I was sent two email messages from The Australian yesterday. One, from Editor-in-Chief Chris Mitchell, said I was “silly”. The other, from my long time friend and Australian Editor, Michael Stutchbury, checked to see if I was taking “my medication”.
I should have known something was up. Today’s Australian editorial questions Malcolm Fraser and Mike Carlton and me for “undermining Australia’s collective values”. It exhibits yet another symptom of the “Islamophobia” of the Murdoch press. According to the editorial, I want journalists to remain silent on al-Hilaly.
My position is that no matter how reprehensible al-Hilaly’s remarks, the man should not be subject to trial by media. This kind of sleight of hand is typical of the last fortnight’s reporting by the Murdoch press.
The Australian led a charge to lynch al-Hilaly in a witch-hunt that started with the text of the sermon and went on to numerous unproven assertions and innuendo. Only now are we starting to get a more balanced view of al-Hilaly, his role in South West Sydney, his role in standing up against extremism and his role in supporting women.
But it is too late to undo the perception created by The Australian’s team of over-ambitious journalists, urged on by the obsessive Mitchell and Stutchbury. It is also hard to see how how al-Hilaly’s words can be evaluated fairly by the public.
The 250,000-word torrent of opinion unleashed about al-Hilaly over ten days has to be seen as a phenomenon akin to the 1950s McCarthyist communist witch-hunt. In my report, I try to document the phenomenon so readers can judge for themselves whether al-Hilaly got a fair go.
My conclusion was that it was a witch-hunt. There were a few moderating forces. Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty’s call for a more balanced view of the Australia Islamic community was prescient. Malcolm Fraser’s continued willingness to stand up for the best elements of liberalism was encouraging. The suggestion by Roger Herft, Anglican Archbishop of Perth, that other church leaders were as guilty of a profound sexism as al-Hilaly was the epitome of Australian fairness.
But the two great pieces of journalism on this whole affair came from outside the Islamophobic Western press. Indraji Hazra got right to the point in The Hindustan Times: “If wearing a hijab, or other forms of apparel that make women ‘become invisible’ to the male public gaze, protects women … does that mean that women not covering themselves ‘properly’ … are asking for it?” And The Jakarta Post’s Ati Nurbaiti concluded: “For you men who still can think of nothing but your instincts, could you all please cage yourselves so it’s not us having to fuss over a wisp of flying hair, a glimpse of skin, a peek of a toe and a bat of an eyelash? That way we won’t have to worry about becoming cat food. Meeow!”