Monday, April 30, 2007

Talking Turkey

My Turkish ancestors moved to India and thoroughly misbehaved. One started his own religion. Another wasted millions on building a tomb for his favourite wife.

I have a soft spot for Turkey which goes beyond the usual ANZAC Day nostalgia. This year, two major events are happening in my ancestral land. First is the 800th anniversary of the birth of Afghan-born Sufi poet Mevlana Jalaleddin Rumi, buried in the Turkish city of Konya. The second is the Presidential elections.

Believe it or not, these two events are linked. Rumi is a symbol of Sufism, the mystical tradition of Islam, probably the best antidote to political Islamist violence. However, Turkish Sufi orders historically played a major role in the Ottoman administration.

When Turkey ’s Gallipoli hero Mustafa Kemal Pasha carved out a nation from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire , he immediately banned Sufi orders. Turkish secularism doesn’t keep religion separate from politics per se. Rather, it ensures religious institutions are always subservient to secular politics. Further, religious symbols are to be kept away from public life as much as possible. In 1999, one Turkish MP was removed from Parliament and lost her citizenship after wearing a traditional headscarf.

For years, Turkey ’s more religiously-minded political movements had to remain content with making loads of hard cash. This gave them a natural advantage over their colleagues in other parts of the world. It also made them more pragmatic.

Hence, Turkey ’s version of political Islam is more pro-Western, democratic and secular. The ruling AK Party is Turkey ’s Muslim equivalent to the Christian Democratic Party of European nations such as Germany .

However, when Turkish Foreign Minister and AK Party founder Dr Abdullah Gul announced he would stand for the largely ceremonial position of President, the response from the Turkish Army (regarded as guardians of Turkey’s secular status quo) was a predictable one of threatening to move out of the barracks. Other Turks protested at what they saw was the AK Party’s attempt to impose political Islam on an inherently secular institution.

What a strange world Turks live in. The most democratic and pro-Western forces are the Islamists. The anti-democratic forces are the most secular. To think some months back Peter Costello wanted local Muslims to learn secularism and democracy from Turkey !

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

POLITICS: Helen Clark's Brethren?

Last week Wednesday's Crikey posed the question about how private is a private conversation with the PM. Certainly any discussions the PM or his Ministers has with the Exclusive Brethren are very private, even if they possibly involve concessions on industrial relations matters or teaching computing in Brethren schools.

Over here in Kiwistan, the Brethren are regarded as a serious political liability. Last year, former National Party leader Don Brash was dethroned over the issue.

The town from where I type these words is regarded as a Brethren stronghold. Recent reports show that, during a meeting in 2004 in this very place, PM Helen Clark met with the Brethren. Clark denies the claims, but the Brethren say they have minutes of the meeting.

In fact, not just Helen but at least five other senior MP’s (including Ministers David Parker, Rick Barker, Annette King, Pete Hodgson and David Benson-Pope of the Clark government also allegedly met with the Brethren in the lead-up to the last election.

Clark claims she never had a dedicated meeting with members of the shadowy sect,. Instead, she was at a gathering where a group of businessmen (who happened to be from the Brethren) gathered around her to have a chat.

That might be the case. But what if it is found that her ministerial colleagues’ meetings with the Brethren were less spontaneous? What credibility would Helen Clark’s more recent attacks on the Brethren’s political involvements then have? Certainly the Nats would have reason to cry foul.

The Brethren are the cause for many a furious debate, with some apparent supporters wondering why Clark ’s government refuses to show as much respect to the sect as she does to the trade union movement.

Will Aunty Helen survive this latest controversy to dog her government? Watch this space …

Submitted to Crikey from an internet cafe in Greymouth, New Zealand, on Thursday 26 April 2007.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

Sunday, April 29, 2007

ESSAY: ANZAC Biscuits with Turkish Coffee

A few weeks back I took a friend to visit the magnificent Gallipoli Mosque in the western Sydney suburb of Auburn. The mosque is managed by Auburn’s Turkish community. It is modelled on traditional Ottoman mosques which, in turn, are modelled on the Ayasofya Camii Mosque (which was once the Orthodox Christian Hagia Sophia Cathedral and is now an Istanbul Museum).

While my friend was admiring the hand-painted calligraphy and artwork of the inside walls, I was reading the latest news on the mosque noticeboard. Almost all the notices were in Turkish, though one stood out: ‘The Auburn RSL will be holding its ANZAC Day morning service at …’

For Turks, the place they call ‘Gelibolu’ is where a certain Ottoman colonel’s military career took a dangerous turn. Mustafa Kemal (named in honour of the Prophet Mohammed, who had the nickname of Mustafa, meaning ‘the chosen one’) was transferred from a cushy position in Sofia, in modern Bulgaria, to the front line in January 1915, taking charge of the 19th Division of the Ottoman Fifth Army. Their job was to defend the Gelibolu Peninsula from invading forces. Armed with intelligence reports showing the Allies were determined to march on Istanbul, Kemal saw this as a battle for the Ottoman Empire’s survival.

What happened next is history. Over 130,000 men from all sides lost their lives and more than 260,000 were wounded. About 36 per cent of the casualties were from the Allied side, including almost 36,000 ANZACs. The rest (64 per cent) were Ottomans.

We know that the Ottomans won the battle, that Istanbul was saved and that Kemal was eventually able to carve out a nation from the remains of the Ottoman Empire. He eventually went onto become Turkey’s first President, and is referred to by Turks by the reverential title of ‘Atatürk’ or ‘Father of the Turks.’

A couple of years ago, a group of Turkish filmmakers called Ekip Film Productions got together with Turkish, New Zealand and Australian experts to make a movie about the campaign. Gallipoli (not to be confused with the Peter Weir movie of the same name starring Mel Gibson) was screened on both sides of the Tasman in 2005, the 90th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign. The film, which received excellent reviews, portrayed the campaign through the eyes of three Australian, two British, three New Zealander and two Ottoman troops.

Here’s how Ekip Productions describe the campaign:


Gallipoli is unique in world history … a story of enemies who displayed mutual respect during the battle and who became friends after it. No battle has forged such strong comradeship and everlasting peace in its aftermath. On the shores of Gallipoli, Australia and New Zealand became nations and Turkey embarked on its journey to become a republic from the ruins of an empire.

Kemal may have achieved victory for the Ottomans at Gallipoli, yet ironically, he was also the man who dealt the final political blow to the Ottoman caliphate. And for this, some Muslims refuse to recognise him as anything but a traitor.

Most Turks, on the other hand, love Atatürk and share with Australians a deep respect for the ANZACs. The largest Turkish congregation in Sydney has named their mosque the ‘Auburn Gallipoli Mosque’ in recognition of the deep friendship between Turkey and Australia. This friendship was baptised by the blood shed on the beaches and cliffs of Gallipoli.

Regardless of what some immature bloggers might claim, Australia’s Muslim communities have every right to commemorate ANZAC Day. Among the dead on the Allied side were Indian troops, a fair proportion of whom were Muslim. We also salute those fallen Ottoman troops led by one of the Ottoman Empire’s greatest military strategists.

But more importantly, Muslims have every reason to commemorate the sacrifices of the tens of thousands of young Australian men who fell in battle. We are Australians too. And by all accounts, the Australian troops in 1915 held no malice for the Turkish foe. When the Allies finally evacuated in January 1916, the Ottomans found letters and messages left by the Australian troops. One such letter said: ‘Johnny The Turk, goodbye. We left lots of food for you, enjoy them.’

Within decades of getting walloped by the Turks at Gallipoli, our ancestors were good-natured enough to bend the White Australia Policy and open the country’s doors to Turkish workers. It’s little wonder that last year businessman John Ilhan, the nephew of Ottoman troops, could write in metropolitan tabloids these words:


I am the proud son of Turkish parents. I missed being born in Australia by a few years, but each day I thank my lucky stars that I came to this country. I had relatives who fought against the Anzacs yet today, if there was another world war, I would fight for Australia without hesitation.

Still, some deny the post-Gallipoli heritage of friendship. Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Paul Sheehan used ANZAC Day as a chance to repeat his usual conspiracy theories about nasty Muslims threatening us from without and within.

Sheehan calls upon his readers ‘to reflect that Australia is actually engaged in a war, even if it is an unconventional, undeclared war.’ And who are we fighting? The enemy inside Sheehan’s head is


... an arc … stretching unbroken through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon — 300 million Muslims, the same population as the US and almost the same as Western Europe’s.

Sheehan engages in some creative geography in describing Pakistan as ‘the largest Muslim nation in the Middle East.’ But perhaps most amusing was Sheehan’s claim that Winston Churchill, the man who almost sold us out to the Japanese in World War II were it not for the late Prime Minister Curtin’s intervention, was ...

... intimately familiar with the arc of instability which now confronts the West. More than 100 years ago, he saw first-hand, and vividly described, the implacable anti-modernism and anti-Westernism of the Muslim heartland.


What follows is an attack on ‘Muhammadanism’ a repeat of discredited Orientalist nonsense which a casual reading of virtually any work of Amin Maalouf or William Dalrymple can dispel. Sheehan cites with approval, the following Churchillian description of Islamic culture:


Besides the fanatical frenzy ... there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity.
One wonders whether Sheehan agrees with Churchill’s assessment of Indians when he wrote in a letter to the Secretary of State in India:

I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.’ On the eve of Indian independence, Churchill said: ‘Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues and freebooters. All Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw.
And don’t even get me started on Churchill’s assessment of European Jews!

Certain journalists might use ANZAC Day to find Islamist conspiracies everywhere, but most Australians, regardless of their ethnicity or faith, will maintain enormous goodwill toward Turkey. And Australia’s Turkish Muslims, by their respect for the ANZAC legend and their continuing contributions to Australian life, will further that goodwill.

Next time you go to an AFL or ARL game and see ‘Crazy John’ adverts across the ground, remember that the Crazy John mobile phone company would not have existed if the ancestors of a young entrepreneur named John Ilhan had not migrated from Turkey to Australia.

Regardless of what the Sheehans of this world might think, I’m sure the fallen diggers would have been happy to see a young Turkish Muslim at the heart of Australian life.

First published in New Matilda on ANZAC Day (or Red Poppy Day, as the Kiwis call it), 25 April 2007.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

CRIKEY: One law for the mufti, another for the pastor


While The Australian manages to find excuses to keep Sheik Hilaly on its pages (even if only by citing Lebanese community leaders, as if the other 59 nationalities of Aussie Muslims are irrelevant), one of the major wedges used by its conservative columnists and the politicians they serve seems to have fallen between the cracks.

What made Hilaly’s statements so outrageous were that they compromised an essential Aussie value – gender equality. They also potentially justified violence against women, something hundreds of prominent Australian men campaign to eliminate each year.

So what happens when a Christian pastor takes a soft line on domestic violence? Fairfax newspapers have reported on a debate within the Assemblies of God churches to extend the acceptable grounds of divorce ...

... to include cases of serious physical abuse.
And who is opposing it? Who thinks women who get bashed by their husbands shouldn’t be allowed a divorce blessed by the Church? According to Danny Nalliah ...

Divorce must be kept in line with scripture and remarriage should only be on the grounds of sexual infidelity, as upheld by Christian leaders for the past 20 centuries.
Will John Howard remind us all of a small minority of Pentecostal Christians needing to learn Australian values like equality for women? Will Kevin Andrews tell Mr Nalliah to consider leaving Australia? Will Kevin Rudd suggest removing Nalliah’s citizenship?

It’s OK for Danny Nalliah to behave like a Christian version of Hilaly, effectively telling women in his congregation to shut up and take it when their husbands bash them up. He’ll probably still receive a reference from Treasurer Peter Costello for his next court case. No doubt the PM will still send a special Australia Day message to Nalliah’s Catch The Fire Ministries.

So as we get ready to pay tribute to the diggers who gave their lives to defend our values, we can feel secure in the knowledge that certain clerics (and their Liberal Party supporters) can continue to preach, rally and protest against these values. Clearly what’s good for Mufti Goose isn’t good for Pastor Gander.

First published on the Crikey! daily alert on 24 April 2007.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

HATEWATCH: Daily Telegraph Editor promotes conspiratorial hate-site on his blog?

Tim Blair, blogger and opinion page editor of the Sydney tabloid Daily Telegraph, has a large advertisement placed on his blog for a site calling itself “Australian Islamist Monitor”.

From its title, the site appears harmless enough. Who could object to a site seeking to expose extremist theocratic politics in Australia? Islamism is just one of numerous socially toxic trends, and Muslims make up most of its victims.

The problem is that Muslims also make up the subject of the hysterical and often racist rhetoric on the AIM site. This is not an Islamist monitor. This site is devoted to maligning mainstream Muslim institutions with little relevance or interest in politics. It also promotes some kind of grand conspiracy that ordinary Muslim citizens making up hardly 2% of the Australian community are conspiring to take over Australia.

Here’s a taste of what the AIM site has to offer …

No other totalitarian ideology mastered deception and playing the victimhood card better than Islam … It was the founder of Islam, Muhammad, who discovered that you can get away with murder as long as you insist that you acted under extreme provocation and/or in self-defense. (Roland Durendal, posted 14/02/07)

Heck, people are free to criticise Islam or any other religion. No skin off my nose. The problem is that this site doesn't limit itself to maligning a religion.

