Monday, December 26, 2005

How democracy moderates even the most hardened terrorists

I realise some will try to paint me as a terror sympathiser for saying this. But I honestly think the Israelis should allow a Palestinian government to be formed. Even if it involves candidates linked to HAMAS.

Presumably most of those accusing me of being a terror sympathiser will come from the usual sectors for whom it is impossible for the Palestinians to ever get in right.

These same unconditionally anti-Palestinian people complained when Palestinians living under areas ruled by the Palestinian Authority democratically elected Nobel Prize winner Yasser Arafat.

When the first democratically elected Palestinian government appointed a Christian woman to the sensitive portfolio of education, these people accused Dr Hanan Ashrawi of being a terrorist sympathiser. Their allegations followed her all the way to Sydney in 2003, when she was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize.

Now Palestinian election officials are allowing HAMAS candidates to contest in the election, and already we hear murmurs of threats of sanctions and withdrawal of aid pledges.

Yet the presence of HAMAS candidates will not be the first time terrorists have taken part in an election. Israeli critics of HAMAS should remember the numerous members of notorious terrorist groups responsible for many deaths (including the Stern Gang) who have been elected to the Knesset. At least two Stern Gang members have even been elected Prime Minister.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Shamir never dared to set foot in England as an outstanding warrant was current for his arrest over his involvement in the bombing of the King David Hotel that left scores of civilians dead.

Shamir was also believed to be responsible for the assassination of the Swedish peace negotiator Count Folke Bernadotte, shot at close range in Jerusalem in September 1948 whilst working under the auspices of the United Nations. Bernadotte hoped to secure a compromise peace plan which would create separate Jewish and Palestinian states.

Other former terrorists included Nobel Prize winning Menachem Begin and even current Israeli PM Ariel Sharon.

For this part of the world, involvement by HAMAS will not be the first time a violent terrorist group will have been welcomed into the peaceful democratic process. Yesterdays terrorists have often become today’s and tomorrow’s statesmen.

Including HAMAS in government will give the organisation a much-needed injection of the harsh realities of administration and government. It is hoped that in government, HAMAS will recognise the need to compromise, to aim for the possible rather than the rhetorically popular but unachievable. Carping and sending other people’s children to their deaths is easy. Balancing competing interests and making tough decisions that can even hurt your supporters is very hard.

No one can deny the murderous record of the armed wing of HAMAS and their co-option of suicide bombing from Sri Lanka’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (also known as the Tamil Tigers). Hundreds of Israeli civilians have died at the hands of HAMAS suicide bombers, and Israelis have every right to be anxious about sharing a border with a government incorporating a group advocating the destruction of Israel.

The 2005 film Paradise Now directed by Hany Abu-Assaad seems to accurately portray the reality of organisations happy to send the depressed and frustrated children of others to their deaths in the name of a sick and demented theology with little relation to mainstream Islam.

HAMAS is a proscribed terrorist organisation under Australian, EU and United States law. Its past actions have certainly earned this proscription. Nothing in this article should be construed as constituting support for the organisation and its murderous activities.

But what is perhaps often forgotten is the role groups linked to HAMAS play in providing essential services to ordinary Palestinians. HAMAS is not a terror monolith. In December 2001, exactly 3 months following the September 11 attacks, TIME Magazine reporter Tony Karon wrote about the “large scale welfare arm” of the organisation.

“Hamas provides educational, medical and other desperately needed welfare services in impoverished West Bank and Gaza towns and refugee camps, creating a marked contrast with the image of corruption and cronyism most Palestinians have of Arafat's administration.”

Karon also writes of how the Israelis themselves encouraged HAMAS to openly operate from 1987 until HAMAS commenced armed action in 1989. Israel hoped HAMAS would provide an alternative indigenous Palestinian leadership to Yasser Arafat, then viewed in Israel as an enemy.

The record of HAMAS in the organised, efficient and effective provision of essential services may make its involvement in a future Palestinian government a plus for a future Palestinian administration. Gaza remains one of the poorest population centres on earth. It is also one of the most densely populated.

It is arguable that in Lebanon, the political, media and welfare wings of Hizbollah (whose armed wing is also proscribed in Australia) have led to the scaling down of military attacks on Israel. Democratic political processes in Lebanon have also seen the withdrawal of Syrian troops, seen as prime sponsors of Hizbollah. The organisation has little choice but to abstain from violence.

Peace cannot be achieved without compromise. Further, even those known for their extremist tendencies are known to moderate their positions when the trappings of government are at stake. Politics is a dirty game, but its utility lies in its ability to sap the militancy of even the most players on the terror chessboard. Parliamentary hawks are generally less dangerous than militants locked out of a political process.

I am no fan of HAMAS, just as I am no fan of the Stern Gang. But as Israel’s own history of electing former terrorists to Parliament has shown, democracy has the power to moderate the radical and clip the wings of the fiercest hawks. If organisations linked to HAMAS do have the popularity inherently anti-Palestinian commentators claim they have, surely this is even more reason to expose them to the mainstream political activity.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Monday, December 19, 2005

Christmas unites us all

Christmas is traditionally a time for family and friends getting together and for exchanging gifts. Among my extended family and close friends, Muslim and non Muslim both were and will be done. And both sides of the Tasman are involved.

An uncle of mine from Los Angeles visited Australia for the first time. His wife convinced me to take both of them to New Zealand. “Come on, Irfan. You should know New Zealand. What sort of Aussie are you that you don’t even know your own country?”

Our trip coincided with the Sydney beach riots, whose occurrence made my relatives particularly desperate to leave Sydney. I joked with them: “Hey, you guys must be used to that sort of thing, coming from LA”.

We were in New Zealand for 5 days, only enough time to drive a circle around North Island. Despite our requests, my mother and aunt refused to remove their headscarves. As if the rioters were crossing the Tasman to cause more trouble!

The closest we did come to cultural conflict was one morning walking down the main street of Napier in search of breakfast. I noticed the locals were staring in our general direction. Naturally, I presumed the ladies’ defiance over their headscarves was disturbing the locals.

Then one of the locals shouted the real cultural reason for the stares. “What are you wearing that damned Wallabies jersey in New Zealand!”

Before leaving for New Zealand, I decided to deliver my Christmas gifts early. One recipient of this clean-shaven Islamic Santa’s largesse was a Kiwi friend of mine who never met her Muslim dad. This year she will receive from me a package of three books, including a selection of Rumi poems and the latest Deepak Chopra offering.

Other friends of various genders and persuasions will also receive gifts. And this year’s Christmas card list for my legal practice already has over 300 names.

As usual, I will spend Christmas day having lunch with my best mate. We both attended Sydney’s only Anglican Cathedral School. Some years back, I introduced him to a Japanese friend of mine. They instantly clicked. I was best man at their wedding. It was a truly Australian event — an Anglican boy marrying a Buddhist girl with a Muslim best man, all taking place at St Andrews Cathedral!

At age 14, I was given my first translation of the Qur’an in English. It was a very old translation first published in Lahore during the 1930s. The translator was an Indian named Abdullah Yusuf Ali who rose to the highest posts in the Indian Civil Service that formed the administrative bedrock of the British Raj. His is perhaps the most popular and widely used translation.

It was at school that I discovered the story of the Qur’anic Jesus. The story can be found in a chapter of the Qur’an named ‘Maryam’ (which is Arabic for ‘Mary’). It begins with the usual supplication that commences all but one chapter of the Qur’an: ‘In the name of God, Most Gracious and Most Merciful’. This supplication is used not only when commencing a reading of the Qur’an, but precedes virtually all the daily actions of a Muslim, both mundane and devotional.

The chapter then goes into how John the Baptist appeared on the scene. John (named ’Yahiya’ in classical Arabic) was born to Zachariah, and both father and son are revered as prophets.

Once John has been mentioned, Mary is introduced. She is described as withdrawing from her family ‘to a place in the East’, locking herself away from the rest of society. A man mysteriously appears in her private chamber. The following dialogue ensues:

MARY: ‘I seek refuge from thee to God Most Gracious: come not near if thou dost fear God.’

MAN: ‘Nay, I am only a messenger from the Lord, to announce to thee the gift of a holy son.’

MARY: ‘How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?’

MAN: ‘So it will be: Thy Lord saith: “that is easy for Me: and We wish to appoint him as a sign unto men and as a Mercy from Us”. It is a matter so decreed.’

The man was an angel. Christ was conceived miraculously. Following birth, Mary took her son back to her family. Her father was a respected Rabbi and Mary was always known for her modesty and chastity. Further Mary had made a vow not to speak to any man for a fixed period of time. When she was first publicly accused of sexual impropriety, she pointed to the baby Jesus.

The Qur’an thus describes the first miracle of Christ — his speaking from the cradle in defence of his mother. His exact words were:

I am indeed a servant of God: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet. And he hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me prayer and charity as long as I live. He hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable. So peace is on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised up to life again!

I’m not sure if Joseph or the Three Wise Men appear in the Qur’anic account. But a number of Jesus’ miracles are mentioned. These include healing lepers and restoring life to the dead. Also mentioned is Christ’s ascension. The sayings of Prophet Muhammad mention Christ’s return to earth to establish the kingdom of God toward the end of time.

Given the status of Mary and Christ, it is not surprising that in the place where it all happened, the Palestinian town of Beit Lahm (Bethlehem), Muslims and Christians both celebrate Christmas. In many Muslim countries, Christmas is a public holiday. And when Christian leaders remind us that “Jesus is the reason for the season”, our Muslim brethren should find nothing objectionable.

