I want to spend a bit of time dissecting the comments of Sheikh Mohammed Omran, who said in a public statement on July 11, “I dispute any evil action linked to bin Laden. Again, I don’t believe that even September 11 – from the beginning, I don’t believe that it was done by any Muslim at all, or any other activities,” adding on July 12, “None of [the bombings] since 2001 has been done without help inside the government – with help from the police and the intelligence officers.”
Omran is not arguing, as some Muslims have, that Islam forbids terror, so the people who did these things are not true Muslims. He is arguing that Islam forbids terror, therefore the Americans or British or Israelis must be doing it to make Muslims look bad and wage war on them.
There is really no room for dialogue with someone espousing this view — if he will not believe Osama bin Laden was responsible for September 11 in the face of bin Laden’s repeated implied admissions in published tapes, nothing you can say will convince him.
Omran is repeating a view that is very common in the Middle East, where the news media is controlled and people have very limited access to information that religious and government authorities do not want them to hear. In such an environment, it is very easy to fall into this view that ‘my group are always and everywhere blameless victims, and anything that seems to be a grievance by others is really an evil conspiracy.’ It is a worldview which can easily create an attitude of hate and eternal enmity, which can be very difficult to overcome.
But as a spiritual leader, Omran is not only espousing this conspiratorial worldview, he is also promoting a closed community here, which will be similarly impervious to dialogue or correction of their views. His bookshop, as we note on pages 18-21, teaches that it is divine writ that non-Muslims are never to be trusted or befriended, that they have eternal enmity to Muslims (even if you discount the apparent calls for violence.) If you believe these teachings, nothing we non-Muslims say nor factual evidence we offer should ever be accepted as true.
There is simply no way to establish a respectful modus vivendi with people who think that their own group is always blameless and all evidence to the contrary is simply a conspiracy to blacken their name.
This is an additional reason why Middle East democratisation is indispensable — it will open up different information sources and break open the conspiratorial worldview of extremists like Sheikh Omran.
A Pat on the Back
I also want to pat on the back Dr Ameer Ali of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils for promising to help the government do something about visits to Australia of extremist Muslim clerics. This is a very serious issue which needs to be addressed. I have seen material from American imam Sheikh Khalid Yasin, who has visited here numerous times and clearly espouses both antisemitism and rejection of all friendly relations with non-Muslims. Other controversial Muslim visitors, such as Tariq Ramadan and Louis Farrakhan (see p. 36) also need much more scrutiny.
In general, Dr Ali has been saying the right things about the need to control the extremists, keep the literature off the shelves, be ready to report any suspected terrorists, train imams locally, etc. He should not be as defensive as he has occasionally sounded about the Prime Minister’s call for Muslim leaders to do more about extremism — he himself has identified ways the Muslim community can be of assistance.
Dr Ali and others have asked why the problem of a crazed violent fringe is being laid at the feet of all Muslims, who overwhelmingly reject such behaviour. The answer of course is that, while Muslims should never be blamed for the terrorist fringe, like it or not, the people who are engaging in violence and terror are inspired by and acting in the name of Islam.
They are not Muslims who happen to become terrorists on behalf of animal rights, or communism, or revolutionary nationalism— they are becoming terrorists because they believe that their Muslim faith requires them to do so. It is said that this is a distorted or invalid version of the Muslim faith but this is not for non-Muslims to judge. But the terrorists believe that their behaviour makes them good Muslims and this creates a special responsibility for Muslim community leaders to do something about it.
SBS Changes its Mind
In the aftermath of the London bombings, SBS-TV documentary programmers showed that they are actually capable of sensible decision-making. The Tuesday after the attack, SBS had planned to show the first instalment of “The Power of Nightmares”, by all accounts the loopiest, most extreme antiwar documentary series ever sponsored by the BBC (and the BBC has sponsored some pretty loopy pieces in recent years).
While I have not seen the program, reports by those who have say that it argues the whole War on Terror is a vast conspiracy — a deliberate plot by “neo-conservatives” to create an enemy and scare people so they can hold on to power. It says there is no danger of Islamic terror, and there is no such thing as al-Qaeda.
After the London bombers seemed to make a mockery of the whole premise of the show, if it was ever plausible, SBS quietly pulled the scheduled showing.
Of course, the documentary should never have been scheduled by SBS in the first place, given that SBS has shown virtually every anti-War on Terror documentary made in recent months, without more than the barest pretence of balance over time. But at least SBS showed it can react to changing circumstance when reality hits the network over the head.
SBS needs to take the good sense they suddenly discovered after the London bombings and apply it to future programming decisions.