“Outspoken Islamic cleric” Abu Hamza has been top of the pops for the past two days, incurring no lesser thin-lipped wrath than that of the Prime Minister yesterday for YouTubed comments on s-xual violence and r-pe. He backed up again in this morning’s tabloids, accusing Australians of an over-fondness for booze, gambling and s-x.

More of the last later, but the sudden flurry over these six-year-old recordings must have left Hamza more than a little bemused, not only for the Australian tabloid press’s capacity to recycle the ancient as fresh front page news, but also for the way on which the media wheel can turn.

Hamza, also known as Samir Mohtadi, has been a feature of significant media coverage before. Three years after the recordings that so enraged Kevin Rudd, the Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun he was much discussed as the “moderate cleric” who appeared as a star prosecution witness in the case against accused terrorist Abdul Benbrika.

This is how the ABC’s AM described Mohtadi in August 2006:

Samir Mohtadi is the director of the Islamic Information and Services Network for Australasia, based in Melbourne. He’s a moderate Islamic cleric who preaches regularly at the Preston mosque in north-east Melbourne. He’s also a teacher, who gives lectures about the meaning of Islam, mainly to young people.

Through his work, Samir Mohtadi knows some of the men who have been charged with various terrorism offences, and today he gave evidence at their committal hearing.

And this is how news.com.au described him at the time of the 2006 trial:

Mr Mohtadi is the director of the Islamic Information and Services Network of Australasia, in Coburg, in Melbourne’s north.

The network provides information and services to Muslims and non-Muslims about Islam.

He said he had known Mr Benbrika as they both attended the same mosque, also in Melbourne’s north.

According to sources close to the Benbrika trial, Samir Mohtadi had been cultivated by Australian security agencies since the events of September 2001. He became a key Crown witness in the Benbrika case and gave evidence about a meeting he had with Benbrika in 2004 in which he said to Benbrika that he had heard Benbrika was planning a terrorist attack in Australia. Benbrika denied it. Mohtadi said he would go to the government if he got wind of any plan. According to some, it is not too greater stretch to wonder of Mohtadi was not something of an ASIO mole within Melbourne Muslim circles.

He gave evidence at the long Benbrika trial, and was cross examined at length about Islamic practices, scholarship and views about Israel and jihad. Richard Maidment SC, the lead prosecutor for the Crown, said in his closing that “you saw Mr Mohtadi and he was a credible witness, in our respectful submission”. How times change.

Which takes us to today’s outrage at Hamza/Mohtadi’s comments — 2003 remember — that Australians “think happiness can be achieved by being intoxicated, by going to the casino and blowing your money away.”

The Herald Sun demanded his removal from the continent in its editorial today: “Mr Hamza would be better off living somewhere else. His inflammatory teachings are not welcome here.”

That was on page 46 of the paper. Here’s a look at some other content from the same edition:

Which is not to say that across town The Age is any less dependent on alcohol fueled display advertising. Au contraire:

All of which goes to show that Mohtadi might have a point. Or at least he did in 2003.

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.

 

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW