Tuesday, August 29, 2006

COMMENT: Jill Singer exposes Steyn's lies

Well, it seems you don’t have to be a left wing Jew or a right wing Muslim to find the “hate speech” (his words, not mine) of Canadian-born racist Mark Steyn disturbing.

Writing in the Herald-Sun, Wakely-award-winning journalist Jill Singer expressed her dismay (if not disgust) with Steyn’s attempts to demonise anyone deemed Muslim. And that was even after Steyn’s diatribe was “modified for ABC audiences”.

Steyn used the podium of Australian right-wing think tanks to spread a simple message. Singer sumarised that message as follows:
… that Islam has nothing to offer the world but destruction … In Steyn's world, Muslims are the legitimate target of jokes and calls for obliteration.
Alleged conservatives are lapping up this message of extreme intolerance. The CIS continues to triumphantly boast of the “sell-out” session at the Conservatorium earlier this month.

Of course, no one from the CIS or the IPA has publicly distanced themselves from Steyn’s anti-Muslim diatribe. Steyn’s offensive descriptions of the cultures and religions of Muslim Aussies doesn’t seem to have perturbed these alleged conservatives.

Yet why should the now-geriatric members of Australia’s old “New Right” regard Muslim-bashing as unacceptable? As Singer notes:
Predictably enough, Steyn was given a warm welcome by the Right on his highly publicised tour of Australia, including the likes of our PM, Treasurer and Foreign Minister.

One can only assume its because they like what he has to say, but are not game to say it themselves.
Perhaps most interesting was Singer’s exposure of blatant lies told by Steyn in his quest to generate maximum hatred toward anyone deemed Muslim.
… the reefer-jacketed school drop-out is not impeded by small matters, such as factual accuracy, when labouring to slag off at Muslims whenever possible.

An example: during our interview, he repeated something he had written about the Swedish city of Malmo, to the effect it was on the path to ruination because 40 per cent of its population was now Muslim. A listener texted in to say this figure was exaggerated. With eyes flashing, Steyn stuck to his guns.

Curious about his twitchy reaction, I later contacted Sweden's official statistics department to check his alleged source, which was a furphy.

Steyn's writings on Malmo's social problems (which need no exaggeration) also state that ambulance drivers refuse to go into many areas of the city because of the danger posed by Muslims.

His source for this appears to be a two-year-old report on Fox News, except where Fox reported Malmo's Muslim population at being 25 per cent, Steyn inflated it to 40 per
cent.

And where Fox reported that ambulance drivers would not go into some areas of Malmo without a police escort, Steyn changed it to many areas.

Imagine CIS staff explaining this to the Australian CEO of the National Australia Bank. Or perhaps them using this in their next funding or sponsorship from Crazy Johns.

And to think this sort of nonsense was being promoted at a “Big Ideas Forum”.

Words © 2006 Irfan Yusuf

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Monday, August 28, 2006

SPORT: Saving Pakistani cricket from the jaws of victory ...

Back in the mid-80’s, when I was still in high school, a record company executive turned comic named Billy Birmingham produced his first parody of TV cricket commentators. Calling himself “The 12th Man”, Birmingham’s CD’s featured legends like Ritchie Benaud and Tony Greig using language unfit for reproduction here, not to mention some excellent spoofs of Pakistani cricketers’ names (Wasim Akram was “Was-he a-Crim” and Javed Miandad was alternately “I-broke-me-hand-dad” and “Jar-vegemite-for-me-and-dad”).

The recordings were hugely popular on both sides of the Tasman. Birmingham even won an Australian Music award, beating such big Aussie music names as Midnight Oil and Crowded House.

In receiving his award, Birmingham mused:

The fact that someone like me could receive this award and beat all those big names really says something about Australia. Though exactly what it says, I’m not exactly sure of!
And seeing photos of Pakistanis burning effigies of an Australian empire appearing in Australian newspapers certainly says a lot about Pakistan. Though at this stage, I’m not sure what.

Of course, this isn’t the first time effigies and flags have been burnt in Pakistani streets. In February, at the height of the Danish cartoon controversy, I wrote in the New Zealand paper The Dominion-Post (which published all 12 cartoons):


In my birthplace of Karachi, frenzied Pakistanis hit the streets with protests that did more damage to the Pakistani economy than to anyone in Denmark … Then again, some of these men … will protest each time they think a Pakistani batsman is given out “lbw” unfairly.
Not much has changed. Except that this time the burnings and protests concern the religion that people across the Indian sub-Continent are passionate about – cricket.

No amount of religious or political controversy can captivate the people of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka more than a game of cricket. Particularly if their home side is playing. I’ve seen this on numerous trips visiting relatives and family friends in Bombay, Karachi and Lahore.

Indians and Pakistanis are known for their hospitality. Uncles, aunts and cousins line up to take you shopping or site seeing or even to check out potential marriage partners. (Yes, having an Aussie passport gives you that instant edge in the marriage market!)

But when the “kirkit” is on, good luck if any relative sets their eyes off the TV set and offers you a cup of tea.

A journalist friend told me she did some freelance work in Peshawar and Islamabad following September 11 2001 and in the days leading upto the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. She witnessed Western journalists almost tripping over themselves covering a few thousand pro-Taliban rioters or attending the latest press conference from the Taliban ambassador.

A few thousand pro-Taliban protestors? In Pakistani cities like Karachi with a population in excess of 11 million? Yeah right. Sounds as significant as one of Imran Khan’s ex-girlfriends.

And what were my friend’s Pakistani journalist colleagues doing? They were too busy glued to their TV screens watching and admiring the fine form of the touring South African side. She later told me:


The way they spoke about Alan Donald, I almost thought he was a Western convert who’d joined al-Qaida!
Cricket really is an obsession among Pakistanis. Virtually all my Indo-Pakistani uncles, from Sydney to Christchurch, are obsessed with the game. Discussions and even full-scale arguments happen over the performance of a batsman, with overweight and middle-aged men who look like they’ve never set foot on a field suddenly speaking with the authority of expert coaches and selectors.

Almost as funny as watching Pakistan’s not-exactly-underweight cricket captain Inzamam-ul-Haq saving his team from the dangerous clutches of certain victory to the relative safety of the dressing room and defeat by forfeiture. But hang on - did I just hear someone scream out “bookies”?

And if Pakistan’s cricketing fundamentalism had a Grand Mufti or Ayatollah, it would have to be former fast bowling legend (and playboy) turned conservative politician Imran Khan. Describing Aussie Umpire Darrell Hair as a “mini-Hitler”, Imran is now quoted in London’s Daily Telegraph calling upon Pakistani players to sue.

And if they pay me enough, I’d be happy to represent them.

Still, I guess it’s better than Imran calling for the Australian High Commission in Islamabad to be burnt down. His litigious suggestion might have had legs but for a joint statement endorsed by the Pakistan Cricket Board which reads: “In accordance with the laws of cricket it was noted that the umpires had correctly deemed that Pakistan had forfeited the match and awarded the Test to England.”

But will that stop Pakistan’s cricket mullahs from their wild protests? Will it stop the burning of Hairy effigies? And will it stop my uncles from issuing instant cricket fatwas at dinner parties? As if.

A Jewish friend once joked with me that Israel is a nation of 4 million Prime Ministers and 1 citizen. Pakistan, a nation also built on the basis of ethno-religious heritage, is a case of having 179,999,988 coaches and selectors and 12 players. And so my advice to Kiwistani cricket fans who, like me, find themselves unable to understand this typically Pakistani dummy-spit is simple - go figure!

(The author is a Karachi-born and Sydney-based lawyer and proud owner of a full set of “12th Man” CD’s. A version of this article was first published in the Christchurch Press on 25 August 2006.)

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

COMMENT: Ruddock, Hicks & Fair Trial

On August 17, The Oz reported Australia's Federal Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock comparing David Hicks to “Middle Eastern boys who raped some girls in Sydney”.

“It's very interesting to hear those sorts of arguments in relation to David Hicks,” he told The Australian. “I don't hear them very often in relation to people who have been charged with serious criminal offences in some of our states. I am looking at the cases involving the Middle Eastern boys who raped some girls in Sydney. It was finally resolved about five years later.”

Mr Ruddock said yesterday he was not surprised that the Hicks case continued to attract supporters while the terror suspect remained in Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba.

“We saw it for a long time when we were in the Cold War with the former Soviet Union. There were people who joined a party, it was called the Communist Party,” he said.

“Yes, there will be some people who will say in relation to these matters until there's a trial or the evidence is out there, ‘perhaps this was an innocent lad who just happened to be seeing something of the world’.”


The comparisons makes little sense. The gang rapists weren’t denied natural justice. They were tried in an independent and open court of law, not a kangaroo military tribunal. They could not have been kept in custody without consideration of bail. They could receive regular visits from family members. They knew what they were being charged with and their lawyers were provided with a full brief of prosecution evidence.

David Hicks is receiving no natural justice. For years, he was held without charge. Much of the evidence that might convict him will be secret evidence that even his lawyers won’t have access to. He hardly gets to see his family. Guantanamo military tribunals aren’t open courts. I doubt the High Court of Australia pronounce NSW Court of Appeal procedures illegal or unconstitutional as the US Supreme Court has done with Guantanamo tribunals.

I’d love to see Mr Ruddock make such arguments to a gathering of lawyers. Before entering Parliament, Ruddock was a respected legal practitioner. Surely he of all people should know better than make such silly suggestions. Which begs the question: why are government ministers resorting to such non-arguments?

My theory is this. When facts and logic are against you, there’s nothing like a good dose of innuendo. The government’s treatment of David Hicks is an increasingly emotive issue in the electorate. Mixing David Hicks with all the emotion of gang-rapes and Middle Eastern nasties is an attempt to divert the electorate’s attention from the facts.

Ruddock is subtly reminding punters that David Hicks (or “Dawud Hicks” as Piers Akerman likes to call him, emphasising Hicks’ alleged adoption of an Arabic name) should be compared to gang rapists of the same religious background.

Or maybe he’s providing hints to those nasty Lebanese branch-stackers threatening his preselection.

I hate the Taliban. David Hicks was a dimwit for fighting with them. I also hate gang-rapists. But whether you're an enemy combatant or a sexual predator, you deserve a fair trial. Any lawyer denying this doesn’t deserve a practising certificate.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Hair-raising protests in Pakistan

Pakistan is frequently reported as an epicentre of religious extremism. In some cases , this is no doubt true. Pakistan’s government did sponsor and support the Taliban regime of Afghanistan. It has also supported Muslim separatists in Kashmir and Sikh separatists in Indian Punjab. After 9/11, foreign journalists tripped over themselves reporting thousands of bin-Ladin supporters rallying in Karachi. Yes, thousands!

Now you don’t need a PhD in demography to realise a few thousand out of a city’s population exceeding 11 million is the equivalent to a few hundred people gathering outside Sydney Town Hall. You also don’t need a Nobel prize in anthropology (if such an award exists) to know that the religion most Pakistanis are really fanatical about is what my mum calls “kirkit”.

Confused? Here’s a clue. At the height of the Danish cartoon frenzy, I wrote:

“In my birthplace of Karachi, frenzied Pakistanis hit the streets with protests
that did more damage to the Pakistani economy than to anyone in Denmark … Then
again, some of these men … will protest each time they think a Pakistani batsman
is given out “lbw” unfairly.”

Once again, “some of these men” find themselves violently protesting over allegedly poor umpiring. Yesterday’s The Oz website showed a photo of Pakistani cricket fans burning effigies of an Aussie umpire with greater vigour than they might otherwise burn Danish flags.

These same allegedly staunch Muslims certainly weren’t burning Dean Jones effigies after he was caught out describing a South African Muslim cricketer as a “terrorist”. You’d think labelling your fellow believer as a terrorist would be more offensive than labelling your cricket team as a bunch of ball-tampering cheats.

But this is Pakistan, a land where cricket is religion. And Pakistan’s national team are idolised as much as Brazilian soccer stars are idolised in downtown Sao Paolo or Rio.

And if Pakistan’s cricketing fundamentalism had a Grand Mufti or Ayatollah, it would have to be former fast bowling legend (and playboy) turned conservative politician Imran Khan. Describing Aussie Umpire Darrell Hair as a “mini-Hitler”, Imran is now calling upon Pakistani players to sue the umpire for defamation. And if they pay me well enough, I’d be happy to act.

Still, I guess it’s better than Imran calling for the Australian High Commission in Islamabad to be burnt down. His litigious suggestion might have had legs but for a joint statement endorsed by the Pakistan Cricket Board which reads: “In accordance with the laws of cricket it was noted that the umpires had correctly deemed that Pakistan had forfeited the match and awarded the Test to England.”
I used to be a huge cricket fan. I played the game until Year 9, when our dimwit sports master decided to scrap team sports in favour of a “Summer Skills Program” where you could sooner go abseiling or ring the bells of St Andrews Cathedral than rub your gonads with red leather and six stitches.

Now cricket bores the hell out of me. As does cricket conversation and argumentation, a staple for an Indo-Pakistani-Bangladeshi-Sri Lankan dinner party (at least when they get sick of arguing over religion and politics!).

It’s hard for cricketing agnostics like myself to take all this Hair-raising cricket protest seriously. I just hope Billy Birmingham finds enough material in this saga for another classic piece of spoof commentary.

