Wednesday, September 19, 2012

CRIKEY: Why Muslim leaders must change the rhetoric

The Daily Telegraph is having an absolute field day with the Sydney protesters. Yesterday’s front page featured some rather angry faces on the front cover. The words “Muslim unrest” featured at the top of pages four and five. They haven’t had this much fun down at Holt Street since October 2006 when the headline “YOU HEARTLESS IGNORANT MAN” was splashed over the front page along with a photo of a besieged Grand Mufti.

Many Muslims in Sydney haven’t been this embarrassed since Shaykh Hilaly’s infamous cat-meat comments. Readers may recall the then Mufti of Australia made remarks linking women’s dress to s-xual assault. And it wasn’t just tabloid newspapers condemning the man. Politicians, commentators and others weighed in, calling for Hilaly to resign.

Many in Muslim communities also echoed these calls. Many, that is, apart from a fair swag of those currently claiming to speak on behalf of Sydney Muslims in relation to the recent rioting in Sydney over the weekend.

On that occasion, many of these organisational heads felt the urge to publicly support and defend Hilaly. They made excuses for his remarks — that we were missing the context, the true message was lost in translation, etc. The media were collectively blamed. And Muslims who openly spoke out against Hilaly were condemned as traitors to the cause.

It’s the same kind of rhetoric now being used by supporters of the protesters on Facebook and other social media forums against these spokespeople. One can only imagine what is going through their minds as they listen and watch some “leaders” on the radio and TV. ”Oh great, so now you’re condemning us for using the same messages you used six years ago?”

In short, there are some credibility issues that need to be addressed. Or perhaps another way of looking at it is that some people have finally grown up and realised that “they” are not all out to get “us”.

(These observations don’t extend to all Sydney spokespersons, nor to the people at the Melbourne-based Islamic Council of Victoria, which openly called for Hilaly’s resignation. When Waleed Aly joined Randa Abdel Fattah on Lateline the other night and spoke about denial and siege mentality, he used the same themes he used as spokesman of the ICV during the cat-meat saga. On that occasion he also correctly noted that support for Hilaly was limited to a tiny but substantial pocket in a few suburbs of south-western Sydney.)

Yes, the broader community does need to be reassured. Thankfully we now have spokespeople who can speak without interpreters. But the rhetoric of “we condemn this” needs to change.

Why not mock the mockers? When Newsweek recently published a front-page story on “Muslim Rage”, it promoted it on Twitter with the hashtag #MuslimRage. Visit that hashtag today and you will find lots of people poking fun at the idea.

Humour can sometimes take you much further than self-righteous condemnation.

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