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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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17 thoughts on “Muslims moan: Why Keysar Trad? Why?

  1. Greg Angelo

    Where are the moderate Moslems when you need them? Allowing misogynist Moslems to become the mouthpiece of the broader community is a sad reflection on the moderates within that community who are either indifferent (which would be reprehensible), or intimidated by their more vocal brethren. There are plenty of jurisdictions within the world such as Saudia Arabia, Pakistan Iran and Afghanistan for these misogynists to feel at home.

    The vast majority of Australians value equality for all this is an and these unpleasant individuals wishing to force their narrow values down our collective throats unfortunately take advantage of opportunities for free speech in Australia which of course do not exist to the same extent in the countries referenced above. However if they value the social institutions of these countries so much would they please migrate to these environments where they would be much more home and leave us alone.

  2. Tom McLoughlin

    All this beat up of a moral panic about Keysar Trad doesn’t really make the mark really. I may not agree with some of his views more akin to Pell than my values, but I’ve seen the guy speak, and heard him quite often.

    I can’t think of one time he’s foamed, or spat or indicated a hateful attitude to anyone. Now maybe his words in or out of context are arguably wrong or maybe even hateful, however I have to say in all honesty I haven’t seen it.

    And I do get around a bit. Frankly I think his capacity for cross cultural communication is quite a resource. One example that came to mind was a role he played in a truce between Leb bikers and Bra Boys down after the disgraceful white power race riot down at Cronulla with violent ethnic backlash of some kind some after.

    Trad was in none of that. What most of the attacks on Trad, like the attacks on Lowenstein seem mostly motivated by, are his real politik analysis of colonial fascism by Israel backed by US arms dealers in the name of squatter so called ‘settlers’. About that I reckon probably a good 50% of Australian would agree with him. I reckon about 95% of the Aboriginal community would too for obvious historical reasons about land theft in the name of a superior God.

  3. eva cox

    I agree with Shakira and also Guy Rundle’s comment on the festival generally. Like the so called IQ debates, these topics are not designed to make people think but in rather schoolboy style to do something a bit naughty. Pick a topic and twist it so you get people to come but don’t really select ideas or topics that make people think and discuss. Too many of the sessions had the Simon Longstaff (common to both) marker of stirring, rather than thinking. An earlier debate in the IQ series took the Moslem issue up in a way that was designed to stir prejudices and confront rather than encourage understanding of the issues. Playing into intellectual populism is only an upmarket version of the shock jock and I agree with Shakira that this session topic was distinctly tacky, as were others!

    eva cox

  4. james mcdonald

    Hi Shakira: Stephen Pinker said something similar about polygamy: monogamous marriages were not invented for women’s benefit, but for men’s. To ensure every man gets his bit of hanky-panky. As further evidence for this, men tend to (or at least profess to) take a particularly dim view of one man undermining another’s relationship with a woman. Gentlemans’ code and all that. Whereas it’s more acceptable for women to tell their friends to “leave him”. In a polygamous society, all women could have a tall, rich, good-looking husband who puts the toilet seat down, and most men would get arthritis in one hand.

  5. james mcdonald

    Greg Angelo, it’s a bit rude to say “Where are the moderate Moslems when you need them?” when you’re talking to one. Or do you think Shakira is an extremist?

  6. Irfan Yusuf

    What the FARC is a moderate Muslim? Or moderate Marxist Columbian militiaman?

  7. Liz45

    There’s some very intelligent and great women too. They probably very wisely gave this lot a wide berth – very sensible!

  8. Richard Murphy

    Just because we’re all chuffed about being in the prepubescent phase of post-cultural fragmentation love-ins labelled ideas festivals doesn’t mean we should be trampling on genuine ideas. Neither Christianity nor Islam are forever. But if it were Islam that prevailed in the war of the civilisations (whereas it failed to evolve beyond feudalism) it would be Christian terrorism that is blighting modern life. It’s a fantasy novel looking for an author.

  9. Greg Angelo

    James McDonald : I was actually speaking in support of Shakiraalthough I may not have made my point clear.

    There is an old saying that “one swallow does not make a summer”. I am aware that there are some very intelligent moderate Moslems, but they seem to be outnumbered by the more radical and vocal extremists. I would be happier if issue more moderates would actually speak up.

    Australia should be a refuge for all moderate points of view and we should not be held to account by the extremist views of a few.

  10. james mcdonald

    Greg: thanks for the clarification.

    Richard: what “Christian terrorism”? A regular Crikey reader could be forgiven for thinking there’s more Atheist bigotry around than Christian.

    Irfan: you lost me. Come again?