Ideological passion sells us short
Illustration: Michael Mucci.
It takes more than an hour for 75,000 people to pass by, even when they are in a hurry. Yesterday, as the record field in this year's City2Surf ran, scampered or shuffled along New South Head Road, they made an uplifting and democratic sight on a beautiful winter morning and in a beautiful setting. Diversity, frivolity, community. This is who we are - one country, one law, one common language, one community, where the great majority of people are not political, not ideological, and not concerned with dictating their beliefs to others.
This is the social glue that makes Australia work.
A surfeit of ideological passion brings problems and pain, and the reason Australia is not riven with social schisms is that the demographic ballast is provided by the apolitical tolerance of the great majority. The subcultures that do have a surfeit of desire to dictate to others are small in number. The most problematic of these subcultures are devout adherents of sharia. As believers in the primacy of sharia and the divine truth of the Koran, they are deeply compromised by living in a society built on civil law and secular customs. Our legal system is an imposition on them.
The events in Sydney and Melbourne in the past week, with the arrest of five Muslim fundamentalists whose contempt for Australia is manifest, is a reminder that the argument propagated in our universities, human rights bureaucracies and sections of the media that Muslims are a put-upon minority in Australia, sells this country short. There are problems. The problems are self-evident. But they are not, in the main, the product of prejudice.
All five of those arrested on terrorism charges were treated with great generosity by Australia as they set up new lives here. But their behaviour in court has been an exemplar of the problem of reconciling sharia with civil law. One of the accused, Wissam Fattal, refused to stand as the magistrate read out the charges and followed this with a torrent of abuse as he was led out of the court. Another of those charged, Nayef El Sayed, informed the court he would stand for no man, only for his God.
In other words, they accept only sharia, the rest is a charade.
Even the family and supporters of the accused went out of their way to express contempt for the legal system and, by extension, the society it represents. Reporters were called ''faggots'' and ''dickheads'' amid a general attitude of animus recorded by the journalists covering the proceedings.
I have observed the same thing first-hand numerous times during criminal trials involving Muslim defendants, families and supporters.
In every case, the idea that Muslims are in trouble because they have been ''marginalised'' by society is reality turned on its head. They are the ones who have marginalised a society they are happy to exploit but not respect.
The most-quoted apologist for the argument that Muslims in Australia are oppressed by prejudice is Keysar Trad, a self-appointed spokesman and ubiquitous quote machine who has been a media darling for years. Trad describes himself as the head of the Islamic Friendship Society - but friendship is not what he is about and his society is invisible.
His main claim to fame has been as the long-time spokesman, and chief rationaliser, for the prominent and Muslim cleric, Sheikh Taj el-Din al-Hilaly, whose corrosive pronouncements are infamous. Al-Hilaly and Trad are mainstream figures in Australian Muslim society. They are not fringe dwellers.
I have always believed Trad to be a vexatious litigant, a lobbyist, a person who, even if he has good intentions, has been someone who divides, not unifies, while professing the opposite.
For 10 years I have marvelled at the free run Trad has had in the media and academia. It finally came to a crashing end recently when he collided with one of the finest judges of Australia, Peter McClellan of the NSW Supreme Court.
Trad is a veteran complainant across the entire spectrum of the human rights machinery - the courts, the Human Rights Commission, the Anti-Discrimination Board, the Australian Press Council, the broadcasting tribunals. One of his numerous forays as a complainant was a defamation action against radio station 2GB, and the presenter Jason Morrison, after Morrison described him as ''gutless'' and ''trouble'' on air in 2005.
Justice McClellan threw out Trad's action. Not only did the judge describe Morrison's description of Trad as true, he summarised Trad as a man who ''incites acts of violence, incites racist attitudes, is dangerous and, perhaps most significantly, is a disgraceful individual''.
This is a thunderous and overdue dose of reality from a judge with an exemplary record of recognising the deformities within the legal system and doing something to reform them. His judicial excoriation of Trad is not even the most damning element of Trad v Harbour Radio.
The cost of this litigation has been about $400,000 as Trad spent almost four years using the legal system to wage ideological trench warfare. Now he faces the prospect of having to foot the entire bill.
It is the time, cost and hypocrisy of this complaint that is critical.
Justice McClellan's judgment should be required reading for every media executive and every lawyer and functionary at the Human Rights Commission, the Anti-Discrimination Board, and the various media tribunals. His judgment exposes the fatal weakness in the ever-burgeoning human rights industry. It is the complaint, not the outcome, that is most important to the complainant. The sheer bloody-minded willingness to engage in legal hand-to-hand combat, the threat of formal complaints, and the effort and distraction of responding to complaints, is the entire point. The process itself is the outcome. The object is to chill debate and critical scrutiny.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald