When in Egypt, do as the Egyptians do. Yeah, right. I doubt many Egyptians would come to Australia on holidays, only to slam the home country (unless they are perhaps seeking asylum). Yet it seems (unless the translation and/or context is incorrect) that’s exactly what Sheik Hilaly has done.

The circus started on Wednesday night, when both A Current Affair and Today Tonight reported the Sheik’s comments. ACA had Andrew Bolt declaring Hilaly to be “Australia’s most senior Mufti, most senior Imam” before asking questions about whether Islam has a future in Australia.

The Sheik’s comments earned a severe rebuke from prominent Muslims across the country. The Islamic Council of Victoria’s spokesman (whose in-laws are direct descendants of First Fleeters) was forced to appear on The 7:30 Report to repeat his organisation’s position.

Initially the PM laughed off the Hilaly’s remarks about convicts. But Howard obviously felt stung after after Hilaly declared him Dubya’s yes-man. It was probably the only vaguely sensible thing Hilaly said in the last week.

Howard now insists ordinary Aussie Muslims do something about it. But how? Their national religious body, which appointed Hilaly mufti, is currently under administration. Howard himself appointed Hilaly to his hand-picked Muslim Reference Group.

Furthermore, most Australian Muslims are about as devout as most Australian Catholics. Some 25,000 people may flock to Sheik Hilaly’s mosque in Lakemba on the feast days. But hardly 2,000 turn up to the Friday congregational prayers.

We don’t see Mr Howard presuming all Catholics are responsible for Cardinal Pell’s words. I’m sure Howard would have been as appalled as I was when a small group of infantile Muslim protesters held all Danes (if not the entire EU) responsible for 12 cartoons.

Group responsibility is a discredited phenomenon. It is the logic used by terrorists to generate hatred toward the West. “They hate us because of who we are” is the frequent refrain of many Western leaders.

Mr Howard, I and 360,000 other people might have Muslim culture and/or heritage and/or religion as a layer of our identity, but don’t hold us responsible for Hilaly’s antics. Especially when our peak religious bodies seem to be more influenced by you than by us.

Peter Fray

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