By Kristina Keneally
27 February 2017
There is zero chance that Sharia law – as a repressive criminal code used in certain Muslim majority nations – is going to be enshrined in Australia. Zero.
It seems ridiculous that this sentence even needs to be written. But the spat between Senator Jacqui Lambie and TV presenter Yassmin Abdel-Magied on Q&A recently, and the brouhaha that has followed, suggests that it does.
Think of the Australian institutions that would need to completely collapse to make this ridiculous idea a reality: federal parliament, state parliaments, the constitution, the courts, a free press, the rule of law, the defence forces, democracy itself.
Who knew Australian democracy was so weak that a young Muslim woman talking about her faith on national television might be its downfall? She’s obviously infiltrating within, working for the ABC and being sent on goodwill tours by the department of foreign affairs and trade. The outrage machine cranked itself to fever pitch, seeking to destroy Abdel-Magied’s credibility, reputation, and her professional livelihood.
A word about Sharia. I’m no Muslim scholar but I do understand that there is a difference between Sharia as a personal ethics code and Sharia law as used by repressive governments and certain Islamic sects as a cruel tool of control.
I am relaxed about the former. For generations Muslims have lived in western countries practising Sharia and obeying the laws of the land. Thousands of Muslims live in Australia doing exactly this. Carry on, my fellow citizens. Pray five times a day if you want, and don’t mind me when I refrain from meat on Fridays during Lent – it’s just a Catholic thing I do. Don’t worry; I’m not expecting you to do it too.
I also know that our fellow Islamic citizens in Australia overwhelmingly join me and the rest of us in condemning Sharia as an oppressive, archaic, harsh and undemocratic code of law when it is used by extremist groups and governments to terrorise and control Muslim people – especially Muslim women – in some Muslim majority nations.
I don’t know Yassmin Abdel-Magied but I know what it is like to try to explain why you are a feminist and a member of a patriarchal religion. It is to invite scorn and derision from some quarters.
I am a Catholic scholar. I am a feminist. I can make a strong case that Jesus was a feminist while the Catholic Church is a sexist organisation greatly influenced by the patriarchal Roman empire. But it would take a lot of careful and thoughtful discussion, the kind of conversation that doesn’t make great television. Some people would mock.
Abdel-Magied was trying to make a similar point about Islam, the prophet Muhammad and subsequent patriarchal interpretations of the Koran. Maybe she was naive to think the “reality show” that Q&A has descended into was the best place to use phrases like “Islam is the most feminist of all religions” and “There is a difference between religion and culture.” Sentences like that need to be placed in context, unpacked for nuance.
Unfortunately context and nuance are not big features of conversation inside the outrage machine, but double standards are rife.
It seems that every Australian Muslim who pokes their head up in public is expected to own, explain and condemn any terrorist act carried out by any extremist Muslim anywhere in the world. The outrage machine demands it, and then that same machine judges if the words are sufficient.
Why isn’t this same outrage applied to Australian Catholics? If we are going on a body count the Catholic clergy has done more harm to more Australians than extremist Muslims. More than 4,000 reports of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic church made to the royal commission. God knows how many more are unreported. Innocent Australian children and young people are the victims. Lives have been ruined: suicides and mental illness, broken families, grotesque physical injury.
Why isn’t the outrage machine demanding the Catholic prime minister condemn this horrendous and sustained attack on Australians every time the commission hears from another victim of Catholic abuse?
Why aren’t they regularly calling for the Catholic deputy prime minister to speak out and make clear he does not condone what some Catholic clergy have done?
Why aren’t they asking the Catholic-raised leader of the opposition about whether Cardinal George Pell should face questions in Australia? Oh, wait, the leader of the opposition said in parliament two weeks ago that Cardinal Pell should be sent back to Australia to face questions. Why didn’t the outrage machine join that bandwagon?
Why aren’t they demanding the government urgently implement a national redress scheme to make reparations to the Catholic Church’s victims?
Or is taking on Australian Catholics hitting just a little too close to home?
It’s easier, isn’t it, to pick on the young woman with the scarf on her head, or get upset about two little girls in a Hijab, all in the name of making Australia safe.
What brave defenders of freedom, of Australia, you are.
This article was amended on 28 February 2017 to reflect the fact that not all the 4,000 allegations of incidents of abuse were against Catholic clergy. Thirty-four per cent were said to involve lay people and religious sisters.