That truth is the first casualty of war may be a cliche, but it surely rings true today, tens of thousands of kilometres from any battlefield in Syria and Iraq, in the strange and recent case of one Sydney Muslim man.
Let’s imagine for a moment that, in some bizarre parallel universe, The Sydney Morning Herald, or some other venerable media organisation, for a number of months, or even years, during the Troubles in Northern Ireland referred to Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams as a Protestant.
But a mistake of no lesser magnitude has been made over and over with regards to 48-year-old Jamal Daoud, an activist and aspiring politician, who founded the Social Justice Network and was a one-time candidate for Auburn City Council.
Well-known for his public advocacy on behalf of refugees — particularly those living at Villawood Detention Centre, which is in Daoud’s neighborhood — Daoud has also found himself on the front lines of the divide between some sections of Sydney’s Shia communities and Sunni groups who support Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL), or at the very least an overthrow of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime.
No stranger to the media, Daoud has been followed by journalists and television cameramen as long-bearded Sunni youths and others have threatened and attempted to assault him while walking down the streets of Auburn and nearby suburbs in Sydney’s west. In the past few months, he has also been denounced and received death threats after meeting Syria’s president in a contingent that included John Shipton, the father of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Daoud, who describes himself as a progressive secularist, has had a public record going back three or more years of opposing what was initially termed the “Syrian Revolution” by many a Western media pundit. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Daoud has also, for a number of years, loudly attempted to warn the wider community, including security agencies, about a small but growing number of wannabe Sunni jihadis based in a number of suburbs that dot the fringes of western Sydney.
But on more than one occasion the Australian media have named him as a member of the Shia (or Shiite) community. A Palestinian from Jordan, Daoud is, in fact, a Sunni.
One example was in Fairfax papers last month following the widely publicised “counter-terror raids” in which 800 police arrested a young man with a mobile phone. In the article Daoud was named as “a prominent member of Sydney’s Shiite community”. The article then paraphrased Daoud as saying that the sword in question “would be found in almost every Shiite household as a decorative item either hanging on the wall or sitting in a drawer”. Despite Daoud complaining about this error, the SMH was at it again in the past couple of weeks following the shooting of Rasoul al-Musawi outside a Shiite prayer centre in Greenacre. Once again, Daoud was referred to as “a prominent member of Sydney’s Shiite community” before being quoted.
Of late, even our esteemed multicultural broadcaster SBS has joined in the act. Daoud was referred to as “a prominent Shia community member” and quoted about his belief that the shooting in Greenacre had been carried out by thugs associated with IS and that it was “a warning, a strong warning”.
Lest the Australian outpost of the Daily Mail felt like it was missing out on the action, here it is on November 3 regurgitating the “well-known member of the Shiite community” descriptor about Daoud.
Interestingly enough, the misidentification of Daoud has now spread overseas, with Vladimir Putin’s favourite Russian news mouthpiece, Russia Today earlier this month suggesting that he was “a Shia who attended the meeting” at the Greenacre prayer centre shortly prior to the shooting outside.
It’s spread to other parts of the world, too. Here’s The International Business Times repeating the error and here is the altogether more far-out Israeli religious Zionist news network Arutz Sheva, regarded as the voice of the Israeli Settlement movement, describing Daoud as a “well-known member of the Australian Shiite community”.
The revered ABC also almost became unstuck on the same error of fact after it called Daoud recently seeking comments from “high-profile Shia leaders”. Fortunately for Daoud, the journalist this time after a bit of toing and froing accepted he was a Sunni and made sure to indicate this fact in the subsequent news report for The World Today radio program.
Daoud has on numerous occasions attempted to correct the record, but many of these organisations continue to make these errors of basic fact and are yet to offer an apology to him. He has even taken to Facebook and Twitter on occasion to clearly say he is Sunni.
Daoud has no qualms with anyone’s religious beliefs and says he does not view it as a slur to be referred to as Shiite. However, Daoud’s misidentification may upset some people within the Shia community in Sydney and elsewhere who may think that Daoud is fraudulently representing himself as a Shia Muslim. It might also conceivably anger some people in the Sunni community, who might think that Daoud has converted to Shia or is trying to pass himself off as one.