The Australian’s anti-Muslim operation is at it again, this time committing a “media lynching” of Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali — or so Crikey and others in the past week would have us believe. We suspect, however, that this tempest will founder on the good sense of the Australian people who deserve to be informed about the outrageous statements of the nation’s leading Muslim cleric.
According to our critics, The Australian’s decision to publish an English translation of Sheik Hilali’s speech — comparing immodestly dressed women to meat left out for cats, and blaming them for sexual assaults — was wrong because it reinforced the world’s current anxieties and fears. Never mind that our story goes to the heart of one of the world’s most intractable problems: the clash between conservative Islam and Western modernity, and specifically the concept of women’s liberation and free relations between the sexes. Surely this is an issue worth reporting and debating in some detail.  Irfan Yusuf, writing in Crikey yesterday, says “The Oz allows few [moderate, middle-class Muslims] on their op-ed page” on this issue. Yet in the immediate aftermath of the publication of our exclusive story, we commissioned and published several “moderate, middle-class Muslims” to write the lead opinion-page articles: Abdullah Saaed, director of the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Islam at the University of Melbourne; Tanveer Ahmed, who is writing a book about Islam in Australia; Shakira Hussein, who is writing a PhD thesis on the Islamic treatment of women at the Australian National University.  All are moderates from within Australia’s Muslim community who have publicly criticised the mufti’s comments. (Incidentally, even of our usual critics Peter Manning, author of US and Them: A Journalist’s Investigation of Media, Muslims and the Middle East, has defended The Australian’s decision to cover the Sheik’s comments, arguing that the quicker the Muslim community forgets its ethnic differences and works out a “genuinely indigenous Islam that is Australian”, the better.) Add to this the fact that we have published a variety of moderate Muslim voices over the years about the clash between conservative Islam and Western modernity — from the Islamic Council of Victoria’s Waleed Ali to widely acclaimed international author Irshad Manji — and it is clear that The Australian has a much better track record on this issue than any other newspaper in the nation. For this, we are accused of “racism and religious bigotry”. Go figure.

Peter Fray

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