Christmas should remind us that, despite minor cultural and theological differences, the things that unite us are greater in number and more important than those which divide us.

iyusuf@sydneylawyers.com.au

(Versions of this article appeared in the New Zealand Herald and the Daily Telegraph on 22 December 2005 and in New Matilda on 21 December 2005.)

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Monday, December 12, 2005

Downtown LA comes to Cronulla Beach

Earlier this morning, I found myself standing at Sydney Airport waiting for the Immigration Office to open. I was with some relatives visiting from Los Angeles, and we were preparing to fly out to New Zealand for a much-deserved holiday. I noticed a crowd of people standing around a TV screen watching like stunned mullets. They were mainly police, customs and security staff. They were from all different backgrounds. Their faces all expressed shock and disbelief.

What we saw were scenes of violence, thuggish behaviour and lawlessness at the otherwise fashionable Cronulla Beach located at the Southern tip of Sydney. What made the violence even more tragic was that most of it was draped with Australian flags and perpetrated in the name of Australian nationalism.

Over the weekend, an estimated 5,000 people descended on North Cronulla Beach chanting racist slogans and attacking anyone deemed of Middle Eastern origin. The violence spilled over into other parts of Sydney, with car windows being smashed at other waterfront locations across Southern Sydney.

Cronulla and its neighbouring suburb of Kurnell are amongst the earliest places where English settlers landed. The significance of these areas to both indigenous and Anglo-Australians is enormous. Apart from its historical and cultural significance, Cronulla is a popular weekend spot for families from across South Western Sydney.

These include young families from a variety of backgrounds for whom Cronulla is the most accessible coastal waterspot. It is also the only Sydney beach to have its own railway station, and has a legendary status as the heartland of Australian surf culture.

What appears to have sparked the riots was an unprovoked attack on two surf lifesavers at Cronulla Beach by a group of young men reportedly of Middle Eastern appearance. Police have already arrested one man in the Sydney suburb of Bankstown, which has a large community of Middle Eastern Australians.

A number of tabloid newspapers seemed to encourage the tribal nature of the violence. In the days leading upto the violence, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph repeatedly made reference to locals planning to take on “Middle Eastern thugs”. More responsible broadsheets (including The Australian, owned by the same group that publishes the Telegraph) were more restrained. Police and mainstream politicians (including local government leaders from the Cronulla area) also refused to buy into the racial overtones underpinning much of the reporting.

Once the violence was captured by television crews, it was obvious who would cop most of the blame. And it certainly wasn’t Aussies presumed Middle Eastern. Nor was it the Australian women of Muslim background who had their headscarves ripped off by drunken and stoned rioters.

TV crews showed images of young locals attacking innocent bystanders with beer bottles and bare fists. Many carried Australian flags. During attacks on anyone deemed Middle Eastern, the drunken crowd often frowned out the victims’ screams by singing “Waltzing Matilda” and “Advance Australia Fair”.

Reporter Damien Murphy, reporting from the scene of the riots for the Sydney Morning Herald, wrote on December 12 of “200-odd ringleaders, many clutching bottles or cans of beer and smoking marijuana, led assaults on individuals and small groups of Lebanese Australians who risked an appearance during the six-hour protest”.

Police also reported the presence of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups having a strong representation at the riots. Deputy Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione acknowledged that police had received reliable information of the involvement of groups such as the “Patriotic Youth League”.

Many have been taken by surprised by the ferocity of the tribalism at Cronulla. But as Paul Sheehan wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald on 12 December, gang violence is nothing new to Cronulla. During the 60’s and 70’s, Cronulla Beach was the scene of gang warfare between “westies” and “surfies”, both Anglo-Australian based “tribes”.

Responses from political leaders varied. As expected, the Prime Minister refused to label the rioters’ actions as racist, instead referring to longstanding “grievances” from the largely Anglo-Australian community. NSW Premier Morris Iemma appeared to contradict the PM’s stance, labelling the “sloganeering” as clearly racist.

But perhaps most concerning was the analysis of the local Member of Parliament Bruce Baird, regarded as a moderate small-“l” Liberal. Mr Baird referred to events of September 11 and the death of 6 locals in one of the Bali terror attacks as setting the foundation for simmering resentment toward anyone deemed Middle Eastern.

Unlike the Prime Minister, Mr Baird did not seek to whitewash the violence. He merely sought to explain its causes, many of which were based on the peculiar parochialism of the local “sufie” culture.

The resentment has only been reinforced by recent comments of some Muslim leaders, including comments concerning Australian model Michelle Leslie’s modelling of swimsuit fashion. Further, the often less-than-convincing condemnation of terrorist attacks by a number of Australian Muslim leaders have been widely reported and condemned even by their own communities.

Those taking on the responsibility of speaking for broader Arab and Muslim opinion in Australia have often failed both the interests they represent and the nation as a whole. With major exceptions in Canberra and Melbourne, the spokesmen (a word I use deliberately since so few are women) for this sector of the community has not shown itself capable of engaging the broader mainstream community.

At the same time, certain media outlets also need to exercise more caution, perhaps following the example of their counterparts across the Tasman who have tended to show far greater sensitivity in reporting on sensitive racial issues. Selective emphasis on the alleged ethnicity of certain perpetrators of violence does not help the situation.

It is now upto local civil, political and other leaders to examine the underlying issues, address grievances and provide real and lasting solutions. I wouldn’t like my relatives to avoid visiting either side of the Tasman thinking it isn’t any different to what they see in downtown LA.

The author is a Sydney lawyer and occasional lecturer at the School of Politics at Macquarie University. iyusuf@sydneylawyers.com.au

(A version of this article was printed in Online Opinion. Thanks to Eddie & Vivienne Evans of the Country Inn & Suites 121 in Auckland City for allowing me to use their desktop!)

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Another hostage crisis in Iraq

It wasn’t long ago when Australians watched in horror as a fellow Australian was paraded on amateur video as a terrorist pawn. A shadowy Iraqi group known as the “Shura Council of the Mujahideen of Iraq” held Mr Wood directly hostage for 47 days, issuing threats and impossible deadlines and releasing videos of the captured Australian.

They also indirectly held Mr Wood’s family and the entire nation hostage. The Wood family were forced to employ measures which, at the time, they must have thought of as desperate.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on May 8 2005 that members of the Wood family travelled to the Imam Ali ben Abi Taleb Mosque to speak with Sydney’s Sheik Tajeddine el-Hilaly, whose various titles include “Mufti of Australia and New Zealand”.

Following the recording of a plea to the hostages in Arabic, Sheik Hilaly surprised media present by announcing he would personally fly to Iraq in an attempt to speak with the captors and secure Mr Wood’s release.

Sheik Hilaly was touched by the plight of Mr Wood, with whom the Sheik shared a common age and heart condition. The Sheik literally risked his life to travel to Iraq to seek the release of a fellow Australian.

Australians of Muslim background were sickened to see another innocent civilian suffering due to the acts of criminals committing crimes against humanity in the name of Islam. Despite his being subject to Muslim criticism due to irresponsible statements over the years, Sheik Hilaly won the hearts of Muslim and non-Muslim Australians through his mission.

Sheik Hilaly was provided with support and assistance by the Muslim peak body, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) who worked closely with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT) and Iraqi officials.

Now across the Tasman, another family is forced to endure the same trauma. The kidnapping of New Zealand resident and Canadian citizen Harmeet Singh Sooden and other members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) has some parallels to the treatment of Australian civilian hostage Douglas Wood.

New Zealand Muslims, like their Australian counterparts, cannot and should not be held responsible for the actions of ideologically charged maniacs who attack the lives of innocent people and hold families and nations hostage. But in conjunction with their Australian counterparts, New Zealand’s Muslim leaders may be able to take certain active steps.

The peak New Zealand Muslim body, known as the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ), should work with AFIC and the Canadian Islamic Congress to secure the services of Sheik Hilaly or other suitable mediators in an effort to secure the release of Mr Sooden and other hostages.

Such efforts on behalf of the Australian and New Zealand Muslim communities are essential given the natural abhorrence Muslims have (or at least should have) toward terrorism. Moreover, the kidnap of members of the CPT movement does not in any way further the cause of Iraqi self determination.

The CPT movement were always known for their opposition to the invasion of Iraq by Coalition forces. Their work has not been confined to Iraq. The CPT have played a major role over the years in protecting and campaigning for the rights of Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the Occupied Territories, a cause close to the heart of Muslims in New Zealand and across the world.

Unlike other evangelical groups, CPT has shown enormous respect for the faiths and cultures of Muslim communities with whom they work. CPT works at a grassroots level, refusing to accept money from any government. Mr Sooden’s own devotion to the cause of justice was shown in his participation in numerous rallies in support of Palestinian rights in New Zealand.

In its press release dated December 5 2005 calling for the release of Mr Sooden and his colleagues, the Canadian Islamic Congress noted: “CPT members do not proselytize or ever attempt to "convert" those for whom they offer support. Rather, they are individually and collectively motivated by their faith to devote their lives to helping the oppressed, working for justice, and fighting against war by peacefully "getting in the way" of violence against the innocent.”

The press release goes onto acknowledge CPT members “took on their duties with one simple and courageous purpose: to bear witness to injustice and to sincerely work alongside the people of Iraq for justice and peace.”

New Zealand Muslim leaders, in conjunction with their Australian and Canadian counterparts, must take a leading role in assisting where possible to secure Mr Sooden’s release. They should use whatever influence and contacts they have in Iraq and the broader Arab and Muslim world to impress upon the hijackers that any harm done to CPT in effect harms work from which millions of Iraqis and other Arabs benefit. Not to mention the enormous grief such harm would bring to Mr Sooden’s family and millions of New Zealanders who stand with them.

