Thursday, April 30, 2009

COMMENT: Extraordinary asylum stories ...

The Daily Telegraph may see fit to publish racist comments about persons of Somali heritage. However, its fellow News Limited paper The Australian has published a more nuanced feature piece on Melbournites of Somali heritage in its Weekend Magazine.

A large number of Somalis migrated to Australia as refugees. Many have witnessed horrific violence in their home country, which has been locked in a vicious civil war since 1991. I cannot even begin to imagine what impact these experiences must have on Somali migrants today. Perhaps the best way to appreciate this is to cite passages from the March 23 story, authored by Drew Warne-Smith and titled New home, new hope:


Jama came to Australia in 1996, aged 12, with his mother, four brothers and three sisters. Like so many Somalis, his family had fled the capital, Mogadishu, after the civil war erupted in 1991. He remembers sitting on the crowded roof of a truck as it drove south towards Kenya, dead bodies littering the side of the road.

They were five years in a refugee camp in Kenya, awaiting asylum; a camp where rape and theft were commonplace and school comprised 50 kids in a room with one adult. His father was killed by Kenyan soldiers near the Somali border in 1993. He doesn’t know how or why.

Landing in Australia, a place his friends at the camp had teased him was “the last place on Earth”, Jama felt disarmed. Literally. No one was holding a gun. And no one looked scared, either. People seemed free to do anything and say anything, not that he could understand them.

Less than a year later, after studying English for six months at a language centre, he was sent to high school in Brunswick, placed in Year 7 according to his age. He could barely understand the teacher, let alone learn or contribute. Embarrassed, resentful, he began wagging days.

Soon he was hanging out with other African kids doing the same. Ignoring his mother’s pleas, he dropped out altogether in Year 9, then returned to school but never got as far as Year 11. He didn’t attend the mosque either, nor say his prayers. And he began drinking alcohol, a taboo in Islamic culture.

Then came the nightclubs and the fights. Stealing. Run-ins with police. A 5cm scar over his right eyebrow tells of being glassed in a brawl at a club in Ringwood. But Jama wasn’t scared of anyone, not here in Australia. Not after what he’d seen in Africa. He had no father, no discipline, no moral compass, and not much hope either. He had cut loose from his own culture and he had little hope of embracing a new one. Within Melbourne’s Somali community, Ahmed Jama became known as one of the Lost Ones ...

Some may say that Jama is an exception. After all, don't these boys all have fathers who can teach them good manners? The answer can be found in this frightening statistic.


About a quarter of all Somalis in Victoria – about 4000 – live in a family without a father, according to research by the Somali Australian Council of Victoria.

“The fathers are dead, or fighting, or they left Australia to return to Somalia, or they work overseas. And there is a tendency for teenagers in those families to become lost,” Ibrahim says.

But that's just one story. What about all the other Somali families? Meet Abdulle Hussein, a former lieutenant-colonel in the Somali Army.


He and Shukri had three children under four years old when they fled the Baidoa region, northwest of Mogadishu, in 1991. For three days and three nights they walked without stopping, until they reached Ethiopia about 140km away. Soon after, their youngest son died from illness in the suffocating heat. They buried him and kept walking. Six months and 4000km later they wandered into a refugee camp in Kenya, where they waited two years until being accepted into Australia.

Hussein glances at his 15-year-old son Said, sitting quietly in the corner. “They have no idea what it took to come here,” he says, without any trace of sadness or bitterness. Such hardship is unremarkable among those who came here.

Another family, I’m told, lost two sons escaping Somalia. A militia group kidnapped the eldest – being old enough to carry a gun – and they never saw him again. A crocodile killed the second as they crossed a river by night. The father still draws pictures of his boys to stop the memory of what they looked like from slipping away.

Really, who can imagine such grief, let along endure it? These experiences beggar belief. Fleeing a civil war only to be eaten by a crocodile. A stolen son, probably fighting for those who tried to kill his parents, most likely dead himself. Relatives already killed by bullets and knives. Burying a baby on a roadside.

I will also learn of Hussein Mumin, a Somali turned street kid, who saw his father and brother murdered, having already lost his mum. Rejected by a devout community unable to cope with how far he had strayed, he would be killed too – stabbed to death in a domestic argument. And as Barbara Chapman, his social worker and friend, tells me – when these refugees arrive, there are no government services to screen or treat them for their trauma. Yet we act surprised when they drop out of school, or pull a knife, or clash with police, or retreat to their own culture. The surprise, she says, is that they function at all.

