Islamists on Lateline: genuine and sincere?

On ABC Lateline, on October 8 2014, the guest was Wassim Doureihi of the anti-democracy Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Wassim is a character I debated at UWS a couple of years ago. As in the debate, Wassim was vehement and articulate, and true to Islam. Despite repeated questioning, he refused to condemn anything that Islamic State has done, and instead launched into obstinate polemics about supposed Muslim victimhood. Host Emma Albirici continually talked over him in an attempt to insist that he answered the questions. This was probably the most confrontational interview that has ever been on Lateline.

Of course Doureihi would not condemn Islamic State because that is what Hizb ut-Tahrir wants. A caliphate is their objective. It is important to understand that Islamic State is simply following the aims, methods and example of the Prophet Muhammad himself. Of course Doureihi could not express his enthusiasm for IS, because he would be in danger of violating new anti-terror laws. I sympathise with him in this. These laws should not restrict freedom of speech and Hizb ut-Tahrir should not be banned. We need to hear their views openly and debate them.

What we need to do is to seek to undermine the ideology of Islam that causes otherwise reasonable people to behave in such unreasonable ways. We should not blame people for following their religion. We should instead concentrate on demythologising Islam and all religions. These people are causing mayhem on the basis of their beliefs, but these are beliefs that we actually know to be false. Reason and evidence tell us so. This should be the basis of our criticism. There is little point in debating within the context of Islam. The extremists have the Koran and the Hadith on their side and they know it.

The Islamists are at least honest about their beliefs. The apologists are not. A prime example was the next night on Lateline, when the interviewee was lawyer Haset Sali, who is a former president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. "He's also written an English translation of the Koran to help non-Muslims better understand his religion", we were told.

Sali came across as calm, peaceful and ecumenical, just the thing to quell the anxiety of the viewers after the previous night's extraordinary proceedings. However it is impossible to conceive that he was not being knowingly deceitful. He must know what is in the Koran.

The headline on the ABC website says "The Koran does not call for a caliphate". Really? It certainly calls for the world to be ruled by Allah and his followers. These semantics were just the beginning of his apologist disinformation.

Sali said "what the Koran encourages is that all religions should co-exist in harmony". Given the countless verses saying how infidels should be punished, smitten, slain and beheaded, how could he come up with this interpretation? He dug out one of the apologists’ favorites, 2:256, "There is no compulsion in religion." There are only a handful of such conciliatory sounding quotes in the Koran, so they are well worn. But the context he gave to this was quite fallacious, according to Islamic doctrine.

He said it was delivered when Muhammad arrived in Mecca after his "battles". Instead, according to Islamic tradition, it was delivered in Medina much earlier, when Muhammad was fighting the Jewish tribes. As Islamic jurists well know, this verse is abrogated (superceded) by the bloodthirsty verses delivered later during his military campaign and after his victory. Although the Koran is not in chronological order, despite being an "exact transcript", Islamists know what the ordering is, so they know which earlier verses to disregard, including verse 2:256.

As Sali describes it, Muhammad prevailed "after a lot of battles, which were all focused on trying to kill him". Muhammad the victim? Again, according to Islamic history, it was Muhammad who first launched his unprovoked attacks on the Meccan caravans from his sanctuary in Medina. It was an insurgency. To claim otherwise is dishonest. Muslims find it difficult to cope with the concept that their hero was the aggressor. Doctrinally, they use the device that the whole world belongs to Allah, and they are merely trying to reclaim it, so all their wars are defensive and just. The purpose of Mr Sali, it seems, is to be a professional dissembler.

In order to get across what Sali described as the "right message", he then proceeded to another Koranic quotation, verse 5:32, or as it was in this case, a misquotation: "To take one life is as if to take the life - or the lives - of all humanity, and to save one life is as if to save all humanity." Again, this is often quoted as it is seemingly benign. He omitted the beginning of the verse: "We ordained for the Children of Israel ...". This quote is from the Talmud, and applies only to Jews. He also leaves out "…unless it be (as punishment) for murder or for spreading mischief in the land". So it does not apply to punishment for "spreading mischief" anyway. The Koran goes on to describe the punishment for such things, including hacking the victim’s body to pieces.

Mr Sali said he wanted to represent "genuine and sincere" Muslims, and it was the radicals who were "trying to trash the name of Islam". We can sympathise with him, as the "religion of peace" is a hard sell, and no doubt most Muslims feel that the behaviour of the Islamic State is an embarrassment. But to try to save face by misrepresenting what the Koran actually says, and what authoritative Muslim sources contend, is not a tactic that is ultimately going to succeed. People can see through this deception.

Islamists like Doureihi, who reject democracy and universal human rights, have views that are objectionable, but at least they are trying to be honest. What we really need to do is to progress these discussions, from quibbling about nuances of Islamic beliefs, to a more substantive level, where we can debate issues about the nature of religious beliefs, their desirability, and most critically, their authenticity.

Unless and until we can start to consider the benefits of reason, rationality, and secularism, especially in relation to Islam, we will continue in a downward spiral of disharmony and conflict that will ultimately threaten civilisation itself.

John Perkins
President,  Secular Party of Australia