Tag Archives: Mark Pearson

Reporting Islam in the Approved Way

When I get ‘mindful’ about Islam, as urged by a think-tank at Griffith University, I recall the fire in a Mecca girls’ school that saw religious police force children back into the flames because they were deemed insufficiently modest to warrant rescue

beheaded corpsesWith help from lslamic community leaders, the Reporting Islam think-tank at Queensland’s Griffith University  re-educates journalists nationally to report Islamic issues “more mindfully” (whatever that means).  It’s not as though the ABC, SBS and Fairfax need any encouragement. 

The unit, billed as a world-first flagship in terms of educating journos about Islam,  got at least $445,000 grants for 2014-16 from the Attorney-General’s department in the Abbott government era. The AG’s top-level contractor for service delivery is the Queensland Police Force. Predictably, the unit won a Multicultural Award from the Queensland Government and SBS last year.

Like most of our universities, Griffith swarms with Islam-friendly academics (except, maybe, in the LBGTI etc safe spaces).  Griffith University’s funding has also included $100,000 direct from Saudi Arabia, that bastion of academic freedom and respect for women, gays and Christians. This $100,000 a decade ago went to Griffith’s Islamic Research Unit (GIRU). Graham Perrett, Labor MHR for Moreton and a Griffith U fan, told Parliament, not altogether re-assuringly, that  “Griffith University is just one of many institutions throughout the world to receive funding from the Saudi government.”

When I get “mindful” about Islam, as urged by Reporting Islam, I recall the episode in 2002 when a girls’ school in Mecca caught fire. The religious police, instead of helping the young girls to escape, locked them in or forced them back into the blaze. Why? Because the girls weren’t in proper Islamic dress; were not necessarily escorted by male guardians; and might create sexual frissons with the firemen. Fifteen girls burned to death.[1] Saudi’s public beheadings and all that? Watch if you dare.GRAPHIC material

However, nothing the Saudis get up to is as horrific as the deeds of the self-described Islamic State, which are nothing to do with Islam. There was an (STRONG CAUTION: GRAPHIC MATERIAL) ISIS video published a month ago showing a prisoner hog-tied to playground equipment. A boy of about six years is given a large knife and saws the live prisoner’s head half off.[2]

Close to home, nothing-to-do-with-Islam incidents have included

  • In 2006 Shaykh Taj El-Din Hamid Hilaly, Mufti (or Grand Mufti) of Australia, gave a sermon in Arabic to a 500-strong crowd in the Lakemba Mosque describing  immodestly-dressed women as ‘cat’s meat’  inciting rapists. [3]  Hilaly also quoted approvingly an Islamic scholar who said women who were raped should be arrested and jailed for life for provoking males. Hilaly, who was appointed Mufti by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils in 1988, had a subsequent history of anti-Semitic and pro-terrorist statements.
  • Melbourne Muslim cleric and terror cell leader Abdul Benbrika was convicted in 2008 of leading a terrorist network which wanted to blow up the 2005 MCG Grand Final crowd and blow up Crown casino on Grand Prix weekend.
  • The late Farhad Jabar, 15,  in 2015 was allegedly handed the gun which he used to kill Parramatta police worker Curtis Cheng, in the female section of the Parramatta mosque. Jabar shortly before had listened to a sermon in the mosque from extremist Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir.
  • Four men are under arrest in Melbourne for allegedly planning a Christmas Day attack on St Paul’s Cathedral,   Flinders Street Station, and Federation Square.

These sorts of things make it hard for earnest reporters to keep up the positive spin on Islam. But Griffith’s Reporting Islam unit will be their coach, with the backing of the journos’ union, the MEAA. Key people on the team include   leader Associate Professor Jacqui Ewart,  and Professor Mark Pearson, a one-time reporter for The Australian.[4] They are supported by manager Dr Abdi Hersi, and other Muslim researchers and trainers.

