March 30, 2019: Cultural Conversations – Summing Up: The Message, The Meetings & The Media
Cultural Conversations – Summing Up: The Message, The Meetings & The Media
It seems appropriate to sum up our incredible 10 days with Muslim Reformist Dr Zuhdi Jasser and his wife Gada. As tour organisers and fellow road crew, Hilary and I recognise that none of the opportunities presented to us would have been possible without the sacrificial support of individual donors and of course Michael making sure we physically got from A-B in a very busy schedule. Thank you so much. And thanks to Zuhdi and Gada for making that big leap Downunder and becoming our real (rather than virtual) friends in freedom.
This update offers a snapshot of The Message, The Meetings and The Media and my latest blog Straddling the Right-Left Divide provides some personal reflections drawn from Zuhdi’s message on rekindling a passion for liberty and nation state as a remedy to that widening divide.
The Islam + Islamism Tour was advertised as Dr Zuhdi Jasser, a Muslim Reformer, engaging with Australians in those ‘hard to have conversations.’ The message he brought to Australia was always going to be somewhat counter-culture and the timing of his visit, coinciding with the horror of the mosque attacks in New Zealand, would seem to make that conversation all the more ‘hard to have.’ Yet despite this, these important public conversations were had. In his own words:
“The best way to erode bigotry against Muslims is for our own communities to openly lead the defence of our respective homelands against Islamist ideological and security threats. Not only will Australia and our nations benefit and repair in the process, but Muslims who create reformist platforms could help push almost a quarter of the world’s population towards liberty…there is little difference between white supremacists fearful of ‘foreign invaders’ and militant Islamists who want to create a global caliphate and consider non-Muslim lands the ‘Land of War’ to be conquered.”
Jasser spoke of ‘tough love’ to address this and said Australia should not engage in the bigotry of low expectations toward its Muslim citizens. His was a message of liberty, love for your nation, and legacy. Clearly this was not just a message for Muslim communities. When it comes to terrorism, Jasser maintains Western nations are only on the defensive. They don’t have an offensive. It was evident he was much more passionate than the average Australian about offensively promoting liberty and the fruits of it; secular liberal democracy and universal human rights as part of a national identity future generations can be part of.
The Muslim Reform Movement unapologetically seek to foster a culture of liberty within the Islamic consciousness; an offensive against Islamist ideology (political Islam) and by extension, the terror it may produce. This requires dismantling the ideology of a supremacist Islamic state with its sharia laws which view blasphemy and apostasy as seditious and treasonous, and thereby punishable by ‘the state.’ Supremacism, whether it’s Islamist or white supremacism, is anti-liberty. This is why Reformists can call for a ‘jihad against jihad’ relegating the state concept to history and promoting a shared ‘Australianism’ or ‘Americanism:’ the rationale being if there’s no Islamic state theology there’s no theology of a military jihad.
After appearing on The Bolt Report 11 March 2019 highlighting Reformists ‘jihad against jihad’ Jasser faced somewhat of his own at the first public event in Melbourne the following evening. What was intended to be a civil public conversation between Jasser and Dr Yassir Morsi, La Trobe University about the ‘Merits of the Muslim Reform Movement deteriorated rapidly. Clearly unimpressed by the notion of a Muslim Reformation, Morsi said the conversation about separation of mosque and state as a remedy to radicalization was ‘reductionist and binary.’
Morsi appeared to argue that the roots of radicalisation were not embedded within an Islamist theocratic framework but stemmed from a multitude of external influencing factors, including external political and socio-economic factors. Jasser acknowledged the role of some external factors as ‘accelerants’ to radicalisation but identified the root cause as a separatist Islamist ideology resident within the House of Islam. Within or without – that was the question. Morsi tabled white privilege, racism,
Islamophobia and many other factors as cultural reasons some Muslims had adopted separatist responses toward living in the West. The conversation itself demonstrated the internal struggle within Islam Jasser was flagging. I certainly didn’t feel any white privilege when Morsi rejected the opportunity to even shake my hand on arrival. I discovered later this was not due to any religious reasons but because, as he wrote, I was ‘a bigot.’
The conversation about the merits of the Muslim Reform Movement continued the next evening with Dr Bernie Power joining Jasser to address all those very curly questions which often go unanswered. Power is well versed in the Muslim faith tradition, history and the Arabic language and knew just where to go. With all his passion and geopolitical bandwidth, it was the sheer honesty of Jasser in addressing the issues tabled that impacted attendees and offered some hope for the Muslim Reformation he was promoting.
Private meetings in Melbourne included a meeting with Labor’s Frank McGuire MP, the Member for Broadmeadows, his electorate identifying as 30% Muslim.
He also addressed private community group meetings and a luncheon with Liberal Friends of Israel before heading to Sydney. He was well received by all.
The Christchurch mosque attacks impacted the Sydney public event and some who were booked to come cancelled, while others never heard about the meeting due to media interviews being pulled out of a genuine sensitivity to the atrocity. However, Prof Mehmet Ozalp, who was also willing to engage with Jasser publicly, was very welcoming and hospitable and organised a shared meal in a delightful local restaurant before the evening commenced. It was a small and participatory audience and while there may have been a divergence in opinion on ways to address Islamism from these two men, they shared the use of the same term, Islamism, and concern about addressing it.
There were more well attended private meetings hosted by community groups in Sydney and a productive meeting with Sen Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.
Media appearances included interviews on The Bolt Report, 2 GB Radio with Alan Jones and Sky News Outsiders programme. Feature articles by Dr. Jasser also appeared in the Daily Telegraph 21 March and in the current edition of The Spectator Australia Magazine 23 March 2019 (republished on my website for easy access).
A radio interview with James Carleton on ABC ‘God Forbid’ was postponed due to sensitivity toward the NZ mosque attacks, as was an interview with Miranda Devine, and an interview with Richard Shumack, The Centre for Public Christianity Life and Faith podcast is still yet to air. An article was also published in the Australian Jewish News.
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