Friday, December 19, 2008

CRIKEY: Charlie Wilson's prophecy comes true ...




Our military campaign in Afghanistan involves allying ourselves with thugs who may be tomorrow’s bin-Ladins, writes Irfan Yusuf ...

In the movie Charlie Wilson's War, Tom Hanks plays the role of the Democratic Congressman from Texas who embroiled the United States in the last hot conflict of the Cold War. In real life, Wilson appeared on American 60 Minutes explained how he saw the Afghanistan conflict as being not just about defeating the Soviet Union, but also about making real and lasting change to the lives of ordinary Afghans, millions of whom were displaced in refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran.

In 1993, Wilson described the jihad in these terms ...
... the Afghan freedom fighters ... probably the most heroic response to tyranny in modern history.
The US and its jihadist allies (including an all-Arab militia led by Osama bin Ladin) defeated the Soviet Union, which withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in 1989. The Americans abandoned Afghanistan to tribal warlords and then to the Taliban. Wilson tried in vain to convince his colleagues in Congress and the President that the US now needed to rescue and repair Afghanistan in much the same way as it did Western Europe after the Second World War. They ignored his pleas. Congressman Wilson tld his colleagues:
We always go in with our ideals. Then we leave. But the ball keeps bouncing.
At the conclusion of the film, a quote from Wilson appears on the screen:

These things happened and they changed the world. Then we f-cked up the end game.
The grand Afghanistan f-ck-up continues, with President Hamid Karzai telling the Chicago Tribune that the United States policy of empowering allegedly friendly militias will prove disastrous in the long term. Karzai describes them as:

... thugs or warlords... those people who have no limits to misbehaviour.

In his Christmas visit to Australian troops in Afghanistan, Kevin Rudd told troops he had been to too many funerals. Our troops are involved in both fighting insurgents and building essential community infrastructure in Oruzgan province, including schools and hospitals. Young soldiers like Stuart Nash die doing work Congressman Charlie Wilson insisted America needed to do back in 1989. Meanwhile, Osama bin Ladin and Mullah Omar still haven't been captured. Our military campaign involves allying ourselves with thugs who may be tomorrow's bin-Ladins.

They call this madness "The War on Terror".

First published in Crikey on Friday 19 December 2008.




Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

CRIKEY: Rudd and the return of multiculturalism ...


John Howard never liked the "m" word. But Kevin Rudd has brought it back, reinstating the Australian Multicultural Advisory Council that Howard abolished. At one time, many of us associated multiculturalism with a government-funded industry filled with "ethnic" leaders busily stacking their organisations so that they could employ their otherwise-unemployable nephews and/or stack ALP (or in my case, Liberal) branches for pre-selection purposes.

And after reading the story in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, you might be tempted to believe that the usual suspects will form part of this council.

Suspects like the kind of largely irrelevant self-appointed leaders of Muslim religious organisations, most of whom were middle aged first generation migrant men who push women away from mosques and who even validate domestic violence. Howard had little hesitation in placing these men on his Muslim Community Reference Group because they had little ability to engage with media and politicians.

Some of them enjoyed making embarrassing public statements, and their removal from the public stage has provided plenty of relief to a beleaguered faith sector to often held collectively responsible for events overseas they have little control over. Imagine if all Queenslanders were held responsible for Attorney-General Kevin Shine’s insensitive remarks on rape victims.

Rudd’s choice of nominees for his Multicultural Advisory Council reflects a good mix of academia, sport, professional experience and grassroots activism. The only Muslim religious community representative, Joumanah El Matrah, belongs to an organisation that works tirelessly at a grassroots level with women from emerging communities such as Afghans, Iraqis and Africans. Generally media-shy, El Matrah is one of Australian Islam’s unsung heroines.

The interests of indigenous communities are too often ignored in discussions about multiculturalism.

Rudd’s committee includes Rhonda Jacobsen, an accomplished indigenous lawyer who has written extensively on the legal aspects of reconciliation. Without exception, these appointees represent the best and brightest of Australian pluralism.

Hopefully they will advise the Rudd government in such a manner that minorities won’t be marginalised or turned into political wedges in a manner so common during the 11 years of Howard’s monocultural madness.

First published in Crikey on 18 December 2008.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

OPINION: Terror realities ...



It's more than just a cliché - one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Or patriot. Or nationalist.

The Times of London recently reported on a rather curious document from the Middle East. The document contains a clear warning for British troops from terrorists of dire consequences. British soldiers are described in the document as forming part of an alien and hostile occupying force that is "illegal and immoral".
"It is unavoidable that many... British soldiers should fall. And it is only fair that these people know at least why they may be killed," the document reads. "You have learned what the word 'terrorist' means, some of you may even have come into direct contact with them (and heartily desire not to repeat the experience). But what do you know about them? Why does a young man go underground?"

Why indeed? The document describes the ongoing British occupation as "parallel to the mass assassination of a whole people". Apparently, terrorists used similar language in another pamphlet which was pinned to the bodies of two booby-trapped British soldiers.

Naturally, this kind of language would draw fire from allegedly conservative columnists, shock jocks, pundits and politicians. This is hardly the sort of language you'd expect to hear from someone committed to peace in the region.

But why did I describe this document as curious? Isn't just the sort of language Middle Eastern terrorists use all the time?

Of course it is. And it's precisely the language that was used by Irgun, a terrorist group led by a man named Menachem Begin, a terrorist who went on to sign a peace accord with Egypt and win the Nobel Peace Prize.

This pamphlet represents the kind of priceless message that those fighting the so-called war on terrorism need to remember. We need to understand that today's enemies can become tomorrow's allies. We also need to understand that today's terrorists often repeat the strategies used by today's allies when they were terrorists.

