Summit Time Blues
By Jeremy Jones
The meeting convened by Prime Minister Howard for senior government members and prominent Australian Muslims indicated just how seriously this country treats community harmony and inter-community relations.
Having worked with most of the individuals invited to the meeting at various times over the past two decades, I can see the potential for very positive developments from the venture. I hasten to add that if I had been asked, my list would have had some overlap but significant differences from the Prime Minister’s. But more on that subject later.
Driving between appointments as the news broke that the Prime Minister’s meeting had concluded with some positive outcomes, I was listening to an ABC regional station. The interviewee, Dr Munir Hussein, was not one of the PM’s invitees, but a person with a high local profile and an active member of a major Islamic organisation.
While saying he condemned terrorism, Dr Hussein proceeded to “explain” that amongst “root causes” of this evil is Western support for “the Jews”. He then stated emphatically that “Jews” had committed “Genocide” and then implied that they also put “two and a half million people” in “camps”. The interviewer jumped to the next topic for discussion, leaving some listeners angry, some sad, others simply misled.
The day before the Canberra meeting, the Australian media was abuzz with reports that one attendee, Abdul Rahman Deen, had distributed an antisemitic letter a few weeks earlier. Whether the anti-Jewish bigotry was Mr Deen’s (as some of his colleagues asserted) or those of others conveyed for information (as Mr Deen reportedly claimed), it is a simple fact that anti-Jewish bigotry is more than an insignificant phenomenon amongst sections of the broad Australian Islamic community.
I have heard the most convoluted and twisted anti-Jewish conspiracy theories from Muslims who simultaneously worked with Jewish Australians on educational and anti-racist projects. Moreover, on more occasions than I would like to report, I have found myself subjected to intense, but not hostile, questioning on the place of Jews in Australia and world affairs.
When my interlocutors have been from places such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Jordan, Morocco or West Africa, it has generally been the case that lack of the opportunity to engage a Jewish person in dialogue or conversation has been a large part of the problem.
On the other hand, anyone living in Australia can avail themselves of resources, human and otherwise, which would give the lie to myths sired by ignorance.
On one of the internet weblogs maintained by Muslim Australians, a posting appeared on the eve of the Canberra meeting on the subject of antisemitism in the organised Islamic community. While I have no reason to consider its author to be particularly credible, his act in ventilating the issue should not be trivialised.
The writer claimed that he had been given antisemitic material by more than one Muslim leader, including two copies from separate sources of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. (see p. 8) The copies he claimed to have received were “gifts” originating in Saudi Arabia and the time-frame of the incidents he relates was when the Saudis were caught red-handed funding Holocaust denial in America.
The Protocols was amongst the texts being sold at Islamic bookshops in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, which brought about strong and unambiguous condemnations last month.
It is not only plausible, but extremely likely, that the Protocols and other pernicious fictions enjoy a disturbingly large currency in particular sub-groups within the broader Islamic community.
While the Prime Minister’s meeting focussed on confronting terrorism, with many commentators referring to a resurgence of fundamentalism, there was a lack of apparent attention paid to other forms of extremism: racism and antisemitism.
If propagation of anti-Jewish contempt and consistent dehumanising of “Zionists” had been a bar to receiving an invitation to the meeting in Canberra, it would have been necessary to reconstitute the invitee list.
Far more serious than the allegations levelled at Abdul Rahman Deen in the media or other leaders on the internet, is the case of Sheikh Taj El-din el-Hilaly. In 1988, at a public venue and in a speech which was videotaped, transcribed, translated and distributed, Hilaly spewed anti-Jewish hatred of a type unknown in this country outside the political sewers inhabited by the far-right racist fringe.
At the time, despite the best efforts of a handful of vigorous Hilaly-acolytes, the man was rightly condemned and portrayed as the exact type of person who brought multiculturalism into despair and free speech into disrepute.
In case there is any confusion, it is worth restating that Hilaly has never honoured his promise to apologise. He has not once explained to his followers where, why and how he disgraced the office of a religious leader and made clear he repudiated the bigotry he had preached. He has not ever been decent enough to say “I was wrong”. Fortunately, Sheikh Hilaly’s absence overseas allowed a discussion on social responsibility to take place without his participation.
Is it too much to argue that any assertion of Australian values which will guide the future deliberations of Australia’s Islamic community leaderships will include unambiguous, undiluted condemnations of antisemitism and racism?