Anti-Discrimination Body Accused Of Pro-Islam Bias

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

(Correction: Clarifies first seven paragraphs.)

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - An academic has accused a government-funded anti-discrimination body in Australia of posting on its website biased and inaccurate information seeking to promote Islam.

Dr. Mark Durie has sent two substantive letters to the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) of Victoria state in the last six weeks, challenging assertions in four Internet factsheets on "Understanding Islam," and urging their removal.

A linguist and Anglican minister who has lived and undertaken research in an Islamic society, he argued that the EOC was giving Australians an inaccurate picture of the religion.

He is especially concerned that this is happening at a time the EOC is refereeing a dispute between Muslims and Christians dealing with the nature and teachings of Islam.

The Islamic Council of Victoria brought a complaint under new hate legislation against Catch the Fire Ministries, an evangelical Christian group it accused of vilifying Islam.

Three Muslims who attended a Catch the Fire seminar on Islam last March said speakers had incited "fear and hatred" against Muslims. The organizers responded that they had merely quoted from Islam?s own scriptures.

Some of the very points at issue in the dispute, according to Durie, are covered in the EOC website documents, one of which is a factsheet called "Islam and human rights."

Among the numerous issues he raised concerns about in the letters were:

- The EOC's assertions that Islam upholds fundamental rights such as freedom of conscience and conviction. Durie cited several quotations from the Hadith - which the factsheet itself endorses as "the basis of personal and religious behavior for all Muslims" - which call for apostates to be killed. Under shari'a law, any Muslim leaving the faith can be sentenced to death.

- The EOC's claim that "absolute and complete equality in the eyes of the law" exists under Islam. Durie said it was documented that non-Muslims do not enjoy equal rights with Muslims under Islamic law. Even among Muslims, absolute equality is lacking, "because divorce and custody laws in Islam do not give equal rights to men and women," he argued.

- The fact the EOC human rights document was lifted from an original document about human rights in an Islamic state, attributed to a Saudi-based organization. Effectively, he said, the EOC was promoting propaganda promoting an Islamic state, from a country well known for its rights abuses, and where wearing a cross is a crime.

Durie wrote that the EOC should not be in the business of promoting religion in the first place.

He noted that it did not carry factsheets on the belief systems of other groups that are sometimes viewed critically, such as "fundamentalist" Christians, Jews, Wiccans or Falun Gong practitioners.

He pointed out, too, that the EOC documents highlighted problems encountered by Australian Muslims after Sept. 11, yet failed to mention an increased number of attacks on churches and synagogues that occurred in the same period.

"This is a disturbing symptom of bias," he wrote. "It is not the EOC's role to exclusively support ... one particular group in the community. It must exist for all groups."

'Deadly mix'

In a phone interview Thursday, Durie said he was shocked that the commission hadn't responded to the points he raised. Only after the second letter, sent five weeks after the first, had he received a brief email saying the person who could deal with them was away, but would respond presently.

Durie, who has lived in the Indonesian province of Aceh, said he was concerned that Western institutions were providing a cover for Islam while some of its followers in countries like Indonesia were killing and dispossessing non-Muslims.

"When you have that kind of partnership of violence and destruction in Indonesia with this kind of smokescreen being put up by a government-funded body in Australia, it's a very deadly mix, and really irresponsible."

Citing the vilification case involving the Christian organization, Durie said he was concerned that the EOC, "while serving an Islamic agenda - unbeknownst to itself - can then conciliate over fundamental issues about what Islam is and how it works. It's a total mess."

'Dispelling myths'

Approached for reaction Thursday, EOC Victoria acting chief executive, Margaret
Noall said the body would not remove the factsheets from its website "because they are part of a broader Stand up to Racism campaign that has been widely supported across Victoria."

Noall said the campaign was launched by a coalition of organizations including unions, churches and multicultural groups, in response to reports of physical and verbal attacks against Australians from Muslim or Arab backgrounds.

Key Islamic groups and other coalition members were consulted in the drawing up of the factsheets, which were "intended to provide non-Muslims with a basic understanding of the religion and to dispel some of the myths" about Australian Muslims following Sept. 11 and in the light of a debate about Australia's refugee policies.

Noall said the commission was prevented by confidentiality provisions of legislation from commenting on individual complaints, but that its role was "that of a neutral umpire."


According to a current article on the Islamic Council's website, the issue of the death penalty for renouncing Islam "remains a point of disagreement and debate among Muslims."

"Historically some Muslim rulers have resorted to this law of punishment of apostasy in order to persecute their political opponents, and not for apostasy as such," it says.

It also cites Islamic scholars who argued that, looking at early examples, "this severe punishment was only incurred where the apostasy involved actually joining an enemy force and taking up arms against the Muslim community."

A shari'a-based penal code just introduced in a Malaysian state gives a Muslim who has converted to another faith three days to repent, failing which he faces having his property forfeited and being sentenced to death.

Sudan, Iran, Mauritania are among Islamic countries where people have been accused or convicted of apostasy.

See also:
Muslim-Christian Clash Looms Over Islamic Teachings (May 30, 2002)

E-mail a news tip to Patrick Goodenough.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow