A religious vilification case has embarrassed the plaintiffs and shown the stupidity of the law, says PIERS AKERMAN.
It didn’t mean to, of course. The legislation was intended to shield religions — particularly Islam — from scrutiny and was championed by the Islamic Council of Victoria and other Muslim organisations before being passed by the Bracks Government in mid-2001.
Indeed, the current matter was the first brought under the flawed legislation when it came into effect early in 2002.
The case in the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission bears all the hallmarks of a set-up, but it has exploded in the equal opportunity industry’s face.
Consider the facts. The matter had its genesis in a seminar held under the aegis of Catch the Fire Ministries, one of the major opponents of the legislation.
Three complainants, all Australian converts to Islam, were encouraged to attend the seminar by contacts within the Victorian Islamic Council.
One of those who encouraged one of the female attendees was May Helou, who was then employed by the Equal Opportunity Commission and also involved with the Islamic Council as its women’s education officer, the Australian Arabic Council, and Victorian Arabic Social Services. (Helou has apparently recently left her EOC position.)
The principal speakers at the seminar were Christian pastors Daniel Scot and Danny Nalliah and they were charged under Victoria’s appalling legislation with allegedly vilifying Islam.
Attempts at conciliation before the Victorian EOC and the Victorian Civil Administration Tribunal failed and the case is now being heard by Judge Michael Higgins at VCAT.
Unfortunately for both the EOC and the Victorian Islamic Council, the three complainants — whose evidence is critical to the case — have scant knowledge of the Koran.
Pastor Scot, on the other hand, has testified to having read the Koran more than 100 times and has made a study of Islam and Islamic scholars.
Attempts to discredit his knowledge of the topic have backfired embarrassingly for the complainants’ counsel, Brind Woinarski QC, and have highlighted some crucial differences between Christian and Islamic teachings.
Among the arguments Mr Woinarski has tried to develop is the claim that laughter during Pastor Scot’s reading of the Koran at the seminar may have breached the Act’s prohibition on “severe ridicule”.
The screwy law was already on dangerous ground concerning freedom of speech, but now freedom to laugh is also under threat in Victoria.
Pastor Scot has also been asked to comment on the Koranic verse which calls for the cutting off of the right hand of a thief, and another verse which mentions repentance.
As Pastor Scot’s barrister, David Perkins, noted, there is nothing about re-attaching the hands of those who later repent.
Pastor Scot was also able to point out that Mohammed cut off the hands of thieves and that Muslim scholars, four schools of Sunni Islamic law, as well as Shi’a law, all say that a hand can be cut off and do not link the verse relating to repentance with the earlier verse about such punishment.
Indeed, he explained that the Koranic law as well as the hadith (the collected teachings second only to the Koran) say that if a thief steals again they also will have their right leg chopped off.
Islamic mercy, he said, was shown by the fact those who had been punished by having a hand chopped off did not have their leg similarly treated — so long as they changed their ways.
The case has even examined the question of differences between Allah in the Koran and God in the Bible.
The hearing was also given chapter and verse references (or Koranic reference and hadith) to the role of women in Islam.
The hearing was told that the Islamic view was that the testimony of a woman was worth half that of a man, that a woman was a “toy”, was “not to be seen” and was as a “rib that is crooked”.
It was told that a husband’s sexual demands must be met even if his wife is cooking a meal, that a wife is as property, that a “temporary wife” is acceptable and that a woman is “deficient in intelligence”.
Whether May Helou will be as energetic an exponent in promoting Islam when this matter is finally resolved will be interesting to see.
Perhaps the most telling moment to date came just last Friday when Pastor Scot was asked by the Islamic Council’s barrister Debbie Mortimer to stop reading passages from the Koran and just give verses because the readings vilified Muslims. He replied: “If it is not for reading, it shouldn’t be in the book.”
Relatively straightforward and accurate reports of the trial have been placed on the web by Pastor Scot’s church; certainly in all the pertinent facts they accord with the few reports that have appeared in the local press.
Summing up in the case should begin next week. The greatest crime is that the politically correct Victorian Government ever enacted the shameful legislation which permitted the case to begin at all.
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