In­side Q So­ci­ety’s sick, sad world

In the wake of their con­tro­ver­sial fundrais­ing din­ners, the Q So­ci­ety ex­plain their roots and their para­noid vi­sion of Aus­tralia’s fu­ture.

The Saturday Paper - - Front Page - Mike Sec­combe re­ports.

A Mel­bourne coun­cil in­stalls cur­tains at a pool so Mus­lim women can main­tain their mod­esty. In Afghanistan, a Bud­dhist em­pire falls. A Syd­ney school al­lows Mus­lim boys to de­cline to shake hands with women. And Egypt is no longer a Cop­tic Chris­tian coun­try.

The Mel­bourne Cricket Ground es­tab­lishes a Mus­lim prayer room. And Beirut is no longer the Paris of the Mid­dle East. Surely you see the con­nec­tions? If not, Deb­bie Robin­son, pres­i­dent of both the se­cre­tive Q So­ci­ety and its as­so­ci­ated po­lit­i­cal party, the Aus­tralian Lib­erty Al­liance, can ex­plain it all quite sim­ply.

“You can’t just have a lit­tle bit of Is­lam. It be­comes all-en­com­pass­ing,” she says. “It will de­stroy what­ever host coun­try and democ­racy it can take hold of.”

In Robin­son’s view, the global prob­lem of Is­lamic ter­ror­ism is not the re­sult of poverty, or marginal­i­sa­tion, or a per­ver­sion of the faith by a rel­a­tive few ex­trem­ists. The prob­lem is the re­li­gion it­self.

“The ha­tred and the di­vi­sion stems from the Ko­ran, the Ha­dith and Is­lamic teach­ings,” she says.

There is no mod­er­ate Is­lam, she says. Although some Mus­lims may not sub­scribe to “the hard­core part of Is­lam”, it is the ter­ror­ists who truly rep­re­sent the re­li­gion.

“To say they are mis­in­ter­pret­ing Is­lam is a non­sense be­cause peo­ple… Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi, the leader of Is­lamic State, has a PhD in Is­lamic the­ol­ogy. He un­der­stands the Ko­ran – just the same as Boko Haram, Ha­mas, Hezbol­lah – the Is­lamic teach­ings.”

Robin­son sees Is­lam as a wolf in sheep’s cloth­ing. Some­thing in­sid­i­ous. In West­ern coun­tries such as Aus­tralia, she tells The Satur­day Pa­per dur­ing a wild 30-minute ride of an in­ter­view that leaps un­pre­dictably across time and continents, “it’s not all about cut­ting off heads or cut­ting off hands”. But she sees the ap­par­ent risk.

It starts, she says, with “a sub­tle push and de­mand for Is­lamic prac­tices that is creep­ing into our so­ci­ety. As your Is­lamic pop­u­la­tion grows so do your de­mands for sharia-com­pli­ant prac­tices. It changes a so­ci­ety. Is­lam and sharia

are anath­ema to ev­ery­thing a West­ern democ­racy stands for.”

The Q So­ci­ety last week re­ceived un­wel­come at­ten­tion when Fair­fax news­pa­pers pub­lished a re­port of one of its fundrais­ers, re­plete with out­ra­geous quotes from the guest speak­ers, car­toon­ist Larry Pick­er­ing and Lib­eral politi­cian turned po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor Ross Cameron. A sec­ond din­ner, fea­tur­ing for­mer Lib­eral now in­de­pen­dent se­na­tor Cory Bernardi and Na­tion­als MP Ge­orge Chris­tensen, held at Vic­to­ria Uni­ver­sity’s con­ven­tion cen­tre, at­tracted protesters.

It was about seven years ago, at a meet­ing of like minds in the af­flu­ent sub­urb of Kew in Mel­bourne – the pho­netic for which gave the so­ci­ety its name – that the or­gan­i­sa­tion was born to de­fend Aus­tralian democ­racy from the per­ceived threat of Is­lam.

A web­site was set up. Is­lam, it said, is not just a re­li­gion, “but a to­tal­i­tar­ian ide­ol­ogy that does not sep­a­rate its law from its re­li­gious en­tity”.

It con­tin­ued: “Slowly but surely our Judeo-Chris­tian val­ues, ethics and cus­toms are be­ing re­placed.”

