had just invoked Australian legal norms as something they valued, none apparently thought it worth respecting such outdated norms as due process, and actually trying Ms Elzahed for a crime before throwing her in jail.
This was then followed by Joe Hildebrand, showing characteristic thoughtfulness. Hildebrand has previously distinguished himself by mocking the “retarded”, and with a fabricated account of anarchists planning an “outbreak of violence” in 2007. Hildebrand announced that the judge has been “absolutely fantastic”, telling Ms Elzahed that “you will not tell this court what to do”. Hildebrand sternly announced that “We will not bend the entire justice system to your whim, to your ideology, to your quite frankly archaic religious beliefs.”
Note: the idea that the “entire justice system” would be bended to Ms Elzahed’s whim is preposterous. She doesn’t want to stand in court – which until recently was simply a matter of etiquette, typically not treated as a criminal matter. And she wants to give evidence about how she was treated whilst wearing a niqab. Evidently, Hildebrand is as uninterested in that evidence as the judge.
Hildebrand went on to deplore other judges who haven’t been as “great” as Balla. He was also excited that the “attorney general has passed laws to make this a clear cut offence, and I think the book will get thrown at her, and so it bloody should. It’s the law, it applies to everyone, and do what you’re damn well told.”
The audience erupted into applause.
Note that the argument is incoherent. The law applies to everyone because it was just changed. As Hildebrand knows, it was changed so that the book could be thrown at the handful of Muslims like Ms Elzahed who refuse to stand in court. If the courts follow the advice of Studio 10, Elzahed’s allegations will go unheard and her children will be left without any parents, because she sat at certain times instead of standing.
There are no meaningful principles that the Studio 10 panellists defend, other than chauvinism. Their stance is that the traditions of Christian white people are to be accorded reverence. It’s incredibly rude to ignore or disregard them. But mocking “archaic religious beliefs” and joking about god not turning up to court was terrific and hilarious, and greeted with cheers and laughter by the panellists and audience.
Their repulsive performance was featured on Channel 10. Studio 10 has about 100,000 viewers, which by commercial television standards isn’t a huge audience. The reason I saw it was because Pauline Hanson was impressed by their performance. Since sharing it, the clip has been viewed online about 230,000 times.
That kind of contempt for Islam and Muslims features across the media, all day every day. It is so routine that these kinds of clips don’t even get noticed. They are like the air Australians breathe.
This is just another clip of semi-famous TV personalities sneering at Islam, and implying that Muslims aren’t really like us. Most of them mispronounce “Allah”. None of them are Muslim, none of them know anything about Islam, and none of them think of having Muslims on the show to discuss the issues.
I do not want to frame this as an issue of expertise. It is a simple question of decency. Ms Elzahed alleges she was assaulted in her home by police. She alleges that they called her children terrorists. If that is what happened, it is despicable.
Sitting down in court is comparatively trivial. It may be unconventional, but most people survive that kind of display of “disrespect” every day. Those who focus solely on Ms Elzahed sitting, and not on the allegations of assault, show how little regard they have for Muslims in Australia.
It is also worth noting that violence against women is usually given strong rhetorical condemnation in Australia across the political and media spectrum. Those who experience it are usually offered at least rhetorical compassion.
Yet in the case of Ms Elzahed, coverage has been overwhelmingly critical, with media figures enthusiastically urging that she be thrown in jail. Is there any question that this lack of sympathy is connected to her religious beliefs? What does that tell us about Australian values?