27 July 2005

Sheikh up

by Matt Rubinstein at 7:16 am

There’s something subtly wrong with everybody piling on top of cleric Sheikh Mohammed Omran for his comments in support of Osama bin Laden. Here’s what John Howard says:

Mr Howard says he thinks the Sheikh’s views would be unacceptable to the majority of Australians.

“He’s reaffirmed that he thinks bin Laden is a good man,” the Prime Minister said. “Heavens above … let’s just sit back and think for a moment.

“He says that bin Laden is a good man. Doesn’t that really prove my point?”

Now this is presented as relevant to the question of whether Muslim leaders and commentators should be allowed to express views that might directly or indirectly encourage terrorism, or whether they should more or less be compelled to actively condemn and discourage it. But what the Sheikh said actually isn’t relevant to that question at all.

What the Sheikh said is that he doesn’t think Osama bin Laden was involved in the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 or since, and accordingly that he’s a good man. Howard’s “Heavens above!” assumes what almost all of us believe—that bin Laden was responsible for many terrorist attacks—and gets all bent out of shape about how could anyone think a guy like that was a good man? But that doesn’t actually prove Howard’s point, it just begs the question.

Certainly if Sheikh Omran had acknowledged bin Laden’s terrorist leanings and praised him as a “good man&#8221, you’d be justified in thinking him a potentially dangerous condoner of terrorism and inciter of violence. But he’s not: he’s just a nutcase, like the hordes who believe in UFOs and Intelligent Design.

Opposition spokesman Kevin Rudd doesn’t do any better than the Prime Minister:

“For any Australian cleric to defend the actions of Osama bin Laden is unacceptable and un-Australian,” he said.

“And I would call upon the Sheikh to repudiate his comments in support of Osama bin Laden.”

Again, the Sheikh didn’t defend the actions of Osama bin Laden; he denied them. It’s a whole different thing. Lord knows whether it’s “un-Australian” or not, but I think we’re all getting excited about the wrong issue here. Plus, of course, giving national coverage to crackpot theories that would almost certainly just sink without ripple otherwise.

One Response to “Sheikh up”

  1. Attila Muhari Says:

    Even though the right to free speech is a fundamental principle of our Democracy, there are also provisions for some restrictions during times of War. Let’s make no mistake about it. Australia is at war… Just because there is no front-line, it doesn’t alter this fact. Statements made in support of our enemies only serve to undermine the efforts of our troops, and therefore should not be tolerated. If any Australian had made statements supporting the position of the Japanese or the Germans during World War 2, they would have been in serious strife…

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