And, it warned: “If we con­tinue to tol­er­ate Is­lam with­out un­der­stand­ing it, Aus­tralia as a free, sec­u­lar democ­racy will be lost.”

That last sen­tence is par­tic­u­larly ironic, for the ev­i­dence of both the web­site and Robin­son’s words be­tray a star­tling ig­no­rance not only of Is­lam but of world his­tory.

First, though, a lit­tle more about the ac­tiv­i­ties of the Q So­ci­ety.

“We were founded in 2010 to in­form and ed­u­cate the pub­lic about Is­lam and sharia law,” Robin­son says. “We ran pub­lic events, we got fig­ures from over­seas. We worked to raise aware­ness. We lob­bied politi­cians, we at­tended in­quiries, with our con­cerns … about Is­lami­sa­tion and what it does to host coun­tries…”

Sadly for them, no one paid much at­ten­tion. They gen­er­ated some con­tro­versy back in March 2013 when they im­ported the Dutch star of the Euro­pean far right, Geert Wilders, to speak. They got some pub­lic­ity a cou­ple of years later by or­gan­is­ing protests against the con­struc­tion of a mosque in Bendigo. But com­mu­nity opin­ion ran against them and the mosque even­tu­ally got the go-ahead.

The usual shock jocks and rightwing colum­nists of­fered some sup­port, but the Q So­ci­ety never caught on big with the pub­lic. Robin­son claims a mail­ing list of about 20,000 peo­ple, but ad­mits the or­gan­i­sa­tion did not have the im­pact its founders had hoped for.

“We felt what we were do­ing was fall­ing on deaf ears and con­cluded a bet­ter way was to be­come po­lit­i­cal,” she says.

“So we formed the Aus­tralian Lib­erty Al­liance.”

The ALA was reg­is­tered by the Aus­tralian Elec­toral Com­mis­sion in Au­gust 2015. “It is not a one-is­sue party,” Robin­son says. “We have 20 core poli­cies.”

That’s half-true. A quick scan of the poli­cies re­veals a grab bag of vaguely de­scribed pop­ulist-right po­si­tions: de­fend­ing the con­sti­tu­tion, pro­mot­ing smaller gov­ern­ment, pri­vatis­ing SBS and parts of the ABC, cut­ting fund­ing for re­new­able en­ergy, low­er­ing taxes, en­cour­ag­ing greater pri­vate pro­vi­sion for health­care, ad­vanc­ing the “nat­u­ral fam­ily”, and “restor­ing civil so­ci­ety”, among oth­ers.

But a num­ber of nom­i­nally sep­a­rate poli­cies specif­i­cally re­late to the core con­cern of the Q So­ci­ety, Is­lam. One prom­ises to en­force “in­te­gra­tion over sep­a­ra­tion” by end­ing mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. An­other prom­ises to “stop the Is­lami­sa­tion of Aus­tralia”. The “Cit­i­zen­ship and Com­mu­nity Spirit” pol­icy would end tax breaks for “as­so­ci­a­tions formed around for­eign na­tion­al­i­ties”. There is also a core pol­icy that would end dual cit­i­zen­ship, and yet an­other that would ban the tak­ing of refugees from Africa, the Mid­dle East and Asia.

The ALA’s ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy would change the cur­ricu­lum to fos­ter “ap­pre­ci­a­tion of West­ern civil­i­sa­tion” and en­cour­age “a broader range of opin­ions and free­dom of speech”.

It does not take much de­cod­ing to un­der­stand what that means. By free­dom of speech, they mean free­dom to ma­lign those of other faiths. Like many oth­ers on the con­ser­va­tive side of Aus­tralian pol­i­tics, in­clud­ing a sub­stan­tial num­ber in the Lib­eral and Na­tional par­ties, Robin­son’s or­gan­i­sa­tions are ex­er­cised about sec­tion 18C of the Racial Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act, which makes it un­law­ful to act in such a way as to “of­fend, in­sult, humiliate or in­tim­i­date” peo­ple on the ba­sis of their race, colour or na­tional or eth­nic ori­gin.

Robin­son says 18C is a par­tic­u­larly glar­ing ex­am­ple of the pre­vail­ing “po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness” that lim­its groups such as hers from telling it like they see it. The Aus­tralian Lib­erty Al­liance cam­paigned hard for its abo­li­tion when they ran can­di­dates for the first time in last year’s elec­tion. The party also promised to ban full-face cov­er­ings in pub­lic, to put a 10-year mora­to­rium on res­i­dent visa ap­pli­ca­tions by peo­ple from 57 Mus­lim coun­tries, and to re­move Aus­tralia from the United Na­tions Refugee Con­ven­tion.

Once again, no one took much no­tice. The Aus­tralian Lib­erty Al­liance had brought Wilders back to Aus­tralia for the big cam­paign launch in Perth on Oc­to­ber 20, 2015, but there was lit­tle cut-through. It’s not that their anti-Is­lam, free speech mes­sage didn’t have ap­peal to a cer­tain po­lit­i­cal de­mo­graphic – it’s that the party lacked prod­uct dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion. The far right of Aus­tralian pol­i­tics is a crowded mar­ket these days, with es­tab­lished brands such as Jac­qui Lam­bie and the Chris­tian Democrats et al. And there was an­other prod­uct out there in elec­tion 2016, a “cat­e­gory killer” as they call it in mar­ket­ing. Pauline Han­son’s One Na­tion had a lock on the anti-Mus­lim vote.

The ALA recorded just 0.66 per cent of the se­nate vote in New South Wales and Vic­to­ria, 0.42 per cent in South Aus­tralia, 0.33 in Tas­ma­nia, 1.08 in Queens­land and 1.11 in West­ern Aus­tralia. Han­son, by con­trast, got four sen­a­tors elected.

It was a dread­ful re­sult, con­sid­er­ing Robin­son’s high hopes. But they had amassed a sub­stan­tial war chest for the elec­tion. Elec­toral com­mis­sion re­turns show the ALA re­ceived some $1.5 mil­lion in do­na­tions in 2015-16, only $60,000, or 4 per cent, of which were iden­ti­fied by donor.

When asked about the money, Robin­son said: “I am not pre­pared to talk about where that comes from.”

Nor would she com­ment on whether the dis­mal 2016 se­nate re­sult had ended the elec­toral as­pi­ra­tions of the Q So­ci­ety/ALA. “Our fo­cus at the mo­ment is a court case.”

The case she refers to is a defama­tion ac­tion brought by Mo­hamed El-Mouelhy, the head of the Halal Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion Author­ity, who is mak­ing a claim against two Q So­ci­ety videos fea­tur­ing Kir­ralie Smith, an ALA se­nate can­di­date for NSW. It is part of what is putting the Q So­ci­ety in head­lines at the mo­ment, along­side the con­tro­ver­sial din­ner func­tions con­ducted to raise money for Smith’s de­fence.

The videos in­cluded claims oftre­peated by the anti-Is­lam move­ment that the halal cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in­dus­try in Aus­tralia is part of the push towards Is­lami­sa­tion of the coun­try, is cor­rupt and pro­vides sup­port to ter­ror­ists. But where such claims are usu­ally gen­er­alised, the Smith videos iden­ti­fied El-Mouelhy by name, and showed his com­pany logo.

Re­port­edly, the videos were viewed more than 60,000 times be­fore they were taken down. If you try to find them now, you get a black screen with a con­cerned look­ing emoji-like face on it and a mes­sage: “This con­tent is not avail­able on this coun­try do­main due to a defama­tion com­plaint. Sorry about that.”

The case is yet to be heard, but it would ap­pear Smith and the Q So­ci­ety are in a fair de­gree of trou­ble and up for con­sid­er­able le­gal ex­pense what­ever the out­come.

The big­ger ques­tion, though, is why the Q So­ci­ety – and so many oth­ers on the anti-Is­lam right of pol­i­tics – gets so ag­i­tated about sharia law and halal cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Halal cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of food sim­ply means that it is guar­an­teed suit­able for con­sump­tion by Mus­lims, just as kosher cer­ti­fi­ca­tion does for Jews. In prac­ti­cal terms, for the Aus­tralian con­sumer, there is no dif­fer­ence be­tween food that has been cer­ti­fied halal and that which has not. It is nu­tri­tion­ally iden­ti­cal, it tastes no dif­fer­ent, it is pro­duced ac­cord­ing to the same stan­dards of hy­giene and an­i­mal wel­fare.

