Saturday, October 7, 2017

The El Telegraph, the Community Activist and Same Sex Marriage: When the editor-in-chief of a Lebanese-Australian paper produces hate speech

A couple of weeks ago the Arab Council Australia issued this statement:

Arab Council Australia is proud to stand together with other groups in support of marriage equality.
People who identify as LGBTIQ are an integral part of our community and are entitled to the same freedoms and rights and the recognition before the law as every other citizen in this country.
Arab Council Australia stands by its values and works tirelessly on combating discrimination. inequality and injustice in all its forms.
As Arab Australians, we know all too well the pain of exclusion and discrimination. In knowing this, how could we stand by and allow this hurt to be inflicted on to others – let alone our own?
We acknowledge the diversity of views in our community on the issue of marriage equality. This diversity reflects our democracy and the freedoms we enjoy. We also recognise that equality for some is not equality at all and that selective equality is fundamentally against justice.
Arab Council Australia believes that a survey of the population was neither necessary nor desirable. However, we are here now. Let us hope that the outcome upholds the principles of human rights, justice and equality.
We look forward to the day when we are not as driven by our fears but more by our love and wanting the best that life can bring to all peoples.
Please join us in ensuring that everyone is treated fairly and equally under the law.


Last week, Mr. Antoine Kazzi, the editor in chief of the Lebanese Australian newspaper El Telgraph, used his paper to publish this attack on the Arab Council and on its CEO, Randa Kattan. Here is what he wrote:

Et tu Brute? The Arab Council or the Arabic Communities Council has lost its eligibility to shoulder the trust the community has placed in it. It no longer represents its aspirations and it is no longer the voice that raises its concerns. Rather, its CEO now chirps away as she pleases, speaks in her own name and presents her personal opinions while deluding people into thinking that she is speaking for the Council.

Her excellency, the CEO was not satisfied with supporting same-sex marriage, which the vast majority of the community rejects, in her individual capacity, but she issued an insolent statement expressing her pride in saying «yes» to same sex marriage under the banner of the Council, singing out of tune and against the direction of the communal tide.

There might be many reasons behind this “courageous” position, one being that the council has been falling apart for many years now, has lost its shine and has become just another name added to the names of many surviving on Government grants. So perhaps the CEO, using the method of ‘go against the tide and you’ll be noticed’, thought that this was the chance to strike to bring the council back into centre stage and give it back some of its fading shine. But her move destroyed whatever was left of its credibility.

We ask her excellency the CEO who is so dying to say “yes” what will Arab Council now do on international women’s day which it used to celebrate every year and where awards were distributed to highly achieving women and what word will be used to refer to this event?

Goodbye Arab Council. God has mercy on the one who knows his limitations and stops at them. And the last and most important question we ask it to the board, who include some mature and sensible people: Does the opinion of the Arab Council’s  CEO represent them or has she deluded herself into trying to build up whatever is left from the council? Or does the board want a new Clover Moore in the midst of our community? For if liberation, open mindedness and modernity look like this, we are proud to remain on the list of the reactionaries and the culturally strict… those who have a male father and a female mother.
And who knows maybe her Excellency might decide to open an Arab Council branch on Oxford Street in Paddington to serve the needs of those who she’s proud of.

This is a deplorable text on so many levels. But before I say anything about it let me say to the English reader that if you found part of the editor’s text incomprehensible it is not because I am bad at translating from Arabic to English. It is because the Arabic text itself is in places seriously incomprehensible and badly written and edited. I know I am already putting the chief editor in a bad light saying that his piece is neither well written nor well edited but that is unfortunately the case. Another technical deficiency of the text in so far as it is written by a journalist is that it lacks the most basic research: Why wonder if the CEO is speaking for herself or for the Arab Council when a simple phone call would have been sufficient to know how the statement came about? In my case a simple conversation on messenger allowed me to know that the Arab Council’syy board voted on this text and it was endorsed by seven out of ten board members. But I suppose a clear-cut fact would not have lent itself to the poetics of innuendos that Mr. Kazzi engages in.

The text’s obsession with ‘who represents the community?’ and the idea that ‘the community’ is some kind of monolithic entity is one of the least helpful illusions fostered and encouraged by the multiculturalism of the late twentieth century. It is a fantasy that has always united racists and people who have aspirations to be ‘community leaders’. It has no basis in facts but clearly some people find it hard to let go of the idea.

The fact of the matter, as is obvious to any reasonable person, is that Arab communities in Australia show similar tendencies as the rest of Australia. Certainly, Christian and Muslim religious organisations are important and they have a large population that is more likely to be conservative in outlook on same sex marriage. But they are far from being the only game in town. Arabs like all Australians are more likely to support same sex marriage if they live in the inner city rather than in the suburbs or in the country, they are more likely to support it if they are secular rather than religious, they are more likely to support it if they have an urban rather than a rural background and they are more likely to support it if they are tertiary educated than if they are not and the list goes on. Even if we accept the editor in chief’s argument that an overwhelming majority of Arab Australians are not supportive of same sex marriage, and this is not as much of a foregone conclusion as he likes to think, are those who support the yes vote not supposed to have ‘community organisations’ that speak in their name? Mr Azzi’s text shows a disturbing logic of communal excommunication towards anyone who is contemplating to support the yes vote in the plebiscite.

Take me for instance, when the Arab Council issued this statement I saw it on Facebook and was heartened to read it. I left a message expressing how happy I was that they’ve written it. I was not the only one. Hundreds of Arab-background Australians liked it. Many Arab-background gay people commented to thank the council for their stand. Now all of these people myself included might not be the majority of Arabs but Mr Azzi needs to get out of his conservative communal hole and stop thinking that we are negligible. We are not. And it is he who has to adjust to our existence, not us who need to think of ourselves as communally illegal because the Bishop, the Sheikh, the newspaper editor and the three or four conservative financiers who finance community newspapers think so.

Historically, the Arab Council has always offered a different kind of leadership within the community to the conservative leadership of the church and the mosque and the local media financed by moneyed Arabs with a conservative bent. The Arab council was ‘Arab’ when narrow nationalists wanted it to be Lebanese. It was secular when others wanted it to be religious. It has had a healthy number of women among its leaders when other Arab institutions remained as ever male dominated, it has been vocally anti-zionist when other institutions had opted for quietism, and most importantly it has invariably articulated the struggle against racism towards Arabs to as many others Australian struggles for justice as is possible, be they the struggles of indigenous people or women or refugees or other excluded and mistreated minorities. And sure enough it has a long history of supporting struggles against homophobia. In short let me then reiterate that the Arab Council represents the outlook of many Arab-Australians and actively helps many more in their struggle to lead a decent life. It certainly has never made a claim to represent ‘the community’ as if it is some unified entity. But nor should anybody else make such a ridiculous claim.

This, however, is the least disturbing aspects of Mr Kazzi’s text. What is worse is the attempt to humiliate a woman who has a long and brilliant record as a community activist. The mocking, ‘her excellency’, ‘chirping’, all this smacks of seriously unchecked misogyny that extends towards Clover Moore. Apparently Clover Moore is not a suitable model for Lebanese background women to follow. Nor would the ex-governor Marie Bashir be by those standards. Perhaps Mr. Kazzi thinks he is. He is after all supposedly concerned about the fate of ‘International woman’s day’ (though I am still struggling to understand what exactly he is saying here). Mr Kazzi should know that this pseudo-caring about women like the eternal ‘we put women on a pedestal’-mode of thinking does not fool anybody: it has accompanied misogynistic discourse forever. He should apologise to Randa Kattan for this ridiculous mocking tone.


Perhaps Mr. Kazzi feels so strongly about this issue of same sex marriage that it has made him lose all sense of proportion. He certainly goes way more than the usual ‘we don’t care who you love we just want to protect the institution of marriage’-type of conservative opposition to same sex marriage. His pride in those who have ‘a male father and female mother’ is a discourse of homophobic hate destined to hurt every child who doesn’t have a father and a mother, before being a discourse of hate for those who support plural forms of familial arrangements. At the end of the day, this is the worst aspect of this unfortunate piece of editorializing. It is hateful. It teaches people that you need to try and mock, humiliate and obliterate those you disagree with. If I was the Australian state looking for what fosters a culture of ‘radicalisation’ among young people, I would consider this culture where people are taught not to differentiate between disagreeing with someone and wanting to humiliate and obliterate them, as just as responsible as the radical Imams preaching their discourse of hate. Mr. Kazzi’s text does not differ much in its tone and in its content from this kind of murderous preaching. And it is very concerning that this is a text produced by the editor in chief of an important community newspaper.

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