A precedent has already been set by the Australian Muslim community in seeking the release of Australian hostage Douglas Wood. It is hoped FIANZ can follow the lead of AFIC and other Australian Muslim peak bodies and offer whatever assistance they can.

The author is a Sydney-based lawyer and columnist for altmuslim.com. iyusuf@sydneylawyers.com.au

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Friday, December 02, 2005

COMMENT: Hansard Hat-Trick

First it was my former election opponent and ALP stalwart the Member for Reid who named me in Federal Parliament. Mr Ferguson expressed some surprise at my criticisms of certain Howard Government policies.

Then my former colleague in the Conservative wing of the NSW Liberals, the member for Mackellar, decided to accuse me of being a “Muslim activist” who was known for his abusive attitude toward women.

I’m not sure if Mrs Bishop’s claims about my attitude toward women led to my being selected as an official Ambassador for the Australian White Ribbon Day campaign to promote the UN’s designated International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Although I am pleased to say my efforts seem to have convinced at least one prominent figure in the construction industry to improve his attitude toward women.



Now it seems that the Member for Melbourne Ports has decided to ask a question. Mr Danby was a former member of the Australia/Israel Publications, an unincorporated entity which has already mentioned my name in vain in a number of their publications.

Since that time, I am informed the successor to the AIP and Mr Danby appear to have parted ways. This, however, does not stop Mr Danby from publishing the odd attack on anyone deemed to be saying something even mildly critical of a certain non-Arab state in the Middle East whose name is not Iran.

Indeed, I am not sure if Mr Danby has actually ever asked a question pertaining to the people of his electorate. Admittedly, I haven’t checked Hansard of late. But it seems Mr Danby’s concern is less about contentious industrial policies or welfare reforms and more about protecting the reputation of a certain foreign country.

(I welcome Mr Danby or a member of his staff to correct me if I am mistaken.)

Of course, I have no problems with Mr Danby doing this. I mean, I don’t live in his electorate. Although if my local member spent so much time harping on about a foreign power (even if it be my parents’ ancestral homes in the Indian sub-Continent), I would be a tad concerned.

On this occasion, Mr Danby chose to focus on a local issue, and I must say his question was fair enough. Mr Danby’s questions to Mr Ruddock concerned some comments I had made some months back about an anti-Semitic text being distributed at a camp organised by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) in 1985/86.

Mr Danby, of course, decided to make my comments much broader, almost seeking to cast aspersions that all Muslim organisations (including presumably Cypriot Muslim groups in his electorate) are openly distributing anti-Semitic literature to young Muslim Australians.

To his credit, Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock addressed the issues with precision and balance. He noted that the claims I made concerned activities back in 1985, back in the days when it was OK to claim all Palestinians were a bunch of Jew-hating Nazis who hijacked planes.

In case anyone feels my description of the discussions between Messrs Danby and Ruddock is somewhat unfair, I reproduce the relevant section of Hansard which was provided to me by a kind journalist from the Canberra Press Gallery.

----------------------

(Question No. 2279)

Mr Danby asked the Attorney-General, in writing, on 6 September 2005:

(1) Has he seen allegations by Mr Irfan Yusuf, a former Liberal Party federal election candidate, that Islamic organisations are distributing the notorious anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, to Islamic youth in Sydney.

(2) Has he seen further allegations by Mr Yusuf that copies of the Protocols are being supplied to Islamic organisations by the Embassy of Saudi Arabia.

(3) What steps is he taking to ascertain the truth of these allegations and what steps will he take to prevent the importation or circulation of material such as the Protocols which is fraudulent, defamatory, inflammatory and designed to foment racial and religious hatred.

Mr Ruddock-The answer to the honourable member's question is as
follows:

(1) Yes. I am aware of Mr Yusuf's statements to media outlets. Although I note the allegations by Mr Yusuf relate to an incident in 1985 in which he claims that he and other attendees at an Islamic camp organised by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils were provided with copies of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.

(2) Yes. I have seen a statement made by Mr Yusuf to Radio National on 28 August 2005 that he received a copy of the book The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. I am aware Mr Yusuf further alleged the book had a stamp of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils on the inside cover and that the book was a gift from the Saudi Embassy. I note this allegation also relates to activities in 1985.

(3) The Australian Federal Police has not received any complaints or allegations regarding The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion since 1997. A strong criminal legislative framework already exists at a federal level. Mr Danby would be aware that the Australian Government is introducing a range of measures to improve the national security framework, including a new offence against inciting violence. Inciting a person to commit any criminal offence is an offence in its own right under section 11.4 of the Criminal Code Act 1995. In order to address situation in which statements aimed at the naïve and impressionable may incite criminal activity or terrorist acts, the Government has modernised the offence of sedition in sections 24A to 24F of the Crimes Act. These offences cover a person who engages in a 'seditious enterprise' with the intention of causing violence or creating public disorder or a public disturbance, or who writes, prints, utters or publishes any seditious words with the intention of causing violence or creating public disorder or a public disturbance. The new offence will address problems with those who incite directly against other groups within our community, including against Australia's forces overseas and in support of Australia's enemies.

There is a good faith defence where the communication is merely about criticising government policy. In addition, ASIO has said publicly that it works closely with police services in relation to threats to Israeli and Jewish interest and maintains regular contact with representatives of the Jewish community. ASIO also maintains regular contact with the Muslim community leaders and works closely with police services in connection with threats to the Muslim community. Mr Danby would also be aware that the Australian Government is introducing a range of measures to improve the national security framework, including a new offence against inciting violence.

Possible alternative measures available to deal with this material include prohibition as racial vilification under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, or the involvement of the Australian Federal Police where criminal conduct is alleged.

An application for classification of a publication may be made for Law enforcement purposes, under section 22A of the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995. I am advised that no application for classification has been made for this publication. Accordingly, no comment can be made on the appropriate classification of this book. If it were to be submitted, its classification would be a matter for the Classification Board.

The Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act 1975 prohibits racial vilification on the basis of race, colour, or national or ethnic origin ('offensive behaviour based on racial hatred').

Racial vilification covers acts that offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate a person or groups of people. The prohibition is subject to a number of exemptions which are intended to ensure that debate can occur freely in respect of matters of legitimate public interest. Complaints of racial vilification may be made to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 does not cover criminal conduct. Any allegations of criminal conduct should be referred to the Australian Federal Police.

Most importantly, it must be remembered that the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are fundamental human rights that are enjoyed by all Australians. These rights are subject to limitations that are reasonable and necessary in a free and democratic society to achieve an appropriate balance between freedom of expression and the protection of groups and individuals from offensive behaviour.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

COMMENT: Turkey's PM sets foot in Australia & New Zealand

Over the next fortnight, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be visiting Australia and New Zealand. His tour will be the first visit by a Turkish Prime Minister for at least 10 years.

Mr Erdogan represents a new generation of conservative Muslim leaders. In the past decade, Turkish politics has stepped in a more Islamist direction, especially as Muslim parties have enjoyed increased popularity after more secular parties have been wracked by corruption and scandal.

Mr Erdogan came to power as the leader of the conservative Islamist AK Party. The term “Ak” literally means “purified” and has been used by a number of Sufi groups as a pronoun to their various operations. A group of Islamist radio and TV stations in Turkey are called “AK-RA” and “AK-TV” respectively. But in reality, the AK Party is little more than a Muslim version of the Christian Democrat parties common in other European countries.

Indeed, even the most sceptical observers of Turkey agree that the present Turkish government is not turning its face totally eastward. Erdogan is a firm believer in liberal democracy, and he has proven to be the most active Prime Minister in terms of seeking Turkey’s entry into the European Union.

Turkey’s proposed entry to the EU is being opposed by some European leaders who see Turkey as too big, too poor and too Muslim. During a recent visit to the conservative Centre for Independent Studies, Swedish economist Johan Norberg suggested that Turkey’s entry to the EU should be supported for these very reasons.

In relation to Turkey’s Muslim culture, Norberg suggested that the influx of Turkish workers will force EU nations to free up their over-regulated labour markets and break down existing migrant ghettoes which are categorised by high unemployment and simmering resentment.

He also suggested that Turkish Islam is hardly the type which would reinforce existing pockets of extremism. If anything, Turkey’s more liberal Ottoman Sufi approach to Islam and its historical engagement with Europe will be an effective antidote to the threat of alleged radicalisation of European Muslims.

Norberg’s words are not the observations of a neo-capitalist idealist. His views are grounded in an understanding of Ottoman and modern Turkish trends of Islamic thought. The Ottoman Empire was a very European empire. It should be remembered that the Ottomans were already in Europe prior to the conquest of Constantinople, and indeed that conquest took Ottoman armies eastward and not westward. Further, Ottoman religious institutions tended to be dominated by European converts.

Modern Turkish Islam has a very strong foundation in the classical Sufism of universalist thinkers such as Rumi. Indeed, the city of Konya where Rumi is buried is regarded as Turkey’s Islamic heartland.

My own experience with Turkish Islamic scholars has been that they place enormous emphasis on this-worldly affairs, especially on business. Turkish Imams (who make up the majority of Imams in Australia) emphasise engagement with the mainstream in all areas of life. Their message is a far cry from the isolationist theology of some more radical Middle Eastern Imams.

Erdogan himself is a reflection of this thinking. Despite his impeccable Islamic credentials, he is also no stereotypical mullah. He is a father of four whose son is currently studying at Harvard. Erdogan refused to follow the lead of the newly elected Iranian president by calling for the destruction of Israel.

If anything, under the Erdogan government Turkey’s relations with Israel have improved. Turkey has sponsored talks between the foreign ministers of Israel and Pakistan, and Turkey maintains close diplomatic, military and cultural ties with Israel.

The current Turkish PM is also firmly opposed to all forms of Islamic extremism and terrorism. In this regard, Erdogan is following Turkish public opinion. During a recent terrorist attack on an Istanbul synagogue, Mr Erdogan vowed to pursue those responsible and bring them justice. By all indications, his calls resonated positively across all sectors of Turkish society. Further, as an active NATO member state, Turkey continues to support the war on terrorism.

Turkey’s engagement of European liberalism goes beyond merely winning the Eurovision song contest. In April 2004, the Turkish government led a campaign for Cypriot Turks to support the re-unification of Cyprus.

Greek Cypriots voted overwhelmingly against Cypriot unity. Ironically, despite their rejection of UN-sponsored reunification, the Greek section of Cyprus was granted EU membership.

Australia has a large and well-established Turkish community. Over 100,000 Turks and their descendants have had a presence in Australia since the 1950’s. Out of all Muslim ethnic groups, they are the most organised, the best integrated and have the greatest number of mosques. Australia needs to make greater use of its Turkish communities with a view to secure the substantial advantages flowing from closer economic ties with this growing economy.

Both Australia and New Zealand forged their first links with Turkey on the battlefields of the Gallipoli peninsula. Each year, our embassies and high commissions across the world hold ANZAC Day ceremonies, and we make a point of inviting Turkish diplomats to also attend.

Turkey’s economic and cultural ties with Australia and New Zealand have overcome the effects of that initial encounter. And with Prime Minister Erdogan’s visit, it is hoped these ties will grow stronger.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The New Right Young Libs and Pittwater

The NSW Liberal Party has lost its 3rd safest seat. In a whopping 25% swing, independent mayor Alex McTaggart has become the first independent state member for the seat of Pittwater. He is the second independent to take a seat in what should be the Liberal heartland of the affluent northern beaches.

Who is to blame? No doubt many Liberals will blame former member and Opposition Leader John Brogden for failing to endorse preselected candidate Paul Nicolaou. But given the size of the swing, one wonders whether any endorsement from Mr Brogden would have made any difference.

Others will blame current Opposition Leader and Member for Vaucluse Peter Debnam. However, it is hard to know what else Mr Debnam could have done to avoid defeat. He found a candidate in Paul Nicolaoui who kept all factions happy and was a likeable and inoffensive character.

In reality, the fault lies with those forces responsible for Brogden’s demise in the first place. The New Right of the party must take the blame, just as the Hard Left had to take the blame for Kerry Chikarovski’s electoral loss at the State Election in 1999.

For years, the small “l” liberal faction known as “the Group” had a policy of “winner takes all” in its approach to the party organisation. It often seemed like the Liberal Left were more focussed on attacking internal party enemies than defeating the ALP.

Eventually, as the Group made more and more internal party enemies, its own MP’s were losing their seats. Former Member for Miranda, Ron Phillips, was titular head of the Group. His factional leadership enabled him to win many internal party battles. He even orchestrated the toppling of his local Federal MP, the popular Member for Cook Stephen Mutch.

Mr Phillips’ focus on internal battles meant that when it came time to do battle with the real enemy – the ALP machine – he was too exhausted to fight. Few wept over his electoral demise, with plenty of non-Group Liberals dancing on his political grave.

The mistakes formerly made by Phillips & Co are now being repeated by the new powerbrokers in the Party, virtually all of whom come from the hard right. Led and organised out of the offices of a Big “C” Conservative Upper House Member, this faction has taken the same “winner takes all” approach to its factional battles.

This in itself should not surprise anyone within the Party. What will surprise outsiders is the fact that so many persons in the New Right are former members of the Group.

The New Right’s major source of strength is the NSW Young Liberal Movement. This was also the main power base of the Group during its days in power. Many of those same young Groupers are current factional warriors in the New Right, holding positions on the NSW Young Liberal executive and the State Executive of the Party.

Many accuse current national Young Liberal President Alex Hawke of belonging to the New Right. That maybe the case today. But Mr Hawke’s first political act of treachery was when he was more closely aligned to the Group. On that occasion, he organised a takeover of his own Young Liberal branch in Parramatta to unseat his branch president.

Hawke now has strong personal reasons for undermining Brogden. He has attacked the moderate Liberal social agenda, in return for which Mr Brogden accused him of behaving like someone auditioning for the role of party clown.

The Young Liberals have traditionally operated a “flying squad” of young activists to assist in elections and by-elections. Yet in the last State Election, the flying squads were nowhere to be seen. It was common knowledge that the New Right Young Liberals did not want a “lefty” to be the next State Premier.

The New Right party heavies did have access to a more local candidate in the internal Liberal pre-selection process. Rob Stokes is an environmental lawyer close to John Brogden and with strong ties to the local area. But instead of choosing the logical choice, the Hard-Right put factional possibilities before electoral reality.

Ironically, despite the strong religious overtones of the Hard-Right, the Christian Democrats refused to share preferences with the Liberals.

The extreme factionalism within the Young Liberals has infected the Party and has made it near-impossible for the Party to maintain a hold on many of its own seats, let alone win seats from the ALP and independents. With the retirement of Bob Carr and with the mistakes of his government costing more than a block of flats in Lane Cove, the Liberals should have been able to capitalise on ALP mistakes.

Of course, the campaign was sullied by other mistakes and problems. Parachuting an outsider into an electorate with this village mentality proved disastrous. For all his virtues and hard work, Paul Nicolaou was the wrong candidate. The Liberal Party had access to a local candidate in lawyer Rob Stokes.

Indeed, as newly elected independent candidate and Pittwater Mayor Alex McTaggart admitted to journalists, he probably would not have bothered running if the Liberal Party had preselected Mr Stokes.

Hawke and his boss have become the new NSW Liberal powerbroker. But his takeover as Young Liberal president came at a price. Before Hawke could battle the Liberal Left, he had to purge the non-Group faction of its small-“c” conservatives.

Hawke’s role in that purge forms an important background to the current political dramas within the Party. He moved swiftly to drive a number of former small “c” conservatives out of the Party. Among these were at least 4 former federal liberal candidates, an editor of a conservative youth magazine, a number of local councillors and Liberal Student activists. And his own former branch president who first recruited him to the party.

The small “c” conservatives had the advantage of years of grassroots experience campaigning across metropolitan Sydney. They also tended to be far more amenable to pragmatism and compromise than the New Right.

Most importantly, the small “c” conservatives were not so obsessed with the typical ideological flaws of the New Right – support from extreme fringe groups, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia and opposition to anything resembling multiculturalism. The small “c” conservatives were the sensitive and sensible face of the conservative wing of the Party. The absence of the small “c” conservatives has therefore made the ideological gulf between the factions.

The ALP has been able to organise its factions and manage its internal bickering. Unless the NSW Liberals can do the same, they can look forward to many more terms in opposition and losing many more of its safe seats to independents.

(The author is a Sydney lawyer and former Liberal Candidate for the seat of Reid in the 2001 Federal Election. He is a former member of the NSW Young Liberals and of the NSW State Council, sitting on over 5 pre-selections including the Pittwater pre-selection in 1998.)

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Go back to where you never came from!

The decisions of Australia’s Immigration Ministers and their Department have traditionally been the basis for a commanding electoral lead. Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, around 100 asylum seekers drowned off the coast of Australia.

The government at that stage claimed that the people on board the boat may have been terrorists, and that some parents had thrown their children off the boat in an effort to gain sympathy. What became known as the “children overboard affair” saw the Howard government attain a commanding victory at the November 2001 Federal election.

Today, immigration policy has become the source of many an embarrassment for the Howard government. The tough policies toward asylum seekers and other non-citizens, once an electoral strength, are becoming an electoral liability as Australians are growing tired of compassion fatigue.

Recently, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone was forced to apologise for her Department wrongfully deporting Australian citizen Vivian Alvarez Solon to the Philippines. Ms Solon has commenced legal action against the government to compensate her for her damages and losses.

Ms Solon was severely injured in a road accident some four years ago. She was wrongfully identified as an illegal immigrant and deported. She spent her entire time in a homeless refuge outside Manilla, unable to communicate with those around her.

The most recent source of embarrassment is the government’s use of its powers to deport non-citizens sentenced to serve significant jail terms for certain crimes. The publicly-owned Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC TV) revealed on 23 November that a 38 year old Australian permanent resident had been deported to Serbia where he was living in near-destitution.

Robert Jovicic was deported to Serbia in June 2004 on character grounds. He spent time in jail for a string of robberies which were used to support his heroin habit. Mr Jovicic arrived in Australia at age 2. He was born in France to Serbian-born parents.

Currently, Mr Jovicic lives on the streets, spending much of his time outside the front door of the Australian embassy in Belgrade. He speaks virtually no Serbian.

The Commonwealth Migration Act enables the Minister to cancel the visa and order the deportation of a non-citizen permanent resident found guilty of crimes serious enough to warrant a custodial sentence of a certain minimum length. The law has operated to ensure the deportation of a number of permanent residents who cannot remember seeing the country they were born in and are being deported to.

In 2003, I visited the Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney. A young man of Turkish background in his 20’s was awaiting deportation to Ankara. He was born in Turkey but arrived in Australia when he was around 5 years old. Most of his family members were citizens, but for some reason he neglected to apply for citizenship or a passport.

Many deportees cannot speak the language or understand the culture of the countries they are being deported to. In the case of Mr Jovicic, the law is operating in a horrendous fashion. The Melbourne Age reported Mr Jovicic telling ABC reporters:

“If I don't lay out front of the embassy and try and get back home, I'll die. I'll die here just on medical grounds alone within a short time.”

Mr Jovicic’s sister Susanna, who also lives in Australia, summed up the family’s frustrations as follows: “You can't just throw someone who's been here all their lives and calls this place his home, and just dump them somewhere else. I mean, he wasn't even born there.”

What makes Mr Jovicic’s situation even more precarious is that the Serbian government does not recognise him as a citizen. He is therefore unable to obtain employment or welfare. Mr Jovicic is stateless and destitute.

There are hundreds of people living on the streets of Sydney. Many are drug-users, and quite a few suffer from psychiatric conditions such as severe untreated schizophrenia. Often such people find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

A high proportion of Australia’s prison community suffer from psychiatric illnesses independent of or induced by drug use. Where such persons are permanent residents, they are vulnerable upon being convicted for an offence for deportation at the discretion of the Immigration Minister.

For such unfortunate deportees, it is a case of the punishment being often unjustly disproportionate to the crime committed. To use common Aussie parlance, it is a case of the Minister telling the convicted permanent resident: “Go back to where you never came from!”

Many permanent residents have good reason to not take up citizenship. Indeed, as the cases of Ms Solon and Guantanamo detainee David Hicks show, even Australian citizenship is no necessary guarantee of government action to protect the interests of the individual.

The Howard government will continue to suffer embarrassment and reduced electoral appeal if it is unable to control bureaucratic and ministerial bungling in immigration matters. The use of tough immigration and citizenship policies as a tool to play wedge politics, often with clear racial and ethno-religious overtones, is no longer proving popular. Unless the government lifts its game, the voters may tell the Howard government to go back to where they came from – the opposition benches.

The author is a Sydney-based lawyer and occasional lecturer at the Department of Politics of Sydney’s Macquarie University.

A version of this article appeared in the Canberra Times on Monday November 28 2005.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Dressing-Down of Michelle Leslie

Australian model Michelle Leslie returns to Australia over the next few days. Whilst in an Indonesian prison, this swimsuit and underwear model decided to don a head scarf. At one stage, she even wore a "burqah" covering her entire face.

Some Australian media had a field day with her alleged "conversion on the road to Bali prison". When friends of her revealed that Michelle had embraced Islam at least 2 years ago, the media cynicism on her conversion largely subsided.

But as Michelle's plane prepares to land on the Sydney Airport tarmac, she greets another frenzy. Ms Leslie has been told by the president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) to cease her modelling career.

Dr Ameer Ali, AFIC President and economics lecturer, was quoted in Sydney's Daily Telegraph as saying:

"If she is a Muslim I don't think she should go back to her job as an underwear model because Islam is about modesty. Taking off her clothes and being half-naked on the catwalk will raise a lot of eyebrows in the community. She can't have it both ways. Either practice Islam and do something decent or don't practice it at all."

This "all or nothing" mentality has become all too prevalent amongst the first generation migrants who dominate leadership roles within Muslim peak bodies and organisations. New converts or young Muslims returning to their faith are expected to immediately conform to a set of standards.

But this attitude doesn't account for human realities. We all have to start somewhere. And if some of us end up choosing to regard ourselves as Muslim, this does not necessarily translate into a complete change of career or lifestyle choice.

Ms Leslie has a number of modelling contracts awaiting her return to Australia. Although the writer is no theologian, it is an Islamic theological given that her taking up modelling will not in itself take her outside the fold of Islam. The President of AFIC will know this. Or at least he should.

Further, Dr Ali needs to sort out whether he wishes to speak for (his version of) Islamic orthodoxy or Aussie Muslim reality. Perhaps he should take a walk down Auburn Road in Auburn in the geographical heart of Sydney and see what modern Aussie Muslim women choose to wear. He will see it isn’t all that different to what Ms Leslie chose to wear upon her release.

One's being Muslim is a product of one's faith. And belief is a matter of the heart. Only Michelle Leslie and her Creator know what is in Michelle Leslie's heart. Further, it is not for the Presidents of peak Muslim bodies to be telling Muslim women who they should choose to dress.

Just as it is not the business of politicians to be regulating Muslim dress. Dr Ali's comments mirror those of conservative Liberal Party backbenchers who want to see the traditional Muslim hijab banned from state schools.

Muslim women living on either side of the Tasman have the same opportunities as any other women to participate in mainstream society. Whether converts or women brought up in the West, these women should be allowed to make their own choices without men and their often irrelevant cultural standards seeking to become involved.

Dr Ali’s comments are yet another example of migrant Muslim leaders finding it impossible to bridge the cultural gap that often divides them from mainstream society. Whether converts or reverts, many non-cultural Muslims face difficult decisions and choices beyond the almost impossible task of adopting a new faith.

Ms Leslie has taken an enormous step. She has changed her faith, and it will take her some time for to change her lifestyle. Human beings are not robots or computers that can be programmed into a new set of habits and behaviour.

For many young Muslims growing up in culturally Muslim families, the choice is even more difficult. They are forced to swing life's pendulum in at least three directions between parental expectations, orthodox religion and the western culture they grew up in.

For these new Muslims, both young and converts, conventional mosques and imams are locked in a cultural world totally alien to Aussie or Kiwi conditions.

I have a Kiwi Muslim friend who sometimes works behind a bar and who would definitely give Ms Leslie a run for her money in the good looks department. I first met her for the first time when she was serving beer to my Young Liberal mates, and when we hang out she enjoys drinking white wine or champagne mixed with orange juice. Both are habits not exactly regarded as saintly by mainstream Islam.

But woe-be-tied anyone who says something nasty about her father's religion. My friend may not be the most observant Muslim on the planet, but in terms of passion for her faith I have known few people better and stronger. I reckon she could teach Dr Ali a thing or two about the real spirit of Islam.

Most important than her job and her drinking habits is the goodness of her heart and her wisdom. Despite leading a difficult life, she is one of the most compassionate people I have met. She is extraordinarily sensitive to other people's feelings. I have never heard her speak ill of anyone. And when she rebukes her lawyer-friend Irfan on his over-eating habits, she does it ever-so mildly.

My friend is the living embodiment of what American sufi Hamza Yusuf Hanson once remarked: "A religious person is someone who doesn't want to go to hell. A spiritual person is someone who has been to hell and never wants to go back!"

Islam teaches that what matters more than appearances is a good heart and noble intentions. Some claim that Muslims believe all martyrs go to heaven into the arms of 72 virgins. But the Prophet Muhammad taught that a martyr who dies with the intention of being glorified will in fact be sent to hell. He made the same remark concerning with the cleric and the philanthropist who do good deeds just to be seen.

The same Prophet also spoke of a sex worker who finished her shift and went to the well to drink some water. She saw a dog dying of thirst and gave the dog water first. For that good deed and for the purity of her intention, God made this woman destined for heaven.

I will never forget seeing American sufi Nuh Ha Mim Keller cite this incident during a discourse at the Imam Ali Mosque at Lakemba in May 2003. He added: “I pray God could make me like this woman”. Imagine that. A teacher of the sacred Islamic Sufi spiritual disciplines praying to be like a sex worker.

Like all mainstream faiths, Islam teaches that what counts at the end of the day is the goodness of your heart. Whether you're a neuroscientist, a barmaid, a swimsuit model or a sex worker, what counts isn't what people think of you. What counts is the goodness of your heart.

The author is a Sydney lawyer. iyusuf@sydneylawyers.com.au.

(An edited version of this article appeared in the New Zealand Herald on 22 November 2005 and in New Matilda on Wednesday 23 November 2005.)

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Some Blokey Terror Suspect

At 5am this morning, I received a call from a morning news program on one of the commercial channels. I was told some things that I cannot quite remember, and then offered a car or some cab charges so I could come to their studio and be interviewed.

I couldn’t quite remember what I had been told or which TV station it was. My brain was filled with antibiotics thanks to an infected index finger.

Readers, try not to laugh or make jokes about where that finger had been. I’ve been hearing it for the last fortnight!.

Then again, I’ve been hearing many things which are quite funny but no laughing matter. I’ve been hearing comparisons between my generation of Aussie Mossies (Australian Muslims) and the rioters in Paris. I’ve been hearing a government minister tell me I need to learn more about an English illegal immigrant and his donkey.

I’ve even been hearing (and reading in Hansard) about a backbencher describing me as a “bomb thrower”. I’m surprised my former Liberal Party factional ally Mrs Bishop didn’t refer me to ASIO herself. Perhaps she realised I was throwing bombs on her behalf against the Liberal left.

But returning to the TV show. The person phoned me and said that they would be filming close to my house. They would be in Lakemba.

I remember the person mentioning something about raids on Muslims. “As you are aware, a whole bunch of Muslims have been raided, and we are covering the story this morning.”

Me? Aware? And me? Living in or near Lakemba?

For some reason, people assume that I know about terrorist acts and anti-terrorist raids. How would I know? Is there a magical grape-vine that runs from Uncle Usama’s cave in northern Pakistan all the way to Ryde? Do I subscribe to a telepathic podcast that tips me off about the next ASIO raid?

And yes, my name does sound a little exotic. No one could ever pronounce my name correctly. Is it “Ear Phone”? Or “Ephraim”? Or “I-Frame”?

(One of my female friends told me her niece started reading text messages I would send to her. When I asked how her niece knew who it was, she said: “I have your name down on my phone as just “If”. Don’t ask me how it’s meant to be said!” And she herself as a surname that leaves stretchmarks on my tongue!)

This morning, I read about a “prominent Islamic cleric” being among those arrested. Some dude from Melbourne called Abu Bakr.

