Blog - 2013

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‘Shariah’ in the media

7 March 2013

Once again the media exercised its right to free speech by representing Muslims with its headline ‘Sydney sharia victim whipped “out of love”’. It reported that a Muslim revert, Christian Martinez, was lashed 40 times with an electric cord at his home in Silverwater in Sydney’s west in July 2011. His religious mentor, Wasim Fayed, was accused of carrying out the whipping as punishment under Shariah. Another three men were allegedly involved in the physical assault against Martinez. It is reported that Martinez had asked his mentor Fayed to help him to get rid of his habit of taking illicit drugs and alcohol. His mentor Fayed had replied, ‘I’m going to tie you up, OK, and that’s what you need, brother’.

I am not an expert on Islamic religious studies. From my limited knowledge, I understand the peaceful meaning of Shariah. For example, Shariah captures the five pillars of Islam, which include praying fives time a day and so on. Also, I understand that Shariah includes the application of Muslim personal laws or family laws, which resolve family disputes. Through Shariah, I envisage resolving a matter through peaceful methods, through dialogue and communication. The principles of Shariah have also been incorporated into Islamic and some non-Islamic banks in their financial dealings. It also includes elements of hudud, which refers to matters of criminal law and punishment. The interpretations and practice of violence by a few Muslims in Australia are appalling, and it is likely to mark most Muslims who are following peaceful Shariah as the ‘Other’.

But the issue here is not about justifying religious principles. Rather, three questions come to my mind. First, why is the media so keen to portray Muslim news that is related to violence? Secondly, why does the media prefer to use the word ‘Sharia victim’ in its headline? Finally, why does the media fail to notice other Muslims whose lives are guided by Shariah? It appears that the narrative of the ‘Muslim Other’ continues to surface and re-surface in the media domain.

By Nahid Afrose Kabir

A balanced multiculturalism?

27 February 2013

Tim Soutphommasane asks Australia to take a bow. He posits that it was 'a good thing' Geert Wilders, the controversial Dutch politician, came to visit Australia last week. He suggests that 'our' liberal toleration of Wilders' views are a 'triumph' and a demonstration of multiculturalism's success. Soutphommasane's admiration of the general dismissal of Wilders is in fact Wilders' truest success.

Soutphommasane's own article is an illustration. Wilders' 'vile' message about the Prophet Muhammad as 'a warlord' is delivered to readers through Soutphommasane's disapproval of Wilders' hateful and divisive rhetoric. Wilders is commonly heard through such snippets. He is mediated through voices that disagree with him, and inversely celebrated as an example of our multicultural vitality. Such snippets hide the proper content of Wilders' rhetoric and the way we consume his speeches. The assumption is that Wilders weaves a 'vile' fantasy about Islam, the Quran and the immigrant. However, his presence and freedom to speak, as well as his opponents' dismissals of his hate, instead weaves a view that our tolerance and liberty should take a bow. This is the true fantasy.

Surely, the better test of the balance of our multicultural society is not whether we disagree with Wilders, whether freedom allows him to spit or not spit out the typical paranoia about Islam, or whether we can dismiss his crudely reworded annoyance of immigrants as sensationalist generalisations. The real question to test our balance is to consider whether Muslims are permitted to respond or generalise in the same provocative form, without resulting in excessive debates about Muslim immigration. For example, can a visiting religious Muslim really publicly bark that the West is intrinsically violent without a resulting backlash that bites all Muslim Australians? How many inches of newspaper columns would debate the freedom of speech of an angry immigrant's right to question the intolerance of the West?

Here, the 'tolerant' versus 'intolerant' debate about the Muslim presence functions simply to fill in for a debate that does not exist, namely, a debate spoken by angered Muslims about their own experience of the West and their questions about whether liberalism is truly liberal, or whether democracy is truly democratic, or whether freedom of speech is only a luxury of the powerful. Surely this debate would be present in a more balanced multiculturalism.

Indeed, Muslim silence is now seen as a triumph of liberty. Soutphommasane sarcastically suggests that 'the past week has been a good demonstration of how Muslim communities in this country have exercised that liberal virtue of tolerating the intolerable'. Contrary to type, he states, there were no burnings of effigies, no local fatwahs issued. Muslim readers might shake their heads a little at this peculiar point about Soutphommasane’s liberal virtue since so much of what the 'intolerable' Muslims do or say is rarely tolerated. Now, they find that their own silence is a virtue. But surely the real point of liberalism is not about tolerating at all. It is about contesting, disputing, debating and challenging what harms you.

Wilders' visit exposed the fact that tolerant multiculturalists and extreme racist groups, who see themselves as moral and political opponents, actually share an affinity in a language that celebrates the triumph of the present conditions of the West. That is hardly a balanced multiculturalism.