There's another lesson in this document. Britain lost the war against Jewish Zionists in Palestine because it refused to understand and appreciate why these young men and women were prepared to lay down their lives for a cause. Britain did not understand that behind the murder and mayhem of these terrorists was a cause based on universal moral imperatives with precedents in British history.

Australia and its allies in United States, Britain and other countries will not win the war against today's Islamic Zionists - people prepared to establish allegedly Islamic states in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere - unless we understand the moral logic that terrorists use. If we use the brutality of terrorists' methods as excuse to ignore genuine grievances that many of us once experienced in years gone by, we will lose both the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan and the wider war on terrorism.

Back in September 2004, Aldo Borgu of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute provided 20 basic facts about the nature of terrorism and our response to same. He reminds us that "modern terrorism is a phenomenon that policy makers have been dealing with for at least 40 years". He further contends that the conventional political language used (e.g. describing terrorists as "cowards") might help mobilising the nation to fight, but it doesn't always help us to understand exactly what we are fighting.

Cultural warriors will no doubt object to Borgu's realistic assessment that
... [u]ltimately, how you define who's a terrorist and what constitutes a terrorist act all comes down to the politics of the day.
It isn't terribly fashionable to refer to Tibetan monks as terrorists, but it has become most unfashionable not to refer to Islamist (or even nominally Muslim) insurgents anywhere as terrorists.

Our definition of terrorism is also affected by our alliances. The old adage "my enemy's enemy is my friend" also applies to who we label as terrorists. As Borgu notes:
The only reason the US has defined the various Chechen groups fighting the Russians and Muslim separatists in Western China as terrorists, is the US needs the support of the Russian and Chinese governments. If we were still in the middle of the Cold War we'd be embracing the Chechens as allies and probably funding their activities.
That probably explained why we backed the Afghan mujahideen during the 1980s. What was that? The West sponsoring Islamic jihadists? Never (not)!

We often hear the mantra from our politicians that terrorists hate us for who we are as opposed to what our policies are or who we unconditionally befriend. Borgu describes this as a cop-out, "a convenient argument for any government to make because it lets them off the hook for taking responsibility for their actions. But it's also dangerous thinking. If you really believe that, then it makes you more liable to make foreign policy decisions without consideration of the consequences".

Yes, our foreign policy does have implications for our security. If it didn't, our former PM Mr Howard would never have argued that invading Iraq would make Australians safer and reduce the likelihood of a terrorist attack.

So as we approach the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States, we should ask ourselves about whether blindly fighting terrorism without addressing the grievances used by terrorists to garner support will really make us safer. Some 3,000 people died in the 9/11 attacks. More than the same number of Afghan civilians died in the first 3 months of the Allied invasion.

We cannot allow the rhetoric of politicians to blind us to terror realities. After all, how many Australian politicians send their sons and daughters off to fight in the deserts of Afghanistan and Iraq?

First published in ABC Unleashed on 10 September 2008.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

REFLECTION: Usama bin Reagan


It was 1982. I had just entered high school and had completed my first 2 years at an evangelical Anglican Cathedral School in the heart of Sydney's central business district. It was my first English class, and my army-officer-cum-English-teacher (who would remain my English teacher for the next four years) taught me one of life's important lessons.

English is all about writing. And the best way to learn how to write is to read. So make sure you do not start your first lesson in the morning without reading the Sydney Morning Herald.
Huh? Us adolescents reading a serious broadsheet read by men in suits on the train? Millard lectured us:

I have told you what I expect. And I know your parents all buy the Herald so you have no excuses.
He was right. My father has been buying the Herald since 1970. I doubt he has missed a single issue. And when he saw his son, the same kid who usually spent morning hours filling his ears with the musical lead of AC/DC, struggling through the local and international news stories, all my dad could say was Shabash! (Well done!)

Those were the days before the Oslo accords. So like most others, I read the Herald and believed that all Palestinians were a bunch of terrorists who hijack planes and kill Jews. And what made them worse is that they were aligned with the Soviets, those evil communists who invaded those poor people in Afghanistan.

Communists were bad in those days. But Mujahideen were good. Reagan was not just the president of the United States. He was also the Grand Ghazi, the Head Shaykh, the Murshid Effendi and the Master Mufti of the jihad against the Soviets.

Certainly that was the impression I got from reading the Herald, from watching 60 Minutes and from other news and current affairs sources.

Reagan and his advisers knew that they could not rely on the rabble of competing Afghan factions to fight the world's other superpower. He needed outside help. The Saudis and other Arab states were willing. Newspapers in Arab countries were advertising for volunteers to do Allah's (and the CIA's) work in Afghanistan. All the scholars and writers that Daniel Pipes loves to malign were used by Reagan and his murids in the Pentagon and various intelligence agencies for this cause.

I used to go to the mosque and hear khutbas about the great mujahideen. Some imams even said prayers for President Reagan. But Reagan had a secret weapon to unleash on the Soviets. It was the brains, the organizational ability and conservative fanaticism that Reagan probably wished he had in his own campaign team.

Reagan needed someone to coordinate the training, indoctrination and organization of the Arab volunteers. And who better than one of the favorite sons of a Saudi business family with close links to Reagan's own vice-president, George Bush. The Bin Ladins were huge fans of the old-style anti-Communist conservatives. Their errant son, Usama, had too much time and money on his hands. Better he be fighting a sacred cause in the desert than chasing skirts in the nightclubs of London and New York.

And so Usama bin Ladin became Usama bin Reagan. His job was to unleash as many 9/11's on the Soviets as possible. And all with the blessing of the Pentagon and the White House. Bin Ladin used his engineering skills and the ferocious devotion of his trainees to wreak havoc on Soviet forces.