Ewart says the unit started in 2014 after research showed routine negative stereotyping of Muslims in the media.  The team laments that anti-Islamist reporting not only isolates Muslims but inspires “ violence and vitriol against law-abiding Australians who are Muslim, and encourag(es) youth radicalization.”

The unit’s main message is that the great majority of Australian Muslims are decent, law-abiding and worthy citizens. Hersi puts it, “Muslims are not terrorists. Islam is not a religion of terrorism. We need to be very responsible in the way in which we cover stories of certain individuals engaging in criminal activities.” (My emphasis).[5]

Reporters need to promote inter-cultural harmony, the team says, so that fewer Muslims will get annoyed at negative media coverage and “become radicalised” – and we know what that can lead to.

Among the questions journos are meant to ask themselves are, “Does my proposed angle make the basic error of portraying Islam and Muslims as a threat to national identity and a particular way of life?” (My emphasis). It might not be such a “basic error” had the alleged Christmas triple-bomb plot in Melbourne succeeded.

The Reporting Islam philosophy had its apotheosis in Cologne on New Year’s Eve a year ago, when police reported the night had been “relaxed”, notwithstanding mass sexual assaults on German women by asylum entrants. The public broadcaster ZDF had the sensitivity to put a news blackout on the assaults for four days, until that strategy of suppression by omission became unworkable.

A local equivalent for sensitivity came during the 2014  Lindt café siege. NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Cath Burn later explained she had been concerned about community harmony and conveying tolerance “so as not to fuel anger which might have led to bias-motivated crime” [ie hypothetical anti-Muslim backlash]. Interesting priorities while an actual maniac with a shotgun held 18 hostages.

Griffith’s Mark Pearson concedes that local bomb plots, outrages and the like have to be covered, but journos should handle them “fairly and accurately, and perhaps even offer solutions that might actually help heal wounds in a community, rather than exacerbate or inflame community tensions.” Note the elitism here. The hallmarks of poor reporting, he says, include a tendency to link terrorism to Islam and focus on negative stories creating community alienation – a known risk factor for radicalisation.

One improvement, the team believes, would be for media to employ more Muslim reporters who will provide the Islamic perspective, as well as using more Muslim sources and writing up “the good stuff” going on in the Muslim community. The team’s materials make passing mention of sharia law but I could find no details there about its Dark Ages mindset and misogynist aspects.

The site does, however, warn reporters covering Islamic issues about not just violations of the “offend, insult etc” provisions of Section 18C, but also reminds them of eight sets of state-based anti-discrimination legislation. Be nice, reverential and choose you words with the utmost care.

The team’s handbook projects Islam becoming the world’s largest religion by 2070. By 2050, one million more Australian Muslims will have lifted today’s proportion of the population from 2.2% (about half a million) to 4.9%. Globally, Muslim numbers will rise from 23% to 30% — some or 2.76 billion adherents — and by 2070 Islam will be the world’s largest religion, it says.

Politicians, academics and Muslim leaders in Australia and the UK have argued (without evidence) that extremists are only a tiny minority of the Muslim population. But a detailed UK poll presented on Channel 4 last April — “What British Muslims Really Think” – showed radical views are in fact widespread among Britain’s 3.5 million Muslims (5.5%; cf Australia 500,000 and 2.2%). In other words and put simply, Britain’s 30-year experiment with multiculturalism has created a chasm dividing religion, one religion in particular, and democracy. The same disturbing results have appeared in earlier, less rigorous polls in the UK and in polls in Germany and Western Europe.

No equivalent poll has been run in Australia, where a few small-scale exercises have instead focused on Muslims’ experience of racism and other victim-narratives. Australia’s Muslim population may be a completely different set of liberal and tolerant citizens compared with Europe, although that possibility has not stayed local authorities from forewarning of much the same terror incidents here that afflict the EU.

UK pollster ICM  in mid-2015 surveyed 1081 Muslims at home in face-to-face talks with Muslim interviewers, plus a control survey of 1008 non-Muslims by phone. The Channel 4 presenter was Trevor Phillips, a Guyana–born black man and former head of Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission.[6]  That made it hard for bien pensants to shoot the messenger.

