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Aussie cleric defends rape; may be deported
October 26, 2006 14:33 IST
Australia's leading Muslim cleric should be deported for saying women who don't wear a veil are asking to be raped, a senior government official said Friday.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward said that Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali was inciting sexual assault by excusing perpetrators and blaming victims.
"It's time we stopped just saying he should apologise," Goward said of the leader of Australia's 350,000 Muslims. "It's time the Islamic community did more than say they were horrified. I think it's time he left."
Al-Hilali, in a fasting-month sermon in Arabic to worshippers at Sydney's biggest mosque, said: "If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden, or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it ... whose fault is it? The cats' or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem."
The Mufti of Australia said that a woman who stayed home and was veiled would be safe from sexual assault. "If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijsb (veil), no problem would have occurred," he said.
The 66-year-old, Egyptian-born cleric has not denied the comments, which were tape recorded by The Australian newspaper.
It was not al-Hilali's first controversy.
A member of Prime Minister John Howard's handpicked 14-member Muslim advisory board, al-Hilali has defended suicide bombers, described the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States as "God's work," and blamed Jews for "all the wars and problems that threaten the peace and stability of all the world."
Al-Hilai, who doesn't speak English despite living in Australia for more than 20 years, was also taken to task by Treasurer Peter Costello, deputy leader of Howard's Liberal Party.
"This is totally unacceptable," Costello said. "This is comparing women to uncovered meat."
Costello was the first in the government to raise the possibility that Islamic extremists could be deported if they held another country's passport as well as an Australian one.
"If you have a significant religious leader like this preaching to a flock in a situation where we have had gang rapes, in a way that seems to make it justifiable, or at least lighten the dehumanising and degrading extent of the offence, then people that listen to that kind of comment can get the wrong idea," Costello said.
The reference was to a series of gang rapes of white women by Muslim men in 2000 in Sydney, in which victims were told they were targeted because they were "Aussie pigs".
Sophie Mirabella, also a Liberal Party lawmaker, urged al-Hilali to move to Iran or another country ruled by mullahs.
"I have a message for Sheik al-Hilali: This is Australia, not Iran, and violence and degradation of women is not acceptable," she said.
Mirabella called for the Mufti's sacking and for all 14 members of Howard's Muslim advisory board to stand up and condemn their leader's defence of rape.
Waleed Aly, a spokesman for the Islamic Council of Victoria, also called on al-Hilali to resign, saying his views sought to normalise immoral sexual behaviour.
"It's basically saying that the immoral response of men to women who are not fully covered is as natural and as inevitable as the response of an animal tempted by food," Aly said. "But men are people who have moral responsibilities and the capability in engaging in moral action."
Aly, speaking in Melbourne, said he fully expected a backlash against Muslims. "I'm expecting a deluge of hate mail," he said. "I'm expecting people to get abused in the street and get abused at work."
Aly added: "The idea that somehow victims on that occasion [the Sydney gang rapes] were to blame, or in any way invited that sort of assault, is probably the most disgusting comment we will see in the country for a very long time."