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Lesson of loathing

By Irfan Yusuf - posted Thursday, 22 March 2007

Late last year, I shared a podium at the New South Wales Parliament House with a radical cleric for the first time. That religious leader refused outright to condemn a terrorist organisation responsible for more suicide bombings than any terror outfit on earth. The cleric called on his religious group to take over politics in Australia. He also asked his congregation to pray for the houses of worship of other faiths to be pulled down.

But far from being condemned or threatened with prosecution, The Age reported that this cleric and his group are to receive a special video message from the Prime Minister. When this cleric faced a court hearing over religious vilification, he received a letter of support from the Treasurer.

The Herald Sun reported that acting Attorney-General Kevin Andrews expressed concern "about a pattern of behaviour among outspoken Islamic leaders". Perhaps he should also be concerned about a pattern of support his colleagues are showing to fringe Christian extremists. He might also ask the Prime Minister about the growing influence of Christian extremism in the membership of the NSW branch of the Liberal Party.


It seems that in the allegedly conservative world of federal Coalition politics, different rules of integration and tolerance apply to different religious groups. A firebrand preacher such as Feiz Muhammad must face the full force of tabloid columnists and even more tabloid politicians.

Meanwhile, Danny Nalliah can stand up in an Australian Parliament and call for the Christian right to take over Australian government and politics. When called upon to specifically condemn the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam, he can prevaricate and make excuses. And he can publish newsletters calling on his followers to pray for Hindu and Buddhist temples to be torn down. Politicians can support his organisation despite its links to anti-Semitic groups such as the League of Rights.

Recently, I asked my best mate from school about Nalliah. He is a practising Anglican and is heavily involved in organising church music in the Sydney diocese.

"Everyone knows that Danny Nalliah is a fruitloop. He doesn't represent mainstream Christianity," my friend replied.

My friend isn't alone in this view. Prominent Christian leaders (including an Anglican minister) appeared as witnesses in support of the Islamic Council of Victoria's action against Nalliah and his colleague.

Personally, I found the case troubling. I am not a huge fan of legislation that criminalises certain types of speech. But if such legislation is to be introduced, applied or strengthened, it should be done so across the board. Imams who use insulting language towards Jews should be prosecuted, as should shock-jocks who use hate-filled words to instigate race riots at Sydney beaches.


Further, when politicians go on the attack against extremism and non-integration, they should be consistent. The Prime Minister cannot condemn Muslim non-integration while remaining silent on religious congregations (such as the Exclusive Brethren) accused of actively undermining court orders and covering up allegations of sexual assault on minors.

Last year, the Prime Minister refused calls to allow radical imams to attend a national conference of imams organised by the Australian Multicultural Foundation. He said that his Government wouldn't deal with extremists.

Yet successive ministers (including the Prime Minister) continue to have dealings with Christian pastors and groups known for spreading venom against Muslims. Indeed, even in dealings with Muslims promoting radical forms of Islam, the Federal Government is showing inconsistency.

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First published in The Age on January 20, 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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