Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Islam's unholy alliance

From The Australian, August 22, 2007 , by Cameron Stewart and Richard Kerbaj ...

....The global divide between Islam's two main groups, Sunnis and Shi'ites, has not become a flashpoint in Australia's Muslim community. On the contrary, as was revealed by The Australian, the nation's Shi'ite and Sunni leaders have formed a united front against Israel, declaring their support for the Iranian-backed terrorist network Hezbollah.

Yesterday Muslim leaders from both sects attacked the Howard Government and the Opposition for meeting a controversial US-based Muslim thinker, Wafa Sultan, who considers the prophet Mohammed evil and who says there is no difference between moderate and radical Islam.

....The unholy alliance of Shi'ites and Sunnis follows comments by Australia's top Shi'ite spiritual leader Kamal Mousselmani in The Australian in which he labelled Israel a terrorist state and expressed his allegiance to Hezbollah militants. Trad says his sect largely supported Sheikh Mousselmani's comments. "Sunnis outside of Lebanon, they still have a great deal of respect for Hezbollah," he says.

Trad is not alone in his thinking. Last year during an anti-war rally in Melbourne, Australia's new mufti, Fehmi Naji el-Imam, called Hezbollah militants freedom fighters.

It remains to be seen how permanent this new-found unity is between Australia's 270,000-strong Sunni community and the much smaller 30,000 Shi'ite population. The tensions that erupted in Auburn in 2005 suggest it is, at best, an uneasy peace between the two sects that is being watched by ASIO. "The ongoing violence in Iraq continues to have an impact on the Middle East community in Australia," ASIO wrote in its most recent annual report. "During 2005, in the lead-up to elections in Iraq, tensions increased between members of the Sunni and Shia communities in Sydney, particularly in the Auburn area."

State and federal police are also keeping a close eye on relations between the two sects. Victorian police recently visited the Victorian town of Shepparton, which has a large Iraqi community, and met leaders from both sects.....

....The most common bond between Australia's Sunnis and Shi'ites is proving to be their shared dislike of Israel.... "There are some Sunni Muslims who are opposed to Israel and so they are willing to put the ideological differences aside because Hezbollah (is) seen to be 'standing up' to the Israelis and doing what, in their view, Arab and Muslim armies and governments have been unable or unwilling to do...." .... last July, several moderate Australian Muslim leaders who had backed John Howard on the war against al-Qa'ida called on the Prime Minister to rethink Australia's branding of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.

Ameer Ali, the then head of the Government's Muslim advisory body, said Hezbollah was wrongly classified as a terrorist group because, unlike al-Qa'ida, it was "not creating violence at random" but merely protecting the state of Lebanon. Howard was unmoved. "Rethink our proscription of it as a terrorist organisation? No chance, full stop. No chance at all," Howard said.

.... Another bond between Sunnis and Shi'ites in Australia is their widely held belief that the Australian Government is persecuting Muslims in general and that the tough new terror laws are aimed at people of Islamic faith. This perception of a common enemy so close to home is further helping to unite these traditional Muslim rivals.

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