Three current articles from Australian newspapers below:
A realistic Prime Minister defends his troops
Prime Minister John Howard has leapt to the defence of soldiers caught acting offensively and mishandling their weapons in Iraq, saying they were simply letting off steam. But despite his efforts to play down their behaviour, the inquiry into the shooting death of Private Jake Kovco in Baghdad earlier this year asked to view video images of the skylarking soldiers to see if they were relevant to its investigation.
The images, which were posted on the internet, have severely embarrassed an Australian Defence Force already under fire over incidents involving misbehaving troops. Defence chief Angus Houston has blasted the actions of those posing for the videos, which include images of a soldier holding a gun to the head of a man, possibly one of his comrades, wearing Arab robes. He has promised to deal seriously with the antics and Labor has called for a full inquiry.
But Mr Howard said that while he did not condone it, the behaviour was understandable given the stresses the troops were working under. "I think we have to understand that soldiers work, particularly in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, they work in very stressful environments and soldiers through the ages have let off a bit of steam when they are working in stressful environments," Mr Howard said.
Counsel assisting the Kovco inquiry, Colonel Michael Griffin, has asked to see the images, which include several instances of soldiers mishandling their weapons, to see if they would help the inquiry. The inquiry has heard evidence that before he died in his room, Pte Kovco had mishandled the pistol that killed him, waving it around like a cowboy in a western movie. Although the offending videos were shot in 2003 - well before Pte Kovco's detachment arrived in Baghdad - Colonel Griffin believes they may still be relevant.
His Eminence nails the Muslims
Sydney's Catholic Archbishop has hit out at Muslims protesting over comments by the Pope, saying their reaction shows the link in Islam between religion and violence. Cardinal George Pell has also labelled the response of some Australian Muslim leaders to the issue as "unhelpful".
A wave of protest has erupted among Muslims across the globe after comments by Pope Benedict XVI, in which he quoted an obscure medieval text that criticised some teachings of the Prophet Mohammed as "evil and inhuman". The Pope has since said he is "deeply sorry" for the outrage sparked by his remarks and stressed they do not reflect his personal opinion.
But Cardinal Pell today backed Pope Benedict, saying the violent reaction to his comments on Islam and violence illustrated his fears. "The violent reactions in many parts of the Islamic world justified one of Pope Benedict's main fears," Cardinal Pell said in a statement. "They showed the link for many Islamists between religion and violence, their refusal to respond to criticism with rational arguments, but only with demonstrations, threats and actual violence. "Our major priority must be to maintain peace and harmony within the Australian community, but no lasting achievements can be grounded in fantasies and evasions."
Dr Pell said it was a "sign of hope" that no organised violence had flared in Australia following Pope Benedict's comments. But he said the responses of Australia's mufti, Sheik Taj Aldin Alhilali, and of Dr Ameer Ali, of the prime minister's Muslim reference group, were "unfortunately typical and unhelpful". "It is always someone else's fault and issues touching on the nature of Islam are ignored. "Sheik Alhilali often responds to criticism by questioning the intelligence and competence of the questioner or critic," Dr Pell said. Later, on ABC Radio, he added of Sheik Alhilali: "I'm tempted to say almost never does he address the criticism of Islam but diverts the question away from it and I think resorts to evasions."
Dr Ali said yesterday Muslims in Australia were disappointed by the Pope's comments. "We expect the Pope to follow (in) the footsteps of his predecessor who had been a great builder among communities for the last so many years and not a pope of the crusades," Dr Ali said.
Dr Pell said Dr Ali had called on Pope Benedict to be more like Pope John Paul II than Pope Urban II, who called the First Crusade. "In fact the Pope's long speech was more about the weaknesses of the Western world, its irreligion and disdain for religion and he explicitly rejected linking religion and violence," Dr Pell said. "He won't be calling any crusade."
Dr Pell sought to draw a distinction between Westerners and Muslims. "Today Westerners often link genuine religious expression with peace and tolerance. "Today most Muslims identify genuine religion with submission (Islam) to the commands of the Koran. "They are proud of the spectacular military expansion across continents, especially in the decades after the Prophet's death. This is seen as a sign of God's blessing."
Dr Pell said while he was grateful for the contributions of moderate Muslims, "evil acts done falsely in the name of Islam around the world need to be addressed, not swept under the carpet". Dr Pell has repeatedly said Islam is more warlike than Christianity. In June this year he told the National Catholic Reporter in the United States: "It's difficult to find periods of tolerance in Islam."