It’s just one of those re­li­gious things that seem strange to those who do not ad­here to the par­tic­u­lar re­li­gion, like the sacra­men­tal wine Catholics sip in church. Ab­sent the re­li­gious el­e­ment, it’s just wine. And ab­sent the re­li­gious el­e­ment, halal is just food.

But cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is im­por­tant to many Mus­lims and also to the Aus­tralian food in­dus­try, for which halal ex­ports are worth bil­lions of dol­lars.

Of course, there would be cause for con­cern if there were ev­i­dence that, as the Q So­ci­ety and oth­ers have re­peat­edly claimed, the scheme was pro­vid­ing money to fund ter­ror­ism. But the rel­e­vant in­tel­li­gence agen­cies as­sured an in­quiry into food cer­ti­fi­ca­tion by the se­nate eco­nomics ref­er­ences com­mit­tee a lit­tle over a year ago that there was no ev­i­dence of that. Nor was there ev­i­dence of money be­ing si­phoned off to any other im­proper ends. Nor do the big food in­dus­try lobby groups ex­press any se­ri­ous con­cern about the way the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion regime works.

So, again, why the con­cern from the Q So­ci­ety and oth­ers on the po­lit­i­cal far right?

Josh Roose, the di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Re­li­gion, Pol­i­tics and So­ci­ety at the Aus­tralian Catholic Uni­ver­sity, puts it down to “para­noia”. This para­noia has strange ex­pres­sions.

In 2011, the Lib­eral mem­ber for Cowan, West­ern Aus­tralia, Luke Simp­kins, pre­sented a pe­ti­tion in fed­eral par­lia­ment on be­half of con­stituents con­cerned that un­la­belled halal food was so com­mon in Aus­tralian su­per­mar­kets that “you can­not pur­chase the meat for your Aussie bar­be­cue with­out the in­flu­ence of this mi­nor­ity re­li­gion”.

He used the oc­ca­sion to show off his knowl­edge of Is­lam, quot­ing Mo­hammed: “The non­be­liev­ers will be­come Mus­lims when, amongst other things, they eat the meat that we have slaugh­tered.”

Simp­kins em­pha­sised the point. “This is one of the key as­pects to con­vert­ing non­be­liev­ers to Is­lam,” he said. “By hav­ing Aus­tralians un­wit­tingly eat­ing halal food we are all one step down the path towards the con­ver­sion…”

Whether Simp­kins – who lost his seat in 2016 to La­bor’s Anne Aly, a Mus­lim aca­demic spe­cial­is­ing in de­rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion – ac­tu­ally be­lieved what he was say­ing about con­ver­sion by in­ges­tion is un­know­able. Roose notes, though, that in re­cent years the right of pol­i­tics has in­creas­ingly “come to see re­li­gion as some­thing to be ma­nip­u­lated”.

No claim is too im­plau­si­ble and no hypocrisy too great to be called to their po­lit­i­cal ends.

“So you have this irony of them ex­press­ing pseudo con­cern for things like women’s rights and the treat­ment of ho­mo­sex­u­als un­der Is­lam,” Roose says, “from a group of peo­ple that tra­di­tion­ally have not been at the fore­front of ad­vo­cat­ing for such things. In­deed, who have been at the fore­front of per­se­cut­ing ho­mo­sex­u­als.”

Ex­am­ples aren’t hard to find. Fair­fax’s Jac­que­line Ma­ley gave us a flyon-the-wall ac­count of the first of the Q So­ci­ety fundrais­ers last week, fea­tur­ing

Larry Pick­er­ing and Ross Cameron.

Cameron’s speech fea­tured var­i­ous gay slurs, di­rected at Ma­ley’s em­ployer, The Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald, at the

NSW Lib­eral Party, which he de­rided as “ba­si­cally a gay club”, and, for no clear rea­son, at some an­cient Ro­mans.

Let’s fo­cus on Pick­er­ing, though, who said he could not stand Mus­lims, but that “they are not all bad – they do chuck pil­low-biters off build­ings”.

