Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Best Policy: Honesty or Silence

There is usually good reason for one to speak his or her mind, and on some level, unless doing so overtly injures another person without any otherwise recalcitrant benefit, there is very little that should prevent one from freely expressing his or her views. Legitimate personal freedoms aside, shouting fire in a crowded theater is one of several examples where the unchecked use of free speech has questionable, if not negative, implications.

Which brings us to today's story, that of Sheikh Taj el-Din al-Hilali, Australia's top Muslim cleric. Apparently, Hilali was speaking publicly -- that is, to or in front of individuals not simply limited to his followers and supporters, and shared his observations regarding how women dress in modern society. Apparently, Hilali indicated that women who do not wear a "hijab" (headscarf) are inviting sexual assault.

He continued by suggesting the "uncovered meat" is the problem. "If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab [headscarf], no problem would have occurred."

Many of you who have visited these pages before know that is not the full extent of my interest in this story. Certainly, Hilali -- like many of his fellow Muslim clerics -- manages to confound those of us with even a modicum of intelligence with his stupid, backward, ridiculous comments. He further elaborated on his point of view, which, in hindsight, is akin to what a friend of mine refers to as "polishing a turd." In his sermon, Hilali elaborated, "If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside... and the cats come and eat it... whose fault is it, the cats' or the uncovered meat?"

Ignoring the overwhelming stupidity and the misogynistic aspects of this particularly disturbing reasoning, when the sermon was subsequently published and the public clamored for his removal, he apologized and stated his comments were misinterpreted and/or taken out of context, which is a fairly common excuse for post-partem stupidity. He also indicated "I had only intended to protect women's honour." Of course, he made no mention of how restricting women to wearing certain types of clothing and to staying behind closed doors whenever possible protects their honor. His apology, which seemed far from contrite, featured this particular nugget of wisdom: "Women in our Australian society have the freedom and the right to dress as they choose." Of course this seems in direct opposition to his backward notion of protecting womens' honor in the first place.

The short-term fallout from the controversy was that Hilali's apology was accepted by his Muslim colleagues, and his punishment was being barred from preaching for a period of three months. Australian Prime Minister John Howard, as well as others in the non-Muslim public, responded negatively, suggesting this punishment was not sufficient. Howard, specifically, mentioned that without further action against Hilali, he felt this incident might irreparably harm Islamic relations with the mainstream public. Personally, I think the cat was let out of the bag long ago with respect to that problem.

In case it was not, however, Hilali was subsequently interviewed once the three-month suspension was announced, and when he was asked, in the face of public anger towards his comments, he would consider resigning, he responded "After we clean the world of the White House first."

In case there is any question about that comment being taken out of context, he called the 9/11 attacks "God's work against oppressors."

So that should alleviate any confusion about Hilali's actual beliefs, whether or not a microphone is anywhere nearby when he preaches, answers a reporter's question, or protects womens' honor.

I think it's fairly clear, in this particular instance, that repairing the relationship between Muslims like Hilali and the mainstream public is a non-issue. Hilali and people who share his beliefs obviously have no interest or use for the mainstream public; in fact, based on his reference to the 9/11 attacks, it's fairly clear he despises the mainstream public as much, if not moreso, than he despises women who exercise freedom to dress, think or behave differently than he believes they should.

It seems to me that the Australian public -- politely or otherwise -- should not be considering how to repair the breech created by this imbecile's comments. I think the Australian public should find a way to return him to a nation or region where people agree with his bile.

Back to the question of freedom -- not only that of women to dress, think and go where they please -- but that of speech. Supposing Hilali was a citizen of this country and made these particular statements; how would deporting him fit in with our notion of freedom of speech?

Certainly, Hilali's beliefs -- and the public speech which is protected by the Constitution -- are diametrically opposed to mine. However, I am more committed to permitting a biased, backward piece of shit like him his comments than I am to overriding the tenets on which our government and our freedoms were based. That is to say, I have more respect for the Constitution than I do derision for Hilali and people who share his views.

However, part of the unique and incredible perspective this particular scenario offers is this: presuming Hilali were a US citizen, all one would have to do is to publicly question whether he advocates the destruction of the current form of US government. Hilali -- in all his adherence to values and morals which were en vogue a millenium past -- will obviously commit himself to the destruction of an oppressive regime. And could then be forced to leave this nation.

The purpose of the above-described scenario wasn't my hypothetical attempt to deport those whose thoughts don't conform with mine; the point was instead to demonstrate that our government was formed with the pre-knowledge that factions -- ie groups whose interests frequently opposed one another's -- would emerge, and the only path to progress was by compromise. Clearly, people whose beliefs are so backward and varied from modern belief -- like Hilali -- cannot and should not exist in a society where acceptance and mutual respect are cornerstones of membership therein.

Put another way, I am thankful that people like Hilali are so removed from modern thought and belief that they are unable to edit their beliefs and conform, or at least compromise, with modern society; people like Hilali are as dedicated and backward, in my opinion, as were the people who clamored to permit Terri Schiavo to remain on life support indefinitely. Rather than listen to reason, they resist, point, observe, and admit their beliefs without hesitation. And by doing so, they make clear their unwillingness to compromise, rather to take some in an effort to move forward.

And if nothing else, it must be reassuring to Mel Gibson that an Australian making stupid, loaded, biased, misrepresented, out-of-context comments has occupied the news without his name being mentioned.

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