Telegenic Muslim women never lack for invitations to go before the ABC’s cameras and put a happy face on their religion, not least when one or other bloody outrage demands a very special brand of cultural contextualizing. Q&A newcomer Raihan Ismail can look forward to many more close-ups
Zaky Mallah shot his bolt last year and Perth academic Anne Aly must have been pumping out po-mo piffle about terrorism as “the new theatre” or somesuch, so Q&A on Monday night had to find another presentable Muslim to fill the sane, sincere and smooth-cheeked seat. We all know the shtick: Islamic mischief has nothing to do with Islam … you can’t bomb an ideology … and, inevitably, Islamophobia! Islamophobia! Islamophobia! Fortunately, Minaret Central Casting sent over ANU’s Raihan Ismail, who played the evening’s tame Muslima with competence and assurance. Actually, she was better than good and quite fetching to boot. Susan Carland, watch your back.
That Q&A refuses to expand diversity with an odd Buddhist, Mormon or a Wiccan is a pity but no real mystery. Those creeds’ adherents don’t demand constant attention to their grievances or grow immediately and explosively tetchy at perceived slights and insults, nor do many of their children conclude that gunning down innocents is just the shot – literally – to advance the spiritual side of things. Islam is a religion that needs smiley faces on its talking heads and Ms Ismail exemplified both of those required attributes. With Anne Aly, now a federal Labor candidate, and Carland, who is also Mrs Waleed Aly, forever in the running, competition for the spotlight is already fierce and bound to grow more intense. Factor in as well that the ranks of those eager to explore hijab’d hermaneutics include Ruby Hamad and Miriam Veiszadeh, plus variously veiled others, and the simple truth is that there are more microphone-ready Muslimas than available TV spots to accommodate them.
Until the next shooting or knife attack, when it will be all hands on deck to remind us that Islam is the religion of peace, the ABC and SBS are obliged to put a ceiling on the number of seats available to otherness. Neither broadcaster, for example, would dream of inviting an Islamic spokesperson to discuss the right of crossdressing schoolboys’ to hang out in girls’ lavatories. Much better to assault the imagined homophobia of Middle Australia than embarrass representatives of a religion whose more ardent acolytes delight in throwing homosexuals off tall buildings.
Ms Ismail’s aplomb was evident from the start. There was the cultist hijab to remind viewers of their hateful prejudices, as in ‘yes, she is wrapped up in seventh-century couture because her menfolk demand it — but, seriously, that doesn’t mean she isn’t a thoroughly modern woman.’ There were de rigueur explanations that Islam is not a monolith, with the advice that ISIS’s representation of the faith is counterbalanced by Saudi Arabia’s opposition to it. As fellow panellist Eldad Beck wryly noted, if the Saudis represent the good guys then there are no good guys.
And Ms Ismail did particularly well on the one area all of the ABC’s Islamic good-will ambassadors are required to get absolutely down pat: the great burden of staying afloat in the raging sea of Australia’s xenophobic racism. If this gripe had not been invented it would need to exist in order to justify the poor-me wailing of those who enjoy it so. Where would commissioners and commissars of political correctness hope to find gainful employment if the grievance cartels had not thrived, as they have over recent, taxpayer-funded decades? Why, the Human Rights Commission’s Tim Soutphommasane would still be a modest Labor historian dodging questions from Gerard Henderson about dubious scholarship and mysterious sources! Now he can hand out Frisbees emblazoned with touching slogans and pocket $320,000+ per year. Good work if your mates can get it for you.
“When it comes to Muslims living in this country it is already quite difficult,” Ms Ismail said, which rather overlooked how difficult it is becoming for everyone else. As an avowed Manly Sea Eagles supporter, she must have noticed the security checks – the bag searches and friskings — imposed on those attending that ground and others. Somehow, before the cultural enrichment of official multiculturalism, admirers of bull-necked men running headlong into each other were able to walk right into the ground with nary a thought for bombs or berserkers. Still, that’s the price we must pay for the blessing of the kebab and tabouleh, terrorism being a mere “irritant”, as Waleed Aly presents it. Those handbag searches, lockdowns, sieges, midnight raids, riots, cat-meat sheiks and female genital mutilation clinics, they are the collateral consequences of the wizards of multiculturalism’s grand plan to make Australia a better, jollier place, not like the nasty, boring nation of old.
While all of the above established Ms Ismail as a front-rank contender in the battle of the Burka’d Belles – covering up from head to foot being another of the valid ways she saw as establishing Muslim identity and not necessarily an indication of “radicalisation” – it was her set-piece presentation of the Koran as the catalyst for open, honest and pacific debate that must surely have locked in many future ABC invitations. Those inconveniently blood-thirsty bits about, for example, striking at the neck and killing unbelievers and imposing taxes on subjects who rate Mohammad – rate him quietly if they are wise – an egomaniacal warlord whose inner voices, conveniently, just happened to endorse whatever political and strategic initiatives were appropriate to the moment, even to the extent of contradicting earlier admonitions and angelic instructions. Such items of Koranic counsel weren’t mentioned on Q&A. Instead, viewers were treated by Ms Ismail to a thumbnail summation of doctrinal debates about the Koran’s endorsement of one wife, four wives, or ten. Other than its unexplored relevance to the rorting of the welfare system, this topic seemed beside the point in any discussion of what to do with the head-loppers of ISIS.
Mind you, that discussion never had a chance, as Ms Ismail is a graduate of the Waleed Aly Academy of Inverted Consequences, the principle strand of the curriculum being that bombing, killing and destroying an enemy only makes him stronger. This would explain why the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did so much to promote bushido, not to mention Germans’ enduring reverence for their Austrian corporal.
OK, sorry. Forgive the sarcasm. But when the national broadcaster fosters an alternate reality in which favoured players are free to strut and preen, to dissemble and misdirect, it’s hard not to follow the cues, leap through the looking glass and join the fun.
Yes, in the Multicultural Muslima Welter it will be a rough and tumble race for the national broadcaster’s prime-time attentions, but bet on Ms Ismail, this talented newcomer, to lead the pack into this year’s Logies. (…and the award for Best Islamic Rationaliser in Dramatic Mascara goes to…..)
Why it is that such a small segment of the population — just two-and-a-bit per cent by Ms Ismail’s Q&A reckoning — requires so many apologists is a question the ABC long ago concluded is best not considered.
Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online.