The UK survey’s findings include:

  • Only 34% would inform the police if they thought somebody they knew was getting involved with people who support terrorism in Syria.[7]
  •  4% (i.e. an indicative 100,000 UK Muslims) sympathise with people who take part in suicide bombings
  • 4% (100,000) sympathise with people who commit terrorist actions as a form of political protest
  • 32% refuse to condemn those who take part in violence against those who mock the Prophet
  • 23% support the introduction of Sharia Law.
  • 66% completely condemn   people who stone those who commit adultery, but 5% are sympathetic with the stoners
  • 31% think it’s acceptable for a man to have more than one wife (illegal in the West)
  • 39% agree that “wives should always obey their husbands”
  • 52% do not believe that homosexuality should be legal in Britain.

The results also showed what Jewish lobbies called “shocking and thriving” anti-Semitism, and a very low prevalence of social mixing with non-Muslims outside work.[8]

Young Muslims showed little difference in non-liberalism compared with older Muslims. Phillips interviewed a female Muslim primary school teacher who said the small boys were acting as thought police and hitting girls on the head if their heads were not well covered.  The teacher said, “I even had one boy, one nine-year-old boy, say to me, ‘Why haven’t you covered your head? It is only slags who don’t cover their head’.”

Liberal-minded Muslims were only about 20% and dwindling. These Muslims wanted Western values on women, gays and democracy to be enforced nationwide, said Phillips, who told the Daily Mail,

“There is one truly terrifying finding. Muslims who have separatist views about how they want to live in Britain are far more likely to support terrorism than those who do not. 

Liberal-minded Muslims have been saying for some time that our live-and-let-live attitudes have allowed a climate to grow in which extremist ideas have flourished within Britain’s Muslim communities. Our politicians have tried to reassure us that only a tiny minority hold dangerous views.

All the while, girls are shipped off to have their genitals mutilated, young women and men are being pressured into marriages they do not want, and teenagers are being seduced into donning suicide vests or becoming jihadi brides.

We have ‘understood’ too much, and challenged too little — and in doing so are in danger of sacrificing a generation of young British people to values that are antithetical to the beliefs of most of us, including many Muslims.

In my view, we have to adopt a far more muscular approach to integration than ever, replacing the failed policy of multiculturalism.”

The survey does show that 88% of British Muslims believe Britain is a good place for Muslims to live. According to Philips, this is because the tolerance they enjoy allows them to practice their religion however they want.

“For centuries we have managed to absorb people of many different
backgrounds. But the integration of Muslims will probably be the hardest
 task we’ve ever faced,” Phillips said. He urged halting the growth and expanding influence of Sharia courts, placing them under regulation, and opening them to public scrutiny: “It will mean an end to the silence-for-votes understanding between local politicians and Muslim leaders,” he said, “the sort of Pontius Pilate deal that had such catastrophic outcomes in Rotherham and Rochdale.”[9]

A BBC survey of 1000 British Muslims in February, 2015, found that 93% believed they should follow British laws. But 27% said they had some sympathy for the motives behind the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris. A  quarter thought violence against those who published images of the Prophet could be justified, and 11% were sympathetic to Muslim fighters against Western interests.  Nearly half  (45%) had sympathy for Muslim clerics preaching  violence, and did not consider the preachers were out of touch with mainstream Muslim opinion.

A 2008 study by Ruud Koopmans,  director of Germany’s WZB Berlín Social Science Centre, surveyed 9000 Europeans in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Sweden, to compare Muslim and non-Muslim religious fundamentalism.[10]  Koopmans found 40-45% of the European Muslims were fundamentalists, compared with 4% of Christians. Almost 60% of Muslims surveyed would return to the roots of Islam, 75% thought Muslims should heed only the one interpretation of the Koran, and 65% said that religious rules over-rode the legal framework of their adopted state.  There was marked hostility towards gays, Jews and Westerners among 70% of Muslim fundamentalists. The study found that in Germany, 47% of Muslims considered the Koran over-rode German law.