Ma­ley re­ported that he “do­nated for auc­tion one of his own works de­pict­ing the rape of a woman in a niqab by her sonin-law”. It fetched $600, to go towards the le­gal de­fence in Kir­ralie Smith’s defama­tion case.

Point­less vul­gar­ity has long been Pick­er­ing’s metier, and rape is a re­cur­ring mo­tif. Crikey’s Bernard Keane de­scribed one Pick­er­ing work of about five years ago: “Re­tired right-wing car­toon­ist Larry Pick­er­ing has por­trayed Ju­lia Gil­lard as a dildo-wield­ing rapist in a car­toon on his web­site.” Keane elab­o­rated on the im­age, not­ing the man she was pre­par­ing to anally pen­e­trate was “strapped face down to a sur­gi­cal ta­ble” while Gil­lard, aided by Wayne Swan and Greg Com­bet, sug­gested “it will help cool the planet”.

There is much more that could be said about Pick­er­ing, his dodgy busi­ness deal­ings and his colour­ful pri­vate life. But the point is made: he would not seem the ideal choice to be guest speaker for an or­gan­i­sa­tion ded­i­cated to up­hold­ing tra­di­tional Aus­tralian JudeoChris­tian val­ues. Surely he could only harm the cause.

When I put this to Deb­bie

Robin­son, she de­murs.

“Peo­ple have worked them­selves into a lather and missed the point,” she says. “Larry Pick­er­ing at­tended a fundraiser for free­dom of speech. The whole point is to be free to speak.”

Fur­ther­more, she says, he is not a Q So­ci­ety mem­ber, nor a spokesman for it. The real prob­lem is a me­dia that “thrives on sen­sa­tion­al­ism”. That, she says, and po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness.

“You don’t give of­fence, you take of­fence. What of­fends one per­son may not of­fend an­other per­son.”

One per­son – such as Robin­son, per­haps – might be of­fended by the in­stal­la­tion of cur­tains at a swim­ming pool to pro­tect the mod­esty of Is­lamic women bathers. An­other per­son might take of­fence at the de­pic­tion of a Mus­lim woman be­ing raped by a fam­ily mem­ber.

Peo­ple have dif­fer­ent stan­dards, and ap­par­ently Q So­ci­ety mem­bers have no ob­jec­tion to vi­o­lent im­ages or hate speech di­rected at Mus­lims. And if they did, we prob­a­bly wouldn’t know about it any­way – the so­ci­ety makes mem­bers sign non-dis­clo­sure agree­ments. Back in June 2014, the Mur­doch pa­pers got hold of one and pub­lished it.

The agree­ment pro­hib­ited mem­bers of the free-speech-de­fend­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion from re­veal­ing any in­for­ma­tion re­lat­ing to the “per­sonal de­tails of fel­low mem­bers, sup­port­ers, as­so­ciates such as names, ad­dresses, tele­phone num­bers and other con­tact de­tails as well as op­er­a­tional man­u­als, meth­ods, com­puter soft­ware, works of art, drafts and de­signs, fi­nan­cial data, places of meet­ings, se­crets and other pro­pri­etary in­for­ma­tion re­lated to the past, cur­rent, fu­ture and pro­posed ac­tiv­i­ties of the So­ci­ety, and any other in­for­ma­tion which is priv­i­leged, pro­pri­etary and con­fi­den­tial”.

Se­cre­tive is an un­der­state­ment. Apart from its cou­ple of spokes­peo­ple, its se­nate can­di­dates and a few high-pro­file con­ser­va­tive po­lit­i­cal fig­ures – no­tably Cory Bernardi and Ge­orge Chris­tensen – we know very lit­tle about the mem­ber­ship of the Q So­ci­ety.

So any as­sess­ment has to be ob­ser­va­tional. Dr Ben­jamin T. Jones,

ARC fel­low of the school of his­tory at Aus­tralian Na­tional Uni­ver­sity, says he went “un­der­cover” to a Q So­ci­ety event in March 2013, when Geert Wilders was here.

Se­cu­rity was very tight. Be­fore be­ing al­lowed into the con­fer­ence room, peo­ple had to pro­duce their re­ceipt of pay­ment and photo iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, pass through a metal de­tec­tor and be sub­ject to a bag search. While wait­ing, he chat­ted to Ge­orge Chris­tensen. The Rev­erend Fred Nile of the Chris­tian Demo­cratic Party was ush­ered to the front of the line.

