Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature

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Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Home : Politics Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature

 

 

Omar Merhi

A voice of hope

PUBLISHED IN THE MELBOURNE HERALD SUN
8 December 2005

It was 2.30 am on the morning of Tuesday 8 November when the federal police arrived at electrician, Abdullah Merhi's, house in Fawkner. So began what his older brother, Omar, calls 'a nightmare'. A highly respected shop steward with the Electrical Trades Union, 31-year-old Omar Merhi spends more time at the Fitzroy Junior Football Club football, where he coaches the U17s, than he does at the mosque.

A month ago, at my book launch at Lexus Centre, I laughed when he asked whether Dermott Brereton would mind autographing a football for his nephew. It's probably the first time Dermott had written the name, Mohammed, on a football. Omar is a friend of mine. I've met his family and we've discussed politics. Recently I interviewed him for the ETU's website podcast in which he said terrorism was totally at odds with the Koran. This didn't stop him marching against the invasion of Iraq or asking Moreland Council - three weeks before his brother's arrest - to address 'growing anti-Muslim hatred'. That hatred was reflected in the appearance of 'Kill Muslims' graffiti in a Coburg Street near his home and torrents of abuse of women wearing headscarfs.

Like so many Muslims in the northern suburbs, where I live, Omar is concerned that the simple act of making political statements or strictly practising their faith might result in Muslims being branded un-Australian or suspected of being terrorists. He prays that this is why his brother is now in gaol. Yet, as much as he loves his brother, Omar has refrained from saying 20-year-old Abdullah is a victim of anti-Muslim hysteria. On Saturday, Omar took Abdullah's pregnant wife to Barwon Prison to see her husband. On Thursday 15 December they'll be back in the Supreme Court for Abdullah's bail application, where solicitor Rob Stary will strenuously deny that his client has committed or was preparing to commit a crime, or poses a danger to the community.

Omar Merhi's politics come from the workplace, not the teachings of Muslim clerics. In early 2004 he went to a lecture given by arrested cleric Abu Bakr. It was his first and only experience of Bakr's brand of Islam. Finding Muslims in Moreland who disagree with Bakr's view on women or the superiority of the Islamic religion over Christianity is as easy as finding an enemy of John Howard in the trade union movement.

Although Omar says 'the courts must decide whether Abdullah is guilty', this isn't the end of the matter for me. The courts and the police can't resolve the issue of how I co-exist with my Muslim neighbours in Brunswick and Coburg. We need to engage the Muslim community and collectively break down the misunderstandings and prejudices. If there are clerics in my neighbourhood who believe we westerners are infidels, then we need to tell them they don't belong.

In the mid '60s the principal of St Joseph's College in Pascoe Vale was systematically molesting boys in my class. I was lucky enough not to be one of them. For some inexplicable reason no one stopped him. In November 2004, 81-year-old Brother Keith Weston was found guilty and given a suspended gaol sentence. It's a reminder that Christians have no monopoly on morality. Just as someone should have confronted Brother Weston, so must we confront clerics - Muslim or Christian - who we suspect are up to no good. Pandering to hysteria or branding a Muslim cleric a would-be terrorist just because he criticises George Bush, as some politicians do, offers us no hope.

If we are to build a cohesive society Omar Merhi offers us hope. It's no surprise he that received more than 300 text messages of personal support following his brother's arrest. If Steve Bracks genuinely cares about protecting Victorians from terrorism he should carefully read the letter Omar has sent him. Then he should get on the phone and organise to meet him. Engagement, not hysteria and heavy-handed laws, is the way forward.


Phil Cleary
Melbourne Herald Sun
8 December 2005

 

 

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