This story has a ring of truth about it.
IT was the day that changed the life of accused terrorist ringleader Abdul Nacer Benbrika. Other Muslims see it even more darkly – as the day when al-Qa’ida first infected Australia’s Islamic community with its toxic distortion of Islam.
Now for the first time The Weekend Australian can reveal what unfolded on a country property in Victoria in the sunset of 1994. There, in front of the nation’s leading Islamic fundamentalists, including Benbrika, a bearded cleric in flowing robes was giving a sermon which many now believe gave birth to radical Islam in Australia. The speaker was Abu Qatada, now the spiritual leader of al-Qa’ida in Europe. Qatada had been invited to Australia by his childhood friend and fellow hardliner, Melbourne cleric Sheik Mohammed Omran. His message mesmerised the group – and Benbrika…
“He was radical and politicised – we had never heard this stuff before. His impact was enormous and that is where it all began. This is how the ideology of Abu Bakr (Benbrika) entered Australia. Prior to Abu Qatada’s visit, most radicals were just normal guys.”
One of these “normal guys” was Benbrika, an Algerian-born aircraft engineer who had arrived in Australia five years earlier. He had recently married a young Lebanese woman and was interested in learning more about Islam and making a permanent home in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. But those close to him say Benbrika was both energised and transformed by Abu Qatada’s radical and pure doctrinal approach to Islam. He was also in awe of Qatada, who was the spiritual leader of the Islamic resistance movement in Benbrika’s native Algeria…
Do read the whole story.
Again let me recommend Malise Ruthven’s A Fury for God, the best account of what underlies such people that I have ever read. You can read a recent interview with Ruthven on Jill Kitson’s Book Talk. That typical profile, western-educated, technocratic rather than humanist, and post-colonial alienated, emerges yet again in the case of Benbrika. And for more depth, read Karen Armstrong’s Fundamentalism, which is not only about Islam. There is a great dialogue with Armstrong in Soujourners Magazine, a very progressive US evangelical publication.