Tuesday, October 31, 2006

On the futile fatwas of Sheik Peter bin Costello

Sheik Hilaly may have apologised. He may have even stepped down. But nothing he says or does will stop pseudo-conservative political and media ayatollahs from attacking the faith-community he claimed to lead but which never elected him in the first place.

Despite their socially conservative leanings, Muslims are again becoming fodder for the likes of Liberal Sheiks including Mufti John Howard, his underling Sheik Peter Costello and other shallow-minded opportunistic political mullahs. Australia ’s political clerical class continue to target Muslims in a manner similar to Sheik Hilaly’s targeting of women.

In a seminar at Sydney University two decades ago, Hilaly made comments alleging Jews used sex and corruption to control the world. I was at that seminar. I recall him speaking. I did not protest. I simply couldn’t understand a word he was saying about Jews or anyone else.

Two decades later, Sheik Peter Costello is using similar language to issue a fatwa finding myself and all Australian Muslims collectively guilty of Sheik Hilaly’s excesses.

Hilaly made his comments about women’s dress to a group of 500 men. He did not address women directly. Sheik Costello repeats the same error. Instead of talking to Muslims, Sheik Costello talks about Muslims and at Muslims, inevitably behind their back.

Some months back, addressing a Christian fundamentalist conference in Canberra , Sheik Costello accused Muslims of being unfamiliar with the separation of Church and State. He suggested Muslims learn something from Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic .

No doubt, Ataturk was a great military commander, as the ANZAC’s learnt at Gallipoli. But the exact meaning of Ataturk’s legacy is the subject of almost constant debate in Turkey . Costello praised the alleged secularism of Turkey ’s military establishment. Presumably, he would also have approved of the same establishment sending writers to jail and threatening to topple Turkey ’s most pro-Western government ever should it attempt to decriminalise the wearing of peaces of cloth by women in universities.

So here we saw the almost comical scene of the nation’s treasurer addressing a conference of the Australian Christian Lobby, a group seeking to increase the influence of Christianity in the political process. And he uses this opportunity to talk at Muslims behind their back on why they need to remove their religion from the political processes of Muslim countries overseas.

I may have been born in Karachi . But I doubt General Pervez Musharraf would really care what I or any other Australian born in Pakistan might think of what role Islam should play in Pakistani politics.

Now, in the wake of Hilaly’s offensive remarks, Sheik Costello is in the mood for more fatwas punishing Muslims with collective responsibility. Hilaly’s comments have led to howls of protests from Muslims across the country. Muslim peak bodies in Victoria , Queensland and the ACT have called for Hilaly’s resignation.

Hilaly’s title as Mufti of Australia and New Zealand hasn’t stopped the peak body of New Zealand ’s Muslims from openly denounced his comments. Muslim women’s groups have even more forthright, with the national umbrella body condemning Hilaly’s remarks. Even Hilaly’s closest friends and supporters have publicly called for him to resign and have condemned his remarks in the strongest terms.

Writing in the Brisbane Sunday Mail on October 28 2006, Glenn Milne quotes one government figure observing: “The (Muslim) representatives were out of the block on radio from 6.15am the morning after his speech was translated into English. Both men and women together condemning him without caveat.”

Despite this chorus of condemnation and outrage and its recognition within Federal Government circles, Sheik Costello has issued a fatwa holding all Muslims responsible for the Sheik’s Arabic speech.

This sermon, it was preached to 5000 people, wasn't it? No-one seemed to complain when it was preached. It took a long time for it to come out. No people stood up in the middle of the sermon and said, 'This is unacceptable.’

Maybe, Sheik Costello, that is because 360,000 Muslims from across the length and breadth of Australia could not fit into the auditorium of the Ali ben Abi Taleb Mosque in Lakemba when the Sheik made the address. And even if they were present, maybe it is because only a small minority of Muslims can understand the language spoken by the Sheik.

Of course, language is the crux of the problem. Most Muslim Australians don’t speak Hilaly’s Egyptian dialect of Arabic as their first language. And despite over 2 decades in Australia , Hilaly cannot speak English.

However, notwithstanding his relative incoherence on matters Muslim, Costello can at least speak English. He should be able to address his sentiments directly to Muslims. At least he could gather Muslims living in his electorate and gauge their feelings on the matter.

But as usual, Costello is content to talk about Muslims behind their backs. He is content to hold them collectively responsible for words and actions they condemned well before he joined the fray.

Sheik Hilaly may have spoken of men as cats. But with his usual dog whistle politics, it’s obvious which animal Sheik Costello regards Australian voters as personifying.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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