Today of course, the Bush family is not exactly fond of Usama bin Reagan. They say they want him dead or alive. They said the same about Saddam Hussein. But for all we know, Saddam might be sitting in some 5-star hotel sipping champagne with the dude who runs Abu Ghraib prison, giving him tips on how many dogs it will take to rip the genitals off an Iraqi civilian. It takes a lot for the US government to mistreat their former employees.

What seriously pisses me off is how the neocons claim to hate Usama so much. Yet the way they are behaving benefits Usama's cause. What the hell am I talking about now?

Usama sits in his cave and babbles on about how the West is against all Muslims and how Western regimes are waging a war on Muslims. Of course, we all know that Muslims are doing a pretty good job at stuffing themselves up. They need no help from the West. Their own insistence on staying illiterate, broke, uncivilized, poor, uneducated, dictatorial and paranoid tends to place them on the civilizational backfoot. And when most of their so-called Islamic scholars and movements excel in these areas, it does not help.

Muslim minorities in the US, Australia, and other Western countries don�t help either. In the Australian state with the greatest concentration of Muslims (New South Wales, home of Sydney), we have an Islamic Council of NSW, a Supreme Islamic Council of NSW and a Muslim Council of NSW. All claim to legitimately represent Muslims here. In the US, you have some dude who wants to run a Supreme Islamic Council who labels 80% of Muslims as terrorists and extremists and wahhabists. With so-called leadership like that, is it any wonder we are in a mess?

However bad the condition of Muslims might be, I can say with great confidence that if Usama appeared in a Mosque in Sydney and tried to claim that the Australian government is out to target Islam and Muslims, he would be laughed out of the place.

By and large, Muslims just do not buy Usama's conspiratorial muck. Muslims know better. It is easy for Usama to make these bombastic claims. But he has not lived in a democratic, mature, liberal and free society. He has not lived in countries where (at least in terms of freedom and the rule of law), Islam is followed more than in most so-called Muslim countries. Try stopping an Aussie Muslim schoolgirl from wearing a hijab and be prepared to spend thousands in legal fees while she drags you through a range of courts and tribunals.

Muslims know Usama and his like are full of crap. For the time being. But there is a problem. The neocons seem to want Western Muslim communities to believe Usama.

How?

Conservative governments are handing Usama victory on a platter. Conservative governments, including the Howard Government in Australia, are helping to make Usama more believable. Let me give you a few examples.

The government claims to have implemented a tough immigration system. If you break or flout immigration laws, you can be detained and deported. So if you are an Afghan Hazara fleeing Hamid Karzai's drug lords, expect to spend at least 12 months in a detention center in the desert. And if you are an English backpacker who overstays, expect to ... well ... um ... expect to keep working and getting pissed at the pub!

We have anti-terror laws which are being beefed up. And we have a list of organizations regarded as terror groups. In the US, Dubya made a point of declaring certain Latin American and Northern Ireland groups to be terrorist groups. Not the Howard Government. It seems you cannot be a terrorist group unless you have some link to Islam.

Meanwhile, the bulk of the people who are being arrested and charged are people whose acts occurred years ago and (in at least one case) who actively cooperated with security officials and provided information that led to the arrest of the big guns overseas. The nature of the charges includes placing information online and training with certain groups. And I am offering no prizes for guessing which religious faith they all seem to belong to.

But the classic is the way Guantanamo detainees are being treated. Hey, at least John Walker Lindh was treated like a citizen. At least the English jumped up and down for their detainees. The way Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer are behaving, you'd think Mamdouh Habib and David Hicks (the two Australian detainees) are as guilty as sin and should be shot at dawn.

An Australian citizen who finds himself detained overseas can and should expect all manner of assistance from the Australian embassy in that country. We expect the Department of Foreign Affairs to place all diplomatic pressure on the detaining country, and try to come to some kind of arrangement which can ensure punishment which fits our standards of justice. The fact that the person has been detained for pedophilia or smuggling heroine or terrorism or for having the wrong colored socks is irrelevant.

But the Howard Government has effectively told David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib and their families to shove off. The fact that Hicks and Habib are Australian citizens is irrelevant.

Now I would like someone to point out where the Buddhist section is at the Guantanamo prison. I don't know of any army rabbis working at the complex to service the spiritual needs of inmates. And I did not hear of any sweets being distributed during Deevali. What I am trying to say is that membership of a particular religious denomination and detention at Guantanamo Bay tend to go hand-in-hand.

Our Foreign Minister makes sure that Australians convicted of molesting little boys in Indonesia are given all consular and other assistance and that Australians caught with white powder in the suitcases are not locked up for too long. But it appears that if you happen to be of the wrong religion and find yourself in a spot of bother in Cuba, don't expect Messrs. Howard and Downer to do anything to help you.

Seriously, I would love to think that all of this is just paranoid hogwash. But my Prime Minister and Foreign Minister are just not giving me reason to believe otherwise.

First published in MWU on June 13 2004.




Thursday, December 04, 2008

OPINION: Appreciating Australia's indigenous heritage ...




When I was growing up, some of my Indo-Pakistani aunties expressed some extraordinary views. One was particularly scathing of Indo-Pakistani doctors who married gori (Hindi/Urdu for "white-skinned" ) women. "These gori women are all cheap. They just take our men's money and then leave them for some handsome white fellow!"

It wasn't just the auntie's implication that men of Indo-Pakistani origin could not be good-looking that offended me. It was also the idea that women with white skin were necessarily selfish, money-hungry and incapable of maintaining stable relationships with wealthy tanned medical practitioners. This particular auntie often boasted of being highly educated herself. Apparently she had completed a Masters degree in Indian literature from some university whose name I could never pronounce and won't even try spelling.

