Sunday, June 26, 2005

A Sheik and Two Pastors

In September 1988, Sheik Tajeddine Hilali made some of the most irresponsible and offensive remarks of perhaps any Muslim religious figure in the history of Australian Islam. He delivered a speech in Arabic during a seminar on the Palestinian Intifadah held at the University of Sydney. A simultaneous translation appeared on the overhead projector. Yet that translation was only a partial one.

Despite the presence of no visible cameras at the seminar, a secret video recording of the speech was made. Within 6 months, the Sheik’s anti-Semitic remarks were broadcast for all to see. It is said he accused Jewish people of trying "to control the world through sex, then sexual perversion, then the promotion of espionage, treason and economic hoarding".

The Sheik is alleged to have said in a public lecture to a Muslim audience that Jews use sex, pornography, wealth and other means to control the world. I say “alleged” because although I attended the lecture, I could not understand most of his speech. Yet organisers of the seminar acknowledged to me later that he did make the remarks as alleged.

Sheik Hilali’s comments almost led to his deportation. He was condemned by political leaders from all major parties. It was only through direct intervention of then Acting Prime Minister Paul Keating that the Sheik was allowed to stay permanently.

The comments have haunted the Sheik. As late as March 9 2004, Dr Gerard Henderson made reference to the Sheik’s “manifestly anti-Semitic speech” after listing a litany of the Sheik’s verbal sins.

Tabloid columnists continued raising the Sheik’s 1988 comments even when he was part of Team Australia seeking the release of Douglas Wood. By lambasting the Sheik, these columnists were undermining his credibility. And when such writings appear on the internet, they surely must have left the kidnappers wondering about the Sheik’s bona fides. I would hate to have been a member of the Wood family reading the tabloid columns.

The Sheik was condemned. And rightly so. Yet many of his critics are today rushing to the defence of 2 pastors from the fringe “Catch The Fire Ministries” case argued before the Victorian Civil & Administrative Tribunal. Reasons for decision in the case were given by VCAT Vice President, Judge Higgins, on 22 June 2005.

The case arose from comments made by Pastors Daniel Nalliah and Daniel Scot at a seminar held on 9 March 2002 before an audience of around 250 people. This was virtually the same number that attended the seminar addressed by Sheik Hilali in 1998.

When one reads the findings made by Judge Higgins, one cannot help but find comparisons between what Sheik Hilali said in 1988 and what the 2 pastors were found to have said 15 years later. Amongst the comments made by the pastors were: That Muslims use deception and lies to hide their allegedly true relationship with terror groups, that Muslims follow a Prophet who was a paedophile, that Muslims are trying to infiltrate all aspects of Australian life, that Muslims are spying in Australia for terrorist groups and Muslims follow a religion that encourages them to kill and enslave non-Muslims.

Muslims were accused to using deception, bribery and infiltration to take over Australia.

The hypocrisy and double standards of some columnists defending the two pastors is shown in the writings of perhaps Australia’s most anti-Muslim columnist, Andrew Bolt. I do not believe it would be an exaggeration to state that Mr Bolt’s columns have frequently contained remarks of similar venom to those of the 2 pastors whose “freedom of speech” he defends.

In his column in the Herald-Sun of 11 May 2005, Mr Bolt again makes reference to the Sheik’s 1988 comments in which, in Bolt’s words, “the Egyptian-born radical called Jews "the underlying cause of all wars", using "sex and abominable acts of buggery, espionage, treason and economic hoarding to control the world".

Just over 6 weeks later, Bolt speaks of the 2 offending pastors. He quotes none of their speeches or pamphlets, describing them as being “punished … after criticising the Koran”.

Bolt’s sad attempt at whitewashing the Pastors’ offensive remarks are about as believable as claiming that Sheik Hilali was merely criticising Zionism in his 1988 lecture. As far as Bolt is concerned, anti-Semitism becomes acceptable when used against Muslims.

There is a genuine debate in the community about the need for religious vilification laws. The recent VCAT decision forms an excellent basis for further discussion. However, we must not allow this debate to be hijacked by tabloid journalists with their own religious agendas and with an awful propensity for double standards.

(The author is a Sydney industrial lawyer and a former legal adviser to the Islamic Council of NSW.

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Anonymous said...

"Muslims were accused to using deception, bribery and infiltration to take over Australia."

So can you give us some links to your sources - so we can see for ourselves?

Irfan said...

judge higgins lists 13 points in his judgment. i can only rely on what judge higgins has said. i did not sit through and here all 13-odd weeks of evidence, nor do i have access to the transcript of the examinations in chief and cross examinations.

i can only presume that what judge higgins found to have been said was in fact said. if he has reached the wrong conclusions, this is a matter for an appeals court.

however, in most appeals courts, it is generally found that the trial judge's interpretation of the evidence must stand as the trial judge had the benefit of hearing not only the words but also of watching the demeanour of the witnesses.

judge higgins saw the demeanour of daniel nalliah and saw him give evidence. judge higgins said he did not find daniel nalliah to be a credible witness. i doubt an appeal court would disturb this finding, but that is my own speculation based on having read how appeals courts deal with evidence presented at trial.