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Misreported, misconstrued, mistranslated, misunderstood

By Irfan Yusuf - posted Friday, 23 February 2007

It was hardly five months ago that the self-declared mufti of Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific, Sheik Taj Al-Din Hilali, was reported to have made comments describing scantily clad women as pieces of meat on display and able to be consumed by cat-like males.

The imam faced a barrage of condemnation from leaders and members (including myself) across his faith-community. Political leaders, columnists of all ideological stripes and authors of letters to the editor expressed their disgust at such offensive remarks.

Hilali's die-hard supporter (I could find only one) claimed he had been misreported, misconstrued, mistranslated and even misunderstood. He claimed that Hilali's words, properly understood, did not intend to convey anything other than a literary metaphor.


Of course, Hilali's words were also used by certain individuals to further their monoculturalist agenda. At a Sydney journalists' conference in December last year, one senior editor of a broadsheet said the sheik's expressed views were yet another indication that Australia had to address the Muslim question.

(In question time, I reminded the editor that German newspapers in the 1930s similarly raised the Jewish question.) Only the most obscure and fringe sectors are calling for such a final solution to the Muslim question at this stage. Yet I can't help but compare the barrage of abuse faced by the sheik (in most cases, deservedly so) to the almost complete indifference of many of his critics to the grossly offensive remarks of Professor Raphael Israeli.

It's true that the professor does not hold a senior religious post in a local congregation. He is merely a visiting scholar, here to deliver a series of lectures on Islamic history, an area in which he has some expertise.

Further, his remarks were not made in a foreign language. There was no issue of misinterpretation or mistranslation. Yet there are also some substantial similarities in the two cases. Both Hilali and Israeli were publicly condemned by a number of influential persons from their respective communities. The CEO of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies condemned the remarks without reservation. The Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council announced that it would no longer be co-hosting Israeli's talks. Similarly, a host of Muslim religious and community leaders publicly condemned Hilali, and his removal from the position of mufti is being openly canvassed.

Both Hilali and Israeli have had a chequered history of making offensive remarks. Hilali's history is a matter of the public record.

It doesn't take an enormous amount of Googling to discover that Israeli's remarks are also nothing new.


For instance, immediately following the July 2005 London bombing, Israeli wrote a public letter to Tony Blair insisting that British officials recognise what he described as the myth of peaceful Islam.

Of the 50 or so victims of those bombing attacks, at least five were of Muslim origin or heritage. Among them was a bank clerk in her early 20s named Shahara Islam who was on her way to work. Israeli wanted British officials to regard her family name and her faith as a threat to their nation.

In June 2004, Israeli wrote a paper entitled Islam's Sway Over Turkey in which he castigated the inexplicable Western policy of appeasement towards Islam which he claimed was predicated upon the false assumption that there was such a thing as moderate or pragmatic Islam.

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First published in The Canberra Times on February 21, 2007.

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About the Author

Irfan Yusuf is a New South Wales-based lawyer with a practice focusing on workplace relations and commercial dispute resolution. Irfan is also a regular media commentator on a variety of social, political, human rights, media and cultural issues. Irfan Yusuf's book, Once Were Radicals: My Years As A Teenage Islamo-Fascist, was published in May 2009 by Allen & Unwin.

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