Article from: Herald Sun
A mixed message
June 13, 2007 12:00am
I WAS chatting to the charming Sheik Fehmi Naji el-Imam, now Australia’s new Mufti, when we were interrupted by the Queen.
Her Majesty settled herself at her table, while we and the other few hundred guests at the Royal Exhibition Building lunch waited politely.
Two archbishops – one Catholic and the other Anglican – then said Grace and I whispered to the sheik, “Why aren’t you up there, too?”
“One day I will be,” he replied. I was joking, but I’m sure Fehmi was not. And why shouldn’t he hope to be up there, making the Christians shuffle up a bit to make room for his very different and demanding faith?
I mention this not to damn his cheek, but to point out Fehmi – however moderate he is painted – is not there to police our Muslims and assimilate them for you.
His job isn’t to get Muslims used to secular Australia, but Australia used to Muslims. That point may be lost by commentators who, with me, have long wanted him to replace the disastrous Sheik Taj el-Din al-Hilaly as Mufti, our senior Muslim cleric.
I wanted Hilaly sacked for preaching hatred, and thought it disturbing that Muslims chose to be led by a man who’d praised suicide bombers as heroes, called the September 11 terror attacks “God’s work against oppressors”, and insisted raped women be “jailed for life”. And what a symbol of determined apartness he was, with so little English after 30 years here.
But how much better off are we with Fehmi chosen on Sunday by the new Australian National Imam’s Council to take over as Mufti?
Not so much. But let me first count Fehmi’s blessings.
He is a most courteous man, who has often preached against violent jihad at his Preston mosque, and publicly and often called for the Sydney-based Hilaly to go.
Lebanese-born, he speaks fine English after 55 years here, and has impressed leaders of other faiths, with the admired Rabbi John Levi praising him in a 2001 ABC profile as “extremely wise and compassionate”.
Yet, last year, Levi said Fehmi had “shocked” him: “He is under great pressure from a radicalised community, but nothing can excuse his destruction of decades-long work on Jewish-Muslim understanding.
” And here’s the problem. In the end, Fehmi leads believers who demand he be far more radical than you’d expect from a “moderate”.
What alarmed Levi, and the Howard Government, is that Fehmi backed the Hezbollah terrorists in their war with Israel, hailing them at a rally as “freedom fighters”.
Worse, when asked at his first press conference as Mufti if he accepted Osama bin Laden was behind the September 11 attacks, he stalled: “What evidence?” Advisers then stopped him from speaking on Iraq.
Excuses will be made that Fehmi dares not be as moderate as he’d like, and he’s often hinted that’s so.
He urged that the Danish cartoons of Mohammed not be published here because they’d “disturb people who can do things that we don’t want them to do.
” He criticised police raids on suspected extremists in Perth because “we worry about some amongst our people who become so angry about this sort of thing, and might do some act, which we won’t be happy about”.
When Channel 9 asked him about Sheik Mohammed Omran, who has been linked to terrorists, Fehmi said only: “I know him and he has his own way of thinking, which I don’t want to talk about.” And note this. At Monday’s press conference, he refused to repeat his past criticisms of Hilaly, defending him instead.
What’s more, the imams’ council went out of its way to save Hilaly’s face, saying it first voted to keep this notorious bigot as Mufti, only to have him turn it down. This was no repudiation of him. And back at his Lakemba mosque, Australia’s biggest, Hilaly reminded us: “Control will always be in Lakemba.” Which is why I fear Fehmi is just a soothing distraction.