However, having a quality tertiary education doesn't inoculate one from making absurd generalisations about entire groups of people. Back in May 2006, I found myself seething with anger and disgust having read an article in a certain newspaper which contained this startling claim: "Traditional Aboriginal society was always harsh on women".

Indeed, I was so disgusted to read this that I put fingers to keyboard and sent the following e-mail to the opinion editor:

It reflects poorly on your newspaper that it could [publish a] piece... Claiming that Aboriginal cultures are characterised by abuse toward women and children is a gross insult to our nation's cultural heritage. Would you publish an article if the writer to make such claims about Jewish cultures? Or about Catholic or English-speaking cultures?
The editor's response spoke volumes.

I think it reflects poorly on you that you can't even think outside your narrow ideological box. What is wrong with competing ideas, esp[ecially] , given that the 30-year orthodoxy of self determination has disadvantaged so many indigenous Australians in the outback.
Whether indigenous Australians should be stopped from living anywhere in what is essentially their country is a debate I'd rather avoid. My concern is this strange obsession some allegedly conservative people have with proving that their culture is somehow superior to everyone else's. And even more strangely, that they somehow have the right to issue black cheque fatwas about the cultures and histories of entire races.

The Australian recently published some important observations of Major-General Dave Chalmers , who has just completed an 18 month stint running the Northern Territory Intervention. Chalmers is convinced indigenous Australians can only secure a better future by preserving their culture. And this can only be done if we as a broader Australian community learn to respect indigenous cultures.

Over time, we as a society have undervalued indigenous culture and in many places it's been lost... And where it's been lost, people have lost their compass, they've lost their framework of life. It's not being replaced by a mainstream Australian framework, and people are in limbo. We need to be paying a lot more attention to traditional healers and traditional lawmakers, the role they played, and play, in people's lives.
Genuine conservatives show genuine respect and reverence to our 40,000 year indigenous cultural status quo at least as much as they will to our 220-odd year European status quo. That involves recognising the sophistication of indigenous communities. In her 2007 book The Outsiders Within: Telling Australia's Indigenous-Asian Story Peta Stephenson tells just some of the stories of trade and cultural interaction (and indeed intermarriage) between indigenous tribes and Makassar trepang fishermen from Sulawesi (going back at least a century before Captain Phillip landed in Botany Bay) and Chinese indentured labourers.

Stephenson shows that these interactions were suppressed by colonial and Australian authorities, with members of culturally mixed families torn apart. Her nook should convince even the most hardened monoculturalist the Indigenous Australia wasn't some isolated monolithic horde of noble savages waiting for the Poms to civilise them. Before and after Europeans settled and plundered, non-European peoples interacted with indigenous peoples on more equal terms, respecting their laws and customs.

We've all heard of Cathy Freeman's indigenous heritage. But how many of us are aware that Freeman is also part-Chinese? Her great-great grandfather moved from China in the late 19th century to work on sugarcane farms in northern Queensland. Stephenson writes that Freeman actively supported Beijing's bid to host the 2008 Olympics, and Chinese-language newspapers openly celebrate her Chinese heritage even if mainstream newspapers ignore it.

And who could forget the 1988 bicentennial celebrations, including the re-enactment of the Endeavour landing in Sydney? Our Territorian cousins up north had their own celebration, with the landing of the Hati Marege (meaning "Heart of Arnhem Land" in Indonesian) on the Arnhem Land coast. Stephenson provides evidence of Makassar fisherman from Sulawesi making annual voyages to fish for trepang (sea cucumbers) and to trade with the local Yolngu people since as early as the 17th century. This mutually beneficial trading relationship was banned by the South Australian government in 1906-07, ensuring the local Aboriginal people became isolated and insular. Mixed Makassan and indigenous families were torn apart, some only reunited recently after 80 years.

Indigenous Australians entered into complex and sophisticated trade relations with numerous non-European peoples both before and after colonisation and dispossession. They didn't need Europeans to teach them how to interact with outsiders. It's about time we learned more about these aspects of indigenous history so that we can enjoy the same healthy respect and admiration for the first Australians as Major-General Chalmers.

First published on the ABC Unleashed website on Wednesday 03 December 2008.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

TERRORISM: Don't expect cultural warriors to tell you this about the Mumbai attacks ...

Already we see the usual suspects trying to turn the Mumbai attack as a pretext for a civilisational war they'd never turn upto. The kind of people who love sending other people's kids to fight a war, but would never dream of sending their own.

Of course, those who know Bombay well are not interested in this sort of "terrorists all have the same religion" bullsh*t. Here's was Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City, had to say in the New York Times on 28 November 2008 ...

MY bleeding city. My poor great bleeding heart of a city. Why do they go after Mumbai? There’s something about this island-state that appalls religious extremists, Hindus and Muslims alike ...

In the Bombay I grew up in, your religion was a personal eccentricity, like a hairstyle. In my school, you were denominated by which cricketer or Bollywood star you worshiped, not which prophet. In today’s Mumbai, things have changed. Hindu and Muslim demagogues want the mobs to come out again in the streets, and slaughter one another in the name of God. They want India and Pakistan to go to war. They want Indian Muslims to be expelled. They want India to get out of Kashmir. They want mosques torn down. They want temples bombed ...

In 1993, Hindu mobs burned people alive in the streets — for the crime of being Muslim in Mumbai. Now these young Muslim men murdered people in front of their families — for the crime of visiting Mumbai. They attacked the luxury businessmen’s hotels. They attacked the open-air Cafe Leopold, where backpackers of the world refresh themselves with cheap beer out of three-foot-high towers before heading out into India. Their drunken revelry, their shameless flirting, must have offended the righteous believers in the jihad. They attacked the train station everyone calls V.T., the terminus for runaways and dreamers from all across India. And in the attack on the Chabad house, for the first time ever, it became dangerous to be Jewish in India.

