Monday, April 10, 2006

Mr Trad & Theocracy

On Wednesday evening March 29 2006, a group known as The Round Table Forum organised an evening forum on the broad topic of “God in Politics”. The forum was held at the NSW Parliament House.

Three speakers were invited to address the forum. These included Keysar Trad from a relatively unknown group called the Islamic Friendship Society of Australia. Mr Trad is a former executive member of the Lebanese Moslems Association, a body which manages a portfolio of properties in South Western Sydney including the Imam Ali ben Abi Taleb Mosque.

Also speaking was Dr Peter Slezak from the School of History & Philosophy of Science at the University of New South Wales. Dr Slezak is coordinator in the Graduate Program in Cognitive Science and the Academic Director of Continuing Education. His teaching and research interests are many and varied, from Descartes to the sociology of scientific education.

The final speaker was Mr David Clarke MLC, a convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism and a supporter of the Catholic lay order Opus Dei. Clarke is also a senior figure in the Religious Right of the NSW state branch of the Liberal Party of Australia.

The promotional flyer of The Round Table Forum stated that each speaker would be given around 25 minutes to speak. I have been sent by Mr Trad a copy of his speech, and will be approaching the organisers to see if copies of speeches of the remaining speakers can be made available.

Over the next few days, I hope to read Mr Trad’s speech and comment on it. The MS Word file containing Mr Trad’s speech was entitled “Speaking for Islam”, perhaps a somewhat presumptuous claim and one which might concern the many Muslims who disagree quite strongly with the way Mr Trad has projected the “Muslim” view on issues in the media for the past few years.

Mr Trad concludes his speech with what appears to be a call for a more God-centred approach to law-making in Western democracies. In a rather convoluted way, he claims that the “Islamic perspective” requires that law making become “a model where laws are put to a Scriptural test before they are introduced, whether these laws are to criminalize, decriminalize, promote, sanction, or discourage certain behaviours, they would need to be put to an ethical test to see where they fit within the Divine guidance, are they fair, equitable and constructive, or do they favour one section of society over another?”

Trad’s model theocracy is certainly no right-wing dream. There is a strong emphasis on the rights of minorities. This seems to reflect Trad’s understanding of classical Islam which placed enormous emphasis on minority rights and whose prescriptions were (and in some cases still are) frequently ignored and flouted by Muslim rulers.

Neo-Conservatives tend to ignore minority rights, insisting that the Rule of Law in effect means the Rule of Parliament elected by majorities and reflecting majority wishes regardless of commonly-held ideals.

The reality is that minority rights are guaranteed by our present system of liberal democracy and the rule of law. I doubt many Muslims would want to see this system eroded. Certainly many Muslim asylum seekers who risk their lives to seek refuge in Australia prefer our political system to the systematic abuses they left behind.

Personally, I think Mr Trad should avoid discussing these issues. His limited formal training in law and government, even notwithstanding his years in the Commonwealth Public Service, are not enough for him to address such sensitive issues. Further, I think Mr Trad has relied too heavily on a small range of Muslim political thinkers from a more “Islamist” strand.

I personally find the word “Islamist” troubling, thought it is useful to the extent that it is an alternate adjective to “Islamic” which is often used to describe more orthodox and mainstream ideas. When I use the term “Islamist”, I refer to those who tend to politicise (in a modern sense) Islam and who write on behalf of “Islamic movements” such as Pakistan’s “Jamaat-i-Islami” and Egypt’s “Ikhwan al-Muslimeen”.

Much of the literature emerging from these movements is focussed upon specific political struggles of the host countries of these movements – Pakistan, Iran, Egypt etc. Such struggles have little or no relevance to the sorts of struggles faced by young Australian Muslims. Hence, the approaches contained in Islamist literature are inappropriate to the Australian Muslim experience.

More importantly, offshoots from Islamist groups have produced a host of violent heterodox groups engaged in politically motivated violence including terrorist attacks targeting civilians. Further, the views of many Islamists are regarded by mainstream Muslim theological authorities as often being of questionable orthodoxy.

I think Mr Trad needs to be very careful with what ideas he passes off as Islamic orthodoxy. Perhaps he should consider limiting his public speaking engagements to those areas where he is able to competently project views more reflective of mainstream Muslim opinion.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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