Peta Credlin (Image: Sky News)

I’m a bad Muslim. I love a good roast pork, I drink alcohol, and I skip the prayers five times a day.

But Islam is a big part of me, especially in my formative years. As a teenager in the city of Bandung, Indonesia, my holy grounds were the mosque and mosh pits of punk concerts — and my favourite band was Bad Religion.

But I also learnt a great deal about Islam and used it in my daily life to guide my actions. I still do. I also still get annoyed at narrow-minded views of Islam, especially when it happens in journalism, an industry I love and do research on as an academic.

And despite welcoming the actions of the South Sudanese complainants to the Human Rights Commission that led to Peta Credlin’s apology, I wonder: would Sky News have apologised if the South Sudanese, as Credlin falsely thought, were dominantly Muslims? Would it then air “positive” news stories about the community as it has promised? Or would it have revelled in the complaint and dug deeper into the well of fear towards Islam it conscientiously dug in the past few years?

I applaud Sky News for wanting to tell the stories of South Sudanese communities, but in this I am reminded of former PM Tony Abbott’s saviourism when he prioritised Syrian Christians as accepted immigrants in Australia and playing into the good immigrant/bad immigrant talking point that has been used by other politicians in wealthy countries.

Will these stories of South Sudanese Australians be an example of media saviourism, where only good immigrants, as defined by conservative Australia, are portrayed? I certainly hope not. I hope they will tell stories that delve into the complexities of the South Sudanese people as humans, many of whom have experienced tragic conflicts.

The deep well of fear towards Muslims built by media in Australia has not been built exclusively by Sky News, but what’s available online from Credlin’s history of commentary could give us a sense of what’s in the well. The one that sums up the problem is a video from November 2018 in which she commented on the Bourke Street attack that killed Melbourne café owner Sisto Malaspina.

In that video, Islam Must Learn Modernity and Pluralism, what grated on me was Credlin’s call for Islam to have “its own version of enlightenment” while contrasting the story of Malaspina, who indeed was a great man, with the “monster that killed him”, Hassan Khalif Shire Ali, who was inspired by the Islamic State, again playing into the bad immigrant/good immigrant framework.

I would also call Shire Ali a monster, but I would not be so quick, as Credlin was, to command Australian Muslims, like me, to have serious conversations about terrorism. Because we already do. This is our story, too. Even as a bad Muslim, this is my story. We are already feeling under siege and defensive every time there’s news of violence. We already have serious conversations about this every day.

Moreover, enlightenment and democracy are not a one-off project — even in Western countries these are continuous projects that Muslims have been a part of in upholding around the world. I feel silly saying this, since it sounds so obvious, but maybe it isn’t for Credlin — who thought it was OK to attack South Sudanese people when she thought they were Muslims who broke COVID rules at the end of Ramadan and did not speak English.

Again this problem does not exclusively belong to Sky News. Media organisations in Australia need to learn, slowly, to tell better stories about modernity and pluralism. And to do this well, one of the challenges is to accept the complexities of Islam. To borrow a quote from a great Islamic reformer who does not come from the West (yes, Rita Panahi, they exist), Gus Dur: “We need Islam that is amiable, not Islam that is irascible.”

Maybe we need media organisations that can also be more amiable to Islam, too.