Here at Crikey, we like to make sure we acknowledge the hard work our colleagues in the news media do to ensure public opinion of journalism remains critically low. So with that in mind, we couldn’t help but note 2GB’s Ben Fordham interview with Mohammad Tawhidi — also known as the “Fake Sheikh” — to talk about the Bourke Street terrorist attack last week.
Fordham introduced Tawhidi as an “Islamic scholar” and used his preferred title (and Twitter handle), the “imam of peace” while giving him airtime to “1000% agree” with Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the reason for the attack. Tawhidi was responding to criticism of Morrison for saying suggestions that the attacker had mental health issues was a “lame excuse”.
“He has nothing to apologise for,” Tawhidi said. “I think he was brave for doing that and he was 1000% right.”
Fordham also questioned Tawhidi about Labor MP (and counter-terrorism expert) Anne Aly’s comments comparing the number of victims of terrorism to those of domestic violence.
What Fordham did not mention, though, is that Tawhidi was last year dubbed the “Fake Sheikh” by Media Watch after he rose to prominence in some parts of the Australian media due to his willingness to loudly criticise radical Islam. A Sydney-based Islamic television outlet One Path Network exposed Tawhidi last year as a “fake”, after a Today Tonight Adelaide segment featuring him was posted on a Facebook page called “Australia — Love it, or Leave”.
But was it meant by “fake” here? For one, the Australian Imams Council does not consider Tawhidi to be an Imam, and an ABC Background Briefing found that he did not hold a qualification from the university he claimed. That same report found that Tawhidi didn’t have much support at all, in fact, from the Muslim community — he doesn’t have his own mosque, and has been accused of posted inflammatory statements online about the Sunni sect of Islam (he is a Shia Muslim).
Tawhidi had been a regular guest on Fordham’s show, as well as featuring on Sky News’ less-than-reputable Outsiders and News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt’s program, and has even appeared on One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson’s own website in an interview with her.
Melbourne researcher Chloe Patton last year wrote that Tawhidi first came to prominence while making claims about Muslims trying to establish a caliphate in Australia:
‘Right here, under our noses,’ where streets would be re-named after terrorist murderers. He demanded that the Australian government ban the construction of mosques and community centres and establish a body dedicated solely to investigating Muslims.
Patton said Tawhidi’s chosen media outlets and associates should ring alarm bells for journalists using him as a source, who should do some background checking: “Either none is being undertaken or the spectacle of man dressed up as a cleric delivering epithets more at home at a white nationalist rally is proving simply too good to resist.”
We asked Macquarie Media — which owns 2GB — CEO Adam Lang whether Fordham or his producers had done any of this checking, along with other questions, but he didn’t respond by deadline.