What made Abu Bakr so prominent was that he appeared on the ABC’s 7:30 Report. But the way some of our newspapers and journos are these days, anyone with half a brain and who looks like something out of “Team America” can become a “prominent Islamic cleric”.

Then again, some journos are just so lazy, they will believe anything they hear from someone whose name begins with “Abu”. I should dress up in long robes and call myself Sheik Abu Jahash el-Sumbluq. I’ll set up my base in a place with lots of radical youth (Byron Bay, perhaps?). Then I’ll start talking about 72 virgins (no, definitely not Byron Bay!).

Within days, terror experts with bad English accents from Sri Lanka will be calling for the government to crack down on my “Sumbluqi” terror cell. The names “Abu Jahash” and “Sumbluq” will become synonymous with nasty beards and accents thick enough to make a convenience store worker sound like Wilson Tuckey.

I reckon it will take 5 months before someone realises that “Abu Jahash” simply means “father of donkey” (perhaps Simpson?). And that el-Sumbluq is simply “Some Bloke” pronounced in an Arabic accent.

Couldn’t the journos have figured it out straight away? What about the ASIO agents and police? They’ll probably only begin to suspect when I introduce my chief courtesan from my Byron harem. Her name? Ms Umm Kalb el-Sumsheila!

But returning to Abu Bakr. I thought he was already jailed by the Indonesians? How come he didn’t appear on the latest episode of Usama’s heavenly-jihad podcast? It just shows how prominent the guy is.

So allow me to state a few things for the record about me and all the other Aussie Mossies who make up more than 50% of Australia’s Muslim population. Firstly, we do not subscribe to any terror podcast.

Secondly, we don’t receive instructions from Usama about how to earn 72 heavenly virgins by blowing ourselves up.

Thirdly, many of us don’t live anywhere near Lakemba.

Finally, on a personal note, please stop trying to pronounce my first name! If you can’t say “Irfan”, just call me Sheik Abu-Bakr Usama Ayatollah-Cola el-Sumbluqwholikessumsheila! That should be easier for the flying-carpet-chasing journos.

(An article of similarly scurrilous content appeared here.)

iyusuf@sydneylawyers.com.au

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Friday, November 04, 2005

COMMENT: Muslim apathy makes passing terror laws that much easier ...

If you believe what you read in many newspapers, Australian Muslims are up in arms about the new anti-terror laws. Yet solid evidence on the ground is thin. Further, the leaders of most peak Muslim bodies have been silent on the laws in recent weeks.

Around a week ago, I received an e-mail from a non-Muslim Australian of libertarian tendencies. He was complaining about the complete apathy of Muslim leaders and the general Muslim community on the proposed terror laws.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. On the evening of 4 November 2005, SBS World News reported the views of 2 young Australian Muslims.

Kurandar Seyit, Executive Director of the Forum of Australia’s Islamic Relations (FAIR), told the SBS reporter that he has received calls from numerous individuals expressing fears of participation in protest marches.

Dr Waleed Kadous of the Australian Muslim Civil Rights & Advocacy Network (AMCRAN) also spoke of fears amongst people he had spoke to.

Both Messrs Seyit and Kadous have been active in the debate on the proposed terror laws. They have been joined by Waleed Aly and other executive members of the Islamic Council of Victoria.

However, apart from these voices, there have been few articulate noises made by prominent Muslim leaders on the terror laws.

Dr Ameer Ali, president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) and Chair of the Government’s Muslim Community Reference Group, has been unable to provide any real leadership on the issue. After initially agreeing to “sell” the proposed laws to his community (before even a sentence of the Bill had been drafted), Dr Ali was pressured to back peddle.

New South Wales has three organisations claiming status as peak representative bodies. The original Islamic Council of New South Wales has been unable to even set up a proper media response unit. Its website is proof of the Prime Minister’s criticism that Muslim leaders were not quick enough to condemn the London terror attacks.

The Supreme Islamic Council of New South Wales (often jokingly referred to by Muslim New South Welshmen as “the Pizza Council”) has also been virtually silent on the matter. As for the AFIC-endorsed Muslim Council of NSW, their e-mail address is invalid and their telephone number rings out without anyone answering.

AFIC recently published an edition of its “Australian Muslim News” after some 3 years hiatus. The entire edition was devoted to the devotional aspects of Ramadan. It was as if the pangs of hunger were more important than the loss of civil liberties.

The imams have also displayed little leadership. Imam Hilali, appointed by AFIC as the Mufti of Australia without being provided resources or a job description, made some incoherent noises. First he offered to go to gaol if he was proven wrong about there being no home-grown terror threat. This routine was followed up with his call for a fringe sect known as “al-Ahbash” to be investigated for links to the assassination of the former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri.

As for the other imams, one cannot expect much from them. Most imams cannot speak English, and have little knowledge or even interest in public affairs.

Recently a group of Muslim lawyers called a meeting to discuss the new laws and prepare a campaign. Some four persons turned up.

Compare this to the hundreds that filled the Sydney Town Hall some weeks back for the launch of the New Matilda campaign for a Human Rights Bill. Compare this also to the articulate voices being heard from former Prime Ministers, Civil Rights activists and writers of letters to the editor.

In the ACT, Chief Minister Jon Stanhope released the first Draft Anti-Terrorism Bill after discussions with the articulate and well-connected Canberra Muslim community. In NSW, the Premier is also the Member for Lakemba, a veritable Muslim heartland. Yet one wonders whether any of the dozen or so Muslim groups in Lakemba pressured Mr Iemma concerning his stance on the proposed Bill.

Sydney has more mosques and Muslims than any city in Australia. Yet Sydney Muslims have shown an amazing degree of apathy concerning the passing of laws that, according to the President of the Police Federation of Australia, can only be enforced using ethno-religious profiling.

Some will suggest that it has only been Muslim leaders who have been silent. Yet I have seen little evidence of ordinary Muslims assisting those few Muslim groups like AMCRAN and FAIR whose resources are already over-stretched.

The apathy of Muslim leaders reflects the apathy of ordinary Muslims. The Prophet Muhammad said: “You get the leaders you deserve from amongst yourselves”. It appears his prophecy has come true yet again. Unless concerned Muslims take control of their peak bodies, apathy will prevail. But where are the concerned Muslims?

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Delhi Bombings - Terrorising Tolerance

The latest terrorist attack on Delhi represents yet another assault on innocent civilians. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by an extremist group claiming to act in the name of Islam.

The “Islami Inqilabi Mahaz” (Islamic Revolutionary Group) is a relatively unknown group. AFP reports Indian police stating they have known of the group’s existence since 1996. The group claims to have carried out the attacks in support of Kashmiri independence. But after the devastating earthquakes in Kashmir, one wonders whether politics is really on the minds of the millions struggling to survive winter.

It is feared this latest attack will spark a wave of communal rioting and violence that will claim yet more lives. The violence is even more tragic occurring in a city which has always prided itself on religious tolerance and harmony.

India is no stranger to communal violence. In 2002, the state of Gujarat was the scene of fierce rioting which saw the deaths of some 15,000 innocent civilians, most of them Muslims. The complicity of the Gujarat Chief Minister and government officials was widely reported by human rights organisations, with rioters carrying official printouts of government records showing which homes and shops were owned by Muslims.

The Gujarat attacks came in the immediate aftermath of an attack on Hindu pilgrims aboard a train. The attack was believed to have been carried out by Muslim militants. It is feared that similar scenes could be repeated in Delhi.

The attack on Delhi could hardly be described as a legitimate act of Islamic devotion, coming as it does during the last days of the sacred month of Ramadan. This year, the religious festivals of Divali (or “Deepavali” to South Indian Hindus) and Eid al-Fitr occur within days of each other.

Divali is a time when Hindus celebrate the victory of Lord Rama over the Demons responsible for the kidnap of his wife Sita. That victory represents the ultimate triumph of good over evil. Eid (also known as “Beyram” and “Hari Raya”) is a festival during which Muslims celebrate the completion of the fasting month of Ramadan.

For Indian communities across the world, both festivals are celebrated by members of all faiths. Celebration of each other’s religious festivals is one means by which Indians maintain their communal harmony.

For me, the violence is particularly tragic. Delhi is my ancestral home, the city both my parents were born in. My ancestors were Mughal Turks, who established perhaps the wealthiest empire of its time. Delhi is a city of many ethnic and religious groups, but it carries special significance to the descendants of the Mughals.

Few cities in Asia have carried as much fascination to Western writers and travellers as Delhi. Scottish writer and journalist William Dalrymple devoted an entire book (entitled City of Djinns) to the history and politics of Delhi.

Dalrymple’s basic thesis was that there has always been something about Delhi which has conspired against all forces seeking to impose intolerance upon its people. The spirit of this city is perhaps best personified by the tomb of Delhi’s patron saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya. Despite the Muslim religion of the tomb’s occupant, the tomb continues to draw crowds of people from all religious backgrounds.

Delhi is one of the heartlands of Sufi Islam. The city is dotted with tombs and hospices where Sufis practise a form of Islam seeking to inculcate the love of God through service to God’s creation. Sufi hospices attract the poor, the distressed and those attracted by the rhythms of the Indian Sufi music known as the “qawwali”.

But most important, Delhi is the political heartland of India, the capital of one of the world’s fastest growing economies and a country of strategic importance to the West. At the last federal elections, Indian voters turned their backs on the divisive government led by the Hindu-chauvinist BJP. Indians had had enough of sectarian wedge politics, and sought a more secular open government.

The terrorist attacks perhaps represent an attempt to undermine the new government, which has been in power for hardly 18 months. The present Congress Party government is far more favourably inclined toward a peaceful resolution to the Kashmir issue. When in government, the Congress Party has also protected the interests of religious minorities more effectively than other parties. The current Indian Prime Minister is himself from a religious minority.