“It was a very white crowd,”

Jones says.

But the first speaker was not. That was Sam Solomon, a for­mer Mus­lim. The Q So­ci­ety, says Jones, is very sen­si­tive to the charge of racism, and its lead­er­ship makes a point of cit­ing non-white crit­ics of Is­lam. What they don’t tend to do, how­ever, is cite athe­ist crit­ics of Is­lam.

“Sec­u­lar thinkers like Sam

Har­ris, Richard Dawkins and the late Christo­pher Hitchens all crit­i­cised

Is­lam with­out racism or big­otry. How­ever, that was in a larger frame­work of ques­tion­ing the logic and value of all re­li­gion. With a strong Chris­tian base, the Q So­ci­ety is re­luc­tant to draw heav­ily on athe­ist aca­demics as the way they crit­i­cise Is­lam tends to be ap­pli­ca­ble to Chris­tian­ity also.”

An­other fea­ture that dis­tin­guishes the Q So­ci­ety, apart from its se­crecy and strong fun­da­men­tal­ist Chris­tian base, say those who have ob­served the party, is the so­cial class of its lead­er­ship.

“These are not One Na­tion bo­gans,” says one.

Suresh Ra­jan, a for­mer head of the Eth­nic Com­mu­ni­ties Coun­cil of West­ern Aus­tralia who has ef­fec­tively lob­bied lo­cal may­ors, hote­liers and oth­ers to deny venues for Q So­ci­ety and ALA func­tions, says the same thing, more diplo­mat­i­cally.

“In this state at least, they are pro­fes­sional peo­ple, com­fort­ably off, liv­ing in the flash sub­urbs,” he says of Q So­ci­ety lead­ers. “The na­tional pres­i­dent, Robin­son, is mar­ried to a med­i­cal spe­cial­ist. The party’s other WA se­nate can­di­date is a se­nior aca­demic at the Uni­ver­sity of West­ern Aus­tralia.”

The ALA’s can­di­date pro­files sug­gest the same is true else­where. They are med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als, teach­ers, small busi­ness op­er­a­tors, for­mer in­tel­li­gence and mil­i­tary peo­ple. Kir­ralie Smith claims an as­so­ciate diploma in ap­plied sci­ences, a diploma of min­istry, and a bach­e­lor of the­ol­ogy. On pa­per, they look like the Lib­eral Party.

The same is not nec­es­sar­ily true of their fol­low­ers. The 2013 meet­ing Jones at­tended drew “a very eclec­tic crowd”, he says – ev­ery­thing from re­spectablelook­ing busi­ness­men to skin­heads who con­spic­u­ously did not join in the ap­plause at the men­tion of Is­rael’s strug­gle against Is­lam. The au­di­ence mem­bers, he says, were “united only in their ex­treme dis­like of Is­lam”.

Let’s re­turn to Robin­son’s ar­tic­u­la­tion of that ex­trem­ism.

The thing that dis­tin­guishes Is­lam from Chris­tian­ity, Ju­daism and other re­li­gions, she says, is that the lat­ter have been through a re­for­ma­tion.

“They have, in fact, changed,” she says. “There is no chang­ing with Is­lam. They are em­u­lat­ing a prophet who by to­day’s stan­dards was a pae­dophile, he was a war­lord. This what the fol­low­ers of Is­lam hold up as be­ing true.”

She rat­tles off her ir­ri­ta­tions with Is­lam: the cur­tained swim­ming pool, the boys who won’t shake hands, the fact that she once went to hear an Is­lamic speaker and found the au­di­ence was seg­re­gated by sex.

“Do you not see things hap­pen­ing around you?” she says. “We now have Is­lamic prayer rooms at the MCG. That is part of the push for all things Is­lamic.”

But why, I ask, is it a prob­lem if fa­cil­i­ties for Mus­lim wor­ship are be­ing in­stalled at sporting venues?

And sud­denly she is off through time and space.

