Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Muslim babies behind the Vale

There’s nothing like a good dose of Anglican education to give you a healthy understanding of Christian dogma. After 10 years at St Andrews, I thought I knew all the subtle nuances of Protestant theology. Though one teaching I always struggled with was the notion of original sin.

I probably still don’t understand it properly, as the only image the original sin conjures up in my mind is otherwise innocent babies being born in the shadow of their Grandpa Adam’s sin and being sentenced to eternal hell. I’m not sure at what stage the sin is inherited – is it before or after birth?

What I do know is that the theology I was taught at home and at the various Muslim camps I attended led me to believe that babies are born sinless. And not just Muslim babies either. The word “Muslim” literally means “the one who submits to God”. New-born babies are in a completely natural state, and therefore completely surrender to he forces of nature (a pseudo-scientific word often used to describe God). By definition, this makes them “Muslim”.

When it comes to babies and toddlers, Islam knows no demarcation between the faiths. In fact, kids have limited legal responsibility under classical Islamic law until they reach the age of puberty. When it comes to sectarian conflict, Islamic theology tells all parties involved to leave the kiddies out of it.

Baby religion and the abortion pill mass debate

Yet now it seems that religious affiliation and culture are being attributed to babies and even to the unborn. And all this in the context of what is fast becoming a mass debate over the RU482 pill and whether the Health Minister or experts from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) should have the final say.

Liberal backbencher and Member for the Federal Seat of Hughes in south-western Sydney Danna Vale is part of a push by five female Coalition Members of the House of Representatives to amend the Private Members Bill on abortion drugs.

The original PMB says that the Health Minister should not have the final veto on use of abortion drugs. The amendment seeks to place one more obstacle in the way of using the drug by enabling Parliament itself to have a say. Or something like that.

I think we were almost accustomed with the PMB when the otherwise completely inoffensive Danna Vale decided to open her mouth. Following her latest forays, the debate has transformed itself from one about ovaries being strangled by rosaries to one about the need to inject pregnant Muslim women with abortion drugs. Or something like that.

Sectarianism in the mass debate

Sectarianism isn’t a stranger to this debate. Earlier, a Greens Senator was accused of stirring sectarian feeling by wearing a t-shirt requesting Health Minister Tony Abbott (and presumably all observant Catholics) to “keep your rosaries off my ovaries”.

The t-shirt, worn by the Senator, took the form of an apparently sincere request that he remove his “rosaries from our ovaries”. For obvious reasons, I’m unable to comment on how it feels to have one’s ovaries trampled on by the humble string of beads. However, according to the Prime Minister and Coalition MP’s, the feelings generated may be described as bigoted in a sectarian and blasphemous way.

That American newspaper known as The Australian also weighed in on the debate. One of its regular contributors, Adelaide Review editor Christopher Pearson, said the Senator’s wearing of the t-shirt showed that bigotry was making a comeback.

(Admittedly, it also published an article by Democrats Senator Lyn Allison that said the Health Minister’s veto should be abolished. But then, the real issues are way too boring and complicated for most punters. Getting back to the mass debate …)

It was quite amusing to watch a host of conservatives suddenly deciding that freedom of speech must apply to cartoonists but never to t-shirts. It seems the religion of Tony Abbott deserves more reverence than that of Muhammad bin Abdullah al-Hashimi (the full name of the Prophet Muhammad).


As if the mass debate on t-shirts wasn’t enough, Danna Vale has now decided to claim that Australia was in risk of becoming like just about every other country in our region – a Muslim-majority state!

She went one step further than the hysterical claims of Dr Janet Albrechtsen, pseudo-conservative commentator and ABC Board Member, who claimed in her February 8 column that a single piece of Victorian Legislation threatened to turn Victoria into Victoristan. According to Albrechtsen, the religious vilification laws “make the place look like an Islamic state-in-waiting”.

But for Danna, the abortion tablet is even more dangerous than legislation. She wants to make sure an amendment to the PMB goes through so that in half a century’s time we aren’t staring down the barrel of Australiastan.

The evidence

I understand that before entering Federal Parliament, Ms Vale was a Sydney solicitor. Which means she was (and perhaps still is) a colleague of mine.

Most solicitors I know are fairly fussy when it comes to evidence. They tend to insist on seeing evidence from their clients before filing proceedings in court. In fact, the Civil Liability Act requires solicitors to file a certificate together with a summons or statement of claim that seeks compensatory damages. That certificate says that the solicitor believes that the state of the evidence and the law ensure that the proceedings have merit.

Parliamentarians, however, aren’t required to file such certificates before commencing a trial-by-media. And from what I have read in the papers thus fair, the evidence produced by Ms Vale certainly makes her case lack merit.

Samantha Maiden, reporting in The Australian on Valentines Day (February 14), said that Ms Vale’s remarks on abortion were based on “economic grounds.”

And what was her economics? Was it Keynesian? Was she reading Milton Freidman? Or Galbraithe?

Nope. It seems Ms Vale relies on the expertise of the Lakembian school of economics. Here are her words …

“A certain imam from the Lakemba mosque actually says Australia is going to be a Muslim nation in 50 years time … I didn't believe him at the time. But when you look at the birth rates ... we are aborting ourselves almost out of existence by 100,000 abortions every year. You multiply that by 50 years -- that's 5million potential Australians we won't have here.”

I can see some references to theology in these words. And perhaps some elementary arithmentic. Maybe even some demography. But where on earth is the economics?

Offending the converted

Seriously, Mr Abbott’s attempts to scuttle the PMB haven’t had much success lately. It seems that apart from Mr Abbott, not a lot of people on his side of the debate are making much sense.

Jackie Kelly, the author of the most recent amendment to the PMB which Ms Vale was trying to support, was clearly not impressed. She remarked that Ms Vale “was on her own on that one”.

Her words probably resembled those of just about every columnist in The Australian newspaper’s op-ed stable. “Janet, when it comes to Victoristan and the Caliphate of Sheik Bracks, you’re on your own!”

Of course, Jackie Kelly knows that in this mass debate, her side needs all the sensible support from the community it can get. Like Danna, Jacky has a substantial Muslim community in her electorate. Most of these people are socially conservative and would probably be happy to support anything that makes it harder to have an abortion.

But instead of gathering the Muslim converted, Danna has single handedly managed to piss them all right off. At the next federal election, as she goes door knocking on the well-heeled Muslim streets of Wattle Grove and other suburbs, Ms Vale will certainly have some explaining to do.

From abortion debate to mass debate

So now we have the prospect of this very crucial debate on the availability of abortion drugs being once again hijacked by sectarian jinx and transformed into a mass debate. Although, on this occasion, I doubt the issues are as emotional as to cause any Muslims to burn our embassies overseas.

Instead, like the rest of Australia, Muslims will probably spend the night dining with their spouses and partners and enjoying the Valentines Day spirit of love and affection and … well … maybe even reproduction. Far out! Maybe Danna had a point after all!!

In that regard, I’d like to suggest my own amendment to the PMB. I suggest we make consumption of the RU482 pill compulsory for all Muslims on Valentines Day. Any takers?


It has now been reported that Danna Vale stood up in Parliament and apologised for her comments. All credit to her for doing so. She has certainly shown far more sensitivity and sense than her colleagues, Bronwyn Bishop and Sophie Panopoulos.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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