So what is a mufti?
In Arabic, the word mufti refers to a person who is qualified in the study of Islamic law and jurisprudence, so that they are relied upon to provide fatwas, or rulings, on matters of religious comportment.
And how does a mufti end up being “grand”?
In societies where the ruling class was also Muslim, the relationship between that class and the muftis was crucial for political legitimacy, and so one of their number was selected to act as a liaison between the state and the scholars – hence, a Grand Mufti.
But Australia’s ruling class isn’t Muslim.
Which is why having a Grand Mufti here is an anomaly. But what’s even more anomalous is such a person acting as a community representative. In Muslim-majority societies, muftis don’t occupy such a role; Muslims have political and tribal leaders for that.
Why should we listen to him, then?
In an Australian Muslim community that is multi-ethnic, multi-traditional and for the most part has no religious hierarchy, any Muslim individual can probably be dismissed as unrepresentative on some basis. But it is also true that talking to any Muslim will give you a picture of what some Muslims think. The question then is whether you decide this is a discussion or a political pantomime.
He said something about “duplicitous foreign policy”? What’s all that about?
Ibrahim Abu Mohammed comes from Egypt, so he may be talking about Western countries which condemned Egypt’s incarceration of Peter Greste and his colleagues but also help to arm Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, a military dictator masquerading as a civilian president who some particularly feeble-minded Australian politicians think is a sort of Martin Luther of Islam.
It is also possible that he is talking about the despair some in the Lebanese and Syrian Sunni Muslim communities here feel when they hear that Western countries hope to make common cause with Vladimir Putin to fight terrorism in Syria, knowing what they do about Putin’s conduct in Chechnya and Ukraine.
To know for sure, you’d have to talk to him. Again.
But don’t the terrorists attack us for what we are, not what we do?
If you say so.
Are you suggesting that people might have done something to deserve what happened in Paris or San Bernardino?
Absolutely not. But it doesn’t follow that what has happened has nothing to do with what Western powers have done in the Middle East. And it should also be pointed out that those powers have for centuries been doing things that aren’t consistent with their proclaimed values.
One of many, many examples: the French, who are so committed to secularism that it is illegal to ask about people’s religion in the census, created a state called Lebanon in which people were represented in parliament according to their religious affiliation and the offices of the president, prime minister and parliament’s speaker were fixed according to religion.
But isn’t it time Arabs and Muslims looked at themselves? Isn’t it time you “owned the problem and owned the solution”?
It is time everyone owned the problem and owned the solution, since everyone is involved in creating it.
Eh? Australia isn’t in the Middle East.
Perhaps not, but its forces certainly are, repeatedly. Indeed, the war memorials that dot this country’s landscape are full of the names of Middle Eastern places to which its soldiery keeps returning, each time under a less coherent strategy than the last.
What about Gallipoli?
Hold on. Islamic State didn’t come from the West. Isn’t Ted Cruz right, that saying Islamic State isn’t Islamic is just nutty?
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea isn’t democratic. Does that strike you as a nutty thing to say?
But you’re right. Islamic State didn’t come from the West. It came from the violence that followed the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which is something that the US and its allies did, not something that they “are”.
Age columnist Julie Szego says that that is a “skewed, back-to-front analysis” because we invaded in response to a terror threat and “the response to terrorism cannot, by definition, be its cause”.
There was no terrorism threat emanating from Iraq at the time of the invasion. Iraq was invaded based on false claims about a threat it might one day pose and even more false claims about the beneficial effect such an invasion would have on the whole region. David Kilcullen, an Australian soldier who observed the Iraq conflict from its front lines as an adviser to those carrying out the “surge” of 2007, puts it this way:
“… in the case of Afghanistan the infection and contagion phases occurred first and were followed (after 9/11) by Western intervention … By contrast, in Iraq, we started the cycle by intervening, and the rejection of our presence opened the way to infection of the conflict … the Surge of 2007 was an attempt to arrest a vicious cycle that we ourselves had begun.”
I’ll never remember all that. Don’t you have a shorter explanation?
Certainly. You can call it a graphic failure of leadership.
Maher Mughrabi is foreign editor of The Age.