11 January 2007

More controversy from the Sheik

According to The Age:

CONTROVERSIAL Muslim leader Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali has savaged Australia in an interview on Egyptian television, claiming there is no freedom or democracy for Muslims and that English people are the most unjust and dishonest.

The Mufti of Australia said Muslims were more Australian than Anglo-Saxons because they came here voluntarily, that Australians played the "fear card" to keep Muslims down, and that racial prejudice was the reason for the 55-year sentence given to gang rapist Bilal Skaf.

"Anglo-Saxons came to Australia in chains, while we (Muslims) paid our way and came in freedom. We are more Australian than them. Australia is not an Anglo-Saxon country — Islam has deep roots in Australian soil that were there before the English arrived," Sheikh Hilali said.

Australia's most controversial cleric was talking on the Egyptian news program Cairo Today, shown in Australia on the Orbit satellite network on Tuesday morning.

The ABC reports:

[Islamic Friendship Association of Australia spokesman] Keysar Trad says says he apologises for the comments if they have caused offence, but says the Sheikh has been misinterpreted.

"I do understand that some people taking these comments without looking at the full video would take offence to them," he said.

"As an Australian Muslim... I do feel like apologising to these people and also appealing to them to understand the context, it would seem he was trying to explain away that controversy and put it behind him and there were a couple of slip-ups."

Mr Trad says the Sheikh's comments were not intended to be malicious.

"The question was put to him, before making that comment, is that if you're under the spotlight so much why live there, why not come back and live in the country of your birth, and he said we have every right to live there basically we're not shackled to be there, we don't choose to be there, we paid our own way, implying that he loves Australia and loves being in Australia," he said.

The Prime Minister, according to The Age report, has played a reasonably straight bat, though some South Australians and others who agree with his support for more Australian history teaching might be disappointed that he's made the point that SA was founded as a convict-free settlement

Mr Howard was asked about the sheikh's reference to convicts and replied: "I think it will bring a wry smile, if it's true, … to the face of many Australians who sort of don't actually feel the least bit offended that many of our ancestors came here as convicts.

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