Title Self-criticism is a monotheistic tradition.
Database Radio Programs
Date 12-03-2007
Source PERSPECTIVE
Citation Id Z2KM6
Cover date Monday, 12 March 2007
Item Online Text: 1524897
Key item No
MP no
Pages 2p.
Speaker WAKIM, Joseph
Text online Yes
System Id media/radioprm/Z2KM6


Self-criticism is a monotheistic tradition.

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This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Parliamentary Library.

 

It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in any other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

 

For the purposes of quoting verbatim from a transcript, it is advisable to verify the transcript against the broadcast.

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Perspective

 

Monday 12 March 2007

Joseph Wakim, founder, Australian Arabic Council

 

Self-criticism is a monotheistic tradition

Besieged communities are too often reminded by their elders to sing from the same hymn sheet - on cue and in perfect harmony. But there is a growing chorus that is being sung in a different key, and this may force the conductor to apply a new baton.

The irony is that these new movements are not anti-tradition, but go to the heart of the three monotheistic faiths, all born in the Middle East.

An email from a new group named Independent Australia Jewish Voices is currently being circulated. This comes in the wake of the open letter by the (British) Independent Jewish Voices, which was published in The Guardian on 5 February. Both groups are driven by their concern that 'the Jewish establishment does not represent the full range of Jewish opinion'.

Exactly as predicted, there have been strategies to silence these voices with labels such as 'the new anti-Semitism' and 'Jews who are proud to be ashamed to be Jews'. On ABC radio recently, US Professor Alvin Rosenfeld pathologised these voices as 'a tiny splinter group of far left Jews who have problems with their own Jewish identity'.

But to be critical of your own people is not a pathology. The founding figure of Judaism was an abandoned child and whose voice was 'slow of speech'. When he saw his exiled people turn away from God and worship a golden calf, Moses was enraged and he shattered the tablets that were inscribed with the Ten Commandments. At this defining moment, he would not remain silent in the face of these errant ways.

The people of the book have a shared sentiment with their Semitic cousins. When Sheikh al Hilaly caused a collective cringe with his notorious cat-meat metaphor many Muslims engaged in public criticism, more than ever before in Australia.

The ability to criticise one's own people is a sign of a robust society, and a fearless quest for honesty, where diversity no longer equals division. Filing neatly behind one voice may have signified the strength of solidarity last century, but may signify the weakness in a herd mentality today. Many Muslims faced a dilemma of being labelled un-Australian if they defended the Mufti, and un-Islamic if they criticised him.

This new chorus of diverse Muslim voices was rebutted by the old guard with accusations of peddling politics, promoting a religious sect, hanging out dirty laundry and being traitors to Islam.

However, an illiterate orphan from Mecca grew up to be critical of the practices of the prevailing tribes in Arabia. The prophet Mohammed received divine revelations which became the Koran. His teachings were initially rejected by many of his own people and he fled to Medina for eight years. Upon his return from his exile or hijra, traditions such as idol worship, female infanticide and intoxication were outlawed and declared haram.

In the sayings of the prophet, recorded as the Hadith, he states that it is incumbent upon people who witness anything that is disapproved by God to first try and change it with their hand, then their tongue, then their heart. Again, witnesses cannot sit idly on their hands and remain silent in the face of errant ways.

Two thousand years ago, a son of a carpenter from Nazareth was more critical of his own tribe than the Roman Empire that oppressed them. In the sermon of the seven woes, Jesus decried the 'teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!' He condemned the establishment for their greed, self-indulgence, wickedness and failure to practice what they preach. In recent years, a growing number of church groups, who oppose the war in Iraq, have appealed to US President Bush as a fellow Christian, to pursue non-violent solutions.

All three faiths were founded in a climate where majority opinion was publicly challenged by a minority voice. Loyalty to one's tribe, flag, land or elders should never hinder an over-arching loyalty to truth, neither in the past nor in the present.

When faced with breaches of the law, we are familiar with the maxim: 'you have the right to remain silent'. In an era when the politics of fear abound, and citizens are witnesses to immoral breaches of universal human rights, a new maxim is required: you have the responsibility to remain vocal.

Guests

Joseph Wakim 
Founder of the Australian/Arabic Council

Former Multicultural Affairs Commissioner