The terrorists’ message was clear: Stay away from Mumbai or you will get killed. Cricket matches with visiting English and Australian teams have been shelved. Japanese and Western companies have closed their Mumbai offices and prohibited their employees from visiting the city. Tour groups are canceling long-planned trips ...
Meanwhile, businessman Michael Pollack writes in Forbes about his brush with terror at the Taj Mahal hotel ...

The 10 minutes around 2:30 a.m. were the most frightening. Rather than the back-and-forth of gunfire, we just heard single, punctuated shots. We later learned that the terrorists went along a different corridor of The Chambers, room by room, and systematically executed everyone: women, elderly, Muslims, Hindus, foreigners. A group huddled next to Anjali was devout Bori Muslims who would have been slaughtered just like everyone else, had the terrorists gone into their room. Everyone was in deep prayer and most, Anjali included, had accepted that their lives were likely over. It was terrorism in its purest form. No one was spared.
More to be posted soon.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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OPINION: Mumbai's melting pot gives way to forces of intolerance ...



On a small islet off the coast of Mumbai lies a whitewashed monument that attracts tourists and locals. Here, the patron saint of Mumbai is believed to be buried. Known to his devotees as Haji Ali, this wealthy 15th century Muslim merchant is said to have renounced his riches and devoted his life to worship and service to the poor.

Ali died in Mecca while performing the Haj pilgrimage which millions of Muslims are about to perform. Local legend has it that his casket drifted and settled at the site of the present tomb and mosque.

A narrow walkway approximately 1km in length and linking the shrine to the rest of Mumbai easily becomes immersed in water. Hence the shrine can be accessed only during low tide. At high tide, this landmark of Mumbai, as sacred to Hindus and Sikhs as it is to Muslims, appears to be floating on water.

Bollywood tragedies frequently show distraught characters drowning sorrows in the rhythmic devotion of traditional Indian Sufi qawwali music at the tomb of a Muslim saint. Across India, people of all faiths and castes and creeds visit the shrines of saints who taught the message of divine love made available to all.

And it's likely that, following the past few days of terror for the people of Mumbai, the crowd of distressed devotees seeking solace at Piya Haji Ali's shrine will be much larger.

People from across the Indian faith and cultural spectrum - Hindus of all castes, Muslim of various ethnic groups and denominations, Parsees, Jains, Sikhs, Christians, indigenous Beni Israel and Baghdadi Indian Jews and other combinations of belief or lack thereof - have made Mumbai their home for centuries. However, dark forces of intolerance have haunted this city where in previous centuries people used the universal language of trade to overlook if not overcome their differences.

Hemant Karkare, the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) chief in Mumbai's Maharashtra state, was gunned down with two of his colleagues by Muslim extremists on Day 1 of the terror attack. Ironically, Karkare had earlier received death threats from extremist followers of Hindutva theocratic politics similar to that which inspired the assassins of Mahatma Gandhi.

Karkare, himself a Hindu, had recently launched an investigation into a Hindutva cell, uncovering evidence that implicated senior supporters of the pro-Hindutva BJP Opposition as well as senior members of India's military.

The Times of India on November 27 quoted one ATS official saying this cell

... wanted to make India like what it was when it was ruled by the Aryans.
Evidence of this wider plan was found on one detainee's laptop.

For pursuing this line of inquiry, Karkare was accused by BJP leader L.K. Advani of
... acting in a politically motivated and unprofessional manner.
On the first day of the Mumbai terrorist strike, the Indian Express reported BJP President Rajnath Singh accusing Karkare's anti-terrorist squad of "harassment and humiliation" of Hindutva terror suspects.

Yet many BJP leaders have watched silently while their members orchestrated atrocities against religious minorities. Those perpetrating the 2002 Gujarat pogrom of Muslims, which led to at least 2000 deaths, have not been brought to justice.

Among them is Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who was refused a visa to enter the United States for his role in the slaughter. Activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), part of the BJP opposition, have in recent months terrorised Indian Catholic communities and institutions.

The VHP regards Semitic faiths such as Christianity as foreign faiths, despite their presence in India for at least a millennium. In August, a senior VHP leader was murdered in the eastern state of Orissa.

Maoist rebels claimed responsibility, but this didn't stop VHP terrorists from going on the rampage against local Catholics and their institutions. Churches and other Christian institutions (including those linked to the order of the late Mother Teresa) were destroyed.

Christian homes were burned and Christians fled into surrounding jungles. Nuns were raped and burned alive.

India is a country where extreme elements of almost all communities have used terror. As Ajai Sahni, editor of the South Asia Intelligence Review, recently told Newsweek:
The fact of the matter is you have Hindus who are terrorists. You have Muslims who are terrorists. You also have Christians who are terrorists. [S]everal other denominations that have proven their capacity for terrorism. We must realise that terrorism is simply a method by which civilians are intentionally targeted. That's it.
Of course, the vast majority of Indians have no tolerance for such extremes. Mumbaiyan Hindus joined Mumbaiyans of other faiths in paying tribute to Karkare who received a state funeral on Saturday. And no doubt tens of thousands more will seek solace at the tomb of Mumbai's patron saint Haji Ali.

* Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer and associate editor of AltMuslim.com. This article was first published in the NZ Herald on Tuesday 2 December 2008.

UPDATE I: How's this for a reasoned rebuttal?

UPDATE II: Here is a balanced and completely unbiased letter to the editor published in the New Zealand Herald on 5 December 2008.
Blame for Mumbai

In the aftermath of the Mumbai massacre, the Herald has published two opinion pieces from non-Anglo Saxons.