The hate bigots are Muslims, not critics of Muslims
Twelve months ago, the states, territories and Federal Government agreed to prepare a national plan to "help all Australians work together to protect Australia from intolerance and extremism". With the help of the Prime Minister's Muslim Community Reference Group, a $35 million program was developed and, two months ago, approved. It is aimed at coming to grips with extremists and includes a proposal for a world-class institute of Islamic studies, within a faculty of a prominent Australian university, to increase non-Muslim understanding of Islam.
It is to be hoped that some non-Muslim authorities are employed and that some of the self-appointed leaders of our Muslim communities enrol and are obliged to confront the realities of those Koranic texts which Islamofascists use to justify their insane violence. One who might benefit is Forum on Australia's Islamic Relations Inc executive director Kuranda Seyit, who yesterday issued a statement calling for more Muslim migration to Australia to "improve the level of decency in our society and reinforce our treasured Australian values''. "The more Muslims the better this country is off in terms of good old fashioned decency. We should be so lucky,'' he said.
Given the outrageous and bloody responses to the Danish cartoons last February and the lethal and destructive outbreak of hysteria across the Islamic world triggered by the scholarly address on the nature of God delivered by Pope XVI last Tuesday, which has not been condemned by anyone of any significance in the Australian Muslim community, it is hard to imagine what values Seyit could possibly have in mind.
As Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Andrew Robb told a conference of Australian imams in Sydney on Saturday, there is a "world-wide struggle going on for the soul of Islam, a struggle that will be won or lost by Muslims, not non-Muslims.'' Australia's Islamic leaders blame the media (and everyone else) for the bad press Islam receives but Robb said "unfair stigmatisation of most of Australia's 360,000 Muslims is not the problem, it is a symptom of the problem. The stigmatisation is one of the consequences intended by the extremists.'' "The extremists want to take the Muslim community back to the 7th Century,'' he said - and at the weekend they did, murdering an elderly Italian nun working in an American-funded SOS hospital in Somalia and through a rash of predictable attacks on Christian churches.
A sterling representative of the "religion of tolerance'' hardline Mogadishu cleric Sheik Abubukar Hassan Malinto urged his followers to hunt down and kill "whoever offends our prophet Mohammed on the spot by the nearest Muslim".
But only the abjectly ignorant could have been offended by the Pope's thoroughly researched address, although intelligent scholarly discourse on religion is apparently as alien to Islam abroad as it appears to be here. As the attacks on the Pope show, anyone who examines Islam and the claim that it does not incite violence is invariably accused of vilifying Mohammed, religious intolerance or ridiculously, Islamophobia.
Despite radical Islam's rabid apologists, and fellow travellers in the civil liberties lobby, and among various groups of anti-Americans, anti-Israelis and anti-Semites, terrorists from organisations such as Islamic Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiah, Hamas, Hezbollah and their splinter groups, co-opt the Koran for their use. For example, the Koran invites Muslims to "wage war'' against Christians and Jews and to pray that Allah will fight against them (9:30), Christians and Jews are labelled "infidels'' and "hypocrites'' who live in Hell (66:9), those who claim Jesus is the Son of God are called "liars'' (4:171, 10:66-69), and will have "boiling water poured over the heads, melting whatever is in their bellies and skins'' (22:20). Those who disbelieve are "surely the vilest of animals in the sight of Allah'' (8:55), and polytheists are "the worst of creatures" (98:6). While many in the West encourage multi-faith dialogue, they have to overcome Koranic admonitions such as "do not take the unbelievers for friends'' (4:144). "do not be close friends with any other than your own people'' (3:117) and "when you meet unbelievers, behead them until you have made much slaughter among them'' (47:4).
No doubt some imams will quibble about these translations, but the references are from editions by reputable publishers Penguin and the King Fahd complex for the printing of the Koran in Saudi Arabia. And there are plenty more just as blood-curdling, used by imams like Saudi Sheik Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sudayyis, at the al-Haraam mosque, the most important in Mecca, who preached the annihilation of Jews in his Ramadan address in December, 2002, in which he also branded Jews as "the scum of the human race, the rats of the world, the violators of pacts and agreements, the murderers of the prophets, and the offspring of apes and pigs''.
It goes without saying that there are many fine Muslims, like the charming Javanese woman I had coffee with last week, who are disgusted by those who use Islam to incite violence. Naturally, no disrespect is meant to such people.
To blindly cave in every time a Muslim, or anyone else, gets excited about something someone has said in the most restrained and decorous manner is to indulge in the same sort of supine, spineless attitude that prevailed at Munich in 1938. And to ignore those who preach hatred, no matter their religion, is to play Russian roulette with civilisation
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