If you look at the weblinks listing alleged Islamist sites and institutions, you’ll notice even companies and institutions that have little if anything to do with religion, let alone political Islamism. Among these is Habib Finance Australia, an arm of a major Pakistani bank with branches across the world.

Also in the list are mainstream institutions such as the Auburn Gallipoli Mosque, as well as interfaith initiatives such as the Australian Intercultural Society.

The objectives of the site include:

To make the Australian public (schools, universities, government programs) aware of the true intentions of what is currently recognised as the mainstream Islam (and help them identify these hostile intentions).
… and …

All applicants from Muslim regions must be treated as a potential security risk (including Muslim refugees from Islamic countries claiming religious persecution).

… and …

In all government employment policies national security must take priority over equal opportunity principles.
This isn't just about Islamist ideology or its more extreme adherents. This is about drumming up serious hatred toward anyone among 360,000 Australians that tick the "Muslim" box on their census forms. It's about using the kind of rhetoric used to drum up hatred toward Jews some 60 years ago. Now the same type of rhetoric is promoted on the personal website of the editor of a major Sydney newspaper.

Is this the type of material which a senior editor of a major newspaper seeks to promote? Why is Tim Blair promoting such a site on his blog?

Tim Blair's buddies on the AIM site also make room to mention me in the following glowing terms ...

His [Hilaly's] recent support for Iranian Islamic theocracy, induced some severe reactions against our anti-Semitic, Islamist Mufti- not only from the MSM and politicians- but even from Islamist toadies like Irfan Yusuf, who normally would try his best to implant some deceptive spin on the issue with his usual total disregard for facts.

Sounds like the sort of nonsense certain anonymous comment-makers leave on this blog from time to time. Or the kinds of comments the Daily Telegraph allow on their blogs.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ismail X?

Environmentally conscious people sometimes ask the question: “If a tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear?” But in the far-Right blogosphere, this has been rephrased to

If a tree falls in the forest, let’s go searching for the Moslem Arab rag-head cut it down!!


Bloggers like Debbie Schlussel, Little Green Footballs and The Jawa Report are already speculating. Meanwhile, one of Cardinal Pell’s favourite bloggers is already casting similar aspersions.

FoxNews is also speculating about an inscription on the shooter’s arm which read “ISMAIL AX”. To be fair, they are also speculating on other matters as well.

I guess that’s how it is in the 21st century. Some people will use any excuse to push some kind of sectarian barrel.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

OPINION: Fair cop on media ruling, Mr Jones


Twelve years ago, I stepped into barristers’ chambers for the first time. I was impressed by the décor - all that smoothly varnished timber combined with leather, all built for luxurious tastes. As if barristers wanted to feel like they were working out of a Rolls Royce.

One of my favourite barristers was eventually appointed to the bench. After many years of shouting lunches to junior solicitors, he now presided over a court list, terrorising junior solicitors with threats to strike out entire legal proceedings and order unsuccessful solicitors pay legal costs out of their own pocket.

Did solicitors who used to regularly brief him receive favourable treatment? Is the Pope Muslim?

We’ve read and heard plenty about ACMA’s 80-odd page decision concerning comments made by Alan Jones in the lead-up to the Cronulla riots in December 2005. What sticks out most in my mind is the hubris of the guilty parties.

The Australian cited Alan Jones claiming the head of ACMA ...

... had more jobs than I've had feeds ...
... and that ...

Mr Chapman has gone around this town on many occasions, to me and to others, seeking references to be written for his appointment to a stack of jobs.
John Singleton, head of 2GB, is also quoted as confirming he had a “personal friendship” with Mr Chapman “off the field”.

I don't want to get personal with Chris, I like Chris but he has called on Alan and me for many favours over the years and we've both been forthcoming. So I'm personally disappointed, but maybe he had no legal alternative.
So Alan Jones expects favouritism from the official umpire in return for references rendered. John Singleton wished favours were reciprocated had a legal technicality allowed it.

If I stood up before every ex-barrister judge I had ever briefed and demanded a favourable decision based on the number of briefs given, I’d be struck off the roll of solicitors. And rightly so. Judges are independent arbiters. Independent even of their former paymasters.

Yet in the case of Jones, 2GB and ACMA, we see the Communications Minister effectively threatening to gag the independent watchdog she appointed.