I commend Dev Nadkarni for venturing into Pakistan, to where the Mumbai terrorism has been traced. Terrorism could spell disaster for its fragile democracy.

But I was saddened by the views of Irfan Yusuf, who yet again bashed the so-called Hindu terrorists, ignoring the real terrorists.

He is an apologist for the Pakistani terrorists who shot some 200 people in cold blood and who were indoctrinated with hate by those associated with a religion that is supposed to preach peace.

There was not a word from Yusuf on the cold-blooded murder carried out by brainwashed young people. It would greatly contribute to world peace if Muslim writers used their energy to stop the brainwashing of their brethren, who carry out mayhem that hurts peace-loving Muslims, rather than justifying terrorism by enumerating the supposed faults of the victims.

Thakur Ranjit Singh. Te Atatu Peninsula

I guess Mr Singh also regards the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad leaders to be apologists for Pakistani terrorists.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Friday, November 28, 2008

INDIA/CRIKEY: Many layers of homegrown terror ...

ANU sociologist Shakira Hussein makes these perceptive observations in Crikey today:

India has been wrestling with the issue of "home-grown terrorists" over the past few weeks ... The Indian authorities have arrested a number of Hindu militants, including a serving army officer, in relation to a bombing in Malageon that was reportedly aimed at transforming India into a Hindu state by 2025, and to "make India like it was when it was ruled by the Aryans".

The apparent revelation of an organized terrorist network with links to well-known Hindu nationalist organizations, including the opposition BJP, has attracted considerable attention in the subcontinent.

The network has also been
connected to attacks in Hyderabad and Ajmer. But the biggest sensation came when anti-terrorism officials claimed during a court hearing that the network may have been responsible for the 2007 bombing of the Samjhauta Express train between Delhi and Lahore. Most of the 68 victims of the Samjhauta attack were Pakistani nationals returning home after visiting India, and Pakistan-based jihadi organizations were widely held to be responsible. So allegations that the perpetrators may have been Hindu
extremists rather than Muslims attracted widespread attention in both India and Pakistan. The Indian authorities later retreated from the
claims regarding the Samjhauta bombing, but the Pakistani government and media are still demanding further information.

The ruling Congress party is in a weak position to face forthcoming elections, and the BJP is claiming that the current crackdown on Hindu organizations is aimed at courting the Muslim vote. The BJP, for its part, is rallying in support of the so-called "
saffron bombers".

This week's Mumbai attacks have overtaken the "saffron bomber's" place in the headlines. But the story does not seem likely to go away.



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REFLECTION: Hurried thoughts on Mumbai ...

Well, it looks like this is going to be an all-nighter. Lots to read and write after having spent virtually the entire day with my eyes glued to the TV screen. My mother has spent a fair bit of time making and taking phone calls and speaking with family friends who have relatives living in Bombay.

We still refer to the place as Bombay. The name “Mumbai” seems like a kind of strange political and cultural correctness, an attempt to impose a provincial dialect on what is essentially a city for people across India. And now across the globe.

It sickens me that the people who could pull off such a coordinated and deadly attacks could dare call themselves “mujahideen”. They may use Iraq and Afghanistan and Kashmir and countless other causes for rhetorical purposes. But what they do bears little relation to jihad and to Islam as most Indians (and broader South Asians) know it.

I saw images on TV and in newspaper reports of people in Bombay hiding behind barricades and walls to avoid shooting. It reminded me of scenes of innocent civilians in Sarajevo having to crouch down behind concrete slabs and makeshift walls and anything else they could find to dodge sniper bullets. The so-called mujahideen are behaving like the goons of Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.

Mumbai or Bombay, call it what you will, simply doesn’t deserve this. India doesn’t deserve this. Neither does the broader South Asia, Asia and the world. Nor do Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Jews, Catholics, Parsees and the followers of any number of indigenous Indian faiths.

Terrorists regard nothing as sacred. Just a few months back, they attacked a hotel in Islamabad in the heart of Ramadan. Now they have attacked innocent civilians in a crowded Indian city. They even kidnapped an elderly rabbi, a man of God, Clearly these people have no shame.

Soon the Mumbai locals will be burying or cremating their dead. They will pray to God / G-d / Bhagwaan / Allah to have mercy on their deceased relatives. Other people from a host of different countries (including Australia) will be mourning their dead. I urge even hardened atheists to pray with me that God gives them strength.

In the meantime, let’s hope that the perpetrators are caught and brought to justice.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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COMMENT: Dr Greg Barton tries to grapple with Indian terrorism ...

Dr Barton knows plenty about Indonesia. He's written some superb stuff on the subject of Indonesian Islam, and has authored an insightful biography of former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid (known to his people as Gus Dur). He is a sober and thoughtful analyst who has a strong understanding of Indonesian culture and language.

On the morning of Thursday 27 November 2008, Dr Barton appeared on the ABC's morning TV show with Virginia Trioli and Barry Cassidy. I'm not one to bag genuine academics, but I found Dr Greg Barton's performance on the ABC morning show a little disappointing. It's often hard for news programs to find "experts" on short notice, and it's even harder for experts to provide anything more than somewhat vague analysis early in the morning.

Dr Barton seemed completely out of his depth when talking about the Indian situation. A cynic might even suggest that Shane Warne could have provided at least as equally useful analysis on South Asian affairs. But that would be rather unfair.

I took notes of Dr Barton's interview after watching it on the ABC website and stopping and starting the video. The excerpts below are based on my notes.

It is quite surprising. More bombings wouldn’t have been surprising but this sort of attack across the city using guns – that’s surprising.


