People & Ideas

Oct 6, 2009

Muslims moan: Why Keysar Trad? Why?

Kayser Trad is the typical Muslim extremist that is dragged out to flog controversial ideas. But why aren't the voices of socially conservative Muslims who don't engage in hate speech being heard? asks Shakira Hussein.

I'm sure there are plenty of atheists who sigh and say: "Why do they always invite Christopher Hitchens? The man gives all of us a bad name!" So perhaps they can identify with Muslim moans of "Why Keysar Trad? Why?" Hitchens and Trad were speakers at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas over the weekend, held at the Sydney Opera House with sponsorship from the St James Ethnics Centre and The SMH. Trad's talk on "Why Polygamy and Other Islamic Values are good for Australia" was published in Saturday's Sydney Morning Herald. OK, it's called the Festival of Dangerous Ideas -- although frankly, the line-up (Hitchens, Germaine Greer, Cardinal George Pell, Baroness Susan Greenfield) doesn't look substantially different to any other talkfest. Interesting speakers, but for a crowd that's labelled "dangerous", there's not much that would really scare the horses. Trad passes for a bit of much-needed rough, in that company. After all, the New South Wales Supreme Court has found that "it is appropriate to describe that person (Trad) as a dangerous individual" (an imputation for which Trad was suing Harbour Radio for defamation). Festival director Dennis Watkins said before the festival: "We’ve already had complaints about Keysar Trad’s talk on polygamy and people haven’t even heard what he has to say." Well, it was possible to complain about Trad's inclusion before hearing what he had to say because his views on polygamy and much else are already on the public record. And frankly, his views on polygamy are the least of the problem. I disagree with Trad's campaign for institutionalised polygamy because of its inequitable outcomes not only for women, but also for many men. Except during wartime, when gender ratios are distorted, the maths just doesn't add up. Trad does not exactly rate as an Alpha male. If he were living in a society where polygamy were widespread, I think he would probably be a very lonely man, not the emperor of his own little harem. However, I accept that polygamy is a legitimate topic for discussion, and I don't suggest that the only Muslims who should be allowed to speak are Muslims such as me. But Trad's appearance at the festival does not look like "putting controversial ideas up for discussion" so much as "providing a platform for someone with a long record of engaging in hate speech". While the festival uses the term "dangerous" to describe its intention to "stimulate, provoke, and engage people in wider discussion" -- danger as cool -– the Supreme Court determined that Trad could be described as "dangerous" because of his expressed opinions about women, homosexuals, and Jews -- not so cool. Trad has described India as "a country which is dominated by the lowest of the low among races" and homosexuality Anglo-Australians as "the descendants of criminal dregs". His theological view of homosexuality -- i.e. God doesn't like it -- is in line with that of the Vatican and so is presumably shared by fellow-speaker Cardinal Pell, although so far as I'm aware, Pell doesn't talk about stoning anyone to death. Trad also defended Hilali's notoroius "uncovered meat" speech on the (dubious) grounds that it referred to adultery rather than rape, and that the meat in question was Muslim -- Hilali was lecturing parents about the need for Muslim women to maintain modesty. Well, that's all right then. As noxious as this is, it can be dismissed as so much unpleasant background noise in the context of Trad's position in wider Australian society. But the ramifications for Muslim communities are more serious. Trad represents himself as speaking on behalf of Islam and Muslims, which hardly does us any favours. But we're used to bad publicity. Of more concern is the way that such external recognition boosts Trad's (currently rather shaky) standing within Muslim communities. As "the Muslim issue" has taken centre stage in Australian public discussion, progressively minded non-Muslims have sought to engage with members of a marginalised out-group. However, in so doing they have often boosted the visibility of leaders whose role within their own communities may be highly destructive. My colleague Alia Immotile and I have discussed the ways in which "External visibility boosts internal power", with particular regard to the implications for gender relations. It is important for socially conservative Muslims to be given a hearing. But there are plenty of socially conservative Muslims who don't engage in hate speech.

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