Helen Coonan, herself a former barrister, said:

Alan Jones has made an indelible mark on broadcasting during his long and outstanding career and I encourage the industry to address any concerns that they might have with the current Code with a review to ensure it best reflects community standards.
In other words, Coonan is effectively inviting commercial radio to gang up on ACMA and Mr Chapman should they be unhappy about the outcomes they receive. Especially if the outcomes cost them big dollars.

Yet this same Code was developed by industry in the first place. That’s why it’s called a Code of Practice, not an Act or a Regulation. As a major talk back broadcaster, 2GB would have had plenty of input in developing the Code.

It gets better. Jones names ACMA officials on air and then claims they have ...

... little experience or knowledge of talkback radio.
Yes, of course, Alan. Talk back radio is an esoteric science requiring years of education and training. It’s even harder than coaching rugby or teaching English. Only someone with experience in talk back should be umpire.

With that in mind, I’d like to suggest to Minister Coonan that she consider replacing Chris Chapman with a candidate with real experience in talk back radio. Someone like John Laws.

But then, I dare say Mr Jones won’t like Lawsey either. Especially after Laws accused Jones of threatening the PM in 2000 if he didn’t appoint his old friend David Flint as Chair of the broadcasting watchdog.

Or perhaps Jones would like to see Professor Flint returned? No, that is out of the question. What experience does Flint have in talk back radio?

Of course, what this really boils down to is dollars and cents. Jones’ morning rants bring him a large audience. Admittedly, most are over 55. But this is a growing demographic with a lifetime of savings, investments and superannuation.

Advertisers want this market, but also don’t wish to offend their other customers or their staff. I doubt senior company managers from Middle Eastern backgrounds (such as those in Westfield or NAB) would want their advertising budget spent on broadcasters who talk about bikey gangs taking on “Middle Eastern thugs” on the eve of Australia’s worst race riots this century.

Radio stations survive on advertising dollars. Just as small business in Cronulla survive on weekend crowds down at the beach. Your average Cronulla shopkeeper doesn’t mind if the dollars come from Middle Eastern or Anglo-Saxon people. Yet they suffered because certain sentiments were played out both on radio and on the beach, sentiments that they never expressed.

It’s only fair that a Sydney radio station and shock jock suffer a little pain. Alan Jones didn’t have to read offensive and racist e-mails on air. He didn’t have to mention bikey gangs gathering at railway stations. If anything, Jones and 2GB got off lightly. They should cop the effects of the law, just like the rest of us do.

Surely shock jocks of all people wouldn’t want to see anyone get away with breaking the law!

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer and writer. This article was first published in the Canberra Times on 17 April 2007.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

Taxpayers' funds used to spread the gospel of hatred

Anyone still wondering at the Howard government’s support for shock jock Alan Jones should consider this.

According to a report in Sian Powell’s Strewth column in The Australian dated 26 October 2006, the Howard government admitted it paid

a cool $12,023 to fund a visit to Australia by king of invective and darling of the US neo-Cons Mark Steyn.


You read it correctly. Over $12K to invite one of the world’s leading Muslim-phobes. And Steyn did not disappoint his audience. In Sydney, he reminded everyone of the culture and security threat posed by Muslim migrants, their children and grandchildren. Recently, he has been writing on the joys of genocide and ethnic cleansing, lamenting that when it comes to dealing with European Muslims …

There are no Hitlers to hand.


In Mark Steyn's world, even Adolf Hitler has his uses.

To think that our tax dollars are being used to pay for a racist like Steyn to spread his gospel of hatred.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Monday, April 16, 2007

Turkey: Will a Muslim Democrat succeed Ataturk?

In Australia, conservative politicians love lecturing us about our great “Western” or “European” or “Christian” or even “Judeo-Christian” heritage. So what do conservative politicians in Turkey tell their voters?

Turks take the separation of religion and state far more seriously than we do. You won’t find an Islamic Fred Nile running for Turkish elections.

(And even if he did, it’s unlikely he’d have anyone to preference!)

The Turkish Republic was formed in 1923 from the remnants of a European Muslim empire which lasted some 623 years. Unlike other Muslim empires, the Ottomans kept religious leaders firmly in their pockets and gave their empire a strong Sunni Muslim (as opposed to Shia Muslim, the Ottomans spending centuries fighting the Shia Iranian empire) flavour.

Turkey ’s first president and architect of its staunchly secular political system was the man who led Ottoman troops at Gallipoli, Mustafa Kemal Pasha “Ataturk” (or “Father of the Turks”).

For years, religion played a largely invisible role in Turkish politics, despite the fact that the Turkish Ministry (or rather, Presidency) of Religious Affairs traditionally had the largest budget of any Turkish Ministry.

