Monday, June 20, 2005

Comment: Douglas Wood - Sheik Hilaly? Never heard of him

Before Douglas Wood was kidnapped and held hostage for 47 days,
Australian Muslim cleric Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly, was familiar to many Australians, though most would have been unable to tell you his name.

That changed when Wood was kidnapped. Australia's top Muslim cleric became a household name. Even talk back radio callers managed to remember - and pronounce his name correctly.

Not long after his kidnapping, the brothers of Douglas Wood met with Sheik Hilaly at a mosque in Sydney and asked for his help in securing Donald Woods release. Shortly afterwards, the mufti made a video plea which was broadcast across the Middle East.

The Sheik then travelled to the Middle East, and despite being in ill health, went twice to Baghdad to negotiate his freedom. He even went on Arabic TV in Iraq and offered to take the place of Douglas Wood.

"I announce my sincere readiness to hand myself over to the captors to be a hostage in exchange for the sick Australian citizen, till the conditions of the brotherly captors are met in the way they want."

When Wood was released, (a situation surrounded by confusion and rumour), Australian Prime Minister John Howard, made a public statement in which he thanked Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly, for his efforts.

Yet, when Alamo resident Douglas Wood, whose allegiance seems to be ruled by expedience, was asked at a press conference about the Sheik's involvement, the rather unconvincing cliché ridden, stereotype Aussie persona he adopted for the conference, (forget the Alamo, remember Australia), changed.

He curtly replied, "Never heard of him."

Are we to believe, that after being reunited with his brothers, (who had enlisted the mufti's aid), his wife, and officials from Australia's Dept Of Foreign Affairs, that the name of the man who had worked hard for his release, did not come up in conversation?

It is little wonder that Australians are growing increasingly cynical and tired of a man who has an uncanny ability to turn a smile on and off like a light bulb.

However, we have not heard the end of this affair. Despite his traumatic 47 day ordeal at the hands of ruthless barbarians, he has managed to arrange book deals, exclusive rights to his story with television Channel 10, and a sponsorship deal with a local brewery.

Wood has not ruled out returning to Iraq. Let us hope that if he does, this reckless corporate mercenary who surprised locals by frequenting parts of Baghdad known to be dangerous to foreigners, does not cost the Australian tax payer another $10 million.