Sultana's Dream

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Sultana's Dream
August 2012

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Happy Mother’s Day!

As one of the media spokespeople of the Islamic Council of Victoria I have, over the years experienced, a number of unpleasant incidents when dealing with some journalists. How could I ever forget one shock jock’s assessment of Muslims as, ‘goat herding misogynists’. But my most unpleasant encounter ever, occurred on Mother’s Day May 9, 2010, an experience with 3AW Radio in Melbourne, that I’ll never forget.

I received a phone call from the producer of Radio 3AW, Sunday Mornings program asking if I’d be available on the following day to discuss the burqa issue. I agreed reluctantly as this would fall on Mother’s Day and my family and I had plans. The producer rang me as prearranged and placed me on hold. While on hold I listened to a number of talkback callers expressing their utter contempt towards the Australian Muslim community. The debate was no longer about the burqa issue and had descended into an open-slather session against Muslims. Even more disturbing was that one of the radio hosts, John-Michael Howson, was egging the callers on. As might be expected, the word ‘UnAustralian’ was thrown around.

After a short while the producer came back to me and asked if I still wanted to go ahead with the interview as things had turned ‘pretty nasty’. I said I was fine, and was put on hold again (I was put on hold three times—in all I waited a total of 20 minutes). Once more I found myself listening to the vitriolic epithets hurled about by John –Michael Howson and his merry troop of talkback callers. 

Nick McCallum, Howson’s co-panellist on the show, tried his best to introduce some balance. ‘It's un-Australian,’ he argued, ‘to dictate to people what they wear and what they must think... and that is what you're trying to do.’ McCallum, however, made little headway.

The producer returned to me yet again. ‘We don’t think you should go ahead with the interview,’ she said. Once more I insisted that I was fine and was quite willing to go on air. I felt it even more necessary that a Muslim be given the opportunity to speak, to counter some of the misinformation and hyperbole raised by the talkback callers.

‘Well actually, John-Michael is refusing to speak to you and does not want you on air,’ I was told. I can still recall how shocked I was at being locked out and denied a voice. I would have much preferred to have been yelled at or abused than to be humiliated and treated so dismissively in this way. Was I in Australia or Communist China? I had never experienced anything like that before in my life. I felt so disheartened. There were people like John-Michael Howson who despised Muslims so much that they could not bring themselves to engage in dialogue with them. What hope was there for the future?

In my 40 years as a Muslim woman I’d never felt so oppressed. But I was convinced that my story needed to be told in case anyone else should ever face the humiliation to which I’d been subjected.

I contacted a number of media organisations and they all expressed their support but told me that, while they sympathised, in their eyes, it was a non story because it happened so frequently in the media.

Finally I contacted ABC’s Media Watch; they went ahead and ran my story.

What I found so heartening were the comments on the Media Watch page unequivocally voicing support for the Muslim community and myself. 

http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s2901875.htm

The day after Media Watch was aired, 3AW Radio contacted me again. But this time there was a difference. Derryn Hinch wanted me to share my story with his listeners. Even though John-Michael was his colleague, Hinch was outraged at how he’d treated me and in his editorial spoke out against his mate. Below is an excerpt of his editorial:

But what is unacceptable is what went on behind the scenes that day. And I am ashamed it happened on 3AW. Crude, insensitive and blatant censorship, purely because a woman, a Muslim representative, an invited guest, was banned from being heard because she disagreed with JMH.

http://www.3aw.com.au/blogs/blog-with-derryn-hinch/hinch-attacks-johnmichael-howson/20100518-vblz.html

This entire incident demonstrated to me that the media is extremely diverse. There is no point demonising all media outlets as diverse opinions are shared even within the same media outlet. The Muslim community needs to be much more nuanced in its critique of the media. Sweeping generalisations that ‘the Media is out to get us’ are simply false. I remain deeply touched by the hundreds of individuals who left supportive comments on the ABC and 3AW websites. I sometimes think we spend too much time consumed by the ignorant responses of a vocal minority.

Sherene Hassan
Secretary, Islamic Council of Victoria


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