Attacks on major towns and cities by violent terrorists are common in India. One need only recall the Gujarat massacre in 2002 and subsequent communalist violence in Gujarat. There have also been attacks by Maoist groups on Hindutva politicians as well as Hindutva attacks on Indian Catholics in such states as Orissa. Hindutva groups have attacked other religious minorities as well as members of lower casts. Many of these attacks have involved brazen daylight attacks in busy urban centres including Mumbai, where Hindutva activists are active. Further, quite a few such groups are linked to organised crime gangs. Then there is the spectre of inter-caste violence. All these matters are well-known to Indians and India-watchers.

Dr Barton further claims that the fact that they target those with British and American passports ...

... does suggest an international jihadi terrorist group of the kind linked with al-Qaeda. It doesn’t mean that there are links with al-Qaeda here of course but that ideology does seem to be at play here.


Targetting foreign Western citizens (though some of those attacked included Singaporeans) doesn't automatically make a group linked to al-Qaeda. The group might be a Maoist or militant unionist group (from, say, Bihar or even Maharashtra) who doesn't like Western capitalist influence. Hindutva groups are also unhapy with Western cultural influences such as Valentines Day. There are Hindutva groups unhappy with India's growing friendship with Pakistan.

India is a complex place with all kinds of nuanced conflicts. But the only conflict Dr Barton seems to understand is the kind of conflict that led to the London or Madrid bombings.

Indian authorities have been saying they don’t have a domestic problem. It’s just a problem across the border. This appears further proof of a deep domestic problem.


Indian authorities have repeatedly said that they don't have a specific al-Qaeda presence within their Muslim communities. But they do acknowledge the existence of a range of militant groups, whether they be communalist militants of Hindu or Muslim or Maoist or separatist variety. Indians know they have a domestic problem. Mumbai itself has numerous domestic problems, including violent Hindutva groups and organised crime gangs.

The Indian police, the Indian military especially, are very professional and so we can expect some very good responses from them.


I hope this is true, but many Indians are highly critical of corruption in the police force. However, Mumbai police are supposed to be among the best in Asia, if not the world.

Dr Barton went onto make some perceptive comments about ...

... globalising influences ...



... and ...

... al-Qaeda-type concerns in Iraq and Afghanistan.


I’m not sure whether one could describe opposition to foreign troops in Iraq and/or Afghanistan as “al-Qaeda-type concerns”. This seems a little simplistic given that such concerns are shared by many Afghans and Iraqis themselves, including lawmakers from these two countries who are deeply opposed to terrorism. They are also shared by leftist groups inside India.

Of course, it may be that Dr Barton's analysis turns out to be absolutely correct and that some group linked to al-Qaeda is in fact responsible. One has to wonder why the group targetted Westerners specifically. Surely one would expect groups like al-Qaeda to specifically target Muslims as they usually do in areas with large Muslim populations.

Dr Barton's experiences and knowledge of Indonesia don't necessarily reflect the situation in Mumbai and the rest of India, where there have always been various layers of conflict simmering below the narrow surface occasionally picked up by Australian media.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

UPDATE: More old stuff ...

I'll be posting more old stuff I've written elsewhere. Sometimes I'll add some comments but usually not.

My editor has almost finished editing my manuscript, so I'll be working on that for a fair while (as in 2 weeks or so).

After all that, hopefully this blog will have more original stuff.

Enjoy!

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Monday, November 24, 2008

CRIKEY: Nelson (as a minister in the Howard government) and the Exclusive Brethren ...


Back in May 1995, I was one of 200-odd Liberals sitting on what was without a doubt the preselection of the year. Former AMA President Dr Brendan Nelson took on the Opposition’s spokesman on superannuation and retirement incomes, David Connelly, in the federal seat of Bradfield, a seat Connelly had held for years.

Some weeks before the preselection, Nelson had kept me on the phone for an hour, providing me with all sorts of reasons to vote for him. He must have made certain presumptions from my name, and proceeded to slam Israel for its ongoing occupation of the West Bank. He also slammed what he saw as a far-Right cabal within the Liberal Party who seemed to be opposing his chances at winning.

What someone had forgotten to tell Nelson was that I was at that time part of the same cabal! Indeed, I was one of the people busily spreading the fatwa issued by Sheik David Clarke (now MLC) that Nelson was way too wet for good "mainstream" conservatives to support.

Today, of course, Nelson has jumped into bed with that same cabal. He recites all their mantras about Australian values.

In August 2005, as Education Minister responsible for the funding of independent schools, he blew his dog whistle hard, publicly lecturing Muslim independent schools to teach Australian values or "clear off".

Nelson’s suggestion? During a doorstop interview in August 2005, Dr Nelson made these remarks:

... the Australian Government announced last year a $30 million program for values to be formally taught in every Australian schools including the thirty Islamic schools throughout Australia. I have sent to every school in the country the National Values Framework and the nine key values: responsibility, care for one another, tolerance, understanding, fair go, doing your best – a whole range of values, and over the top of it I have superimposed Simpson and his Donkey as an example of what is at the heart of our national sense of emerging identity. We are also going to be providing funding to all Australian schools to actually sit down with their parents, their teachers and their broader community and talk about the values they teach, how are teachers going to actually reflect the values we want taught in Australian schools, and more specifically, I will be meeting very shortly the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils and I will be discussing with them how we can formally develop programs to ensure that not just in Islamic private schools, but also in government schools, we make sure that all children and Australian Islamic children fully understand Australian history, its culture, its values. We believe in giving every person a fair go. We don’t care where people come from; we don’t mind what religion they’ve got. But what we want them to do is to commit to the Australian Constitution, Australian rule of law, and basically if people don’t want to be Australians and they don’t want to live by Australian values and understand them, well they can basically clear off.

That interview continued ...

