Responses to Gaita’s comments on Muslims

Again, I would like to stress that I will comment further. I have a lot to say, and my blog has never shied away from lengthy comments (see my posts on Bren Carlill, or ECAJ and AUJS senate submission on academic freedom). As I took strong exception to Gaita’s comments on Muslims, I wondered how others might react to his comments. Some people and organisations I contacted have not yet responded. Most recently, Shakira Hussein responded and said that I can post her brief comments publically. She reserves specific comment for when she actually sees the video. Included in her comments was the following

I have not yet had the opportunity to watch Raimond Gaita’s speech or to read through your exchange with him to place it in context. So at this stage I can only comment in general terms: Raimond Gaita invited me to contribute a chapter to the forthcoming book he is editing (along with Robert Manne), and in discussion it was clear that he was not just seeking a contribution from a Muslim, but also seeking a contribution (more than one, as I understand it) that specifically addressed the issue of anti-Muslim racism.

Regarding the comment in his speech, I would like to watch the speech in full and give a more specific response. However, I would note that at this particular moment in history, hatred of Jews is tragically widespread among Muslim (hatred in general is far too widespread). It is generally pretty shallow-rooted, generated in a particular political environment, and I don’t believe it is inherent to Islam or to Muslims, but I do not imagine that Raimond Gaita said that it was. There are a lot of Muslims – “millions” can still refer to a pretty small minority, in percentage terms.

I also contacted Keysar Trad. I did not want to bias his response to Gaita’s quote by revealing my views on it, and at first he reacted hostilely to me too, assuming that I was not willing to share his criticisms of Gaita. He held that this was fear-mongering against Muslims. I asked for a publically quotable statement, which he provided. I think an aspect of it may seem convoluted, as I expressed to him my distaste for the word “Islamophobia”.  I’ll quote Trad in full

“Gaita’s generalisation cannot be true, no single individual can claim to know that “millions” of Muslims hate a particular group of people, particularly as Islam teaches love for all and only hatred for evil acts. We hate evil actions but we do not hate people, even if they may be committing some evil actions, we are taught to pray for them, to stop the evil if we can, but to pray for the person and be forgiving. Muslims are not anti-Jew. We have forever been referring to Jews, being the children of Jacob, the son of Isaac as our Semitic cousins, because many of us descend from Ismael the brother of Isaac, both Isaac and his older brother Ismael are the sons of Abraham whose lineage traces back to Sem the son of Noah, after whom Semites were named. So Muslims, in particular Arab Muslims cannot be anti-semitic, quite the contrary.

“Historically, we have provided support and protection for Jews against persecution. In his book Amongst the Righteous, Robert Satloff details numerous accounts of Arabs and Muslims saving Jews escaping from the Holocaust.

“Muslims do not hate Jews, to suggest so is Islamophobic. “Muslimphobic” statements are often born of “Islamophobia” or racism because Muslims exist as Muslims (whether or not they are practicing) because of Islam. A criticism on Islam may not be Muslimphobic, but a criticism of “millions” of Muslims must by the very nature of its untruth and inaccuracy be “Islamophobic”.

 

“It is most unfortunate that some Zionised individuals and some Jews mistake criticisms of the actions of Israel as targeting Jews. Israel as a state and Judaism as a race or a religion are not one and the same thing as many decent Jews around the world have protested.

 

“Most decent people around the world, Jews and non Jews have criticised the Israeli military’s barbaric and brutal war against the people of Gaza and the people of Lebanon and a few years ago, the people of the Jenin refugee camps. This should not be mistaken for any sentiments regarding the religious identity of the citizens of Israel. We all continue to respect the Jewish race and the Jewish religion and we know, fully well, that our common father Abraham, or his great grandfather Sem would be appalled at the violence amongst their children. I for one would love for this conflict amongst cousins to stop.”

 

I hold some reservations about both of the comments I have quoted. Hussein has not yet commented on the particular sort of hatred Gaita spoke about (and which he has slightly retracted, though not apologised for.) Trad commented more criticially on Gaita, but not on the form of hatred he spoke of (I pointed out later to him my reservations on this particular issue).

I think any rational person should grant there is anti-Semitism in the Gentile world. This includes the Muslim world, and it also includes the Christian world. I think, in the West, people are able to launch unqualified and unquantified attacks on the Muslim world, which I do not think they would be so willing or eager to do about the non-Muslim world. I think Gaita, Trad and I are agreed that Gaita’s original comments were problematic. The extent to which they were problematic remains a matter of controversy. Again, I will comment further, but just wanted to update this blog to show where the argument stands.

Finally, I read out Gaita’s quote to a Palestinian friend, and asked him for commentary. He felt it fit a familiar pattern of demonisation of Muslims in Australian media. I should be interested to find out how other spokespeople feel about Gaita’s comments.

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