Friday, July 01, 2005


Messenger to the Mufti

I am a lawyer. But some lawyers really embarrass me, talking nonsense about legalising torture.

I am also a Liberal. In 2001, I ran as a Liberal candidate in the seat of Reid. Western suburbs Aussies delivered me a swing of 5.1% on a 2-party preferred basis. But when Young Liberal President Alex Hawke opens his mouth, I cringe.

I also come from a Muslim background. My parents are from Delhi in India. I have lived in John Howard’s electorate for as long as I can remember. I also spent time living in the electorates of Paul Keating and Laurie Ferguson, regarded as Aussie Muslim heartlands.

Yet everytime something happens concerning Muslims, I see a sincere but scruffy-looking volunteer on TV saying things I find embarrassing.

Am I talking about the man they call “Mufti”? No. In his efforts to free Douglas Wood, Sheik Hilali has earned the respect of mainstream Australia, including his many Muslim critics (such as myself).

What worries me, however, is his former spokesman and adviser.

I have been involved in Muslim community affairs since 1985. Keysar Trad has been involved for perhaps a similar amount of time. I cannot question his sincerity. He gains no personal benefit from spending time acting as Shaykh Hilali’s interpreter and adviser. If anything, he cops plenty of flack.

Keysar fills a vacuum. He volunteers his services because Sheik Hilali’s employer, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC), refuses to provide the Sheik with the resources he needs to do the job. And Sheik Hilali’s time is taken up with resolving matrimonial disputes and mediating between competing factions.

Keysar tries his best. He is not a qualified or accredited translator or interpreter. If Sheik Hilali ever had to go to court, Keysar could not act as translator.

I once met Cardinal Pell at a lecture he gave to the Centre for Independent Studies. I was impressed with his speech. I asked him when we could arrange a meeting for him with the Mufti. Cardinal Pell referred me to his assistant, a similarly polished and well-spoken young man.

Sheik Hilali is not provided with such an assistant. He also is not given a chance to learn English. And like most imams, he is paid peanuts despite working long hours.

All he has to assist is a volunteer unaccredited translator. Is it any wonder he gets such bad press?

I was baffled when Keysar Trad made defamatory remarks about Stephen Hopper, former lawyer for Mamdouh Habib. Keysar took credit for setting Habib up with his good friend and then fellow executive member of the Lebanese Moslems Association, Adam Houda. Keysar claimed Habib would now receive “proper legal representation”. But Keysar has no legal training and is not in a position to question the credentials of either Hopper or Houda. Now neither Hopper nor Houda act for Habib.

I was equally baffled when Keysar once described the role of Mufti as akin to “Archbishop” and “Governor-General” of Muslims. Sorry, Keysar. I like Shaykh Hilali. But my Governor-General if Michael Jeffries. And we don’t have priests in Islam.

So why do journalists keep going to Keysar? Simple. No one else is prepared or has the time to speak. Muslims are too busy being mainstream Australians. They are too busy running medical and legal practices, lecturing at universities, managing Australia’s largest financial institutions and telecommunications companies or studying at TAFE and university.

Also, the media knows Keysar. Over the years, he has developed a string of contacts. Despite having no journalistic expertise, Keysar has networked the media. Most Muslim leaders are too busy networking with lawyers to fight their crazy battles against each other. The only time Muslim leaders approach the media is to badmouth each other.

What is the solution? Simple. Australian Mossies (as we often call ourselves) have to speak out. We cannot rely on our self-appointed leaders to do the talking. And we have no right to cringe and complain when someone like Keysar volunteers.

If we don’t have the time, we have to make it. Just as I have today. And now I have to get back to my clients.

(This article was submitted to the Daily Telegraph. Despite assurances that it would be printed unedited, an edited version was printed in the 30 June 2005 edition. Readers can compare the 2 versions and decide for themselves.)

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