Other studies claim that between 10% and 15% of EU Muslims are prepared to use violence to defend their faith.

Dutch Party for Freedom leader Geert Wilders, under serious beheading threat from jihadis for the past half-decade, quotes Koopmans as telling the Dutch media that “of a billion Muslims worldwide, between ten and twenty percent are willing to accept violence, even against civilians, to defend Islam.” I was unable to verify the Koopmans quote, which is likely in Dutch.[11]

A study from the German Interior Ministry in March 2012 found nearly a quarter of non-German Muslims there rejected integration, questioned Western values and tended to accept violence.

The survey showed 48% sought separation from mainstream German culture, or 22% if those who had gained citizenship were included.

The survey also exposed a 24% subgroup of 13-32 year old non-German Muslims who were extremists holding anti-West and pro-violence views (15% including German Muslim citizens). With 2 million Muslim non-Germans, the 24% suggested 100,000+ young extremists.

A study of Salafi-jihadism propaganda in 2015 for the Tony Blair Foundation by the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics, cited polls that:

  •  Over two thirds of the populations of three large Muslim-majority countries agreed with the need for a caliphate.
  •  Three-quarters of respondents in four large Muslim-majority countries agreed that there was a need to ‘stand up to America and affirm the dignity of the Islamic people’. Today, jihadis fight the West and its allies to ‘deliver’ the ‘Muslim world’ from a ‘Zionist-Shia-Crusader’ conspiracy, it said.

The study said that the broader Muslim culture and jihadi ideology overlapped significantly, but the broader culture was not necessarily extreme or condoning violence.

Nearly two-thirds (62%) of the jihadist propaganda studied involved Islamic creedal values. The authors said,

“We know that this does not make for comfortable reading…  Unless we are honest about the nature and appeal of the jihadi ideology, we cannot uproot it… Political leaders must not shy away from identifying ideology and warped understanding of theology as a cause of modern terrorism.”

Many overt government responses have been particularly weak.  They are at best mocked by jihadis and at worse, used by them to back up their own messages, it said.

It can be argued that Western critics of Islam are in more danger than Western Muslims, with state apparatus in many Western countries eager to suppress criticism of both immigration and Islam per se. As a local example, know that The Australian’s  cartoonist, Bill Leak, has been forced to secretly relocate his family residence after death threats.

In Germany, authorities are prosecuting critics of Merkel’s  immigration free-for-all by labeling them with “hate speech”. A married couple, Peter and Melanie M., were prosecuted and convicted in July, 2016, for criticizing  online the government’s migration policy. Their page stated, “The war and economic refugees are flooding our country. They bring terror, fear, sorrow. They rape our women and put our children at risk. Make this end!” Last July, 60 homes of such allegedly hate-speaking people were raided by German police.

But other parties who had anti-Semitic views were not merely left unchecked, but at times officially facilitated. In July, 2014, Frankfurt police let mainly Muslim “protesters” use the police van’s megaphone to shout in Arabic that Jews were “child murderers”.  Two German Arabs who firebombed a Wuppertal synagogue in July, 2014, were given suspended 15-month sentences (i.e. no jail time) for arson. The judge ruled the fire-bombing was not anti-Semitism, but  a mere “act of protest” against Israeli’s response to attacks from Gaza.  As if anyone firebombing a Western mosque would get comparable leniency.

German officials, according to a leaked memo, have been urging their federal government to act fast to enforce “authentic political communication” before the upcoming elections. The government, of course, would define what is “authentic” and what is “fake” news, especially about its immigration policy.

In an interview with Deutschlandfunk public radio, retired public media personality Wolfgang Herles admitted that public broadcasters receive “instructions from above” when it comes to reporting the news:

“We must report in such a way that serves Europe and the common good, as it pleases Mrs. Merkel. There are written instructions … today we are not allowed to say anything negative about the refugees. This is government journalism, and this leads to a situation in which the public loses their trust in us. This is scandalous.”

