Australian Muslims have no case to answer

By Yusuf Zaman (November 7 2002)

Your honour, my client, a law-abiding and patriotic Muslim citizen of Australia, is charged with the grave offence of silence in the face of terror allegedly committed by Muslims in Bali. The prosecution has failed to make a case for my client to answer. Therefore I make this no-case submission on his behalf.
The prosecution has spoken widely - on talkback radio, in newspapers' letters pages, through racists who taunt Muslims on the streets. But its argument rests on a false premise, namely that the one-billion-plus Muslims worldwide are a monolith.

According to this view, if Chechen terrorists kidnap theatregoers in Moscow in the name of God, Islam and nationalism, then Muslims from Morocco to Mauritius to Malaysia to Melbourne must share some of the guilt of the terrorists, unless and until they repeatedly condemn such actions. Your honour, this argument does not hold water.

The world has a billion-plus Muslims. The overwhelming majority are moderate, reasonable, decent and peace-loving, involved in the legitimate pursuit of a satisfying life. In this, they are no different from the majority of the world's non-Muslims.

As every other religion has, Muslims around the world have their fair share of malcontents and desperadoes. These are people who often breed around the stagnant pool of poverty, oppression, ignorance, unemployment, bigotry and intolerance.

They are capable of committing crimes in the name of Islam, which mark them out as a bitter and ugly aberration from the whole.

Although they may arbitrarily claim to be associated with Muslims at large and to cloak their political agenda in an Islamic guise, that is a shallow claim, since their deeds are the very antithesis of Islam

The prosecution has erred in relying on such a claim to indict law-abiding and patriotic Muslims of Australia. Unwittingly, it has played into the hands of those with whom it seeks to link my client, because the indictment puts all Australian Muslims, most of whom are moderates, in the dock.

Such an indictment is grist for the mill of the extremists. It provides them with a golden chance to win over a few more Muslims who become disillusioned and disheartened at being constantly and wrongly looked upon as fifth columnists for the terror brigade. In this way, the one-sided and tenuous, if not outright spurious, association that the extremists have with the greater body of Muslims receives a perverse fillip.

Though there is clearly no case to answer, my client wants this court to know that he did condemn the attacks at Bali, just as he condemned the outrage at New York last year - as did imams, community leaders and prominent Muslims in America and Australia.

My client believes in the sanctity of all human life and condemns all cases of the shedding of innocents' blood. All actions that end in the death of civilians - Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, or atheist - are worthy of condemnation.

I need say nothing more about the hollow charge against my client.

But with your honour's indulgence, let us assume the world's Muslims are a monolith. If so, can my client still be charged with the terrible crime of silence in the face of terror? The answer is a resounding no.

Your honour, was it, and is it, expected of the world's one-billion-plus Catholics to issue regular statements against the terror tactics of the IRA or ETA, the Basque separatist group? One has a nationalistic agenda rooted in sectarianism; the other has a nationalistic agenda rooted in linguistic and ethnic considerations. Would a Catholic priest in Manila and a Catholic bishop in Ouagadougou be guilty of complicity if they failed to condemn the terror of the Catholic IRA and ETA? The same logic would apply to their congregations and to common citizens. Are they to be indicted if they fail to condemn each and every atrocity committed by the IRA and ETA? Can reason support an affirmative answer to these questions? No.

Are Protestants in New Zealand, Kenya and Canada equally responsible for terrorist acts by loyalist militias in Northern Ireland? Are all Protestants in Northern Ireland to be condemned at the altar of Unionist violence? No.

When the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, probably one of the most ruthless terrorist groups in the world, launched the modern phenomenon of suicide bombings in their bid to secede from the Buddhist Singhalese majority, did the world indict all Hindus for not categorically condemning the atrocities of their co-religionists? No.

When Dr Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians worshipping in the Ibrahim Mosque in Hebron, was each and every Jewish person in the world guilty of the sins of commission or omission if she or he did not condemn the deed? No.

This is not a question of complicity, abetment or common purpose. This is a matter of an association and, as I said before, an extremely weak, tenuous and arbitrary one at that. There is no guilt by association.

The prosecution's case has no legs on which to stand.

Yusuf Zaman is a Melbourne barrister.

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