I have never had much time for Keysar Trad. As a so-called advocate for Muslims in Australia, I’d say he’s got a bit to learn — like Sheikh Hillaly whom he assisted, it has always seemed to me that his statements have probably done more to hinder the reputation of Islam in Australia than help it.
Accordingly, I was interested to read the recent defamation case brought by Trad against Harbour Radio Pty Ltd (the proprietor of 2GB Radio) (Trad v Harbour Radio Pty Ltd  NSWSC 750). The action arose after Trad gave a speech at a Peace Rally in 2005 response to the Cronulla Riots. His speech included elements which were critical of 2GB Radio and its reporter present at the rally. The next day, 2GB broadcast a segment criticising Trad in turn.
I should state at the outset that I’m not a fan of Radio 2GB or the shock jocks it employs, and as can be seen from a post I wrote about Alan Jones and the Cronulla Riots, I think at times it inflames racial tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims. But on the other hand, Trad hardly does himself any favours.
At trial, the following defamatory imputations were found to be present in the broadcast by 2GB:
- Trad stirred up hatred against a 2GB reporter which caused the reporter to have fears for his own safety;
- Trad incites people to commit violent acts;
- Trad incites people to have racist attitudes;
- Trad is a dangerous individual;
- Trad is a disgraceful individual;
- Trad is widely perceived as a pest;
- Trad deliberately gives out misinformation about the Islamic community; and
- Trad attacks people who once gave him a privileged position.
Nonetheless, the judge was not in the least satisfied with Trad’s credit as a witness. At paras  – , he stated:
The plaintiff gave evidence and was cross-examined at some length. His evidence was criticised by the defendant’s counsel. It was submitted that he told a number of lies and that his approach to the giving of evidence was dishonest and disgraceful. Many of the criticisms arise from evidence which he gave about various statements he has made or articles he has written.
I discuss below most of the matters which were discussed with the plaintiff when he gave his evidence. I am satisfied that many of the criticisms made of his evidence are justified. I came to the view that the plaintiff attempted to frame his responses in a manner which he believed would suit his interests in the litigation at times modifying his true belief. Some of his answers were not truthful. The plaintiff was not a reliable witness.
You can see that this does not augur well for Trad.
In our post Defamation for Dummies, we outlined the possible defences to an action in defamation, including fair comment, justification/truth and qualified privilege. This case took place before the uniform defamation laws were enacted, and accordingly the defences relied upon were truth and contextual truth pursuant to ss 15 and 16 of the Defamation Act 1974 (NSW).
The judge conducted an exhaustive survey of the opinions of Trad expressed over the years, and concluded that the defence of truth was open to the radio station in relation to the imputations that Trad incited people to commit acts of violence and to have racist attitudes and that he was a dangerous and disgraceful individual. He based this conclusion on the fact that:
- Trad had expressed opinions in which he had condoned the view that female victims of sexual assault and rape were to blame rather than the male perpetrators;
- Trad had defended the views of Sheikh Hillaly that child martyrdom in war was honourable and that suicide bombing was a legitimate tool;
- Trad had included links to Mein Kampf and the Protocols of Zion in his website, encouraging beliefs that Jewish people intend to take over the world, which have been a driving force for acts of violence against Jewish people;
- Trad had publically called for Hezbollah to be delisted as a terrorist organisation;
- Trad had said that homosexuals were depraved perverts who should be likened to cancer, and that the appropriate punishment for those who undertook homosexual activities was to be stoned to death;
- Trad described Anglo-Irish inhabitants of Australia as “criminal dregs” and Hindus as “cow worshippers”, generally denigrating these groups of people; and
- Trad sought to defend Sheikh Hillaly’s failure to condemn the September 11 attacks, and questioned whether Muslims were responsible for those attacks.
The judge said at paragraphs  – :
A person may hold a view which is dangerous without that person being described as a dangerous individual. To express a view on one occasion which may encourage violence or inappropriate conduct towards others does not of itself make that person dangerous. However, when those views are expressed on many occasions by someone who has significant influence within the community and has access to opportunities to influence others through the media and the views expressed are an incitement to violence or disparagement of women, Jews, and homosexuals, it is, in my judgment, appropriate to describe that person as a dangerous individual.
The plaintiff by reason of his position in the Sydney Lebanese community was in a position to influence many people. He sought out and used the press, other publications and his own website to express his views. The repetition of those views, and the manner in which they were expressed, in my judgment, leads to the conclusion that he may be described as a dangerous individual.
I am satisfied that the plaintiff holds and expresses views which would not be acceptable to right thinking members of the Australian community. I have previously discussed them. Some of his views and the manner in which they are expressed are entirely repugnant to accepted values within the Australian community.
The question which the pleaded imputation [the plaintiff was a disgraceful individual] raises is not whether any of the views of the plaintiff are disgraceful but rather whether by his words and actions he can be described as a disgraceful individual. The plaintiff’s attitude to women and homosexuality, apparent support of the use of children in the pursuit of terrorist actions against Israel and his failure to condemn the events of September 11 are views which may be shared by some people. However, those views are not acceptable to the general Australian community and I am satisfied that a person who holds them and, more particularly who encourages others to share those views, may be described as a disgraceful individual.
A person who is convicted of a crime of any significance will be described as being disgraced. A person who encourages others to support attitudes repugnant to the Australian community or encourages violence against women, homosexuals or various ethnic groups and supports child suicide bombers and acts of terror or when given the opportunity fails to condemn these views would be similarly described. The plaintiff is such a person.
Because the judge found that four of the imputations were substantially true, he found that the other imputations which were not made out had not harmed Trad’s reputation.
In addition, the judge found that because Trad had specifically attacked Radio 2GB at the Peace Rally, the radio station was entitled to respond to that attack and was entitled to the defence of qualified privilege as a result. Trad was unable to make out malice on the part of the station.
The ABC reports that:
The president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Ikebal Patel, …is surprised by the judge’s description of Mr Trad’s comments.
“I thought that what he was saying was quite conciliatory… in the heat of what was happening after the Cronulla riots,” he said.
“Keysar to me seemed to be trying to bring about a middle line.”
It’s not so much what he said at the Peace Rally (in which he did not say anything which would alienate the various left-wing and progressive groups in attendance) but what he has said in various other contexts.
Apparently Trad intends to appeal. Perhaps he should think about that. Just as Trad’s “defences” of Islam seem to harm rather than help the reputation of his faith, his attempt to prove defamation seems to have done more harm than good to his personal reputation. Sometimes, it’s better to just let things lie.