Friday, April 29, 2005

True Blue Aussie Racism

I was recently involved in a discussion about an article in the Sydney Morning Herald to do with the comments of a local Muslim cleric regarding rape by Australia's Ann Coulter wannabe, Miranda Devine. Here's an excerpt from the article:
The Sun-Herald has a recording of the March 18 speech in which Sheik Faiz said: "A victim of rape every minute somewhere in the world. Why? No one to blame but herself. She displayed her beauty to the entire world . . .

"Strapless, backless, sleeveless, nothing but satanic skirts, slit skirts, translucent blouses, miniskirts, tight jeans: all this to tease man and appeal to his carnal nature."

He compared a woman dressed in such a way to a sheep. "Would you put this sheep that you adore in the middle of hungry wolves? No . . . It would be devoured. It's the same situation here. You're putting this precious girl in front of lustful, satanic eyes of hungry wolves. What is the consequence? Catastrophic devastation, sexual harassment, perversion, promiscuity."

The invitation to the $15-a-head lecture stipulated modest dress and "strict male and female segregation". It was promoted as a lecture about "death" in flyers and on the website of the ICRA Youth Centre in Lidcombe, an Islamic community group which sponsored the evening.

The ICRA and Faiz's Global Islamic Youth Centre have broken away from the Lakemba Mosque, the main place of worship for Sydney's Lebanese Muslims, because, a former associate says, Sheik Taj Aldin Alhilali, 64, is too moderate.
This kind of loaded journalism is pretty much what I expect from the mainstream media in Australia. While Fairfax are not as bad as Rupert Murdoch's media such as the Daily Telegraph, conservatives such as Devine are becoming increasingly dominant as the voice of opinion and analysis.

There is no denying that rape is an abhorrent crime, yet the above article struck me as less about rape and more about the fact that it was a Muslim who made those comments. The first question that came to mind is: Why does the Herald have a recording of this cleric's speech? Is it common practice for journalists to visit churchs, mosques and other places of worship in order to record speeches made by obscure clerics in suburbs of low socioeconomic status? Or could it be that this particular event was "flagged" for potential sensationalist headlines and thus an operative.. uh, I mean "journalist", dispatched to the scene?

Secondly, if this speech was made on March 18, why did it take until April 23 for the SMH to publish it? That's hardly front page news anymore. Slow news day perhaps? Yeah, right. Interesting associations used too: it was promoted as a lecture about 'death' ... the centre has broken away because the usual cleric is "too moderate". Too moderate? What does that mean? The translation takes place in the mind of the reader... "too moderate" = "not extreme enough".

Inevitably perhaps, it didn't take long for the pollies to jump on the bandwagon and the Sheik issued a formal apology, although only through one side of his mouth according to the Herald-Sun (one of Mr Murdoch's). Ms Devine (presumably scenting blood in the water) penned a follow-up trumpet blast:
It's worth remembering what the American scholar of Islam Daniel Pipes said, on a visit to Sydney three years ago, about combating militant Islam.

First, he warned of the need to rebuff incremental radical Islamic encroachments on our Western secular society, such as any attempt to limit a woman's right to wear whatever she wants.

"If there are two ways which are reconcilable - the militant Islam way and the Australian way - you will need to assert the Australian way."

Militant Islamists believe their totalitarian ideology is not just an alternative to our liberal democracy but superior to it, Pipes said, "and they would like to move the country in that direction so there are special privileges accorded to Islam . . .

"When there's a difference between their approach and the Australian approach, they want Australia to become like them and not vice versa," he said.

But Pipes's central message was the importance of supporting moderate Muslims in order to defeat militant Islam.

"Muslims are the victims of militant Islam no less than non-Muslims," he said.

If Sydneysiders respond to the ravings of Sheik Faiz by vilifying all Muslims, they will not only do a terrible injustice to the majority of moderate Muslim people who love this country but they will sow the seeds of something much worse.

They will create resentment and disengagement and drive young men into the arms of dangerous extremists who preach rape and jihad.
Umm... Excuse me, but is this the same Daniel Pipes that made some oh-so-tolerant comments regarding the bodily hygiene of Arabs? Here some more comments from a recent article:
"There is no escaping the unfortunate fact that Muslim government employees in law enforcement, the military and the diplomatic corps need to be watched for connections to terrorism, as do Muslim chaplains in prisons and the armed forces. Muslim visitors and immigrants must undergo additional background checks. Mosques require a scrutiny beyond that applied to churches and temples.”
Well, it's not really hard to imagine why Ms Devine thinks Daniel Pipes is a quoteworthy source given her usual tirades of right-wing conservatism.

Could it be that Muslims are starting to cop it here in Australia as a result of the US-led War on Terror and the attitudes promoted thereby? The Age (also a Fairfax paper) published an interesting article about the vilification of Muslims according to Stephen Hopper.
Stephen Hopper, who was sacked by Habib earlier this month, told a seminar at RMIT yesterday that the public discourse surrounding terrorism served to dehumanise Muslims in the same way Nazis dehumanised Jews before World War II.

"All of the world seemed to be against Jewish people 100 or so years ago," Mr Hopper said.

"Today, it seems like the whole world is against the Muslim people and the same sort of language and the same sorts of techniques are being used to dehumanise Muslim people . . . We should be aware of the consequences of where that will lead us."

Mr Hopper fought to secure Mr Habib's release from Guantanamo Bay, the US military base in Cuba. Mr Habib was held there until January for suspected links to al-Qaeda.
Mr Hopper's remarks are interesting. Specifically, is there some kind of biasing of public discourse towards this end, or is this just another example of the latent racism of Australian society finding another convenient mode of expression?

Certainly a few Christian types appear to have a bee in their collective bonnet regarding Muslims - perhaps the spirit of the Crusaders is alive and well in some Christian groups?

Anyway, back to the discussion I mentioned at the very beginning. This took place in an online forum, and the prevalent attitude was that rape was wrong, regardless of the ethnicity of the person committing the crime. However, a number of views were expressed regarding Muslims specifically as being "backward" and "predisposed to rape". One of the more enlightened participants posted this most informative link which would seem to suggest otherwise.

Is Australia a racist society? My perspective is: Yes, it is, and there is some evidence to suggest this.

From a personal point of view, I have said plenty of racist things in "the heat of the moment" during various events or social gatherings. I didn't want or mean to - they just "happened". No thought involved on my behalf at all. So why was I saying these things?

After some observation of myself over time, I came to the conclusion that it was an adaptive behaviour. It was the "path of least resistance" required to fit in appropriately with friends, family, colleagues etc in society, and I had unconsciously acquired it from my environment the way someone acquires an accent in their speech.

This does not excuse it. It's up to me to take responsibility for this unconscious behaviour and prevent it via conscious control. Just as it's my responsibility not to let the mass media dictate my attitudes for me.

"We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." - Viktor Frankl

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