The appalling Leunig

By Legal Eagle

Now, it might be that I’m in a bad mood because my poor baby has gastro and has been up half the night for the last two nights. It’s so distressing when one’s child is sick. But I read Michael Leunig’s opinion piece in The Age this morning, and I felt the steam coming out of my ears.

I used to love Leunig’s cartoons of 10 or 15 years ago, but I have liked very little of his recent work (over the last 10 years). His work has lost any subtlety and has a humourless and strident quality. He is obsessed with his hatred of John Howard, George Bush, Israel and the Iraq War, to the extent that he seems to defend the conduct of Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden and Palestinian suicide bombers. As I have said previously, I don’t like this attitude. I don’t support everything Howard, Bush or the Israeli government have done, but on the other hand, this doesn’t mean that I support or excuse Hussein, bin Laden or suicide bombers.

Leunig’s piece is a defence of the Mufti’s recent sermon. Again, he seems to think that to disagree with John Howard, one must support Hilaly. Leunig compares himself with the male green turtle. If you ask me, this is an insult to the green turtle. I love green turtles. If one reads the extract in his piece about the sexualisation of society, it’s clear Leunig is a sick, sick man and that he has “issues“. He is quite extraordinarily misogynistic – hence the sympathy for Hilaly.

Leunig says:

“Sometimes a religious figure, such as a mufti, makes a sermon about human nature, rape and the general sexual madness – a bit like parents do to their children in private: “Look after yourself, take responsibility – there are some dark forces and crazy people out there who will destroy you if you’re not careful.” But the mufti uses ripe, rustic language, earthy metaphors and unpleasant ideas. He is set up and set upon by a national newspaper and told to shut up and resign. The Prime Minister chimes in. The mufti is denounced.But while we may not agree with everything he says, we sort of understand something of what he’s trying to get at. In the great tradition that Australians are meant to admire, he’s at least having a go in difficult terrain where all sorts of silver-tongue-tied experts are refusing to travel and are remaining silent about.”

Leunig’s argument seems to be: “Oh, come on guys, that’s the kind of unique view that these funny, crazy Mussies have, let it go through to the keeper. It’s just a cultural thing.” I find his stereotyping of different cultures patronising and offensive. Not all Muslims believe as Hilaly does. If I was a Muslim, I’d be pretty irritated at being junked with Hilaly. Leunig is committing the same sin as many others: seeing Islam as a monolithic entity with set cultural practices. As I will discuss below, this is a common error.

I suspect that Leunig has not actually read a translation of Hilaly’s sermon. The mufti wasn’t just saying, “Hey girls, don’t walk alone in dark places late at night. If you’re out partying, make sure you stay with friends, and don’t get so drunk that men can take advantage of you.” If Hilaly had said that, the furore surrounding is comments would be extremely unjust.

I don’t think Hilaly’s sermon is “just a cultural thing”. As I have argued in a previous post, Hilaly argued that it is excusable if men lose their self-control and rape women who are immodestly dressed. Immodest doesn’t just mean dressing like the Pussycat Dolls (ie, walking around in one’s lingerie as if one is fully dressed). As I have also discussed in another post, that kind of overtly sexualised image disturbs me too, along with the images of sexualised pre-pubscent girls and the like. But under Hilaly’s definition immodest means not wearing a veil. Shorts are immodest, t-shirts are immodest, knee-length skirts are immodest, swimming costumes are immodest. The majority of Australian women (Muslim and non-Muslim) are immodest. And thus, we’re asking for it. Of course Hilaly is entitled to express his opinion, but the corollary is that I am allowed to express my opinion in return that his sermon is offensive. And I would argue that he is not just expressing an opinion, he is saying to members of his congregation that it is excusable if they don’t behave according to Australian law. As the supposed representative of Islam in this country, his sermon was highly inappropriate.

Leunig says that the criticism of Hilaly is just another example of “gleichshaltung” (the word used to describe the homogenisation of culture in Nazi Germany). He says:

“Fascism is the stronger word but gleichshaltung seems more appropriate to describe the thing we have come to know as the globalised, homogenised, new Australian value system.”

I do think that politicians do use Islam and the war on terror as political capital (uniting the rest of Australia in fear against Muslims). I also think we have to careful about swallowing this wholesale. Unfortuantely, Hilaly is his religion’s own worst enemy in this respect. He was, until recently, the purported representative of Islam in Australia. It isn’t hard to convince the Australian people that Islam is a scary, alien religion when one reads his sermon about women and hears him say that he will only stand down when the White House is obliterated.

I really hate the overuse of the word “fascism”. The quote above from Leunig provides yet another example. In Australia, Hilaly is free to say whatever he wishes. He will not be jailed or put in a gulag or put to death for his sermon. The only thing he has to deal with is the community response to his opinion. This is part of being a public figure and a representative of one’s faith (look at the recent furore surrounding the Pope and Islam). John Howard can be described as a fascist when he sets himself up as a dictator, summarily executes Hilaly and starts rounding up Muslims and putting them in gas chambers. And if he does so, I will be one of the first to stand up and fight him.

I refuse to accept that, by criticisng Hilally, I am Islamophobic. I have some knowledge of the traditions of Islam and its different strands (Shi’a, Sunni and Sufi). I recognise that there is an incredibly broad spectrum of Muslim beliefs in Australia, and Hilaly’s views are not representative of the views of all Muslims. From my observations, the traditions one follows in Islam seem to depend first, on what area of the world one comes from and secondly, on what one’s family traditions are.

