Two items popped up in the media recently that took me back - to 2006.
The first, completely ignored by the Australian ms media, came in the UK Guardian of January 8, which reported Blair's home secretary, Jack Straw, as saying, "Pakistanis, let's be clear, are not the only people who commit sexual offences, and overwhelmingly the sex offenders' wings of prisons are full of white sex offenders. But there is a specific problem which involves Pakistani heritage men... who target vulnerable young white girls. We need to get the Pakistani community to think much more clearly about why this is going on and to be more open about the problems that are leading to a number of Pakistani heritage men thinking it is OK to target white girls in this way. These young men are in a Western society, in any event, they're fizzing and popping with testosterone, they want some outlet for that, but Pakistani heritage girls are off-limits and they are expected to marry a Pakistani girl from Pakistan, typically. So then they seek other avenues and they see these young women, white girls who are vulnerable, some of them in care... who they think are easy meat." (White girls seen as 'easy meat' by Pakistani rapists, says Jack Straw, David Batty)
The second came in Murdoch's Australian on January 15 and began: "There is one point on which ASIO and Australia's most controversial Muslim cleric, Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali agree: home-grown extremism is on the rise." (Cleric fears rise of home-grown radicalism, Paul Maley)
Ah yes... meat... Sheik Taj!
The hysteria whipped up by Murdoch bin filler over that man's sound bite all those years ago came flooding back...
Specifically, back to the front page of The Australian of October 26, 2006, where to a blazing front page headline, Muslim leader blames women for sex attacks, the nation learned to its horror that Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, "the nation's most senior Muslim cleric," had sermonised (in Arabic and to his flock) as follows: "If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it... whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem. If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred." (Richard Kerbaj)
Now although Hilali and Straw use the same meat metaphor to refer to scantily-clad young women, they naturally reflect differing cultural paradigms. When it comes to messing with such 'meat', Straw, in line with Western feminist orthodoxy, squarely blames the men. Our traditional, unreconstructed, patriarchal Muslim imam, on the other hand, in effect asks, as indeed would many non-Muslim Australians, What do these women expect, dressed like that?
How utterly unsurprising!
Now the merit, or lack thereof, of either position is not the issue I intend to address in this post. No, what I found quite extraordinary at the time, and will discuss here, was the extent to which The Australian deliberately set out to use the mufti's decidedly non-pc, but otherwise unremarkable, sound bite to whip up a veritable Walpurgis Night of Islamophobic fear and loathing.
The Australian's campaign (I can hardly call it 'coverage'), spread over 10 days, constitutes perhaps the most sustained attack on an individual by a media outlet in this country within recent memory. It is sufficient to list merely the relevant headlines on a day-by-day basis to appreciate its virulence and dimensions. I include here only the headlines for news reports (many of them front page), editorials, opinion pieces and blocs of letters:
26/10/06: Muslim leader blames women for sex attacks (front page)
27/10/06: Mufti outrages his people (fp); Daughter beautiful gems or pieces of meat (fp); Goward calls for expulsion of Hilali; 'I'm misunderstood' excuse is wearing thin; Sheikh quit as mufti when his pay was cut; 'Women are treated like jewels'; Scarf's 'about God, not men'; Apologist worked for jihadi journal; Muddle headed mufti; These rantings don't reflect Muslim ideals; Time to muzzle the outrageous mufti; Sheik never should have received permanent residence; Mufti not alone in his intolerance of non-Muslim women
28/10/06: Hilali: no one can sack me (fp); Metaphor hides mufti's real message (fp); ALP deal halted sheik's expulsion (fp); Muslims at odds over Hilali ban; Relaxed Hilali gets star treatment; I was just protecting their honour; Modesty is important, say Christian leaders; Sheik's values out of step with modernity; Muslims seem to forget that pluralism works both ways
30/10/06: Mufti praises Iraq jihadists (fp); Canberra ignored secret agent's warning on sheik (fp); Fellow imams launch push to oust mufti; Enemies demonise Islam, say leaflets; Shake off Hilali PM urges Muslims; I'm not fresh meat: Muslim women hit back; Use religious garb sensitively: archbishop; Hilali's radical mentor; Islam can modernise & remain relevant; Immigration advice ignored at our peril; Is the Labor Party ashamed of giving residency to Hilali?; No place for zealots & those who find excuses for rape
31/10/06: Sheik blasts judges on rape (fp); Ill Hilali agrees to step aside; Eyes opened by Islamic chauvinism; Experts urge caution on role of martyr; My brother made fear a familiar foe; Sheik's words are impossible to ignore; Australia's interests abused for short-term gain
1/11/06: Muslims fear extremists will seize control; Hilali to stay on as mufti; Men 'provoked' into sex assaults: imam; Sheik remains defiant over rape comments; No, sheik, sorry isn't good enough
2/11/06: Risk of race riot if Hilali stays; Libs slam Fraser on Islam; Sharia law breach in eye of the non-beholder; Taking moral equivalence to an extreme; Silver lining to Hilali
4/11/06: Sheik wants probe into his sermon; Descent to fresh dissent
Seriously, someone should write a book about the role of the Murdoch press in fomenting Islamophobia and creating divisions in this country. The above is just one among many Islamophobic beat-ups concocted by The Australian since Muslim-bashing became one of its main preoccupations.