Since the 1980’s, a mild form of Islamist political activism has been infiltrating Turkey ’s political scene. Turkish Islamists have had a completely different focus to Islamists in other parts of the world. Firstly, Turkish Islam is has a more Sufi flavour, and is quite hostile to Saudi-style Wahhabism. Secondly, Turkish Islamists have spent decades making mega-bucks and gaining a major stake in the Turkish economy.

Most importantly, Turkey ’s Islamists have re-invented themselves into the Muslim equivalent of Europe ’s Christian Democrats. They have convinced voters that they are committed to all those things secular parties are committed to. No Turkish government has shown as much zeal for EU membership as the current Islamist one.

More importantly, the Islamists have runs on the board when it comes to the economy and other key areas. So you’d think the current Prime Minister Recep Erdogan taking on the largely ceremonial title of President shouldn’t be problematic.

Think again. The Presidency has always been regarded as the guarantor of Turkish secularism. Each Turkish president is a successor to the title first held by Ataturk. And with 300,000 Turks marching in the streets of Ankara to oppose Erdogan’s candidacy, he might have reason to be concerned.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Brief Thoughts On Sheik Hilaly, Alan Jones & Cronulla

Sheik Hilaly’s words have not directly led to any violence or social disturbance in Australia. His recent sets of comments have lef to Muslim organisations and influential Muslim individuals calling for his dismissal and/or resignation. Already, his peers (i.e. the Australian National Imams’ Council) have acted to declare his position vacant.

This, however, has not stopped political leaders like Kevin Rudd, John Howard, Alexander Downer and others from calling for him to stand down.

It is arguable that the broadcasts of the likes of Alan Jones, Ray Hadley and others had a direct impact on adding fuel to the racial fire that became the Cronulla riots. These were the worst race riots thus far this century, and led to reprisal rioting and some of the worst break down of law and order in Sydney’s history.

Far from calling for his dismissal or resignation, Jones peers at Radio 2GB are actively defending him. He is also being defended by political leaders, despite having been found by a number of independent inquiries (including the recent ACMA decision and the NSW Police Inquiry into Strike Force Neil) to have made racist remarks that arguably were partly responsible for the Cronulla race riots.

John Howard has gone further, claiming that Jones’ comments reflect the views of many Australians, and that Jones doesn’t engage in discrimination or vilification.

In other words, John Howard doesn’t regard describing a group of people from a certain part of the world as “thugs” to be vilification. He also doesn’t regard a claim that persons belonging to a certain ethnic or ethno-religious background are always responsible for sexual assault to be vilification.

Kevin Rudd says he could see nothing in the ACMA report that should lead him not to present himself on Jones’ program. I wonder, then, if Rudd would equally accept an invitation (if he received one) to speak at the Imam Ali Mosque at Lakemba, the mosque where Sheik Hilaly is one of five resident imams.

Or does Kevin Rudd regard describing semi-clad women as cat meat to be worse than describing Middle Easterners as thugs and rapists? Is he prepared to be interviewed by a shock jock who on air reads comments to the effect that bikey gangs should be called to Cronulla station to attack persons of Middle Eastern background visiting the beach?

Think about it. Feel free to comment. And for those who keep sending me nasty responses, please don’t bother. I won’t post them. Though Alan Jones may well read them out on air.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Friday, April 13, 2007

Agonising over Hilaly's future ...

Has Mufti Day finally come to an end? It's hard to tell at this stage. Notwithstanding recent reports in the Sun-Herald, it seems Muslim religious bodies still agonise over the future of the controversial Tajeddine Hilaly.

The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) created the position of “Mufti of Australia” to provide Acting Prime Minister Paul Keating with an excuse to grant Hilaly permanent residency back in the late 1980's. Hilaly was given no duty statement, no resources and no secretariat. His only assistant was former Lebanese Moslems Association (LMA) President Keysar Trad.

Trad, who incorporated his own “Australian Islamic Friendship Society” after being voted off the LMA executive, continues to defend Hilaly. AFIC president Ikebal Patel has deferred the issue to a newly-formed Australian National Imams' Council (ANIC), which has deferred any decidion for a further three months.

Traditionally, the office of Mufti in Muslim countries was to interpret the sacred law (known as sharia) to deal with novel situations. The Mufti issues a fatwa, a non-binding yet influential legal opinion.

Yet in the Australian context, sharia limits its own jurisdiction to purely religious and ceremonial matters. One novel question which has dogged Australian Muslim communities is how to sight the new moon to determine the beginning and end of the fasting month of Ramadan. Do we use astronomical calculations? Or the naked eye? Or some combination of both?