Who can imagine, let alone endure, such grief? And we can hear so many other stories from those desperately risking their lives to reach our safer shores. Should we resent them for their efforts? Should we demonise them?

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

BOOK: Only 5 days 'till "Once Were Radicals" is published!!!


My first (and, God-willing, not last) book Once Were Radicals will be published on Monday 4 May 2009. For a short time only, you can read an excerpt from the book here.

There are a number of events happening this month to coincide with the book's publication. On Monday night, the book is being launched by the Hon Laurie Ferguson at Granville in the heart of his electorate.



Details of that launch can be found here.

There will aoso be a launch held in Canberra with ABC TV newsreader and award-winning journalist Virginia Haussegger.



That event will take place on Sunday afternoon, 31 May 2009. Details of that event can be found here.



There will also be an event at Gleebooks in Glebe on Wednesday 13 May 2009, at which I'll be in conversation with author, journalist and blogger Antony Loewenstein.



There are also two events for next month's Sydney Writers' Festival.

The first event will be at the Riverside Theatres, Cnr Church and Market Streets Parramatta when I will be in conversation with Brendan Phelan, Associate of NewMatilda.com.



For more details click here.

The second event will be in Sydney on Saturday afternoon, 23 May 2009 at the Sydney Philharmonia Choir Studio, Pier 4/5, Walsh Bay. Click here for more details.

I'll be somewhat busy during the next month or so, and it's unlikely I'll be blogging much here.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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VIDEO: I feel like Jonah ...

Awesome song from the early 1980's by Kiwi band DD Smash. I wish I could understand the significance of the rocket shown in the video.



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Saturday, April 25, 2009

VIDEO: How do Indians become citizens ...



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COMMENT: Border Insecurity ...

The letters section of the Daily Telegraph of Friday 24 April 2009 has two typical examples of uninformed hysteria concerning the issue of "border security" and asylum seekers. I'm in no way suggesting the Tele shouldn'y be publishing these letters. Everyone's voice should be heard, and it's useful to know just what some people are thinking about such sensitive issues.

The first letter is from one P Cummins. It starts like this ...
The reason we now have a swag of boat people trying to get into Australia is because the Rudd Government last year loosened our border security laws ...
This might possibly be true in the case of Afghan and Iraqi asylum seekers, but the fact is that the conflict in Sri Lanka has only recently escalated to the extent that many Tamil civilians are fleeing directly from Sri Lanka as opposed to via Indonesia.
They need to be tightened for the protection of the citizens of this country, an obligation the Government has to its people.
So Australian citizens need to be protected from weak malnourished asylum seekers fleeing persecution. And what will these poor people bring with them? WMD? Nuclear weapons?
One has to ask why all of these asylum seekers come down to Australia? There are dozens of Muslim countries near Iraq and Afghanistan that are wealthy and not at war, where other Muslims and their families would fit right in and be comfortable.
There are hundreds of thousands of Iraqis living in Syria, which is struggling to accommodate them. Syria is itself not a terribly wealthy nation. Hazara Afghans fleeing the Taliban would hardly want to stick around in Pakistan where elements of the same Taliban have taken over large areas of the country. And using your reasoning, I'm not sure which Muslim-majority country Tamil Sri Lankans will go to given that they're a mixture of Hindu and Christian. In any event, it isn't just about religion. People's identities are not limited to religion. If our identity was solely determined by religion, we should have seen Kevin Rudd and/or Malcolm Turnbull and not John Safran being nailed to a cross in the Philippines. After all, the Philippines is a Catholic country, and both Rudd and Turnbull are Catholic.
So why come many thousands of miles down to Australia, a basically British culture and a Christian country? These are the questions we should be asking.
In that case, I'm sure quite a few of these people would happily convert to Christianity if it meant they and their families would be safe. After all, quite a few asylum seekers such as Kashmiri Peter Qasim converted to Christianity. However, that didn't stop him from being kept in detention by the Howard government even though it drove him into severe depression. And I guess we shouldn't have any problem accepting Tamil Christian asylum seekers. As for being British, I don't think indogenous Aussies were eating with knives and forks 40,000 years ago. Then again, neither were the Poms for that matter.

