Sydney's tabloid Daily Telegraph ran a story on May 24 2007 concerning blind passengers who were "regularly refused" passage by taxi drivers. The headline of the story was "Taxi drivers refusing to carry blind passengers".
Among those refused were Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commissioner Graeme Innes. Mr Innes has been refused on average once a month, though in recent times twice a month.
The story also mentioned ...
He has been told on a number of occasions that it would be against a driver's religion to allow a dog in the cab.
No specific religion was named.
The story goes onto mention Mr Innes being supported in his complaints by Vision Australia, an advocacy and service group for the visually impaired. The DT claims that Vision Australia's policy and advocacy head Michael Simpson said ...
... that the problem was worse in the Sydney metropolitan area where there were more drivers unwilling to carry dogs based on Muslim objections.
This was not a direct quote from Mr Simpson. The direct quote is as follows ...
"It is fair to say that the (Islamic) religion has made the problem worse in the metropolitan areas than regional areas, where I've found taxi drivers are generally excellent"
So let me get this right. Did Mr Simpson actually mention a specific religion? Why mention something he said and then add something between brackets? Did Mr Simpson actually use brackets in his quotation? Surely the DT reporter could have found some direct reference to the religion involved.
Further, is Islam the only religion potentially known to have some reluctance to handling dogs? Is not the same reluctance found in the sacred religious codes of other faiths e.g. Hindus and Sikhs?
If indeed there are Muslim drivers refusing to take guide dogs for alleged religious reasons, surely these are matters that can be handled more effectively than tabloid newspapers effectively attributing blame to entire congregations.
To make matters worse, the DT then ran an editorial entitled "Faith dogged by shame's shadow". Here the DT made no bones about which faith it referred to ...
For Mr Innes is also blind and travels with his guide dog Jordie. But as often as once a month, Mr Innes is refused service by cab drivers on the basis that Jordie is unclean and some sort of affront to their faith.
Their faith? Islam - it goes without saying.
Now today, in all likelihood, there will be a response from moderate Muslims saying that taxi drivers guilty of that disgraceful offence against common decency and humanity should have known better, that they are wrong in their extremist interpretation of Islamic lore, and that they should apologise and mend their ways.
At least, it is to be hoped that such a response might be forthcoming. And if it does, it will be no more than we have a right to expect.
The great pity is that there is a need for such a response in the first place - a pity it is possible for such a shocking and degrading misapprehension to be held in the first place.
For the people who have refused to assist Mr Innes - who was only asking, after all, that they fulfil their professional obligation - have shamed themselves, and shamed their religion.
And if any suggestion is allowed to remain that such conduct is somehow acceptable under Islam, that shame will endure.
I wonder who wrote this editorial? Certainly the sentiments sound similar to those of comments left on the blog of the DT's Opinion Editor, Tim Blair.
So an entire editorial attacking a religious faith and its various congregations has been written on the basis of a word in brackets. Yep, that's why they call it a tabloid.
© Irfan Yusuf 2007