Last week the Prime Minister hosted a dinner for a bunch of Muslims at Kirribilli House. I didn’t get an invite. But I do know a fair few people who did go, as they plastered their Facebook walls with photos of them sitting and standing with the PM.
Now I’m glad I didn’t get an invite. Since the dinner, News Corp papers have been picking off the names of a host of invitees, linking them to something that might be linked to something that might be linked to some event overseas.
Overnight, columnists for The Australian, Herald Sun, Daily Telegraph etc have suddenly discovered the evils of homophobia. Why? Because somehow they feel the urge to link the PM hosting a Ramadan Iftar dinner to Omar Mateen, the security guard who shot dead 50 people in an Orlando gay night club.
But reading through the reports and op-eds leads me to wonder whether the ideological crime of homophobic Muslims is that they are treading on the territory that should be reserved for Australian conservatives.
Imams are being accused of spreading teachings on the evils of homosexuality that you can regularly hear if you attend a service of Fred Nile, Rise Up Australia’s Danny Nalliah or some other clergyman with whom the Coalition regularly shares preferences and who is defended by Peter Costello or Andrew Bolt. Or if you attend the kinds of conferences that Tony Abbott attends or Kevin Andrews almost attended.
Then the Oz lambastes a Sydney psychologist who signed a recent press release supporting LGBTI communities. The Oz effectively denounces her as a hypocrite for backing LGBTI people now. Hanan Dover is a controversial figure in Muslim circles — at best. It is true that she did once promote “gay conversion” therapies, something very dangerous for a practitioner to do. The unfortunate thing is that the Oz cites her words from 2002. That’s 14 years ago. And what the paper does not say is that the types of therapies she promoted were not from Iran or Turkey or Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. They were from the United States, They were developed by conservative Christian groups.
Has Dover changed her mind? I’m not sure. She did sign the anti-homophobia press release. But then so did regular Crikey writer Shakira Hussein (who has written and tweeted against Dover’s homophobia). But when was the last time we saw Gerard Henderson or Janet Albrechtsen or Piers Akerman (who has been known to refer to David Marr as a “homosexual activist” and who repeated “rumours” on national TV about Julia Gillard’s partner) or Andrew Bolt sign a document supporting the rights of LGBTI communities in Australia?
I’m not aware of prominent imams opposing same-sex marriage. I’m not aware of Muslim leaders opposing the Safe Schools program in the manner former Iranian refugee Rita Panahi has. The allegedly conservative commentariat have been defending the homophobia that exists among them and also in the churches and the Australian Christian Lobby in the name of “freedom of speech” and “freedom of religion”.
“But aah, Mr Yusuf, we don’t see conservatives or Christian clergy or ACL saying that homosexuals should be put to death,” you might say as you point to this article published in the Oz about imams and homosexuality. And as you point to reports of a British Shia Muslim scholar who left Australia of his own accord.
Indeed. But let me put these points to you:
- Imams Shady Soliman and Yusuf Peer play leading roles in the Australian National Imams Council (ANIC);
- This bombastically named body consists only of a minority of Sunni Muslim imams;
- This council does not include imams of the Cypriot and Turkish communities, which make up one of the largest and oldest ethno-religious bloc;
- There are no women in ANIC despite there being female religious scholars in Australia;
- The idea of what makes a person an “imam” and what his/her role should be is contested across different cultures;
- Unlike the church, there is no agreed hierarchy of imams; and
- To get some idea of how influential ANIC is, its announcements on the beginning and end of sacred months such as Ramadan are largely ignored.
Your average Muslim knows what silly and ridiculous attitudes many imams have. It reminds me of the story of a sheikh in India who was asked a businessman who regularly donated to his mosque: “Sheikh, why do our religious scholars talk such crap?” The sheikh responded with a question: “Imagine you have two sons. One is very intelligent, the other is a buffoon. Which would you send to London to study to become a barrister and which would you send to my madressa to study to become an imam?”
Finally, regardless of how ridiculous the views of some imams (or some clergy or some rabbis or some other religious figures) are, to suggest they in any way reflect the opinions of any sector of mainstream Australia is ridiculous.
Unless, of course, you don’t regard Australians who identify as Muslim as being part of mainstream Australia.