But why should we be asking such questions? After all, our immigration system does not discriminate on the basis of religion. And anyway, how can we really tell what religion a person subscribes to? Or is it someone we determine based on their racial background? So we assume that an Iraqi must be Muslim because he is Iraqi and has an Arabic-sounding name, even if he could well be a Chaldean or Yazidi or Assyrian Orthodox?

Then there is a letter from one Lynne Cole whose arguments make a similar degree of (non)sense.
The recent boatload of asylum seekers were all male, presumably some of them are or were married, perhaps with children. So they left family behind to cope with the Taliban on their own.
Your point being? That these men just callously left their families behind and left without so much as a goodbye? That their families had no say in the matter? That their family members don't wish to see even one person flee to safety? Or are you saying that their families are all in Afghanistan or Pakistan and not in Indonesia? That the Taliban have made it to Jakarta?
How will the families of the five dead survive?
Are you suggesting you're really concerned about their welfare and would support their migrating to Australia?
Why aren't these brave men standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our young soldiers who are in Afghanistan trying to improve the lot of the Afghan people?
Maybe for the same reason the vast majority of young Australian men and women aren't there - they're not professional soldiers. And maybe because it isn't nice staying in a place where you could be kicked out of your property and/or be murdered at anytime and where you've already seen family members slaughtered. And from a strategic perspective, the last thing Coalition forces and the Afghan National Army needs is severely traumatised people fighting on their side.
Our young men are killed or injured while these people choose to try for an easy life in Australia.
It's so easy being away from one's family and only hearing their voices on the other end of a phone (presuming you can even contact them). It's a piece of cake surviving in a new country where you aren't allowed to work and cannot access any social security and are forced to rely on charity to make some kind of a living. And on top of that, having to deal with the trauma of having just survived life in a warzone and mourning alone over your dead relatives, presuming that you even know that they are dead.
Those we have already admitted no doubt tell those back home that what a soft touch we are.
Pfft. Are you suggesting, Lynne, that we start behaving like al-Qaeda and Taliban and LTTE and the Sri Lankan Army just so that you feel protected from nasty dark-skinned refugees? I'm glad we are a soft touch. If you want to experience a not-so-soft touch, feel free to go join our brave men and women fighting in Afghanistan.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

VIDEO: Easter in modern Jerusalem ...

Israel's treatment of its Arab citizens has raised accusations of racism.

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are not Israeli citizens, instead Israel issues identity cards permitting them to live there.

But now authorities are threatening to retrieve dozens of IDs.

Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland reports from East Jerusalem.



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VIDEO: Resisting eviction in Jerusalem ...

Members of a Palestinian family who have been served an eviction notice to leave their home in the Sheik Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem are taking it in turns to stay awake in case Israeli authorities come to force them out.

Rami Hannoun, one of the family members, said: "The Israelis say they own this land, that they own it since a long time ago. But we also have papers that say we own this land".



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COMMENT: The UN and Racism ... Part 2

Let's continue with a discussion of the Durban I document, which you can read in full here.

It's hard to find a worse recorded example of violent genocidal racism over the past century than the Holocaust of European Jews by the Nazis. No doubt other genocides and forced removal of various Turkic tribes in the Soviet Union and the current genocide in Darfur can also be mentioned, though the former is perhaps not as meticulously recorded. Paragraph 58 carries a short, dignified yet powerful statement about the Holocaust.
58. We recall that the Holocaust must never be forgotten.

There is also a clear statement about growing religious and ethno-religious xenophobia.
59. We recognize with deep concern religious intolerance against certain religious communities, as well as the emergence of hostile acts and violence against such communities because of their religious beliefs and their racial or ethnic origin in various parts of the world which in particular limit their right to freely practise their belief.

60. We also recognize with deep concern the existence in various parts of the world of religious intolerance against religious communities and their members, in particular limitation of their right to practise their beliefs freely, as well as the emergence of increased negative stereotyping, hostile acts and violence against such communities because of their religious beliefs and their ethnic or so-called racial origin.

Interestingly, the Durban I declaration mentions growing anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim prejudice in the same paragraph.
61. We recognize with deep concern the increase in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in various parts of the world, as well as the emergence of racial and violent movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities.

There are good reasons for linking the two kinds of prejudice, some of which I have dealt with here. The parallels between the kinds of rhetoric used by today's Muslimphobes in Europe and India and the anti-Semites of yesteryear are striking. At the same time, anti-Semitism in Muslim countries and even some Western Muslim communities is a disturbing development.