The terrorists could not have struck at a worse time. They have spilt blood during the holy seasons of Hindu and Muslim Indians, and their actions may raise communal tensions which could spill into violence. Once again, the terrorists have proven their complete moral bankruptcy. Sadly, innocent civilians must pay the price.

The author is a Sydney lawyer and occasional lecturer at the School of Politics at Macquarie University. iyusuf@sydneylawyers.com.au

© Irfan Yusud 2005

Monday, October 31, 2005

COMMENT: Iran's Infantile Attitude to Israel


Recent comments made by the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran have drawn international condemnation. President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s call for Israel to be “wiped off the map” included a condemnation of Muslim nations who choose to recognise Israel.

The Iranian leader’s claims have been made in the context of supporting the struggle for a Palestinian state and for the restoration of Palestinian rights. He described the Palestinian struggle as being part of an “historic war between the oppressor and the world of Islam”.

Mr Ahmedinejad’s calls represent a return to Iran’s old policy of drumming up popular hysteria with a view to exporting its “Revolutionary Islam” to different parts of the world. But how real are these sentiments on the ground? Is Israel the enemy of Islam itself? And what right does the Iranian president have to speak for Islam?

Iran is a majority Shia country. Shi’ism is one of 3 major sects of Islam. The other 2 sects are the mainstream Sunni and the more modern Wahhabi sect. Shia Muslims make up some 10% of the Muslim world. Shia majorities exist in Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan and some Gulf states. There are also substantial Shia majorities in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.

The Shia sect insists political leadership of the Muslim community must remain in the hands of the Prophet Muhammad’s household, including their descendants. Shia Muslims regard the first 12 male successors of the Prophet (also known as “the 12 imams”) as being infallible.

Sunni Muslims reject the infallibility of the 12 imams, but place enormous importance on all the Prophet’s descendants. Sunni Muslims do not insist that political leadership must remain in the hands of the imams or their descendants.

Wahhabi concepts of political leadership were previously tied to the Saudi Royal Family. With the split in Wahhabi ranks and the formation of Usama bin Ladin’s al-Qaida movement, many Wahhabis no longer regard the Saudi family as a legitimate source of international Muslim leadership.

Sunnis make up at least 85% of the Muslim world. Comments of the Iranian leader do not bind Sunni Muslims, and Mr Ahmedinejad’s standing as a Shia scholar is not strong enough for his views to bind Shia Muslims.

Yet apart from theological considerations, the Iranian leader’s comments on Israel do little to progress the Palestinian cause. Since the late Palestinian and Israeli leaders Arafat and Rabin shook hands on the White House law, Palestinian leadership has consistently rejected the idea that Palestinian statehood necessarily involves destruction of the Jewish state.

Further, Turkey’s more conservative Islamist government sees no reason to reverse its stance of continuing friendly relations with Israel. In recent times, Turkey’s Islamists have sponsored talks between the Foreign Ministers of Israel and Pakistan.

Many Muslim voices seeking the destruction of Israel use historical figures such as the Kurdish general Salahuddin Ayyubi (known in Europe as Saladdin) who defeated the Crusaders and liberated Jerusalem. Yet even Saladdin recognised the Crusader Kingdoms and sent emissaries and ambassadors to these kingdoms. Perhaps if Saladdin were alive today, he would have recognised Israel even if engaged in military conflict with the Jewish state.

The brilliance of Saladdin’s campaign against the Crusaders lay not just in his military tactics. Saladdin was a brilliant negotiator with moderate views who sought to avoid war at all costs. Further, Saladdin made regular overtures to his enemies, and insisted that his troops obey the rules of law as outlined in the customary international law of the region at that time.

Saladdin is not the most popular figure in Shia circles. Prior to attacking the crusader kingdoms, Saladdin single-handedly destroyed the Fatimid Empire in Egypt. The Fatimids were the most powerful Shia empire of the time, and were accused by Saladdin of providing assistance and intelligence to the Crusader kingdoms.

Saladdin did not see the task of liberating Jerusalem in purely Muslim terms. Further, it was not a battle against all Jews or all Christians. Indeed, Saladdin appointed the prominent Spanish Jewish physician and rabbinical scholar Shaykh Musa bin Maymun al-Qurtubi (Moses Maimonides) as the chief medical officer of his army.

Saladdin’s good sense and moderation yielded results. He was able to liberate Jerusalem within his lifetime, and showed magnanimity to his defeated opponents. Both Christian and Muslim historians record that when the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem, they entered the main Mosque and Synagogue with civilian blood upto their knees. When Saladdin achieved victory, there were few civilian casualties.

The Iranian President’s comments are more reminiscent of Crusader barbarism and ignorance than the moderation and tolerance of the great Saladdin. If Muslim nations follow the Iranian formula in their dealings with Israel, they will go down the same path of destruction as the medieval Frankish hordes that invaded the Holy Land.

(The author is a Sydney-based lawyer and occasional lecturer in the School of Politics at Macquarie University.)

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Howard Government Backs Terrorist Group?

As if things weren’t bad enough for John Howard’s bid to push through his version of national security. With many Premiers and Chief Ministers in open revolt, even Treasurer Peter Costello is questioning the constitutional validity of his laws.

But with the release of the UN Report on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the Government can brace itself for further embarrassment.The Howard Government has been linked to the “Habashi” sect, a controversial movement linked to the Syrian government and whose Public Relations Head is now being prosecuted for the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The group, with active branches in Australia and the United States, has set up an alternate peak Islamic body known as “Darul Fatwa Islamic High Council of Australia”. The group also runs an FM Station after being awarded a license by former Communications Minister Richard Alston.

The Habashi sect have been active supporters of the Syrian government, which is believed to be arming pro-Saddam militias in Iraq. A number of these militias have kidnapped foreign workers. One such group was responsible for the kidnapping of Australian Douglas Wood.

Three brothers, all members of the “Habashi” sect, have been mentioned in a United Nations report into the assassination of Mr Hariri.

The “Habashi” sect has had a controversial presence in Australia. Recently, they established an alternate peak body, many of whose constituent organisations had only been registered a few weeks before the body’s foundation.

The group recently organised a seminar at the Bankstown Town Hall purporting to be against terrorism. Mr Alan Cadman, a Federal MP close to Mr Howard, spoke at the seminar and read a congratulatory message from the Prime Minister.

A member of the Government’s “Muslim Community Reference Group”, Mr Mustapha Kara-Ali, is also known to be an active member of the “Habashi” sect. Mr Kara-Ali did not attend the PM’s summit with Muslim leaders, but was believed to have been hand-picked by Citizenship Minister John Cobb.

The Government’s support for a movement implicated in the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister will send shockwaves through the local Lebanese community. Hariri was a cult political figure in Lebanon whose popularity cut across all sectarian and ethno-religious divides. His assassination led to massive rallies which eventually forced the Syrian occupation forces to withdraw from Lebanon.

On the eve of the debate in Federal Parliament over controversial anti-terror laws, the Government’s links with members of a pro-Ba’athist fringe religious cult again raises important questions about the Government’s approach to dealing with Australian Muslim.

It seems the government is intent on associating with groups and leaders with proven links to foreign governments intent on influencing local Islamic activities. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on September 10 2005 of Mr Ruddock accepting an invitation to lunch at the home of a man widely regarded as the Saudi government’s paymaster for Islamic activities in Australia.

Australian Muslims have been at the heart of mainstream Australia for over 150 years. The Turkish Muslim communities have been established in Australia since the 1950’s, and Turkish Australians have more mosques than any other Muslim ethno-religious community. Not a single Turk sits on the Reference Group, and no Turks were invited to the PM’s summit.

The Howard Government’s policy of dealing with self-appointed leaders and fringe groups with strong links to despotic overseas governments will prove embarrassing to the Government as it attempts to prove its credentials on being tough on terrorism.

Instead, the Government should be promoting and assisting the efforts of mainstream Australian Muslims with stronger roots to Australia. Muslims are no longer a migrant phenomenon, and those with stronger links to overseas interests and governments should be marginalised and not promoted.

Australian Muslims have produced the likes of John Ilhan (of Crazy John’s Telecommunications) and Ahmed Fahour (Chief Executive of the National Australia Bank). Aussie-born Muslim are partners of major commercial law firms, heads of university faculties and hold responsible positions in government departments and agencies.

These people represent the real face of Australian Islam. They have few, if any, links to overseas governments, and have a greater stake in Australia’s security. Many of the current people being consulted and listened to by the Government are people with close links to foreign governments and whose understanding of Islam is conditioned by overseas non-English speaking clerics and leaders.

Aussie Muslims have to form a key plank in our fight against terrorism. They are not hard to find, so long as you know where to look. You won’t find the genuine Aussie Mossies belonging to fringe religious sects or grovelling to Kings and Emirs. Such Muslims are on the fringe of Australian Islam, even if they appoint themselves leaders of bodies with bombastic names.

But by promoting and giving credibility to such foreign interests, the Government is making this mainstream faith-community feel marginalised. Which, incidentally, is exactly what the so-called “Islamist” terrorists want.

(The author is a Sydney lawyer and an occasional lecturer in the School of Politics at Macquarie University.)

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Friday, October 21, 2005

Muslim Minorities & Conservative Politics In Australia

In recent times, conservative political leaders have challenged Muslim Australians to “assimilate”, to “confirm” and to abide by “our values”. The rhetoric has been adopted by backbenchers such as Sophie Panopoulos, who has called for headscarves to be banned. It has also been used by Education Minister Dr Nelson in his call for Muslim independent schools to confirm to “Australian values”.