From my point of view, it is very important that Muslims in Australia be able to display outward signs of their inner faith without fear, where this means worshipping Allah, praying three or five times a day to Mecca, eating Halal food, wearing a hijab or a taqiyah, going on Hajj, keeping fast for Ramadan, having a festival for Eid and going to mosque on a Friday. I strongly support the right of every Muslim in Australia to follow these practices if they wish to do so. Further, I respect all of these beliefs and traditions. So for example, when I visited a mosque, I covered my head out of respect for the beliefs of the people who worshipped there. As far as I am concerned, that is simple good manners. I hope most Australians would also be supportive of diverse beliefs and traditions.

But I cannot support someone who says that men shouldn’t be expected to restrain themselves from raping or sexually assaulting women who don’t cover themselves up, and that this is a precept of his religion. I don’t care what religion it is. Since I was a small girl, I have felt safe wearing a swimming costume at the beach or wearing a pair of shorts when walking to the milkbar. I have not feared that by doing so, I am leaving myself open to be sexually assaulted or raped. I want my daughter to grow up feeling the same. Hilaly’s sermon shows that he does not respect me : he thinks I am a “slut” who “asks for it” because of what I wear. Nor does he respect my feminist beliefs and traditions. I think it is rude for Hilaly to come to my country and say that I deserve to be raped because I am wearing my traditional dress (for that is what it is).

I am not asking for “gleichshaltung” or homogenised culture. I am not asking Muslims (or anyone else) to give up their religious beliefs and practices such as festivals, specific dress, specific foods and specific prayers and forms of worship. But I am asking Hilaly and those who believe as he does to respect my culture and beliefs as I respect theirs. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable thing to ask.


I have discovered an interesting blog by Irfan Yusuf giving his perception as an Australian Muslim on these issues. I recommend it.

Further postscript:

I have been trying to find an online copy of a cartoon by Leunig which featured in the paper a little while back; it featured a character called “Mr Lust” who spent all day ogling women and then had no lust left for his wife. Here is an interesting discussion of this cartoon in the context of the Hilaly furore.

I couldn’t find a copy of the “Mr Lust” cartoon, but I did find a copy of the cartoon featured below. Geez that guy really does have issues.

Further postscript to my postscript:

Here is an interesting article by a liberal American Muslim woman.

(Via Tim Blair).


  1. Law Student
    Posted February 23, 2007 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    I also read Leunig’s piece at the time and I did enjoy it.

    When he mentions fascism and the term ‘gleichshaltung’, i do think he makes a valid point.

    A good current issue would be the anti-terrorism laws and our civil liberties.Martin Luther King Jr once said that “everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.” Hitler’s conduct was within the boundaries of German law. I do feel that the anti terror laws is only the beginning of a series of future legislation that will trample on our civil liberties.

    Also, Joseph Goebbels, Hitlers propaganda minister once said “the bigger the lie, the more the people will believe it.”

    All that bull shit about Saddam Hussein have WMD’s and supporting al-Qaeda and this and that. The people were dooped. Bush got re-elected, as did Blair and Howard.

  2. Legal Eagle
    Posted February 24, 2007 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    I agree that the claims of Saddam Hussein having WMD and supporting Al-Qaeda were rubbish. To my own knowledge, the only terrorist organisation Hussein supported was Hamas, giving money to the families of suicide bombers. I would also agree that the Howard government has definitely played with the idea of “security threats”, terrorism and Islam to scare people. I really hate scaremongering. As I have said in another post, ironically, terrorists fuel the power of these governments and these governments fuel the power of terrorists…a vicious circle.

    The question is to what extent the governments were cold-bloodedly using these claims as “excuses” for the attack on Iraq and to what extent they genuinely believed the claims, and just accepted them because they were exactly what they wanted to hear (which is reckless and negligent, but less culpable than the first option).

    But, with all respect, I don’t think the analogy with Goebbels and the Third Reich is appropriate. Why? Well, these various governments have used reasons which were subsequently shown to be falsehoods to justify their actions. But in contrast to the regime of the Third Reich, the “Coalition of the Willing” are all democratic regimes, with the freedoms that entails. There is no gleichshaltung – because people were free to question the various assumptions made by the governments in question without being shot (c/f Nazi Germany). Indeed afterwards, these governments were forced to admit the various claims they had made were false.

    But the leaders (Bush, Blair and Howard) have all been reelected after the falsehood of these various allegations was discovered. All I can conclude is that the majority of the electorates in these countries knew that they had been duped by their leaders and didn’t care. They had other concerns (eg, making their mortgage repayments, jobs, “global security”, the economy etc). The people have chosen, and however much we may personally disagree, that’s the nature of democracy.

  3. Cam
    Posted December 29, 2010 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    [I was looking for a particular Leunig cartoon]
    All I will say is that the first section that you quoted from Leunig does not show a skerrick of the “Islamic cultural expression” argument that you infer.

    He seems to be making the point that what Mufti said is not the expression of a particular culture but is, “rustic language”, “earthy metaphor” aside, the expression of something deep and lurking in most/all societies. Yet this ‘deep and lurking’ is being lost in the focus on the “sensationalistic” elements. In that sense, it seems to me Leunig (at least in that passage) wants to draw us away from the relativist-cultural, “Islamic” and onto something which is, so to speak, universal.

    I have no interest in defending that particular view, it just annoys the hell out of me that you selected that particular quote and then somehow summed it up with “just a cultural thing” (and discourages me from reading the rest of what you have written).

    NO hard feelings. Many years ago now/But still HERE.

One Trackback

  1. […] On occasion I’ve suspected that Legal Eagle over at SkepticLawyer may be just a little blind to subtle winks, nudges, veiled facetiousness and the like, which could just be the chief source of my disagreement with her about the old GrodsCorp crowd. But in the case of Leunig on Muftis, religion, sex, women’s freedom of expression and the threat of rape, Legal Eagle gets it exactly right. Leunig’s post hoc justifications only serve to verify what his critics are saying. […]

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