Sometimes words are weapons and should be confronted before they take hold. Recently it was revealed that radical Muslim academic Sheikh Bilal Philips had been denied a visa to attend a Melbourne University conference. One of the attendees, British journalist and Islamic commentator Yvonne Ridley, subsequently “accused Australians of being among the worst Muslim haters in the world”. This despite the fact that Bilal was refused entry by the Government apparently on the advice of national security agencies, and not as a result of any community protest.
Ridley is a visitor to this country, not that she felt constrained to exercise any of the customary courtesies one might expect from a guest. Like the film stars who pronounce Australia a wonderful country before they have exited the arrivals hall, Ridley has hit the ground running. Though it is not her first visit to these shores, her comments were at best intemperate and more likely a slander.
Some segments of the population will no doubt be grateful for Ridley’s unsolicited advice, but for the vast majority of us it is not only a slur but also a statement of gross ignorance. According to her, our criminal record as Islamic haters is getting worse by the year. “I've visited over 20 different countries in the last three years and Australia is the most shocking in terms of deterioration,” she said.
Let’s guess at some of those 20 countries. Germany? There the guest-worker program has brought Islamic ethnic tensions to a boiling point.
Denmark? Nearly half of Danes consider Islam incompatible with democracy, and the devastating results of the Prophet Mohammed cartoons persist as an open wound.
France has burning cars, riots and an ongoing controversy over the veil. The Netherlands is now well known for its nasty debate over its growing Muslim population, and a far-right party calling for a halt to Islamic immigration has gained a foothold in Parliament.
Two-thirds of Swedes question whether Islam is compatible with Western society, and the Muslim Council of Britain claims that little progress had been made to stop Islamophobia in the last ten years.
And that’s just a small part of Europe. Need we look further? Has she also visited North America, Africa, the Mediterranean, or the former Soviet Union?
Ridley knows nothing of the multicultural dynamic in this country, and assumes too much about our laws and values. Sheik Philips' visitor application was not refused because we are a nation of Islamophobes. If the Immigration Minister is to be believed, Philips poses a potential risk to national security, which is hardly surprising given the allegation that he was a co-conspirator in the first World Trade Centre bombing in 1993.
Whether Ridley likes it or not, Australia has the sovereign right to deny visas to people deemed to be a danger to this country. She herself is free to visit and speak as she pleases, because she does not pose a security risk, in spite of being on Australian and FBI watch lists and a catalogue of invective that suggests she is ideologically committed to points of view that are anathema to most of us.
Apart from numerous extremist positions already referred to in these pages, and seeming defences of terrorism, she targeted one of her articles “at those nauseating little Zionists who accuse me of being an anti-Semite”. And though she feels free to indulge in a spot of defamatory nation-bashing, she’s not about to take it herself, as she makes clear in the same article (“However if any of those Zionist idiots continue to try and paint me as an anti-Semite I must warn you ... one of my closest friends is one of Britain's best defamation lawyers”).
Amir Butler ("Policing Thought" Herald Sun April 6, 2007) makes the same mistake. He states that it is Sheikh Philips’ views that have deemed him to be a security risk, without positing an iota of evidence to support this. He then exhorts us to consider the example of extremist ideologies that have been banished through a free airing: “Communism and Nazism were intellectually demolished and refuted”, he tells us. Perhaps, but only after the death of well over a hundred million, and the subjugation of many more.
If this is the price to pay to allow every ideologue the right to vent their bigotry, then our Government is right to impose judicious visa restrictions. And it’s not just about this Government. The Opposition has made it clear that this is a bipartisan issue.
Ridley should first get her facts straight. Australia is not a nation of Islamophobes, not in its own right nor by the standards of any other country. No doubt Ridley is angry to find herself exposed on the front pages. But her response in hurling unjustified insults our way shows clearly that she does not know us at all.
And for those who decry the non-appearance of Sheik Phillips, sorry, but it’s not open slather for everyone to come here. For most, in truth the overwhelming majority that includes Ridley, they can arrive and spout whatever nonsense they like. That doesn’t mean we are not entitled to have laws that protect us.