Now, it might be that I’m in a bad mood because my poor baby has gastro and has been up half the night for the last two nights. It’s so distressing when one’s child is sick. But I read Michael Leunig’s opinion piece in The Age this morning, and I felt the steam coming out of my ears.
I used to love Leunig’s cartoons of 10 or 15 years ago, but I have liked very little of his recent work (over the last 10 years). His work has lost any subtlety and has a humourless and strident quality. He is obsessed with his hatred of John Howard, George Bush, Israel and the Iraq War, to the extent that he seems to defend the conduct of Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden and Palestinian suicide bombers. As I have said previously, I don’t like this attitude. I don’t support everything Howard, Bush or the Israeli government have done, but on the other hand, this doesn’t mean that I support or excuse Hussein, bin Laden or suicide bombers.
Leunig’s piece is a defence of the Mufti’s recent sermon. Again, he seems to think that to disagree with John Howard, one must support Hilaly. Leunig compares himself with the male green turtle. If you ask me, this is an insult to the green turtle. I love green turtles. If one reads the extract in his piece about the sexualisation of society, it’s clear Leunig is a sick, sick man and that he has “issues“. He is quite extraordinarily misogynistic – hence the sympathy for Hilaly.
“Sometimes a religious figure, such as a mufti, makes a sermon about human nature, rape and the general sexual madness – a bit like parents do to their children in private: “Look after yourself, take responsibility – there are some dark forces and crazy people out there who will destroy you if you’re not careful.” But the mufti uses ripe, rustic language, earthy metaphors and unpleasant ideas. He is set up and set upon by a national newspaper and told to shut up and resign. The Prime Minister chimes in. The mufti is denounced.But while we may not agree with everything he says, we sort of understand something of what he’s trying to get at. In the great tradition that Australians are meant to admire, he’s at least having a go in difficult terrain where all sorts of silver-tongue-tied experts are refusing to travel and are remaining silent about.”
Leunig’s argument seems to be: “Oh, come on guys, that’s the kind of unique view that these funny, crazy Mussies have, let it go through to the keeper. It’s just a cultural thing.” I find his stereotyping of different cultures patronising and offensive. Not all Muslims believe as Hilaly does. If I was a Muslim, I’d be pretty irritated at being junked with Hilaly. Leunig is committing the same sin as many others: seeing Islam as a monolithic entity with set cultural practices. As I will discuss below, this is a common error.
I suspect that Leunig has not actually read a translation of Hilaly’s sermon. The mufti wasn’t just saying, “Hey girls, don’t walk alone in dark places late at night. If you’re out partying, make sure you stay with friends, and don’t get so drunk that men can take advantage of you.” If Hilaly had said that, the furore surrounding is comments would be extremely unjust.
I don’t think Hilaly’s sermon is “just a cultural thing”. As I have argued in a previous post, Hilaly argued that it is excusable if men lose their self-control and rape women who are immodestly dressed. Immodest doesn’t just mean dressing like the Pussycat Dolls (ie, walking around in one’s lingerie as if one is fully dressed). As I have also discussed in another post, that kind of overtly sexualised image disturbs me too, along with the images of sexualised pre-pubscent girls and the like. But under Hilaly’s definition immodest means not wearing a veil. Shorts are immodest, t-shirts are immodest, knee-length skirts are immodest, swimming costumes are immodest. The majority of Australian women (Muslim and non-Muslim) are immodest. And thus, we’re asking for it. Of course Hilaly is entitled to express his opinion, but the corollary is that I am allowed to express my opinion in return that his sermon is offensive. And I would argue that he is not just expressing an opinion, he is saying to members of his congregation that it is excusable if they don’t behave according to Australian law. As the supposed representative of Islam in this country, his sermon was highly inappropriate.
Leunig says that the criticism of Hilaly is just another example of “gleichshaltung” (the word used to describe the homogenisation of culture in Nazi Germany). He says:
“Fascism is the stronger word but gleichshaltung seems more appropriate to describe the thing we have come to know as the globalised, homogenised, new Australian value system.”
I do think that politicians do use Islam and the war on terror as political capital (uniting the rest of Australia in fear against Muslims). I also think we have to careful about swallowing this wholesale. Unfortuantely, Hilaly is his religion’s own worst enemy in this respect. He was, until recently, the purported representative of Islam in Australia. It isn’t hard to convince the Australian people that Islam is a scary, alien religion when one reads his sermon about women and hears him say that he will only stand down when the White House is obliterated.
I really hate the overuse of the word “fascism”. The quote above from Leunig provides yet another example. In Australia, Hilaly is free to say whatever he wishes. He will not be jailed or put in a gulag or put to death for his sermon. The only thing he has to deal with is the community response to his opinion. This is part of being a public figure and a representative of one’s faith (look at the recent furore surrounding the Pope and Islam). John Howard can be described as a fascist when he sets himself up as a dictator, summarily executes Hilaly and starts rounding up Muslims and putting them in gas chambers. And if he does so, I will be one of the first to stand up and fight him.
I refuse to accept that, by criticisng Hilally, I am Islamophobic. I have some knowledge of the traditions of Islam and its different strands (Shi’a, Sunni and Sufi). I recognise that there is an incredibly broad spectrum of Muslim beliefs in Australia, and Hilaly’s views are not representative of the views of all Muslims. From my observations, the traditions one follows in Islam seem to depend first, on what area of the world one comes from and secondly, on what one’s family traditions are.
From my point of view, it is very important that Muslims in Australia be able to display outward signs of their inner faith without fear, where this means worshipping Allah, praying three or five times a day to Mecca, eating Halal food, wearing a hijab or a taqiyah, going on Hajj, keeping fast for Ramadan, having a festival for Eid and going to mosque on a Friday. I strongly support the right of every Muslim in Australia to follow these practices if they wish to do so. Further, I respect all of these beliefs and traditions. So for example, when I visited a mosque, I covered my head out of respect for the beliefs of the people who worshipped there. As far as I am concerned, that is simple good manners. I hope most Australians would also be supportive of diverse beliefs and traditions.
But I cannot support someone who says that men shouldn’t be expected to restrain themselves from raping or sexually assaulting women who don’t cover themselves up, and that this is a precept of his religion. I don’t care what religion it is. Since I was a small girl, I have felt safe wearing a swimming costume at the beach or wearing a pair of shorts when walking to the milkbar. I have not feared that by doing so, I am leaving myself open to be sexually assaulted or raped. I want my daughter to grow up feeling the same. Hilaly’s sermon shows that he does not respect me : he thinks I am a “slut” who “asks for it” because of what I wear. Nor does he respect my feminist beliefs and traditions. I think it is rude for Hilaly to come to my country and say that I deserve to be raped because I am wearing my traditional dress (for that is what it is).
I am not asking for “gleichshaltung” or homogenised culture. I am not asking Muslims (or anyone else) to give up their religious beliefs and practices such as festivals, specific dress, specific foods and specific prayers and forms of worship. But I am asking Hilaly and those who believe as he does to respect my culture and beliefs as I respect theirs. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable thing to ask.
I have discovered an interesting blog by Irfan Yusuf giving his perception as an Australian Muslim on these issues. I recommend it.
I have been trying to find an online copy of a cartoon by Leunig which featured in the paper a little while back; it featured a character called “Mr Lust” who spent all day ogling women and then had no lust left for his wife. Here is an interesting discussion of this cartoon in the context of the Hilaly furore.
I couldn’t find a copy of the “Mr Lust” cartoon, but I did find a copy of the cartoon featured below. Geez that guy really does have issues.
Here is an interesting article by a liberal American Muslim woman.
(Via Tim Blair).