JOURNALIST: How much of an impact on values can Muslim schools have? For example, the mosques that they attend and obviously not all Muslims would go to Islamic schools.

DR NELSON: Well, all schools are about teaching children how to read, write, count and communicate and teaching kids how to learn. But education is also about building character, and the virtues that inform character must be taught in all Australian schools. They need to be explicit. It is a requirement of the Australian Government funding that not only will every school fly the Australian flag, but it will prominently display the National Framework for Values Education, superimposed over which is a silhouette of Simpson and his Donkey, which is at the heart of our sense of national emerging identity. And what’s important in the end is that we all love people that are talented, it doesn’t matter what school our kids go to, but in the end it is character that really counts. And the Islamic Council and the Islamic schools have been working very hard to teach very good values for their children. We want to make sure that not just those schools, but all schools that educate Australian children including Islamic children are focused on Australian values to make sure that – it’s not just the students but also the teachers – fully understand our values, our belief and the way they relate to one another and see our place in the world.

Now we know that hardly 12 months earlier, he was providing schools run by the Exclusive Brethren with exemptions from testing computer literacy for Year 6 and Year 10 students, despite this being made a condition of Federal Government independent school funding. Here's how The Age broke the story on 15 February 2008:

MORE evidence has emerged of the power of the Exclusive Brethren's lobbying in Canberra, with the sect's world leader giving thanks for the "unexpected recognition" from former federal education minister Brendan Nelson.

The Age has obtained a 2004 passage of Brethren "ministry" — transcribed words of Sydney-based world leader Bruce D. Hales and other sect figures — in which they discuss their schools.

"(The schools were) set up to deliver the young people from the world," Mr Hales told followers on July 24, 2004.

"We don't want to go back to it, we don't want to be stupid enough to go back to the world, otherwise the Lord might take away our liberties, might take away what the Government has given us. The Government is very favourable; been favourable to us this week, hasn't it, Mr David?"

Another senior Brethren man, David Stewart, replies: "Yes, very clearly. … Very ready support from the Minister for Education."

Mr Hales: "Yes, well, we need to be thankful for it. You get the unexpected recognition of what the saints (the Brethren) represent. You don't expect it, and then they give it to you, they're compelled to give it to you."

Mr Hales' words make it clear that Brethren lobbyists, including Mr Stewart, had met then education minister Dr Nelson in the preceding days.

The Education Department has confirmed that, during 2004, Dr Nelson had representations from the Brethren, and agreed to give them an exemption from testing the computer literacy of year 6 and year 10 students.

That year, computer literacy was made a condition of Federal Government funding of private schools, but at the time the Brethren shunned computers, believing them to be instruments of the devil.

Brethren spokesman Tony McCorkell said yesterday that the ministry reference merely recognised the responsive hearing given to the delegation by Dr Nelson at the 2004 meeting.

He said the Brethren's concern at the time had been that paperwork associated with its private schools would need to be lodged with the department electronically. Dr Nelson assured them they could still lodge returns on paper.

Brethren are now allowed to use computers on a restricted basis.
Once again, a Howard Government Minister has been caught doing dirty deals with the Exclusive Brethren and bending law and government policy to assist them with non-integration. Nelson obviously thinks it’s OK to provide $6.6 million in funding to schools that teach their students that computers are instruments of the devil.

Then again, Nelson’s admirers from this non-integrated sect might have a point. After all, Simpson and his donkey never used computers.

An edited version of this story was first published in Crikey on Thursday 15 February 2007.


Friday, November 14, 2008

VIDEO: What it takes to be US President ...

See more funny videos at Funny or Die


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CRIKEY: McKew Victory thanks to more than one type of Asian voter ...


Earlier this week, I was in Adelaide for an academic conference. The subject was the "border politics of whiteness". Not exactly the cup-of-tea for a small-"c" conservative like myself. One of the keynote speakers was Dr Sara Ahmed, a British academic of Pakistani descent who was brought up in Australia. She provided a rather novel re-interpretation (I’d suggest misinterpretation) of the movie Bend It Like Beckham, which she examined in the context of how white people deal with Asians.

Believe it or not, in the United Kingdom, when people use the term "Asians", they are referring to people from the sub-Continent – Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Nepalese etc. In Australia, we use the term "Asian" to describe someone of Indo-Chinese heritage. When John Howard made his 1988 remarks about Asian immigration, it was assumed his target was Indo-Chinese migrants, many of them refugees.

Recent reports of Maxine McKew targeting "Asian" voters (a claim she has denied) suggest many Indo-Chinese migrants wanted to teach Mr Howard a democratic lesson on why the politics of race simply doesn’t work in the long run. But it wasn’t just Indo-Chinese voters responding to McKew’s overtures.

The gossip I heard around the traps is that many of my South Asian uncles and aunties also collectively decided to punish Howard. For many, it wasn’t just about 1988. It was also about the anti-Muslim sentiments of Howard and his ministerial minstrels (including Dr Nelson). Believe it or not, when Muslims are vilified by politicians, the victims of verbal and physical attacks are not just women in headscarves but also men in beards and turbans (like the Prime Minister in this photo standing on the left).

Most of these men aren’t even Muslims. Further, the treatment of Dr Mohamed Haneef by the Immigration Minister also went down like a lead balloon among shoppers at any one of Bennelong’s many Indian spice shops. Middle class Indians aren’t exactly huge ALP fans. But they certainly aren’t fond of alleged conservatives who play the politics of race. And they certainly added plenty of chilli and spice to the vote in the former PM’s electorate.

Then again, race politics hasn’t harmed Pauline Hanson, who profited handsomely despite gaining just over the 4% required to cash in on the taxpayers' largesse.

First published in the Crikey daily alert on Friday 14 December 2007.



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