Sonia Kruger not to blame for comments, says Muslim Women’s Association chief

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Maha Abdo, chief executive of the Muslim Women’s Association.

The CEO of the Muslim Women’s Association, Maha Abdo, told the audience at Notre Dame’s QndA event last night that she did not hold TV personality Sonia Kruger responsible for saying that Muslim migration into Australia should be banned.

Ms Abdo instead pointed the finger at a toxic and frivolous Australian media for putting Ms Kruger in the position of making such comments in the first place.

“Poor Sonia, I honestly feel sorry for Sonia Kruger,” Ms Abdo said, adding that she thought the real fault lay with Today co-host Lisa Wilkinson who had put the suggestion to her.

“For me, as a mother, I would answer the same thing. I fear for my children. I fear for the safety of my kids, the same as anyone else.

“But the question was asked to her. (And) who is Sonia Kruger? What sort of qualifications does she have about migration and immigration that she would answer that, other than from how (she feels)? So the question was (really) about ‘how do I feel?” and she answered it quite well.

“I said, ‘I’d love to sit with you, Sonia, and talk about the fears that all the mothers are having’.

“We have so much in common. We have the same hopes and aspirations for our children, but it’s not about the ‘them and us’, it’s about us together.”

Ms Abdo was a panel guest at the Q&A-style event, along with US theologian William Cavanaugh, Sydney Anglican Bishop Michael Stead, women and girls advocate Melinda Tankard Reist and ABC religion and ethics editor Scott Stephens.

Answering audience questions about terrorism, Mr Stephens said a new development was the way highly organised terrorist organisations anticipated how media would report their attacks, and how those reports would entrench and exacerbate existing marginalisation.

“This is a genuine development in world culture,” Mr Stephens said, “the way in which the Western media … has lost any moral undergirding for any principled way of responding to events which take place in the world; the entirely predictable response has been factored into the purpose … the commissioning of these acts”.

He said that, in many respects, Islam had a better record of managing inter-religious diversity than Christianity.

“Once you have the break-up of the Ottoman Empire and Islam is then broken up into the particular modern formation of the nation state, and Islam becomes a way of marking one’s political identity … a way of defining who ‘we’ are as opposed to someone opposite; that then becomes the conditions of terroristic violence”.

William Cavanaugh, author of the celebrated The Myth of Religious Violence, said that the categorisation of instances of Islamist terror as “religious violence” obscured a proper focus on their violent character, ignoring the specific circumstances that led to their manifestation.

“In a way (the question ‘Are acts of terror the new normal?’) is part of the whole narrative that there’s something inevitable about religion that causes violence,” Mr Cavanaugh said.

“I think that’s a part of what poisons the atmosphere, the idea that we have these two opposed systems: one is secular, one is religious. The secular is organised on the basis of having contain the violence that’s inherent in religion, and there’s really not much we can do except to contain the violence.

“What I’ve argued in my book is that the secular and the religious are not just things that are ‘out there’ in the world. It’s a way of viewing the world, constructed under the conditions of Western modernity. There’s no essential difference, I think, between so-called religious ideologies and secular ideologies.

“People kill for all sorts of things. They can kill for God; they can just as easily kill for flags, or freedom, or oil, or free markets, free elections and so on. So the way that people treat things is a species of idolatry. People have a tendency to treat all sorts of things as if they were God.”

In response to an earlier question, ‘Is Islam prone to violence?’, Ms Abdo said she was “not going to justify for ISIS”.

“I don’t know ISIS … When there are issues happening across the world we need to name violence for what it is. We need to put a human face to things.

“No-one is interested to hear my narrative, because it doesn’t sit well with some of the media outlets who want to project and portray Muslims as violent …

“Do you know that I am a victim of this group of people more than you are? Do you know that my life gets threatened every now and then because I may not belong to that ideology? You don’t know that, but I’m not going to cry out ‘victim’” because I am not a victim …

“Do you know how many Muslims were killed in Nice? And yet we name that violent man under his religion …

“The narrative is what the mainstream media are projecting out there and I think it’s projecting poison and seeds of hatred in the hearts of humanity, and I’d love to challenge that and to say, ‘We need to have a conversation’.”