On even something this basic, Muslims don’t feel obliged to follow Sheik Hilaly. Instead, they tend to follow the ethnic or linguistic Muslim community they feel closest to. It often happens that Sheik Hilaly celebrates the end of Ramadan while many (if not most) Muslims are still fasting.

Despite holding the grand title of “Mufti of Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific”, at best Hilaly's influence is limited to a certain faction of Lebanese Sunni Muslims living in the cities of Canterbury, Auburn and Bankstown.

New Zealand's peak Muslim body issued a press release last October reiterating that Hilaly was not Mufti of New Zealand. Hilaly hasn't sent any religious delegation to the tsunami-ravaged Solomon Islands, nor have Muslims there requested one.

Even in his own backyard, Sheik Hilaly could not even manage to convince a sufficient number of Muslims to sign relevant forms to register his Peace Party in time for the NSW State Election.

In the seat of Auburn, which has perhaps the highest proportion of Muslims of any NSW state seat, Labor incumbent Barbara Perry won comfortably, even managing a swing of 2.3 percent on a two-party preferred basis. Perry managed to secure some 24,000 primary votes, her nearest Muslim rival candidate (Auburn Councillor Malikeh Michaels of the Greens) secured 1,621 votes.

High profile party-endorsed Muslim candidates (such as Michaels and the Democrats' Silma Ihram) deliberately and publicly distanced themselves from Sheik Hilaly. Even in the Premier's seat of Lakemba, home to the Imam Ali ben Abi Taleb Mosque where Hilaly precahes, his impact on the result was minimal. Iemma posters could be found in the front yards of Muslim households just as they could in the front yards of other ALP-supporting households.

The LMA, which manages the Imam Ali Mosque, lists Hilaly has one of five imams serving their congregation. This organisation, like most other mosque management bodies, is an ethno-religious body. It is well known in Muslim circles that the LMA's constitution limits full membership and voting rights to men eligible for Lebanese citizenship. Sheik Hilaly isn't known to have publicly opposed this membership apartheid, which hasn't won him any friends in non-Lebanese Muslim circles.

These facts won't stop allegedly conservative politicians using the Mufti mess to focus on allegedly anti-integration Muslims refusing to adopt Australian values, deflecting attention away from their inability to act on bigger issues such as climate change, as well as providing cover for legislative and policy concessions they give to genuinely anti-integration groups such as the Exclusive Brethren.

Allegedly conservative media pundits will continue to use this incident as further evidence that Australia needs to address “the Muslim question, re-hashing conspiracy theories of Muslims conspiring to overrun Australia's “Judeo-Christian” and/or “secularism heritage by stealth.

But most Muslims aren't interested in appearing in yet another chapter of “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Lakemba”. Hilaly is very much the roaring mouse that journalists love to report but Muslims choose to ignore. And with Hilaly’s chronic inability to control his tongue (and now, it seems, his purse), many Muslims will already regard Mufti day as being well and truly ended.

An edited version of this article was published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday 9 April 2007.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Led Zeppelin, Blackadder, Hilaly and McIlveen

What more can be said about Hilaly? According to the eminently sensible Roger Coombs in today’s Daily Telegraph, he’s best left ignored. Shakira Hussein in The Oz compares his rants to Rolf Harris’ bad version of a Led Zeppelin classic.

Meanwhile, Ms Hussein’s almost-Valentine honey bunny Luke McIlveen cites former Labor MP Ron Edwards whose conversations with former Hawke government immigration ministers were detailed in the Canberra Times yesterday.
McIlveen somehow manages to claim:

As revealed by The Canberra Times yesterday, Edwards had been to see Sheik Taj el-Dene Elhilaly speak at Sydney University in 1989 and was horrified by what he heard.


Even a casual perusal of the CT article by political correspondent Andrew Fraser shows Ron Edwards did not attend the Sydney University lecture (which took place before 1989). Rather, he had read a translation of the speech provided by constituents in his Western Australian seat.

I actually did attend the Hilaly lecture. I couldn’t understand much of what Hilaly said. The speech was delivered in Arabic. Even if Edwards did attend, he wouldn’t have understood much. Unless, of course, if McIlveen is suggesting Edwards took a crash course in Arabic.

Manny Waks wants Hilaly to go now. I agree. However, I don’t agree with Waks’ denial that "any amount of community consultation" is needed for him to be dismissed.

