An ABC News article, describing Moutiaa El-Zahed’s court case in Sydney, has described her as giving an “Islamic State salute” when leaving the court. Moutiaa El-Zahed has been found guilty of disrespecting the court by failing to stand before a judge and is awaiting sentencing, under laws specific to New South Wales that were claimed by the defendants to be unconstitutional.
The article, titled “ISIS recruiter’s wife Moutiaa El-Zahed found guilty of refusing to stand for judge“, opens with a sentence focusing on her ‘salute’: “The wife of a convicted Islamic State recruiter gave the terrorist organisation’s salute as she left court in Sydney after being found guilty of refusing to stand for a judge.”
Online previews of the article have alternatively titled the article: “Moutiaa El-Zahed gives the Islamic State salute outside court.”
The gesture shown in photographs of the article and those quoting it, that of a single, extended index finger, has been used by Muslims for centuries to symbolise Tawhid, i.e. the Oneness of God or Islamic monotheism. Muslims make it when making their daily prayers and upon taking the Shahadah, or Testimony of Faith, upon accepting Islam as their religion. To describe this sacred gesture as simply a “terrorist organisation’s salute” is not only demeaning, but also false.
Such associations between this gesture and terrorism is not new nor limited to Australian media, as mainstream outlets have been describing it as such since 2014. The most hysterical examples were when conspiracy theorists claimed that, when then President Obama pointed his finger, he was “flashing” a “Muslim gang sign”. While such associations by mainstream media have since been debunked and ridiculed online, they still resurface every now and then, and only serve to try and incriminate symbols of Islam and associate all Muslims with criminal organisations. For this, the ABC must carefully validate such claims, avoid making these damaging claims about Muslims and pandering to Islamophobia in the future.
The ABC have been contacted for comment.