If the controversial Mufti of Australia, Sheikh Taj Aldin Alhilali, makes good on his report
this morning that Australian hostage Douglas Wood might be close to
release, his rescue mission will be hailed as a triumph of diplomacy.
It would be quite a coup for the Mufti, who seems to have succeeded in
staving off the initial deadline set by the kidnappers, despite
skepticism from his many critics.

The government’s tabloid media mouthpiece, Piers Akerman, set the tone with this
column last week. When a scoundrel is your last refuge, he ranted,
“no-one outside hostage Douglas Wood’s immediate family can possibly
imagine the level of despair which has led them to seek the
intervention of the repulsive Sheik Taj el-Dene Elhilaly in a bid to
free the Australian from his brutal Iraqi kidnappers.”

And his sidekick, Andrew Bolt in the Herald Sun,
covered the southern base with a very similar column – “Surely now even
his closest supporters see that this man of hate should no longer
represent our Muslims.”

Downer was sounding diplomatic in this interview
with Neil Mitchell: “The Mufti has a particular perspective on some of
the political issues – not surprisingly we don’t share a lot of those
perspectives – but you know, he’s nevertheless entitled to his view and
he’ll be putting that view there. And given his significant role as a
spiritual leader of the Sunni Muslims in Australia, it may have some
impact; it’s hard to know.”

It seems Downer knows, like it or
not, that the Mufti is their best shot for a successful outcome. If the
Mufti pulls off Wood’s release, it will demonstrate his political
smarts, and the benefit of the kind of contacts in the Muslim world
that Piers Akerman is quick to condemn.