(A shorter version of this appeared in Crikey on 23 Augist 2006.)

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Doing al-Qaida’s Work

In today’s Crikey alert, Christian Kerr wrote:


Give me western culture any day. Even if it is just Mark Steyn’s Song of the
Week.

I agree with him. Give me Western culture any day. I’d rather live north of the Sydney Harbour Bridge than in suburban Karachi. And I’m the first to criticise leaders of nominally Muslim states, local Muslim leaders, terrorist goons, imbecilic Muslim protestors, quiescent Muslims slow to condemn terrorism from among their ranks, Muslim societies that oppress women and local thick-Sheiks.

I also have no problems with respecting and even participating in non-Muslim religious events.

But it makes me sick in the stomach when I see allegedly conservative politicians and media suggest that preserving Western values and further the goals of national security means generating hatred toward and derision of anything even remotely related to my ethno-religious heritage.

And it makes me even sicker when Steyn speaks and writes that the best way to stop people converting to Islam is to convince them that it’s better and cooler to be Australian or Canadian or English or French than to be Muslim. As if you cannot be Muslim and Aussie or English at the same time.

Western culture is my culture, and doesn’t conflict with my religious heritage. If Steyn and his fellow travellers cannot accept the pluralism of Western culture, they should find another culture.

I respect and support what the CIS does, and I don’t expect them to always invite imams and Muslim apologists. But having Steyn on stage is as offensive to Muslims as having David Irving on stage would be to Jews. But to be fair, one of the CIS’s own senior scholars (Owen Harries) deftly demolished Steyn’s entire argument.

If the CIS are genuine about open and honest debate, they should at least enable an unedited transcript of the entire function to be made available to the public. Unedited. Leave all the ugly bits in. Including the altercation between Steyn and myself. Including the bits where Steyn gives advice on how to stop people converting to Islam. Including where Steyn describes Islam as an “apocalyptic” faith engulfing Europe, and that Islam cannot exist in a pluralistic society.

(And also leave unedited the brilliant surgical analysis of Owen Harries as well.)

Steyn aked me to look into my heart and ask who is committing the terrorist acts and why. I know who they are. And if Steyn could look into their hearts, he'd see that his rhetoric fills the bin-Ladins and Zawahiris with joy.

Steyn’s attempts to marginalise and demonise Muslims will only serve the interests of al-Qaida in the long run. Terrorist recruiters want ordinary Muslim citizens of Western countries to feel alienated, saying: “They hate you. They’ll never accept you. Come and join us”.

If I believed everything I read and hear from Mark Steyn reflects official government policy, I’d probably believe them. Steyn is doing al-Qaida’s work, whether he accepts it or not.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Humble impressions on Mark Steyn

Islamist terrorists haven’t yet developed bombs that only kill non-Muslims. Victims of the New York, London and Bali attacks included people of all faiths. One of the London 7/7 victims had the surname Islam.

You can fight terror using Andrew Robb’s method – actively consulting all communities, including Muslims, to develop sensible strategies to root out some causes and grievances that turn young people into potential suicide bombers.

You can also fight terrorism by handing victory to terrorists, by actively working to marginalise the very communities whose cooperation you need to win the battle. You can write that bin Ladin and Zarqawi were right all along – that Islam is inherently violent, intolerant and apocalyptic that has no place in Australia.

In other words, you can effectively provide free propaganda services to al-Qaida. Mark Steyn chooses to take this course.

I confess I found Mark Steyn seriously funny on Monday night. But behind all the jokes about burning widows in colonial India were some sinister views.

Steyn spoke at the CIS’s 5th Annual Big Ideas Forum, accompanying by respected conservative scholar Owen Harries and chaired by Dr Janet Albrechtsen.

Steyn argued Muslims will never form part of Western civilisation because Islam cannot exist in a pluralist society. Islam as an “apocalyptic faith engulfing Europe”, the biggest threat coming from 2nd and 3rd generation Muslims. At this stage there’s no need to nuke Mecca, but Western converts must be convinced that being Australian is better than being Muslim.

Pauline Hanson made an appearance at question time (though thankfully this time she didn't dance on stage). Even yours truly got a chance to ask something - what would happen if 2nd & 3rd generation Muslims became too great a problem and needed to be deported. After all, the relevant DIMA bureaucrat in charge of it would probably be of Muslim background. As might be a financier.

(Incidentally, the Chair of the NAB is on the CIS Board of Governors.)

