Cutting Edge: Embedded with Sheik Hilaly — SBS

24 Sep

hilalytitlesstillforweb I watched this documentary from 26 years old Dave Zwolenski on SBS last night. The Sydney Morning Herald has a video preview here, but I am not sure how long it will be staying. Zwolenski has a YouTube site, but the doco isn’t on it at this stage. It deserves to be widely seen, so I hope at least a clip goes up, Dave.

This Murdoch press reviewer can’t have seen the show, as she comprehensively misses the point: that for all his reservations, Zwolenski actually found himself liking “Taj”, as he insisted on being called, and that if anyone came across as a sad goose in the show — and she wasn’t set up — it was the famous Kate from Camden. The show was about transcending prejudice and difference, on both sides; that reviewer is a case study of filtering information through stereotype and prejudice. As Dave said at the end, Taj helped him put the us in Muslim.

SBS summarises:

Cutting Edge – Follows Dave Zwolenski a 26 year-old man who decides to move in with Australia’s most controversial Muslim figure, Sheik Taj El Hilaly, in order to learn more about the cleric, Islam and the Australian-Muslim community. Dave likes girls and drinking beer. Raised a Catholic, these days he prefers to stay away from religion altogether. Sheik Hilaly is 66, born in Egypt and a devout Muslim. He likes praying and drinking ‘man tea’ (his own special blend). Together, Dave and the Sheik form an odd couple, but for the next few weeks they are going to be inseparable. The documentary is the first of a three-part observational documentary series called Embedded, where young Australians from a variety of backgrounds are placed into very different cultures to learn and share in their experiences. The complete series will be broadcast over the summer period on SBS. Executive Producer – Michaela Perske, Writer/Director – Gary Doust. 

Some on this Muslim blog, taking their cue from the Murdoch article mentioned earlier, had reservations about the program, including, I notice, Irfan Yusuf. Some of those reservations seem to stem from embarrassment with the often media-unfriendly Sheik. They needn’t have worried; it was as good a cross-cultural exploration as you could get, in my opinion, and has the potential to do us all some good. As the print review in this week’s Herald TV Guide — the particular article not online — says:

Dave agrees to live with the sheik…, observes Islamic practices and meets ordinary Muslims in order to learn something about the much-maligned religion. The results are contrived (there is, after all, a camera present, and Dave is the one compromising his lifestyle) but this is one of the most watchable and objective portrayals of Islam you will see.

For what it’s worth, the sheikh comes across as an affable and stubborn bloke with the sexist attitudes of many men of his generation — regardless of religion…

Much about that religion — or that particular expression of it — is unattractive to me, but then I have to concede that many of the attitudes expressed would be quite familiar to anyone brought up in a strict Orthodox Jewish or Christian fundamentalist background — and that includes the sheik’s much-publicised views on women’s clothing! It was good to hear the sheik affirm that he is not in the business of prescribing dress codes for all Australian women, and that all women, whether or not they are wearing bikinis, should be treated with respect. The sheik also described the 9/11 perpetrators, and those who follow that path, as “crazy people”.  As I said, his particular puritanism doesn’t appeal to me, but the program did open a sane path to accommodate with one another in the interests of a more harmonious Australia, the sheik did concede he was a bit of a fossil, and Dave survived the experience.

Great to see this totally Aussie 20-something taking on such a thorny issue in a manner that really did transcend prejudice without knee-jerk political correctness.

I should mention my first heads-up on this program came from James O’Brien’s blog.


6 responses to “Cutting Edge: Embedded with Sheik Hilaly — SBS

  1. Martin

    September 24, 2008 at 11:16 am

    It’s just a pity that on SBS it’s really preaching to the choir.

    People in the West (including the media) often seem to have such short memories when it comes to conservative views. The same arguments about women’s dress and rape and women’s place that Islamic conservatives make were quite popular here in ‘Christian’ Australia when I was growing up (only a couple of decades ago).

    On Kate from Camden, I think I know where I would prefer to be staying (with the Sheikh) and do you think she possibly overfeeds her dogs a bit?

  2. Neil

    September 24, 2008 at 11:18 am

    Kate’s dogs certainly found sudden movement difficult! 😉

  3. Patrick

    September 24, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    Yeah, i think the quote from the Herald TV Guide was a pretty good summary. For me, white bread 30 something Sydney boy, brought up semi-christian, but no longer beleiving in any of it like David, I found it interesting if only for his explanation of the meat comments. It appeared to me, that with a non-biased interpreter, Taj would have come off even better. But as soon as that imposter Keyser Trad started arcing up on his behalf, you can see exactly where Islams PR problems lay. Same can be said for including Anthony Mundine, who effectively said nothing intelligent or enlightening. Calling him a role model for Islam is still baffling to me, as he has done nothing to significantly champion its cause. But back to Taj and the meat comment, whilst an admission that it was probably a bad analogy to demostrate the point he was trying to make would have been helpful, Taj’s simple explanation, about not confusing analogys/metaphors with the real thing really should be accepted, as when asked about respect for women, he, and a range of other muslim followers, we’re quite clear that respect is present and prevelant in their religion.

  4. Patrick

    September 24, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    Oh, but seperate to that, i still think there is plenty of concerns about how the religion and it’s followers integrate, not just with Christians, who they gave some fairly specific details about how that works, but all religions in this Country, which purports itself to be multicultural, and therefore anyone living here, or arriving here, needs to be tolerant of all cultures.
    But why oh why then everytime do the good respectful people, who have concerns and want questions answered, seem to be represented by in-bred half-wit Hanson impersonaters or gun-toting tobacco-chewing cousin lovers.

    For once i’d like to see someone who doesn’t tote the line that multi-culturalism accepts everyone, but that it should accept only all the cultures that can get along with everyone (that includes extreme christianity, i’m looking at you Old Man Nile)

    If this was the view we demonstrated in this country, and could get respected leaders (i.e Not Keyser Trad or A. Mundine) to demonstrate, unequivocally, that this was Islams way, we could end the debate and the fear in no time.

  5. Neil

    September 24, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    I guess the essence of multiculturalism is that we can be all as weird as we like, so long as we do not seriously threaten others and have no real grounds for fear. I live in a somewhat Muslim corner of Sydney myself, and have had little reason to be concerned.

  6. AV

    September 25, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    Much about that religion — or that particular expression of it — is unattractive to me, but then I have to concede that many of the attitudes expressed would be quite familiar to anyone brought up in a strict Orthodox Jewish or Christian fundamentalist background — and that includes the sheik’s much-publicised views on women’s clothing!

    I used to tutor a family of Afghan refugees, ex of the detention-centres-we-had-to-have. One evening, I turned up to an impromptu rellie bash, and I got to talking to members of the extended family. One of them proceeded to hold forth on the theory of evolution, actually uttering the well-worn Christian biblical-creationist mantra: “If we come from monkeys, how come there are still monkeys?”

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