The Durban I Declaration recognises that racism particularly affects women, children, the disabled and those affected by HIV/AIDS.

Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of Iran isn't the only world leader who should note para 83 of the Durban I Declaration which reads:
We underline the key role that political leaders and political parties can and ought to play in combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and encourage political parties to take concrete steps to promote solidarity, tolerance and respect.

But it isn't just presidents, prime ministers, kings, emirs etc that have responsibility in this regard.
We note with regret that certain media, by promoting false images and negative stereotypes of vulnerable individuals or groups of individuals, particularly of migrants and refugees, have contributed to the spread of xenophobic and racist sentiments among the public and in some cases have encouraged violence by racist individuals and groups.

It's a long document and well-worth reading. If time permits, I'll go through more of it.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

COMMENT: The UN and Racism ...

Today the UN Durban Review Conference began in Geneva. There's been plenty of news and comment about a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. Various Western countries have boycotted the event, among them Australia. The original conference was held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. That conference saw the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action.

Ironically 2001 was the UN Year of Dialogue among Civilizations after the adoption of a proposal by another Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami. The purpose of that year was to underline
... tolerance and respect for diversity and the need to seek common ground among and within civilizations in order to address common challenges to humanity that threaten shared values, universal human rights and the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, through cooperation, partnership and inclusion.
So we have one Iranian president who encouraged dialogue and another Iranian president who (we are told) doesn't want dialogue.

The Durban Conference recognised that racism had to be made a priority as the world entered the third millenium.
We recognize and affirm that, at the outset of the third millennium, a global fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and all their abhorrent and evolving forms and manifestations is a matter of priority for the international community ...

The conference recognised that people in Africa were especially made victims of racism and xenophobia. Any notion of racial superiority was specifically rejected, as was anything resembling apartheid.
Any doctrine of racial superiority is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous, and must be rejected along with theories which attempt to determine the existence of separate human races.

Durban specifically recognised slavery as a crime against humanity affecting specifically people of African, Asian and indigenous descent. Colonialism was also seen as a direct cause (if not manifestation) of racism and xenophobia. Readers of certain tabloid newspapers holding inflammatory views on asylum seekers might feel disturbed by this paragraph from the Durban declaration:
We recognize that xenophobia against non-nationals, particularly migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, constitutes one of the main sources of contemporary racism and that human rights violations against members of such groups occur widely in the context of discriminatory, xenophobic and racist practices

It's only when you read and ponder over the 62-page document that you realise just how dangerous racism, racial intolerance and xenophobia are. Racism is seen as a major root cause of wars. The socio-economic development of numerous nations is hampered by racism. Further, racism is gaining a respectable face, even becoming part of the platform of major political parties and becoming part of mainstream political discourse.
... contemporary forms and manifestations of racism and xenophobia are striving to regain political, moral and even legal recognition in many ways, including through the platforms of some political parties and organizations and the dissemination through modern communication technologies of ideas based on the notion of racial superiority.

It is interesting in the context of the current asylum seeker debate that the Durban declaration specifically referred to ...
... the urgent need to prevent, combat and eliminate all forms of trafficking in persons, in particular women and children, and recognize that victims of trafficking are particularly exposed to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Andrew Bolt and his fan club, who rarely miss any opportunity to demonise African migrants to Australia, should overlook the following paragraph:
We recognize that people of African descent have for centuries been victims of racism, racial discrimination and enslavement and of the denial by history of many of their rights, and assert that they should be treated with fairness and respect for their dignity and should not suffer discrimination of any kind ... We recognize that in many parts of the world, Africans and people of African descent face barriers as a result of social biases and discrimination prevailing in public and private institutions

And the following paragraph from the Durban declaration has some relevance to legislation underpinning the Northern Territory Intervention which seeks to exempt itself from the provisions of the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act.
We emphasize that, in order for indigenous peoples freely to express their own identity and exercise their rights, they should be free from all forms of discrimination, which necessarily entails respect for their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In other words, you cannot remove indigenous disadvantage by institutionalising racism.

It seems the products of such anti-racism conferences necessarily make certain persons feel uncomfortable. Usually these individuals (and in many cases, nation states) are so quick to find any excuse to condemn these events. More to come.

