Sunday, February 17, 2008

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

MEDIA: Stephen Crittenden's Religion report - some reflections ...

I get the feeling that Stephen Crittenden just cannot discuss anything to do with Muslims without sounding negative. Of course, he's not as prejudiced as, say, Andrew Bolt or Piersed Akumen or Tim Blair. He's also more nuanced than a certain female columnist who sits on the Board of his employer.

Yet for some reason, Crittenden always always makes sure his listeners are left with a sour taste on their tongues when discussing Islam.

Which is a real shame. The ABC prides itself on its relative neutrality, on allowing all sides of the argument to be heard. But it seems when it comes to Islam, objectivity at the Religion Report is more the exception than the rule.

I understand religion is a sensitive topic. People are entitled to their views when discussing it. And naturally, there will be times when followers of one faith will feel their most precious beliefs are being trampled on just because the broadcast does not treat their religious symbols with what they regard as a sufficient degree of reverence.

However, the Religion Report goes well beyond this. Some time back, at a conference on The Journalist and Islam, author and journalism guru Peter Manning delivered a paper on systemic bias in the ABC's religion department. The paper received very little coverage outside the conference. I guess it was the kind of bias shared by those who are always harping on about ABC bias.

Manning studied some of the interviewing techniques employed by Crittenden. He concluded that Crittenden's interviewing style bordered on sycophancy with even the most jaundiced interviewees on Islam. But when interviewing Muslims, Crittenden reverted in the other direction, almost verballing the interviewees.

I put Manning's allegations to Crittenden in a private exchange of e-mails. As it was a private exchange, it would be inappropriate for me to publish its details. Suffice it to say that Crittenden wasn't exactly a happy chappy.

He also wasn't happy when I claimed that the only time his program ever mentioned the persecution off Christians was when this was being allegedly carried out by Muslims. For instance, we never heard about the perilous situation facing Catholics and Catholic institutions in India at the hands of Hindu extremists. Nor do we ever hear about what Palestinian Christians are experiencing at the hands of the Israelis.

Now it seems that even when he has some spare space, Crittenden cannot help but make someone associated with Islam look bad. His episode of 6 February 2008 talks about Cat Stevens, and includes soundbites from an ABC documentary about Stevens. But Crittenden then decided to play what he described as:

... another side of Cat Stevens from the archives when ABC reporter Mark Tamhane spoke to him on AM in 1995.

What we heard was a tough interview that dealt with Stevens' remarks concerning Salman Rushdie. The interview concludes with this interesting exchange:

Mark Tamhane: You say that for every person who stands up and speaks there's a challenger. Is it fair to put a death sentence on that challenger?

Cat Stevens: Well I think you'll remember I wrote a song once called 'I'm going to get me a gun'. And now you know who that gun is for. It's for people like you who keep on asking provocative questions like that!
One might assume this was a light-hearted remark. Perhaps it was. Yet Stevens had already explained in the documentary what he actually said concerning Khomeini's outrageous fatwa against Rushdie. Why bring it up again?

In this week's episode, Crittenden deals with the recent speech by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams. And who does he interview? The Archbishop himself? Another Anglican bishop? A Sydney Anglican? Nope. Crittenden chats with tablouid columnist and chronic Muslim-hater Melanie Phillips. No doubt he will be asking some grovelling questions.

© Irfan Yusuf 2008

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

COMMENT: co-owner teaches course on Islam ...

In late 2000, I made a conscious decision. I decided I would stop giving any presentations about Islam. Yes, I'd be happy to talk about Muslims, their cultures and even their history. I still occasionally delivered "train-the-trainer" (TTC) presentations. But I stopped talking about theology.

What brought this about? Basicaly, what happened was that the fellow who used to sit through my sessions found he was no longer able to do so. I used to deliver short talks in the Auburn Gallipoli Mosque covering various aspects of the biography of the Prophet. I used various source books to di this. I was lucky to have had a qualified imam looking after me. And yes, a really qualified imam (as opposed to someone claiming to be qualified yet refusing to be up front about his credentials).

Talking about theology is a difficult thing to do. I don't mind talking and writing about Muslims. I don't mind talking and writing about the cultures practised by various Muslim communities. But please don't ask me to talk about hadith or seerah or something like that.

It's great to see not everyone has the same scruples as me. It's good that the teaching of Islam is spreading far and wide. So it's interesting that we now see software engineer and businessman Ahmed Kilani running a course on Islam for the St George & Sutherland Community College.

Ahmed Kilani has been involved in various initiatives within Sydney's Muslim communities for some years now. He authorised the electoral material of AusMET, the Australian Muslim Electoral Taskforce. He is also co-proprietor of the website (now known as Muslim Village).

Mr Kilani played quite a prominent role as arch-defender of Sheik Tajeddine Hilaly during the catmeat scandal that rocked Muslim communities. He has been a long-time supporter of Sheik Hilaly even when the latter has made some extraordinarily nutty statements. Given that one of the topics in the course in his course is "women's rights/dresscode", I hope students will not be hearing any references to catmeat.

I also hope that Mr Kilani is able to present a variety of different forms of Islam, including both Sunni and Shia strands. I also hope he does not merely present those interpretations of Islam which he regards as the most 'orthodox'. I also hope he doesn't fall into the trap of treating all Muslims in Australia as a single "community".

It's a great thing that a community college is allowing Mr Kilani this opportunity to remove misunderstanding within the broader community, and it's great to see Mr Kilani taking time out to be part of such a project.

© Irfan Yusuf 2008

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EVENT: Maz hits Mexico!!!!!!

Attention All Melbournians!! You seriously cannot afford to miss Maz Jobrani. This dude is one of the funniest Americans to perform this side of the equator. Not bad for an Iranian!

You can read more about Maz here. His Sydney show on Saturday night 2 February 2008 was an absolute hoot. Yes, there was a large Iranian/Persian element in the audience, but they certainly were not the majority. Maz attracted people from across the ethnic and religious spectrum with his simple message of culturally “mixing it up”. If only John and Janette Howard could have been there. They might have actually learned something!

So stop what you’re doing, siddown, shuddup, grab your laptop and purchase a ticket online for tonight, Sunday 3 February 2008 before they all sell out. It’s his only performance in Melbourne and the last gig of his current Australian tour. Don’t miss out!!

© Irfan Yusuf 2008

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