I then suggested Steyn’s arguments be collected into a book entitled “The Protocols of the Learned Mullahs of Tehran”. Visibly angry, Steyn demanded I answer for terror suspects in London. It wasn’t pretty, and at least one CIS person wasn’t a happy camper.

(Then again, another came upto me and congratulated me on having the guts to “challenge” Sten’s “racist rant”.)

Still, that’s what happens when you provide a podium to some Canadian monoculturalist to lecture on the dangers of people like Shaoquett Moselmane pose to Australia!

I really hope that in future the CIS carefully choose their speakers. Inviting neo-Con Muslim-hating polemicists like Daniel Pipes and Mark Steyn doesn’t help further the debate on security and culture. All it does is enable the CIS to be party to a further marginalising of even the most well-adjusted and moderate Muslim Aussies and Kiwis (i.e. 99% of Muslims either side of the Tasman).

When your average Aussie Mossie is marginalised by speakers invited by mainstream thinktanks like the CIS, the only people who benefit are al-Qaida types who point to such events and say to Muslims: “See, we told you so!”

Maybe the CIS could invite other well-spoken and articulate Western Muslim writers and scholars. There’s no shortage of them. Here’s a few suggestions …

a) Khaled Abou el-Fadl

b) Hamza Yusuf Hanson

c) Tim Winter (or Abdal Hakim Murad)

d) Anwar Ibrahim

e) Dr Tanveer Ahmed

f) Professor Abdullah Saeed and/or Hassan Saeed

g) Dr Tariq Ramadan

h) Reza Aslan

i) Waleed Aly

j) Nuh Keller

And there are plenty more. Inviting openly and blatantly racist polemicists is inconsistent with the CIS’s standing and will open it to understandable allegations of pushing an ideological barrel whose only long-term beneficiary is the very radical Islamist groups it wishes to combat.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

A Think Tank with an Identity Crisis

I've decided to temporarily remove this posting. Anyone who has by some freak chance read it and disagrees with it is welcome to provide critical, neutral, supportive or even abusive comments!

But remember that Sheik/Rabbi Musa/Moses bin-Maymoun/Maimonides (the venerable dude in the photo) is watching!!

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Friday, August 11, 2006

Is a Lebanese lobby emerging?

It looks like Lebanese Aussies are finally getting themselves organised.

The Australian Financial Review on 10 August reported on meetings in Canberra of “a group of concerned Lebanese and Australian academics, doctors and business people … to brief MPs about their concerns the government has not backed an immediate ceasefire.”

It’ll take time before the Lebanon lobby gains direct access to lawmakers which Israel’s supporters take for granted.

Until now, Lebanese lobbies were hampered by the absence of any singular Lebanese interest crossing all religious divides. Lebanese organisations are ridden with internecine conflicts often played out publicly.

All this hasn’t been helped by the embarrassing antics of some Lebanese spokespeople (including the very non-Lebanese Mufti of Australia – Sheik Hilaly is Egyptian – and his interpreter).

During the 1982 invasion, the Israelis could at least claim that one faction invited them. But this time round, the Israelis have managed to pull off a miracle, uniting every Lebanese faction against them.

But with Syrian troops out of Lebanon and with Hezbollah in the democratic process, even the more rightwing among Maronite groups are angry. When former Israeli allies like General Michel Aoun stand with Hezbollah, things don’t auger well for any Israeli “divide-and-conquer” strategy.

With so much unity inside Lebanon against Israel, and with public opinion (including some influential pockets of Jewish communities) in Australia not completely Israel-friendly, now is as good a time as any for the Lebanese groups to work together. Or at least to not get in each other’s way.

Lebanese Aussies are politically disorganised, but they are well-heeled and well-placed. Just about every metropolitan marginal seat in Sydney and Melbourne has substantial Lebanese communities. Add the broader Muslim voters and you have a formidable block of votes.

Now we all know that ethnic and religious groups rarely vote as blocks. But the prospect of having your relos blown to bits is enough to make even the most partisan voter think again.

Howard might also think again before commenting on “self-appointed leaders”. One such leader, Dr Abraham Constantin, is a Western Sydney Liberal who almost knocked off Bill Heffernan in a Senate preselection ballot some years back.

Another figure in this emerging lobby is Rouba MacDonald, spokeswoman of Australians for Lebanon. She states at a press conference on 9 August 2006 that Lebanese Aussies felt betrayed by the Australian government. AFR quoted her as saying:

“I wonder sometimes if it is not sort of a tinge of racism … maybe Lebanese
lives are not as important as Israeli lives …

“I would just like
to ask Mr Howard why he is not making it a priority to listen to Australians
from Lebanon about their concerns about their country which has been destroyed
within a month.

