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The finding against two Catch the Fire pastors is a deeply disturbing glimpse into Victoria's politically correct future

Herald Sun, 22 Dec 2004

HOW odd that a Christian pastor has been found guilty of vilifying Islam after quoting the Koran.

Is this really what Premier Steve Bracks intended with his absurd racial and religious vilification law?

Pastor Daniel Scot and Pastor Danny Nalliah were last week found to have committed religious vilification after the first trial under this new law.

Judge Michael Higgins found Scot offended by quoting the Koran in a way that got "a response from the audience at various times in the form of laughter".

Yes, Scot made his audience of 250 Christians laugh at Islam. He didn't inspire them to burn a mosque, shout insults at Muslims, plant bombs or paint nasty slogans on fences.

He just made the audience laugh. And that in Victoria is now a crime.

But that's not the only absurdity in a case that has so far cost these two pastors more than $200,000 in costs.

The absurdities start with the excuse the Premier gave in 2001 for imposing this law, threatening us with six months' jail and $6000 fines.

"Victorians take considerable pride in the fact that people from . . . diverse backgrounds live together harmoniously in our community," he told Parliament.

Yet even though we got on well, we now had to limit our free speech -- despite Bracks conceding "freedom of expression is crucial to our democratic society".

Publicly saying hurtful things about a race or religion would now be illegal.

Fear not, Bracks soothed. This law was "confined to prohibit only the most noxious forms of conduct", and would "promote racial and religious tolerance".

But it wasn't and hasn't.

With a new law to play with, it was inevitable activists would try to use it.

Meet May Helou, an official of the Islamic Council of Victoria, who'd also been hired by the Equal Opportunity Commission to ensure "Arabic and Muslim communities are aware of their rights under anti-discrimination laws".

In 2002, Helou alerted several Muslim converts at the ICV to a seminar on jihad to be run by a Pentecostal church, Catch the Fire.

AS two of the converts told the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearing, she urged them to go so it wouldn't be held, one explained, "without any Muslims present".

So they went, and were horrified to hear Scot, from Muslim Pakistan, discuss the Koran. Once they'd reported their horror to Helou, the case against Scot and Nalliah, the Catch the Fire leader, was on.

Already we see how this law inflamed tensions. Without it, the three Muslims would probably not have gone to Scot's seminar to be offended. Nor would Christians since, in retaliation, be going to Muslim events to do their own monitoring.

What a farce. Why, for instance, was the Islamic Council now so righteous about vilification when it voted to install as Australia's Mufti Sheik Taj El-din El-Hilali, who has praised suicide bombers as "heroes", accused Jews of using "sex and abominable acts of buggery, espionage, treason and economic hoarding to control the world" and called September 11 "God's work against oppressors" -- as well as "the work of 100 per cent American gangs"?

Why was the Islamic Council silencing two pastors who'd laughed at their religion, when it refused to sack its own Mufti who'd shamed it?

So what did Judge Higgins finally find in his summary judgment, released in the Friday before Christmas, with the full judgment and penalties still to come? Most of his summary criticises Scot, who had "made fun of Muslim beliefs and conduct". The judge gave 13 examples, starting like this:

"Pastor Scot, during the course of the seminar, made statements --

"(1) that the (Koran) promotes violence, killing and looting

"(2) that it treats women badly ...

"(5) that Allah is not merciful and a thief's hand is cut off for stealing ...

"(12) Muslim people have to fight Christians and Jews, humiliate them and fight them until they accept true religion (sic)..."

Indeed, at least eight of the accusations arose from Scot quoting the Koran at the seminar, and -- it seems to me -- for the most part accurately. The Koran indeed tells Muslims to "kill disbelievers where you find them" in defending Islam, to "fight those who believe not in God ... until they pay the jizya (a penalty tax for non-Muslims)", and to share loot after a war.

It also instructs men how to punish "ill-conduct" in their wives -- "admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds (and last) beat them (lightly)".

Thieves must indeed have hands lopped off, and so on.

So what did Scot, in those 13 examples the judge gave, say that was actually false?

Higgins in his summary does not say -- other than that he used wrong immigration statistics and failed to cite a verse of the Koran that claimed Allah was indeed merciful.

But he ruled that in quoting the Koran Scot "failed to differentiate between Muslims throughout the world, (and) that he preached a literal translation of the Koran and of Muslims' religious practices which was not mainstream ..."

Perhaps Scot should indeed have said more clearly that many Muslims would not accept his interpretation of the Koran -- or, more likely, were too peace-loving to take all its instructions so seriously. Certainly he and Nalliah put their case more stridently and luridly than was wise or fair, but that's just my opinion.

But is Scot's "literal" reading quite so far out of the Muslim mainstream?

Our own Mufti this year told Muslims to "prove our manhood towards God" in "a war of infidels". Melbourne's Sheik Mohammed Omran, the influential head of the Islamic Information and Support Centre of Australia, last year told SBS jihad was appropriate -- but outside Australia.

Feminists have also railed against Islam's treatment of women, as Iran this year sentenced to death even a mentally handicapped teenager who'd been prostituted by her mother.

Only last year, a Melbourne Muslim told a court she'd helped her husband to torch their shop because the Koran allowed him to beat her.

AND last week we learned Prince Charles had met Islamic and Christian leaders to try to stop Islamic countries from killing Muslims who'd become Christian.

It seems to me mainstream Islam is not as obviously sweet and peaceful as the judge appears to suggest, and it's perhaps naive to have laws which make Scot guilty of vilification - and fine him - for insisting it isn't.

No, not naive. It's unfair and it's dangerous - not only to our right to speak our mind, but to our right to demand reform of a religion that needs a frank debate.

About A.F.F.

We have been full time lobbyists for Aussie families since 1983.  AFF is dedicated to upholding Biblical family values, promoting a Biblical Christian worldview, and educating and mobilising concerned individuals to positively affect their homes, communities, country and world.

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