I also don’t agree with politicians who claim the continuous dithering by religious leaders over Hilaly’s future necessarily reflects on the 360,000 ordinary Australians who tick the word "Muslim" on their census forms.

As Hussein points out:

Most Australian Muslims play no direct role in organisational politics and wield no direct power in any of this. All we can do is look on and to make our views known where we can.


Hilaly can stand in the trenches with Ahmedinejad if he wants. But as General Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Melchett advised Captain Blackadder when ordering him to leave the trenches and attack the enemy:

I want you to know I’ll be right behind you!


First published in the Crikey Daily Alert for 10 April 2007.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Thursday, April 05, 2007

OPINION: Try Kiwi values, mate!


New Zealand has a crucial advantage over Australia when it comes to trying to define its values for newcomers, writes IRFAN YUSUF.

Both Australia and New Zealand are young nations built by indigenous people and migrants. Both are former British colonies. Both are English-speaking liberal democracies with legal systems based on the English common law.

But unlike Australia, New Zealand's early European settlers entered into some kind of treaty recognising the special association of indigenous people to the land. The cultural tang of Waitangi is absent from Australia, where indigenous peoples, by and large, live in a state of institutionalised disadvantage.

For an outsider like myself, it seems the influence of Maori culture on all New Zealanders is far more apparent than the influence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders on mainstream Australian culture. Further, Maori culture is shown a greater degree of both official and unofficial respect than Australia's indigenous cultures.

Hence, it doesn't come as a surprise that recent moves to educate migrants on New Zealand values include a strong emphasis on Maori culture. What will make New Zealand values more meaningful is that New Zealand doesn't pretend it is a Western cultural monolith sitting awkwardly in the Asia- Pacific region.

If multiculturalism in Australia had one big failing it was its emphasis on migrant cultures and its lack of emphasis on indigenous cultures. The Howard Government has now abandoned multiculturalism as an official Government policy, replacing it with policies based on "integration" and "Australian values" which have largely emphasised Australia's alleged "Judeo-Christian" heritage.

I say "alleged" because the whole notion of Judaism playing a key role in the development of Western European culture seems strange when one considers that it is only in the last 60 years, following the horrors of the Holocaust, that Western Christendom has finally faced up to the reality of anti-Semitism.

Australia's own values debate was also hampered by the Howard Government's inability to articulate distinctly Australian values.

Instead, when pressed on the issue, proponents of Australian values (such as Howard) have provided motherhood statements about "a fair go" and "mateship". It's as if only "Judeo-Christian" Australians understand fairness and friendship. The Australian push toward integration and adoption of "Aussie" values has also come as a result of an abandonment of multiculturalism. Unfortunately, this abandonment has been couched using divisive monoculturalist rhetoric, and has been especially targeted at Australia's nominally Muslim communities.

As if to add credence to this rhetoric, Australian Muslim religious leaders have also behaved irresponsibly. Recent sexist and racist comments by Sheik Tajeddine Hilaly, who continues to claim the mantle of Mufti of Australia and New Zealand (despite New Zealand's peak Muslim body rejecting his claim), haven't done Muslims any favours.

Australia's Muslims largely find themselves in this predicament because they have placed more emphasis on culture and language and less on adopting Islam's universal values which encourage cultural and linguistic integration.

New Zealand Muslims would do well to heed the warnings of the Mufti of Bosnia Herzegovina, Dr Mustafa Ceric, who warned that Muslim communities who insisted on behaving like tribal or ethnic communes within Western countries will only bring harm and resentment upon themselves.

As one young Australian Muslim told me:


These uncles think they can say whatever they like and get away with it. If things go bad, they can always go back to Suva or Karachi. But where will I go?
New Zealanders of all faiths can be grateful for the sensible approach taken thus far by their Government. Unlike the Howard Government, whose rhetoric has been divisive, New Zealand's Social Development Minister David Benson-Pope has used the language of inclusion when he reiterated that a


... sense of inclusiveness and an acceptance of difference has always been a part of New Zealand's national identity.
That sense of inclusiveness will be on display in May when Waitangi hosts the Third Asia-Pacific Inter-faith Dialogue, in the place where Maori and European entered into a treaty of peace and security based on mutual respect.

Australians love to take the best of New Zealand and pretend it's their own. I hope Australian political leaders can see if there is something they can adopt from what appears to be a more inclusive Kiwi values debate.

*Irfan Yusuf is a Canberra lawyer and associate editor of AltMuslim.com. This article was first published in The Press of Christchurch on Monday 2 April 2007.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf