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Sheik Hate

It’s time to pull down those who incite hate and up-lift those who don’t.

"The punishment for homosexuality…is death. We don't make any excuses about that, it's not our law - it's the Koran."

These are the words of Sheik Khalid Yasin, the executive director of the Islamic Teaching Institute, as broadcast on national television on Sunday night and reported in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday.

The best response is two-fold: prosecution of the hate-monger and outreach to other Muslims.

First to the prosecution.

Sheik Yasin must be prosecuted under anti-vilification laws for two reasons.

If his incitement to violence continues unchecked it is only a matter of time before some impressionable hot-head translates words into action.

If the legal provisions which have been used to prosecute media personalities like John Laws, Steve Price and Sam Newman for much less severe incitement aren’t applied to Sheik Yasin, it will send out the message that religious leaders are above the law.

Some New South Welshpeople will respond that they are, thanks to exemptions in that state’s Anti-discrimination Act.

Section 49 exempts "a public act, done reasonably and in good faith, for academic, artistic, religious instruction".

Section 56 exempts "any … act or practice of a body established to propagate religion that conforms to the doctrines of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion".

Even if, on the face of it, these provisions make it harder to prosecute Sheik Yasin an attempt must be made.

My limited knowledge of global jurisprudence in this area tells me there is a chance of success.

If the case fails, that is a compelling argument for law reform.

Those who incite murder should not find legal sanctuary behind the Koran, the Bible or any Holy Book.

Fortunately they have no such sanctuary in Tasmania, where NSW-style religious exemptions do not exist.

Watch out hate-mongers.

Legal action is important but it is only one prong of a two-pronged strategy.

The defensiveness, victim mentality, love of martyrdom, and hatred of western institutions all-too-common amongst extremist Muslims leaders, and some young Islamic men, will only be re-inforced if people like Yasin are punished.

There must be a full-hearted attempt to win over Islamic opinion to social and sexual pluralism.

Moderate Islamic leaders have a responsibility to draw the links between Australia’s acceptance of religious and sexual minorities, and to spark constructive debate on sexual diversity where possible.

The LGBT community has a responsibility to engage Muslims in a dialogue about our human rights.

Some people will dismiss all this as fanciful rhetoric because they think traditional prejudices run too deep or Islam is a religion beyond reform.

Bunk.

In less than a generation, some Christian denominations in Tasmania went from denouncing homosexuals as criminals worthy only of a life in gaol, to endorsing equality for same-sex relationships.

Bringing Australia’s Islamic communities into the pluralist fold is possible if we take the long view, are prepared to make sacrifices, and, yes, have faith in our fellow human beings.

If you doubt me, spend a few minutes contemplating the alternative.

***

In other news, submissions to the inquiry into a Victorian Charter of Human Rights close this Monday, August 1st.

Having State Bills of Rights will empower courts to protect fundamental human rights.

Please call or e-mail a submission, using the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby’s quick response notes as a guide.


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