“Is the Lebanese community not as important as
some other communities?”

Another emerging voice is that of lawyer Maha Melhem. Citing a Human Rights Watch report released last Monday, she said:

“While our government does not condemn Israeli actions, while our government
does not call for an immediate ceasefire it may appear to be condoning the
commission of war crimes.”

Will Lebanese Aussies exercise the muscle which their wealth and numbers makes them more than capable of showing? Time will tell.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A very Middle Eastern Tuesday night …

Last Tuesday night I saw two sides of the Middle East debate.

First, the launch of Antony Loewenstein’s My Israel Question. Some 400 people packed the second level of the trendy Gleebooks in Sydney’s inner west, a mixed crowd of journos, editors, authors and a crowd of what appeared to be miscellaneous lefties. Until I bumped into The Oz’s opinion page editor Tom Switzer, I felt like the lone conservative.

Louise Adler from Melbourne University Press praised Antony for following the rich Jewish tradition of dissent and debate. She also praised him for being something publishers dream of – an author who regards his work as a team effort.

But Adler’s special thanks were reserved for Michael Danby, MP for Melbourne Ports. At least I think it was Louise who thanked him. Or maybe it was Antony? The excess amounts of red wine scent filling the air were enough to make a confirmed teetotaller like myself intoxicated on the fumes. Anyway, thanks to Danby’s call for the book to be boycotted, MUP and Loewenstein are laughing all the way to the bank. Already the book is into its second print.

David Marr lambasted AIJAC frontman Dr Colin Rubenstein and his dossier of complaints against the ABC. Marr spoke of how language and rhetoric were used to stifle debate on one of the most contentious issues of our time. Marr admitted he didn’t agree with Loewenstein’s politics or with everything in the book, but congratulated him for stimulating debate on the issue.

Loewenstein’s speech managed to mention Robert Fisk, Edward Said, Antony’s web-designer, his partner, his editor and his Melbourne-based parents. He said a bit more, but I was well and truly gone by then. Drop him a line to find out what else he said.

Virtually all present bought a copy of the book, personally signed by Loewenstein. I left my credit card at home, and had a total of $2.75 in my pocket. Next time.

I went home and turned on the tele - SBS TV’s The Cutting Edge on how Palestinian nationalism was inspired by Nazism and anti-Semitism and how Israel’s creation was the initiative of Holocaust survivors. Somehow I doubt Dr Rubenstein will find any bias to complain of there.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

MEDIA: Denton meets John the Baptist

The New Testament quotes Christ saying no man walked this earth greater than John the Baptist. The Koran paints him as a noble Prophet of Allah. But last night we saw a very different kind of John the Baptist on Andrew Denton’s popular talkshow Enough Rope.

Dr John Hewson comfortably spoke his mind on deeply personal topics -.his strict Baptist upbringing in Carlton, the effect of his mother’s illness and his working numerous jobs through high school.

Hewson spoke of his great successes in academia, business and politics. He was Professor and Head of the UNSW Economics Faculty. He worked as John Howard’s Chief-of-Staff, and consulted for what became Macquarie Bank.

Hewson also spoke of his weaknesses – his “cats in the cradle” attitude to his children, his addiction to work and his tendency to exude stress on those around him, acknowledging his marriages possibly failed because he was too much of a “handful” for his partners.

Hewson also gave us his assessment of other political players. He told us of his conversation with Paul Keating after losing the unlosable 1993 election. After virtually apologising for calling Hewson nasty names, Keating confessed:

Mate, you must understand. Politics for me is a game. I’ll say and do whatever it takes to win.
Hewson said he could never be part of this kind of politics. Certainly that seemed clear to me as a final year law student watching him deliver his speech after Keating claimed victory to his true believers. Hewson was far too honest for politics.

Howard, on the other hand, may be a different story. Hewson acknowledges growing up in a similar era and in similar circumstances to Howard – working class Protestant neighbourhoods in South-Western Sydney. But Hewson says Howard is still driven by many prejudices they grew up with – relating to women and ethnic minorities.

So how does Howard get away with exuding prejudice? Hewson says part of the reason is playing games with the truth and of hiding political “Chinese” walls of his advisers.

If he hasn’t been told, it’s because people around him know not to tell him what he doesn’t want to hear.
It seems obvious who Dr Hewson thinks more deserves the title “Honest John”.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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