Godwin’s Law and the Debate about Sheikh Taj

Godwin’s Law states that, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” Except in the rare cases where a comparison to the Nazis or Hitler is apt, it is usually a certain sign that a person has lost the argument and is now attempting to invoke what Leo Strauss termed the reducto ad Hitlerum (reducing everything down to Hitler) argument.

It is therefore not surprising to see that a member of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) has likened Sheikh Taj ad-Deen al-Hilaly to Adolf Hitler.

A PROMINENT Muslim leader has likened Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali to Adolf Hitler, saying the outspoken mufti is doing as much damage to Islam in Australia asthe German dictator did to Christianity.The Australian Federation of Islamic Council’s legal adviser, Haset Sali, labelled the sheik’s recent diatribe on Egyptian television against Western “liars and oppressors” as insane and said the comments had horrified thevast majority of Australian Muslims.

“He has been about as helpful to Islam in Australia as Adolf Hitler was to Christianity during the Second World War,” Mr Sali said.

If Sheikh Taj is Hitler, then the Australian Federation of Islamc Councils (AFIC) would be the Nazis because it was they who put Sheikh Taj in his position and maintain it.  Continuing the ridiculous analogy, that would make Mr Haset Sali the contemporary Hans Frank.

Now, perhaps things are just going a little bit too far with the Hitler analogies and the calls for the sheikh to never return to Australia. It is, of course, true that he has said some offensive things and has, by being seen as the totemic representation of Australian Islam, perhaps harmed the image of Muslims. However, that isn’t an excuse to lose all sense of perspective.

It is important that Muslims clarify the extent to which Sheikh Taj genuinely reflects our views and put to rest the myth that he is our supreme leader.  To some extent, this has already been achieved as evidenced by the relatively muted reaction to this latest debacle.  All that remains is for the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) to convene and dissolve the position of Mufti. Beyond this, it is not necessary for us to say anything more but to allow Sheikh Taj to speak freely and to express his views.  As E. Mariyani noted in the comments on this site, if he or anyone else wishes to say silly things, they will eventually end up, “boring, trivial and irrelevant” anyway.  This is a wonderful feature of the free market of ideas.

In an excellent article in today’s The Australian, John Heard makes this case very strongly that our society is enriched by allowing people with offensive and strange views to express them freely.

For it is a fact about democracy, let alone comedy, that it thrives on free speech. If most citizens are enfranchised then the mass media facilitates and enables the selection or rejection of competing ideas. The summation of hundreds of years of Western thinking on this matter, an idea often fought in courtrooms across Britain, the US and Australia, is that only by hearing the nuts alongside the heroes can we distinguish the solid arguments, the valuable opinions from the more fluffy offerings. Often too, yesterday’s nut – Winston Churchill during the 1930s, for instance – is tomorrow’s hero, like Churchill in the ’40s.

The best thing for Australia, and for al-Hilali, is to give him all the rope he needs.

In the meantime, hearing the views of this country’s Muslim community, whether expressed by al-Hilali or by those who will inevitably argue against him, is good for Australia and good for Muslims.

The fact that he speaks at all – even if he often speaks nonsense, even if his arguments are silly or offensive – represents a triumph for Australian democracy and an advance for national security.