On The Daily Telegraph’s front page, he was a monkey who “sees no problem, hears no concerns, speaks no English”. The piece accused the Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, of attempting “to shift blame for the massacre to everything from ‘racism’ to ‘Islamophobia’.”
In The Australian, Janet Albrechtsen asked, “Whose side is the Grand Mufti on?” She continued: “Muslim leaders such as the Grand Mufti get away with the blather and blame-shifting because our political leaders are too often too weak on this front.” What politicians are too weak to do, she does not say.
Mohamed’s crime was language. In the wake of the Paris attacks, the Australian National Imams Council issued a statement on the deaths. Because of the tenor of the reporting that followed, it is worth reproducing that statement in full:
“His Eminence, the Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, and the Australian National Imams Council mourn the loss of innocent lives due to the recent terrorist attacks in France. Almost 130 people were tragically killed and more than 350 injured.
“We would like to convey our deepest condolences to the families and friends of the deceased. We reiterate that the sanctity of human life is guaranteed in Islam.
“These recent incidents highlight the fact that current strategies to deal with the threat of terrorism are not working. It is therefore imperative that all causative factors such as racism, Islamophobia, curtailing freedoms through securitisation, duplicitous foreign policies and military intervention must be comprehensively addressed.
“In addition, any discourse which attempts to apportion blame by association or sensationalises violence to stigmatise a certain segment of society only serves to undermine community harmony and safety.
“Credit goes to those who have called for calm and responsibility. We call upon all people of goodwill to stand against fear-mongering and injustice.”
Later the same day, Mohamed wrote on Facebook: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, families and people of Paris and Beirut at this time of unspeakable horror. We will continually stand united in peace with them against such heinous attacks of cowardice. There are no words to truly describe the devastation of these acts but we will continue in solidarity and pray for peace.”
Two days later, in a statement clarifying his earlier words, the council wrote: “Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohamed and ANIC have consistently and unequivocally condemned all forms of terrorist violence. The Grand Mufti on 15th September 2014 said about ISIS that: ‘These criminals are committing crimes against humanity and sins against God.’ ”
There is a great fear of nuance in tragedy. When a threat is deemed existential it is rarely hoped it will be explained. But to look for reason is not to excuse something. To say that senseless calamity might have causes is not to justify that calamity or make it less. To treat any ill, it is necessary to understand it.
This is not to endorse Mohamed. It is hard to endorse a man who writes of women as “a piece of sweet pastry, without covering, devoured by the eyes of men, dirtied with mud, and having flies roam around you”. But we should never allow ourselves to be so fearful of something that we seek not to comprehend it.
The roots of extremism are ugly, and yet we cannot look away from them. We should not punish those who wish to discuss them.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 21, 2015 as "Daesh penalty". Subscribe here.