By Yassir Morsi

Free speech … of course we live in a free society

20 February 2013

The Dutch Member of Parliament Geert Wilders, the founder and the leader of the Party for Freedom, also known as an anti-Islam campaigner, was permitted to enter Australia in February 2013 after having had his visa blocked on numerous occasions by the Australian government. When he was finally granted a visa, the government justified its decision by claiming that it 'did not want to make him a cause celebre by continuing to block his trip' (Daily Telegraph, 16 February 2013). Wilders was invited to Australia by the Melbourne-based anti-Islamisation Q Society whose membership numbers a few hundred people (SBS, 19 February 2013). For his inflammatory speeches against the 'ideology of Islam' Wilders was prosecuted in civil and criminal courts in the Netherlands for 'race hate', but was eventually acquitted as the courts did not believe his rhetoric to be 'illegal' (Daily Telegraph, 16 February 2013). Wilders believes Islam and freedom are incompatible, so he has come to Australia to warn Australians about the dangers of allowing Muslims to migrate to Australia. In The Australian, 18 February 2013, Wilders commented:

I always make a distinction between Muslims and Islam, between the people and the ideology. Most Muslims are moderate, but this does not mean there is such a thing as a moderate Islam. People who reject Islam's violent and intolerant commandments are not practising 'moderate Islam' – they are not practising Islam at all.

I agree with Mr Wilders that freedom of speech is one of the most important things in our free society, and on that very ground I agree to disagree with his interpretation of Muslims and Islam.

By Nahid Afrose Kabir

Revoking Canadian citizenship for some

15 February 2013

The Canadian Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Jason Kenney, recently proposed revoking the Canadian citizenship of dual nationality holders who commit acts of terrorism, as an addition to a bill by Tory MP Devinder Shory that proposes the same for those who commit acts of war against Canadian military forces. The bill, C-425, also proposes speeding up citizenship applications for permanent residents who serve in the military forces. This move comes in response to confirmation that a Lebanese-Canadian man who held dual nationality was involved in the 2012 bombing of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. 'Canadian citizenship is predicated on loyalty to this country and I cannot think of a more obvious act of renouncing one's sense of loyalty than going and committing acts of terror', Kenney said.

This move raises a number of troubling questions and concerns. First, by predicating proof of loyalty as a condition of citizenship only for naturalised citizens, the government indicates that there are different standards of citizenship for different Canadians. Second, by equating terrorism with disloyalty, the statement furthers a discourse on securitisation after 9/11. It heightens the social and political context of suspicion that attaches itself to all those who are Arab, Muslim or associated with the Middle East and thus perceived as potential threats or terrorists. Except now this proposal offers a way to narrow that suspicion down to a particular category of Canadians.

By Uzma Jamil

The hijab debate

12 February 2013

The Advertiser reports that 'Up to 20 non-Muslim female teachers, who do not wish to be named, have been told they will be sacked from the Islamic College of South Australia’s West Croydon campus after three warnings if they do not wear a headscarf to cover their hair' at school functions and outings. The online comments following this story have varied. Some people pointed out in their comments that many devout Muslim women do not wear the hijab (headscarf), some emphasised the need to live together in harmony, while some reiterated that this is predominantly a Christian country: ‘we’ have accepted them and ‘they’ should respect us.

The hijab signifies inclusion in some Muslim communities, while it is a marker of exclusion in some non-Muslim communities. A non-hijabi woman might be denied a job in a Muslim institution, while a hijabi woman may not be hired in a non-Muslim institution. At the end of the day, some women are placed between a rock and a hard place.

By Nahid Afrose Kabir

What's the matter with mosques in Melbourne?

5 February 2013

On 29 January 2013, Monash City Council approved plans for the construction of a mosque in Clayton, a south-eastern suburb of Melbourne. The property on which the mosque will be constructed is owned by Monash University and is currently used as a Muslim prayer room by students.

While the application for the proposed construction was met with some objections from locals, the most vocal and aggressive objections appear to have come from the Monash Uniting Church. Chairman of the church, Richard Farrell, claimed in a letter to a local newspaper that 'A mosque is a training ground for religious moderates at one end of the scale and religious fanatics at the other end … Such opinions in extreme cases can promote "jihad" and the destruction of the "infidel" right up to teaching about assassination and bombing of Christian and other establishments.'

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. A proposal for the construction of a mosque in the Melbourne suburb of Doveton is also being received with hostility. Pastor Daniel Nalliah, the head of Catch the Fire Ministries appears to be the most vocal objector. He has been quoted as saying, 'Tomorrow if you hear the Nazi youth movement wants to start a chapter next to your home what, how would you react? ... Likewise a mosque is a place where Islam and the Quran is taught ... It could be far worse than Nazi Germany.'

Such recent events demonstrate how the desires by Muslims in Australia to create spaces of belonging are being treated with hostility and outright Islamophobia. This equation of Muslims with aggression, violence and terrorism has become a common Islamophobic trope. Through their vitriolic statements the objectors contribute to the discourses of violence that they accuse Muslims of representing. The expressions of such sentiment in suburban Melbourne reveal how the purveyors of racism continually justify their aggression through declarations of victimhood.

By Lejla Voloder

Australia Day: a day for healing and gratitude

29 January 2013

The Order of Australia Association invited me to their Australia Day Multi-Faith Celebration at Elder Hall, University of Adelaide, on 26 January 2013. I was humbled and delightfully accepted the invitation. His Excellency Rear Admiral Kevin Scarce, Governor of South Australia, and Mrs Liz Scarce, Mr Hieu Van Le, Chairman of South Australian Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission, and leaders of ethnic and religious communities amongst others attended the event. The heart-rending event was laced with speeches, music, religious symbols and scriptures. His Excellency Governor Kevin Scarce gave a speech on the theme of the event, 'Australians Together: Giving and Forgiving'. Indigenous Kaurna Elder, Uncle Lewis O’Brien, offered a coolamon of eucalyptus leaves as an expression of friendship between the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains and the people of South Australia. Indigenous Australians have used eucalyptus leaves to heal physical wounds. In his speech Mr Hieu Van Lee stated, 'In this hall we have representatives of the first people of Australia, whose history and love for this land stretch back at least 40,000 years'. Mr Lee also mentioned that over the last two centuries people from almost every part of the world have migrated to Australia. The Australia Day event reminded the audience that there can be differences among people but the ability to live together is the strength of Australian society. The event also reminded the audience that hurting other people can be human nature but forgiving is a conscious step towards reconciliation.

See the related MnM commentary for more.

By Nahid Afrose Kabir

Celebrating nationalism at the UN

24 January 2013

The UN has a poor track record of defending human rights in Bosnia. Recent events reveal that ultra-nationalist sentiment has a strong presence in the offices of the UN, even at festivities that aim to promote 'reconciliation for present and future generations'.

On 14 January 2013 a New Year's Concert, held on the first day of the Christian Orthodox calendar, was organised in Plenary Hall of the UN General Assembly in New York. Vuk Jeremic, the former Serbian foreign minister and current president of the UN General Assembly, opened the event and introduced Vox Viva, an a capella choir from Serbia, who performed that evening. Amongst Vox Viva’s repertoire was the song 'Marš na Drinu' (March on the [river] Drina).

The performance of this Serbian nationalist song has provoked outrage, with some calling for the suspension of Vuk Jeremic from his post as General Assembly president. Protesters contend that the song was an anthem of Serbian ultra-nationalists in the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and was used during 'ethnic cleansing' campaigns such as the genocide in the town of Srebrenica where thousands (estimates suggest around 8,000) of Muslim men and boys were killed. The fact that Srebrenica was a declared UN 'safe haven' at the time of the massacres adds further insult to the inclusion of this song at a UN event.

In response, UN official Martin Nesirky made a statement declaring, 'We sincerely regret that people were offended by this song which was not listed in the official program', while Jeremic has been quick to add that this statement does not constitute an apology for the inclusion of the song at the UN event. Indeed, in his Twitter posts written in Serbian Jeremic has continued to applaud Vox Viva’s performance and has even stated, 'As far as the concert, which we organised at the UN for the Serbian New Year, is concerned, we were able to do so because the world has chosen us'. Further, in a formal press release Jeremic dismissed the protesters' claims as 'outrageous' and wrote, 'Written around a century ago, Marš na Drinu is a song that takes a central place in our memory of defending our freedom from aggressors in World War 1'.

Historical tales are always selective and Jeremic’s decision to regress and highlight the importance of the song for rallying Serbian nationalism in the early twentieth century while dismissing its role in Serbian nationalist campaigns of the 1990s is instructive. Jeremic's attempts at 'clarification', to locate the 'correct' meaning and historical role of this song in Serbian nationalist history, strikingly deny acknowledgement of the massacres, victimisation and suffering of Bosnia's Muslim population at the hands of Serbian nationalists to the soundtrack of Marš na Drinu. Such selectivity speaks to a simultaneous denial of and perpetuation of ultra-nationalist violence.

By Lejla Voloder

Whyalla mosque damaged

22 January 2013

The Whyalla mosque in South Australia was damaged by fire on Thursday 17 January 2013. Local detectives are currently investigating the circumstances surrounding the fire. While there was limited media coverage of the incident, it was featured in this local news story.

Border crossings on Kangaroo Island

14 January 2013

On 10–12 December 2012 Flinders University hosted a conference on Kangaroo Island on the theme of border crossings. Participants from disciplines including creative writing, literature, media, cultural and conservation studies presented papers on a range of topics such as crossing human and technological realms in the digitisation of knowledge; transcending the Hindu–Muslim divide in colonial Bengal, and the perpetuation of the Crusader trope in modern American comic book superheroes.

I presented a paper on European ethnic minorities’ strategies of traversing historical and territorial borders in order to stamp genealogical continuities between the colonial past and the postcolonial present. I discussed how British and French amnesia towards the colonial past deprives diasporic citizens of the tools to recover their parents’ anti-colonial heritages, leaving them with an incomplete sense of their historical identities. In the absence of state archives and markers, British and French diasporic citizens use memories to reconstruct their historical, territorial and genealogical affiliations ruptured in the postcolonial restructuring of Europe.

Kangaroo Island provided a scenic and contemplative backdrop to the diverse range of topics discussed over the three days, criss-crossing historical epochs, genres and disciplines. The regal blue colours of the sea with ripples of turquoise, deep sapphire and lapis lazuli at sunset, the sounds of the waves crashing, and the majestic night sky reminded me of the landscapes I have crossed from Europe to Australia.

By Chloe Gill-Khan

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