There’s more to the SBS documentary Embedded With Sheik Hilaly than just the documentary itself. The embedded person was 26 year old Dave Zwolenski from Brisbane. Yet Dave was drafted by SBS almost at the last minute.
The original star of the show was to be Melbourne stand-up comic and youth worker Mohammed el-Leissy, formerly of the Fear Of A Brown Planet fame and now about to launch an on-stage comedic gameshow called Who Is Abdul Smith at this year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival. El-Leissy first heard about the proposed documentary via a social networking site. He applied successfully for a role starring in the show, and was flown upto Sydney some 4 times, including a 2-month stint during which he approached various Muslim sects and their leaders. He also visited Camden to visit local Muslims.
El-Leissy told Crikey he’d developed an extensive list of Sydney Muslim contacts which he handed to the producers. The original idea was for El-Leissy to embed himself with more radical imams such as Sheik Abdussalam Zoud.
El-Leissy was to "hang out with rough guys, go on jihad camps and similar stuff". On one occasion, the producers asked him to attend a male-only barbecue where he’d accuse Zoud’s crowd of being sexist before asking why no women were present. El-Leissy refused, believing such questions just played into stereotypes (heck, why can’t a bunch of Aussie blokes have a bbq without sheilas spoiling the fun?). He explained this to the producers, who said that if he couldn’t ask these questions, they had a non-Muslim guy who would. They then sacked El-Leissy.
As it turned out, their Brisbane chap also didn’t get a chance to even appear with Zoud, let alone ask these tough questions of his young male followers. El-Leissy says that Zoud’s crowd wouldn’t touch the show with a 10-foot barge pole.
Still, when you can’t convince anyone to participate in a caricatured picture of Muslims, you can always rely on human headlines like Sheik Hilaly and his interpreter. Their attempts to justify Hilaly’s catmeat comments were just painful to watch, as were the attitudes expressed by other more conservative Muslims on the show.
Narrator Dave said his goal was "to understand what being a Muslim is really like". In relation to issues like marriage and gender relations, I doubt any but the most conservative of culturally Lebanese Muslims would relate to what Dave discovered.
The Age reviewer wasn’t terribly happy with the show accusing its makers of “entrenching prejudices and ignorance”. The tiny number of Hilaly-lovers congregating on this online forum were much more upbeat about the show.
Words Copyright © 2008 Irfan Yusuf