Middle East expert Andrew Vincent and veteran journalist Peter Manning have co-organised a conference at NSW Parliament on “The journalist and Islam“. Today is the final of this 2-day conference. Yesterday’s speakers included Tom Switzer from The Oz. Switzer defended The Oz’s reporting of 3 issues pertaining to what he described as “the Muslim question” – Hilaly, the Cronulla riots and the anti-terror laws. In relation to Hilaly, Switzer repeated almost word-for-word the criticisms of myself he made here. But his criticisms didn’t go as far as the hysterical lynching I received in his paper’s editorial yesterday. In question time, Switzer was asked to define three terms he frequently used – the “Muslim question” (a re-hash of modern Europe’s obsession with the “Jewish question”?), the “Muslim community” and “Muslim clerics”. Switzer acknowledged diversity within Australia’s Muslims, but mistakenly claimed that a Muslim cleric has the same authority and role as a Catholic priest. Melbourne journalist and academic Nasya Bahfen dealt with how lazy journalists manufacture stories from internet forums. She castigated Luke McIlveen’s manufacturing of a story alleging Iktimal Hage-Ali is the subject of an organised vilification campaign. Instead of talking to Muslim critics of Hage-Ali, McIlveen lazily relied on infantile comments left on the Muslim Village forums by anonymous persons probably too young to vote. Vic Alhadeff from the Jewish Board of Deputies made a brave presentation on anti-Semitism in (often government-controlled) media of Muslim-majority states. He certainly opened up my eyes to this scourge of anti-semitism which has been exposed even by prominent Muslims. Alhadeff hardly mentioned Israel or Palestine during his presentation. That didn’t stop some people from asking him to explain the actions and attitudes of Israelis. When I criticise Western media for their anti-Muslim bias, I’d be insulted if people turned around asking me to explain the actions of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Surely some supporters of the Palestinian and Lebanese causes could relate to this and not have treated Alhadeff so shabbily. Today’s program includes Tony Abbott and Janet Albrechtsen. Hopefully Janet will be able to define “Muslim cleric”.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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