In Finland, Finns Party politician Terhi Kiemunki was fined 450 euros last November  for writing of a “culture and law based on a violent, intolerant and oppressive religion.” Finns are  now legally required to make a distinction, whether real or fictitious, between “Islam” and “radical Islam,” to avoid fines for “slandering and insulting adherents of the Islamic faith.”

In Holland, a hotline run by the state-funded anti-discrimination bureau MiND refused late last year to act on a complaint about death threats to gays. A Muslim commenter online called for gays to be “burned, decapitated and slaughtered”. The supposed watch-dog group said it couldn’t intervene, arguing, “The remarks must be seen in the context of religious beliefs in Islam, which juridicially takes away the insulting character.”  Outraged Dutch MPs called for MiND to be defunded, at which point MiND’s bureaucrats changed their collective mind about the case. In contrast to MiND’s initial ruling, Party for Freedom leader Geert Wilders was fined last December merely for saying Holland was admitting too many Moroccans.

I agree that most Western Muslims are upright people and worthy citizens. It’s the minority (how large?) who aren’t nice that are the problem. Plus politicians, officials and academics who don’t see any problem.

Tony Thomas new book of essays, That’s Debatable – 60 Years in Print, is available here.

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[1] As of now, Saudi adult women must obtain permission from a male guardian—usually a husband, father, brother, or son—to travel, marry, or exit prison. They may be required to provide guardian consent in order to work or access healthcare. Women regularly face difficulty conducting a range of transactions without a male relative, from renting an apartment to filing legal claims. All women remain banned from driving cars in Saudi Arabia.

[2] As if no horror can be great enough, another ISIS video shows boys aged about 10 armed with pistols hunting a dozen ‘bad guys’ in an abandoned building, except that it’s not a computer game. The bad guys are prisoners with bound wrists but able to move about clumsily.   When cornered or trapped, the prisoners cry and moan until the children shoot them down, sometimes shooting the legs first. On the roof, a terrified prisoner backs away and then chooses to throw himself down six-storeys.

[3] In the translated text of Hilaly’s full sermon, which I can no longer locate on internet,  he had a broader definition of women as ‘cat’s meat’ inviting rape. They were not just immodestly-clad women but women who go outside the home without a male escort.

[4] He wrote that the Abbott government’s anti-terror laws “represent the greatest attack on the Fourth Estate function of journalism in the modern era. They are worse than the Gillard government’s failed attempts to regulate the press.”        

[5] Pro-refugee, Islamic-friendly academic centres have a bad habit of getting things wrong. For example, in October, 2015, “terrorism expert” Peter Neumann, director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at King’s College in London, said that there was not a shred of evidence of ISIS people smuggling themselves to Europe among refugees, and that ISIS had prohibited this form of infiltration. Within weeks, exactly such ISIS people killed 137 in the Paris massacres.

[6] In 1997 as commissioner, Phillips wrote a  report, “Islamaphobia: A Challenge for Us All”,  which brought the term “Islamaphobia” into the language.

[7] Critics of the survey note that even in the control group of all Britons, only 30% would inform police. But 57% of the control group thought the hypothetical situation was irrelevant to them (Muslims, 27%). Muddles could have resulted.

[8]  For example, 35% of British Muslims – compared to 8 per cent of others – believe Jewish people have too much power in Britain.

[9] In 2014, the government’s Jay report found that more than 1,200 girls from Rotherham had been raped, trafficked, and abused by mostly Muslim gangs. The abuse was allowed to go on for a decade because authorities were scared of accusations of racism, the report found. In Rochdale,  an Asian grooming gang  preyed on girls as young as 13.

Despite destroying the lives of dozens of young girls, paedophile Shabir Ahmed claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy to scapegoat Muslims.

[10] WZB, with 160 researchers, was founded by all-party German parliamentarians and is federally and Berlin state-funded.

[11] Australian Muslim preacher Feiz Mohammad in an internet chat room in September, 2010, called for the beheading of Wilders for insulting Islam.

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