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Fresh Air?

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Sheikh Omran's new magazine

By Nadav Shlezinger


"A breath of fresh air in the field of media and journalism for Muslims in Australia," is how Editor-in-Chief Sheikh Mohammed Omran described his new publication, Mecca News, when the first edition was released in August 2005. Omran is the controversial radical Muslim cleric who gained notoriety recently for suggesting that Islamic terrorists did not perpetrate the terrorist attacks on London and New York. He has also been in hot water over controversial material sold at his bookstore (as reported in the August edition of The Review).


Mecca News
claims a circulation of 10,000 and is published by the Ahlus Sunnah wal-Jamaah association of Australia (ASWJ). ASWJ has seven affiliates around Australia, including Omran’s Islamic Information and Support Centre (IISCA) in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick. Moreover, judging by the second (September) edition of Mecca News, far from being a breath of fresh air, the publication is actually another avenue through which Omran and his cohorts can propagate their noxious combination of extremism and conspiracy theories.

Not surprisingly, 9/11 conspiracy theories featured in the September edition. According to Amir Abu Maryem, there are two separate theories on what happened. The second theory (which he seemingly supports with various pieces of ‘evidence’ from internet conspiracy sites), "suggests that the events of 9/11 were much more complex than it initially appears." This alternative version suggests it was an inside job, and the article concludes with a promise to "uncover the rest of the questions which surround 9/11" (we wait with bated breath). In case you thought this was a joke, Sheikh Omran is so convinced of his version of events that he has even challenged Victorian Premier Steve Bracks to a debate on the issue.

Most significant as far as AIJAC is concerned was the response to our August expose on the bookshops. AIJAC’s review of the books, wrote Amjid Muhammad, "is a collection of incoherent thoughts mixed with unfounded statements and misplaced quotes." His main argument is that AIJAC is unable to interpret complex pieces of Islamic intellectualism. But while AIJAC has never claimed to be a guiding authority on Islamic jurisprudence, it’s difficult to ignore material as unequivocal about its intentions as that found in the books. How else does Sheikh Omran suggest we react to books written in a present-day context for a present-day audience that urge Muslims to "fight against those who believe not in Allah" and praises the effectiveness of terrorist bombings, saying "there is no other technique which strikes as much terror in their [enemies of Islam’s] hearts" as "[to] wire up one’s body, or a vehicle or a suitcase with explosives, and then to enter a conglomeration of the enemy and to detonate it"?

Sheikh Omran further exposes his prejudices by countering AIJAC’s evidence with four supposed quotes from the Talmud that, it is alleged, prove Jews hate gentiles. One must wonder where he obtained these quotes, because as a Google search will demonstrate, they are generally found on antisemitic websites.

One of the quotes is a fabrication, and the other three are taken out of context. It is ironic that the author blasts AIJAC for being unable to understand Islamic texts. Had Sheikh Omran consulted a Jewish source, he would know that the Talmud is composed of millions of words of debate over Jewish religious law that cover a broad scope of opinions. To cherry pick a minority opinion that is rebutted by a majority of rabbis in the same debate is intellectually dishonest. To state, as Sheikh Omran does, that the Talmud "legalises and promotes crime against non-Jews" and propagates "the concept that a Jew is greater than any other Australian" is an outright lie and constitutes slander against the Australian Jewish community. It is also telling that in response to criticism by AIJAC of material sold at the Brunswick bookstore, Mecca News chose to attack, not AIJAC, but the Jewish religion as a whole.

Sheikh Omran’s invective reflects the hypocritical worldview propounded by ASWJ. "What is needed", he says, "is a sensible group of Sheikhs, Priests and Rabbis who will teach their masses the scripture in its proper context without compromising the social harmony of Australian society." That is not a bad suggestion, but when it comes from an organisation that distributes literature teaching hatred of people of other religions, it is hard to take seriously.

The Mecca News team devote much of their effort to inciting fear within Australia’s Muslim population. Abdulshaheed accuses the media and politicians of "raising unnecessary fears and forming stereotypes which demonise the peaceful Muslim community of Australia." Sheikh Abdus Salaam Zoud complains that "Islam and Muslims bear the result and responsibility of actions they have no link with" and "feel marginalised by our society".

Muslim Australians have as much right to security as their non-Muslim compatriots. And their voices should be heard in public debate on issues of national security. But so far Mecca News contributes nothing positive to that debate, and, by spreading extremism and conspiracy theories which stand in contradiction to the obligations of Australian multiculturalism, does both Muslims and non-Muslims a disservice. The sooner that ASWJ realise criticism of them is an attack on their specific extremism and hate-mongering, and not an attack on Islam in general, the sooner they can become a legitimate voice in public discourse. Until then, Sheikh Omran and his followers will justly continue to be treated with suspicion and marginalised.

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