Muslim? Model? Leslie’s many guises

Of all the strange twists in the Michelle Leslie case, none attracted greater controversy than her sudden appearance a few weeks after her arrest in a Muslim scarf.

Australian Muslim leader, Keysar Trad, was one who supported her publicly, offering Leslie spiritual guidance while also suggesting she might want to reconsider the modesty of her modelling assignments. In September, Mr Trad told The Age Leslie identified as a Muslim and that was the important thing. “While I would like her to be more devout, if I was to place her on a ladder with other Muslims I’d say she would be ahead of many,” Mr Trad said at the time. “She identifies as a Muslim.”

Yesterday Mr Trad welcomed Leslie’s release but raised concerns about her future career.

“If she wishes to continue modelling that would be in breach of the religious teachings. We will continue to pray for her … the temptation of the job offers she will receive will provide a great test. She faces a difficult time, perhaps as difficult as the trials of being inside a darkened prison cell.”

Islamic Council of Victoria executive Sherene Hassan said she was “taken aback” when she first saw Leslie in the head dress and by speculation she might have been trying to win favour with the Balinese judges.

“There is only a small Muslim population in Bali and … their face would usually be uncovered,” Ms Hassan said. “The majority of Islamic scholars don’t perceive there is an Islamic requirement for covering the face.”

Ms Hassan said Leslie’s return to Western clothes did not necessarily cast doubt over her claim to follow Islam, since many Muslim women did not adhere to the Islamic dress code.

As with many aspects of the Leslie case, the nature of her religion remains a mystery: at her last two court appearances, the scarf was gone, and when the 24-year old walked free from Kerobokan prison on Saturday she was every inch the model.

She was not, as some reports said, baring her stomach. Camp Michelle — the 30-strong platoon of cameras and journalists that maintained a 30-hour watch from verdict to flight out — was not for the faint-hearted or skimpily dressed, and it appeared that Leslie’s grey tank-top simply rode up an inch in the scrum. But the top, tight jeans and sunglasses hardly suggested piety.

Leslie’s advisers stress that they were trapped in an extraordinarily difficult situation because of the unusual and very public nature of her arrest — and that they were forced to make some decisions that appeared odd to the outside world.

It is not clear whether this extended to the decision to present her as a Muslim.

But after the verdict on Friday, her Australian lawyer, Ross Hill, told the media Leslie and her advisers had played the cards they were dealt. He was referring to the law, but it also included having to manage intense media interest and very different audiences in Australia and Indonesia.

As Mr Hill described it, Leslie sought a legal solution to a legal problem that could not easily be resolved: once trapped in the system, she had no choice but to navigate the fastest way out. With Leslie said to have been “terrified” since her arrest, reportedly in the company of the children of several powerful public figures, her lawyers say that proving her innocent was not feasible because officials had ensured there was no evidence to support her case. Nor was it safe.

Now she is free, they promise Leslie will tell “the truth” — including, it is assumed, the real nature of her relationship with Islam.

She said after the verdict that she would return to Australia to “clear my name”. There have been negotiations for deals with television programs and magazines, but even that aspect of this case will prove controversial: Justice Minister Chris Ellison has suggested she will be subject to a law that bars convicted criminals from profiting from their crime.

Leslie is rumoured to have signed a deal with New Idea for up to $80,000. The deal would exclude her selling her story to television but Neil Mooney, producer of Seven’s Today Tonight, said he was “absolutely not interested in paying convicted criminals”. He did not know of any deal with New Idea, which is owned by Pacific Magazines and part of Seven’s empire. A spokesman for the Nine Network said it had no deal with Leslie.

Last night Leslie was believed to be staying in Singapore after being deported from Bali. The date of her return to Australia was not known, although a large media contingent was at Sydney airport awaiting her arrival.

After landing in Singapore, Leslie spoke for the first time since her release.

“I’m so exhausted, I’m really excited to be going home and I’m just really relieved to be out of Indonesia,” she said, and thanked all the people who supported her with emails, letters and phone calls in jail.

Leslie will return to Australia far more famous than when she left. Her notoriety increased on Saturday when negotiations with Indonesian authorities failed to persuade them not to deport her as a convicted criminal.

Whatever pain that decision caused, it was overridden by her obvious delight at being free. On her flight to Singapore on Saturday night, she was described as being plainly happy, despite the presence of two television crews who had bought last-minute tickets on the same flight. She enjoyed a glass of wine, read Vogue — and as she flew over Bali, waved the island goodbye.

With Rachel Kleinman, Angela O’Connor

Vacation? Short break? Day trip? Get Skip-the-line tickets at GetYourGuide.


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Age, Australia
Nov. 21, 2005
Neil McMahon

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday November 21, 2005.
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