Australian Notes

Australian notes

24 January 2015

9:00 AM

24 January 2015

9:00 AM

Baffling that so many observers had so much trouble interpreting the recent Charlie Hebdo cover on which Mohammed is depicted declaring ‘Tout est pardonné’. Some saw it as a conciliatory, almost Christian statement. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been quoted as saying : ‘I rather like the cartoon cover. That spirit of forgiveness is what we need more and more in this rancorous modern world.’ Keysar Trad of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia seemed to agree with him. The cover, he said, sent ‘a strong message’ that Islam is ‘a religion of forgiveness.’ But the hundreds of thousands of Muslims around the world who demonstrated furiously against the cover had a different and I believe better understanding of it. The cover was with bitter irony presenting the Prophet, with crocodile tear, condoning the evil of his followers. It not only breaches the instruction against depicting the Prophet; more importantly it purports to tell the millions who marched in protest against the Charlie Hebdo murders that the Prophet forgives the murderers. Rather than conciliatory, it is provocative, even contemptuous. Who can forgive such evil murders? Can you? I’m afraid I can’t.

The atrocity in Paris has had one remarkable and conceivably historic consequence. For years now commentators have – vainly – sought to distinguish fanatical Islamists, considered an active if murderous minority, from moderate Muslims who make up the vast majority of the Islamic believers. Vainly, because these commentators have made little or no difference to dominant Muslim opinion. The moderates rarely raise their voices against the extremists and, when they do, the extremists ignore them. But on New Year’s Day, President Sisi of Egypt, the largest Arab country, addressing an assembly of imams in the ancient Al Azhar University, called for a modernising Islamic revolution. He spoke a few days before the Paris atrocities. ‘You imams,’ he said, ‘are responsible before Allah. The entire world is waiting for your next move because this umma [Islamic world] is being torn, destroyed, lost – by your own hands. We need a modern, comprehensive understanding of the religion of Islam.’ Soon after his speech he attended the Coptic Christmas Eve service with the Coptic Pope at Egypt’s principal church. He wished the Copts a Merry Christmas. In the light of the subsequent Charlie Hebdo slaughter, his call to the imams goes beyond mere condemnation of fanatical Islamists (and well beyond the sensation caused by recent outburst of the Muslim Mayor of Rotterdam when on Dutch television he told those Islamists who cannot tolerate a free society to pack their bags and ‘f**k off’.) But however we may welcome President Sisi’s call for the reformation of Islam, he is still only a political not a religious leader. It is when religious leaders take up this cause that we may begin to be more hopeful. There is little sign of that – and history teaches caution. The successor today of the great Turkish reformer Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is President Erdogan.

The ingenuous attack by former Foreign Minister Bob Carr on Australia’s final vote on the United Nations Security Council could not have been more badly timed. At issue was a resolution calling for a Palestinian state. It had the support of several states and the tacit support of some abstainers. But Australia kept to its established position that neither the United Nations nor any other body can impose ‘the two-state solution’. If it is to happen, it must be negotiated. Accordingly it voted against the resolution in favour of negotiations. The vote capped Australia’s two good years on the UN Security Council. As Julie Bishop noted, they included Australian leadership on a range of issues from Ukraine and North Korea to Syria and Boko Haram. To have ended the two years with a capitulation to the Hamas terrorists would have been shameful. But with a bizarre sense of timing Carr published his article denouncing the Australian vote in the very week that the world was convulsed over the murders at Charlie Hebdo and in the kosher supermarket. Hamas had the sense or cunning to condemn the Charlie Hebdo killings (provoked, it said, by the ‘Zionist lobby’) but remained silent about the supermarket. To have presented Hamas with a diplomatic triumph in that dreadful week would have added a sickening detail to the tragedy.

To support his hostility to Israel or what he calls ‘the ethno-nationalists in Jerusalem’ and their Australian messenger boys in Melbourne, Carr draws on a recent opinion poll by Roy Morgan commissioned by the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network. It found that 57% of Australians say we should vote yes in the UN to advance Palestine’s full membership and only 8% believe Australia should oppose an independent Palestinian state. Carr and his readers would do well to have another look at Yes, Prime Minister where Sir Humphrey shows how easy it is to get a public opinion poll to say whatever you want it to say. It all depends on the questions you ask. Worth looking up. It’s on youtube.

Tony Abbott says he will no longer refer to IS (or Isis or Isil). He is going to call it Daesh – a name the terrorists strongly dislike. ‘What they don’t like has an instinctive appeal to me,’ the Prime Minister said. For their part the terrorists advise they will ‘cut out the tongue’ of any one they hear using the title Daesh. This is as may be. The trouble is that most people know what IS or Isis or Isil means. They have no idea what Daesh is all about.

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