“Take for ex­am­ple a coun­try like Le­banon, which was once the Paris of the Mid­dle East,” she says. “It was mul­ti­faith, a Chris­tian coun­try. And now the de­mand for Is­lamic prac­tice – it’s no longer that coun­try. The same with Afghanistan, which was once a Bud­dhist coun­try. Just take a look at Egypt, which was once a Cop­tic Chris­tian coun­try.”

Some of this is true, if you take a very long view. But the Mau­ryan Bud­dhist em­pire in Afghanistan fell about 200 years be­fore Christ, let alone Mo­hammed. And there were other in­vaders, such as Genghis Khan, who was no kinder to Mus­lims than he was to Bud­dhists.

The Copts of Egypt came into con­flict with the Ro­mans – who

IT’S NOT THAT THEIR ANTI-IS­LAM, FREE SPEECH MES­SAGE DIDN’T HAVE AP­PEAL TO A CER­TAIN PO­LIT­I­CAL DE­MO­GRAPHIC – IT’S THAT THE PARTY LACKED PROD­UCT DIF­FER­EN­TI­A­TION. THE FAR RIGHT OF AUS­TRALIAN POL­I­TICS IS A CROWDED MAR­KET THESE DAYS.

prac­tised a dif­fer­ent brand of Chris­tian­ity – long be­fore the Mus­lims took over. And are we re­ally still hold­ing that against Is­lam 1400 years later? What about other ex­pan­sion­ist re­li­gions of the past cou­ple of mil­len­nia, such as Chris­tian­ity?

As for Le­banon, it is still a mul­ti­faith coun­try, and its con­sti­tu­tion and po­lit­i­cal sys­tem at­tempt to bal­ance the var­i­ous faiths, says Rai­han Is­mail, lec­turer in the Cen­tre for Arab and Is­lamic Stud­ies at ANU and a spe­cial­ist in Is­lamic law and ju­rispru­dence.

“In Le­banon, the pres­i­dent of the coun­try must be a Chris­tian,” she says. “The speaker of the house must be a Shi­ite and the prime min­is­ter a Sunni.”

There is sharia law for per­sonal sta­tus mat­ters, such as di­vorces, cus­tody cases, in­her­i­tances, but there are sim­i­lar re­li­gious courts for Chris­tians, too.

What the crit­ics of Is­lam don’t re­alise is that sharia is prac­tised to dif­fer­ent de­grees in dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances and in dif­fer­ent coun­tries, Is­mail says.

At the most ba­sic level, it dic­tates purely per­sonal acts.

“So its about how you pray, how you fast, how you deal with your neigh­bours, and re­la­tions with God,” she says.

“The sec­ond cat­e­gory is civil mat­ters, busi­ness deal­ings. In South­East Asia in par­tic­u­lar, and in some parts of the Mid­dle East, it’s a big is­sue, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to bank­ing.

“The third can be con­tro­ver­sial – that is the per­sonal sta­tus is­sue. In most Mus­lim so­ci­eties, in­clud­ing In­done­sia, Malaysia and Egypt, they have sharia courts deal­ing with those things.”

But the fourth cat­e­gory, crim­i­nal law – the sharia that Is­lam­o­phobes as­so­ciate with me­di­ae­val pun­ish­ments – is prac­tised in only a cou­ple of coun­tries: Iran and Saudi Ara­bia.

“The over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of Mus­lim coun­tries ap­ply sec­u­lar le­gal sys­tems, often in­her­ited from the Bri­tish, French, Dutch or other colo­nial pow­ers,” Is­mail says.

In most of the Mus­lim world, she says, “the lib­eral ac­tivists, women’s ad­vo­cates, the pro­gres­sive NGOs have won the de­bate” about the fu­ture di­rec­tion of the faith.

You won’t per­suade the likes of the Q So­ci­ety of that, though.

“I don’t see that it will ever be re­formed,” says Deb­bie Robin­son. “I think Don­ald Trump is right. We’ve got to

• draw a line in the sand.”

Q So­ci­ety and ALA pres­i­dent Deb­bie Robin­son (sec­ond from right) with (from left) Kir­ralie Smith, Dutch politi­cian Geert Wilders and

ALA mem­ber Bernard Gaynor.

MIKE SEC­COMBE is The Satur­day Pa­per’s na­tional cor­re­spon­dent.

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