Conservative commentators have also not been far behind. Janet Albrechtsen stunned Muslim readers of the Australian newspaper when she claimed that migrant Muslim cultures teach Muslim men to sexually assault white-skinned women. Former National party Senator John Stone also wrote in the same newspaper that Muslim migration represented a “problem” and that Islam was a culture which could not find a place in Australia.

Such simplistic formulae are indicative of an intellectual laziness on the part of many conservatives. Muslims have lived in Australia for over 150 years. They have migrated from over 60 countries, and do not represent a uniform cultural phenomenon. Like all migrants, religion is just one layer of Muslim experience.

My family’s experience in this regard is quite typical. My parents were born in Delhi. The major source of their identity was language, it being the area in which they felt most vulnerable. As such, my mother’s first friend in Australia was an Anglo-Indian Jewish woman from Canberra who spoke fluent Hindi.

Growing up in East Ryde, most of my family close friends were people who spoke Hindi or had some form of Indian-ness. As such, most of my childhood friends were Hindus, Sikhs, Goan Catholics and Pakistani Anglicans. Muslims were the exception rather than the rule (unless they spoke Hindi or Urdu).

It was only when I was 10 that I realised Divali was not a strictly Muslim celebration. At 16, I came across a strange phenomenon – Muslims with blonde hair, blue eyes and white skin. Yes, you could be Muslim and European at the same time.

Conservatives who try to place all Muslim migrants into the same box are making the same mistake as Usama bin Ladin does with the “West”. Bin Ladin and other extremists present Western cultures as one huge monolith, declaring war on each part. The “us” and “them” mentality of al-Qaida is being replicated in the Parliamentary Liberal Party in the form of politicians creating an artificial “them” out of a faith community that has been at the heart of Australian life for over a century.

Conservative leaders and commentators should cease their intellectual laziness and search out the facts about Muslim Australia. They might start with a report published in 2004 by Professor Abdullah Saeed of the University of Melbourne.

In his report, Saeed gives a snapshot of the Muslim community based on figures from the 2001 Census. He shows that the largest ethnic group among Muslim Australians (in terms of place of birth) are those born in Australia. The next largest are those born in Lebanon. The ratio of the former group to the latter is over 3:1. The vast majority of Muslim migrants (some 79%) have taken up citizenship

Of course, it is easy to point the finger merely at conservative politicians, shock jocks and columnists. Muslims themselves also need to take some responsibility for the Talibanisation of discourse about Islam in Australia.

For a community with such strong roots in this country, Muslim leadership organisations seem to be dominated by first generation migrant interests. When the only voices speaking for Muslim Australia are middle-aged men with little English or thick accents, is it any wonder that so many Australians view Muslims as being foreign?

Muslim organisations also need to decide whether they represent Islamic orthodoxy or Muslim reality. The fact is that the vast majority of Muslims are relatively non-observant. The crowds that attend the Imam Ali Mosque in Lakemba for the Eid or Hari Raya celebration at the end of Ramadan are some 8 times those that attend the mosque on a Friday.

Like most faith communities, the majority of Muslims fit in quite well. Like most Australians, they do not make open declarations about their faith at every opportunity. Former ALP candidate Ed Husic is not the only Australian Muslim to have anglicised his name. Few would realise that large corporations such as the National Australia Bank and Crazy Johns Telecommunications have Muslims in senior management roles. Fewer would probably care.

However, if mainstream “Aussie Mossies” continue in their reluctance to identify themselves as Muslims, and if they continue to allow first generation migrants with poor English skills to speak for them, Muslims will continue to be marginalised.

The majority of Muslim Australians do engage with Australians of other faiths and no faith in particular. What they need to do is ensure that a distinctly Australian expression of Islamic theology and values emerge. This can only happen when Imams become more than just men who lead prayers and teach young kids how to read the scriptures in Arabic.

In the United States, the most popular Imams are home-grown. Institutions such as the Zaytuna Institute are providing a vision of Islam relevant to 21st century America. The director of the Institute, Hamza Yusuf Hanson, is as comfortable talking to President Bush at the White House as he is to students at the Institute.

Sadly, most Australian Imams cannot speak adequate English. Worse still, few understand our culture, politics and society. They are also under-resourced and poorly paid. Often they are accountable to mosque management committees, most of whom also have an overseas mentality. Given that peak representative Muslim bodies come from the ranks of such people, it is no wonder that these bodies simply are unable to articulate the interests and aspirations of the people they claim to represent.

Mainstream Muslims need to take control of their institutions, failing which they will provide much ammunition for conservative simpletons intent of marginalising Muslims for the sake of undefined Australian values.

(The author is a Sydney lawyer and occasional lecturer in the School of Politics & International Relations at Macquarie University. He was Liberal Candidate for the seat of Reid in the 2001 Federal Election. This is an edited version of an address to the Australian Institute of International Affairs in Sydney on 20 August 2005.)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Right Said Ed - Part 1

It is Thursday morning, 20 October 2005 in Sydney, Australia. The time is exactly 12:52 am. I am up panicking about a talk I have to give later today to the Australian Institute of International Affairs. The topic of my talk is “Muslim Minorities & Conservative Politics in the United States and Australia”.

Thankfully, on the previous night, I attended a similar talk by another Aussie Muslim political apparatchik. Ed Husic addressed the Sydney Institute, a privately funded thinktank whose Executive Director is Dr Gerard Henderson. Gerard reckons he is conservative, though in recent times he has written in support of some of the most draconian anti-terror (or rather, anti-liberty) laws to be proposed in any western country.

Ed addressed a packed house on the topic of “Can a Muslim be elected to Parliament in the age of terror?”. His audience included people of all faiths and no faith in particular. An edited version of his talk has been published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Ed started by giving the parameters of his discussion. He told us he was not here to talk about or defend Islam or Muslims. Nor was he going to unload sour graps about how he lost what used to be a formerly safe Labor Party seat. Ed was in no mood to play victim.

Ed reminded us that hardly 1.5% of the Australian population identify themselves on census forms as Muslim. That proportion remained much lower until the 1970’s when the first mass-migration occurred from Muslim-majority countries. Prior to that, Muslims were small in number but enormous in contribution.

Australian Muslims, Ed told us, migrated from over 60 different countries. Most Muslim migrants took up Australian citizenship – well over 70%. This was much higher compared to other large ethno-religious migrant groups.

Ed told us a little about his Bosnian heritage. His parents migrated from the former Yugoslavia. Ed grew up mixing with people of all nationalities – Serbs, Croats, Indo-Chinese, Anglo-Australians and South Asians to name a few. Ed’s father worked as a welder. In his spare time, Ed’s father entertained a steady stream of friends while Ed’s mum prepared Bosnian coffee strong enough to keep guests awake for at least a week.

Ed’s Bosnian Muslim name is “Edhem”. In Arabic, this is the name for the first man and prophet, Adam. Names are an ever-present reminder of one’s heritage, and like many of his “ethnic” friends Ed anglicised his name.

Ed was the Labor Party candidate for the seat of Greenway located in Western Sydney. His opponent was Liberal Party candidate Louis Markus. Ms Markus worked as a social worker for the local Pentecostal Hillsong Church. She used her extensive contacts in this growing church to the fullest effect in her campaign.

Ed had some idea that certain elements in the press and the Liberal Party were keen to use his ancestral religious identity as an issue. Some 2 weeks out of the campaign, notorious columnist Paul Sheehan (ironically also from the Sydney Morning Herald) made a huge issue of Ed’s refusal to speak about his religion.

Refusal? Why should Ed bring religion into a campaign for a secular party in a secular election for a secular government for a secular liberal democracy? Should it really matter what Ed’s parents regarded themselves as?

Further, in the former Yugoslavia, to be a Muslim was an ethnic matter, just as being Serbian and Croatian were ethnic matters. If you weren’t a Serb or a Croat or a Slovenian or a Montenegrin, you must be a Muslim. This despite the fact that there were no shortage of Montenegrins or Croats or Serbs or Slovenians of Muslim faith.

Ed is hardly an exceptionally observant Muslim. He doesn’t carry a beard on his face. Long flowing robes and turbans aren’t his style. If you saw Ed in the streets with his suit and tie and expensive well-polished shoes, you would probably think he was like any other white Aussie.

Ed rarely mixed with Muslims, including Bosnians. He rarely attended Muslim functions with his parents. Ed was just your typical Aussie boy. That someone with such a low-key luke-warm Muslim identity could be the target of a media campaign to “expose” his religion makes one wonder whether Muslim Australians will ever be welcomed as equal participants in the democratic traditions of their home countries.

Ed always saw himself as an Aussie until the morning after he lost the election. On that occasion, his father came to him and apologised.

“I am sorry that we gave you a background to be ashamed of,” were the words Ed’s father used more or less. But Ed would hear nothing of it. By now, Ed was proud, perhaps a little defiant, about his background.

Ed was defiant, but he refused to be radicalised. Ed knew that most Australians were decent people who were still coming to terms with their fears of terrorism and their ignorance of Islamic people and values. It seems Muslims were largely to blame for this state of affairs, especially Muslim migrants treating Australia as a fat cow they could milk to their heart’s content.

And we have been milking the cow. Sadly, some Muslim migrants have made little contribution toward fattening the cow. And one day, when the milk runs out, the cow could well turn into a bull that will devour us all.

As it is now 1:24am and I am extremely tired, I will wait until a later date to tell you some of Ed’s golden pieces of advice for Muslim Aussies.

The author is a Sydney-based industrial relations lawyer who was himself a candidate for the Liberal Party in the November 2001 Federal Elections.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005