Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Throwing the book at hatred

from The Australian: Editorial: Throwing the book at hatred July 19, 2005 ...

(This excellent opinion piece cautions against a coercive approach to censoring, and advocates working with moderate Islamic elements to eliminate the audience for extreme literature through education.)

IN the aftermath of the London bombings, the revelation that Sydney and Melbourne Islamic bookshops are selling extremist literature has aroused legitimate community concern. One book, carrying a front-page endorsement from Osama bin Laden, discusses the techniques of suicide bombing. Another, by a Muslim immigrant to Australia, suggests a conspiracy between government and police to turn Muslim youth into drug addicts. These statements are wrong and despicable. However, it is not clear such books fall within the ambit of state-based laws on racial vilification or federal anti-terror laws banning the publication of terror-making manuals. In contrast to the general inane bluster in these books, the materials that have led to a former Qantas baggage handler, Bilal Khazal, being committed to stand trial allegedly discussed specific methods of killing and identified targets. Nevertheless, state and federal agencies are justified in investigating radical Islamist bookshops. When a text sold in a bookshop attached to the Melbourne prayer-room of Sheik Mohammed Omran who denies Muslims had anything to do with 9/11 or the London attacks recommends 'the Jew or Christian who insults the prophet should be killed', that sounds to us like incitement to violence.

But we need to proceed with caution before we place limits on freedom of expression. Muslim associations have certainly been willing to use anti-vilification laws – as in the complaint against the Pentecostal group Catch the Fire Ministries in Victoria – but it is our view such laws can too frequently contribute to a climate of political correctness. Censorship is rarely the best strategy for defending the values of a free society. What the availability of Islamist literature highlights is the need for moderate Muslim communities to extirpate radical elements. The existence of inflammatory material is only of concern if there is a cohort vulnerable to it, which raises the clear challenge faced by moderate Muslim clerics: to articulate a form of Islam that preaches respect for the rights and religious views of others, and rejects the fundamentalism that gave rise to the London bombings and the other terrorist atrocities of recent years. Wahabi hate-literature, of the sort now available in Australia, appeals to a sense of historical and political grievance – largely phoney – and cultural isolationism: that is why the challenge for moderate Muslims, which many have taken up, is to build bridges to other communities and mainstream values. If they are successful in this task, the need to confiscate or ban extremist literature will be irrelevant – because it won't find an audience.

No comments: