Build her up just to tear her down…

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I feel so sorry for Iktimal Hage-Ali. So sorry, in fact, that I’ve had to dust off a lyric from Mossy’s hit, ‘Tucker’s Daughter’. No sooner does she start to get some real profile as a young, sensible, tolerant Muslim leader than the frenzied media go her because she was questioned by police in relation to an alleged cocaine ring. She’s become the unfortunate intersection of two tabloid hysteria targets – Islam and drugs. And it’s ruined nearly everything she’s accomplished. Her ill-fated News Ltd blog was called “It’s My Country Too”, but she could be forgiven for not feeling that way at the moment.

Even the Muslim community is taking pot-shots at her as well for drinking champagne the night she won the award. How depressing. That’s right, let’s not focus on the positives of a young Muslim woman being recognised, let’s get dogmatic about the manner in which she happened to celebrate. Her sip of champers showed she has adopted some mainstream community standards in lieu of her own, admittedly, but in Australia in 2006, that’s okay. We aren’t run by the Taliban (no, we’ve got Family First instead), and that means that everyone’s allowed to find their own position on the broad spectrum between fundamentalism and atheism in this country.

But let’s take the worst case scenario – let’s assume she used cocaine. (Surely no-one’s suggesting she’s a drug dealer.) I have no idea whether she did. But if she did, really, so what? Is it really any worse than getting, say, blind drunk?

I know it’s a criminal offence, but come on. The reality is that lots of people in this country, lots of successful, admirable people, occasionally use coke. It’s a normal part of many people’s social lives. Personally, I don’t use it, and find people who do fairly irritating. But I wouldn’t expect them to give back an award because of it. For us to continue to get up in arms about it seems naive. If guilty, all she has done is behave like thousands of other young, hedonistic Australians.

So in summary, what’s happened is that a promising young woman has been forced to give up an exciting new job blogging for News Ltd, suspended from her regular job with the Attorney-General’s department and had to give back Young Australian of the Year because she might have used cocaine. Sure, if she did, it was a little irresponsible and foolish. She would have been wiser not to give her opponents anything they can use to attack her, and I’m sure she’ll be wiser now. But for goodness’ sake, she’s 22.

And really, one previous Australian of the Year was resident in Bermuda for tax purposes and no-one made him give the award back. I found that more objectionable than this scenario.

I don’t know much about Hage-Ali, but one ironically prescient opinion piece about media hysteria indicates that she’s intelligent, well-spoken and a passionate advocate of Muslim values who is capable of engaging sensibly with the arguments posed by Westerners. Given the dearth of positive young Islamic role-models, it seems tragic to be destroying one of the few we have.

I just hope she comes out of this stronger and more determined. Clearly, if she wants to make it in Australian society as an opinionated Muslim woman, she’s going to have to put up with a lot more attacks from people like these ones from both inside and outside her community.

Dominic Knight

Photo: Channel 7

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