Monday, April 20, 2009

COMMENT: The tortured reality that clouds Obama's message ...


President Barack Obama has many messages to deliver to that nebulous blob called “the Muslim world”. He wanted to move relations between America and 1.2 billion Muslims beyond the kind of stereotypes that dogged his own campaign.

Obama’s recent address to Turkey’s National Assembly was really an address to the governments of Muslim-majority states. He acknowledged “there have been difficulties these last few years … that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced”. He also reminded them that “America's relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot, and will not, just be based upon opposition to terrorism”.

This all sounds lovely. There’s just one problem. America’s unpopular war on terror involved kidnapping and torturing Muslim terror suspects, with few charges laid against anyone. Much of this torture was outsourced to the very governments Obama was addressing in his remarks. Police and intelligence services of countries such as Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco and Syria tortured prisoners and sold their “evidence” to the United States. Governments of these countries allowed the CIA to conduct secret “black site” prisons.

A host of kings, emirs, generals and presidents-for-life of Muslim-majority states used America’s “war on terror” as a convenient excuse to stifle dissent and to suppress their own political opponents. These same governments use religious sentiment to stir up trouble over trivial issues (e.g. the Danish cartoons) to divert attention away from government excess and incompetence. In countries where substantial Muslim minorities existed (such as China, India and the Philippines), fighting “terrorism” was used as a cover to suppress minorities. And not only Muslims suffered. Fighting terrorism has been used as an excuse by the Sri Lankan army to commit atrocities against Tamil civilians.

And now CIA Director Leon Panetta is insisting that ...

... no one who took actions based on legal guidance from the Department of Justice at the time should be investigated, let alone punished.

Then again, a full investigation might just expose the dirty role played by the despots that rule the majority of Muslim countries. It might also expose the role of US allies such as Australia.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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COMMENT: On CIA doctors and Hippocratic hypocrisy ...


There are medical practitioners. And then there are medico-legal mercenaries. I came across a few of the latter during my brief stint as a plaintiff personal injury lawyer. The amount of compensation my punters got was determined by the extent of their impairment. I’d send my clients for an assessment by anyone of my plaintiff specialists, some of whom wrote reports making whiplash look like paraplegia. The insurers would then have the punter assessed by one of their specialists, who usually wrote reports “proving” an actual paraplegic punter could outrun Cathy Freeman. It was all terribly scientific.

Faced with this competing evidence, the judge usually came up with an assessment in line with what the punter’s treating doctor had to say. After all, the treating doctor had a longer history of working with the patient and hence more able to provide a prognosis. Treating doctors generally give more than a rat’s backside for the punter. Why? Well, for starters they have this code of ethics summarised in the Hippocratic Oath. Secondly, they know breaching the oath compromises their indemnity insurance.

None of this seems to have crossed the minds of medical practitioners overseeing detainees in secret CIA “black site” prisons in 3 continents during George W Bush’s so-called “war on terror”. The Washington Post reported these doctors

... committed gross violations of medical ethics and in some cases essentially participated in torture.

A 43-page report by the International Committee of the Red Cross quoted one medical officer even telling an inmate: “I look after your body only because we need you for information”.

Another detainee told ICRC he was made to stand with his arms shackled overhead for a period of 2 to 3 months! Other forms of torture included waterboarding as well as being threatened with sodomy, HIV infection and electric shocks. Believe it or not, the CIA Director Leon Panetta is insisting that “no one who took actions based on legal guidance from the Department of Justice at the time should be investigated, let alone punished”.

Legal guidance? What lawyer would advise doctors to breach fundamental medical ethics? Perhaps the same Defence Department lawyers mentioned in the 2008 book Torture Team: Deception, Cruelty and the Compromise of Law by international lawyer and academic Philippe Sands QC. Those lawyers joined with neo-conservative politicians to produce the 2002 Acton Memo signed by Donald Rumsfeld. The Memo enabled interrogators at Guantanamo Bay (and later at Abu Ghraib) to lawfully commit acts of torture in violation of Article 3 of the Geneva Convention.

And so the US and its allies (including Australia) fought a war to defend our values using methods that threatened our values. Go figure.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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OPINION: An old piece on Camden xenophobes ...


Camden xenophobes don't reflect pluralist reality
How's this for road rage. You're driving down Camden Valley Way at about 80km/h after a long day's work. The sun has set. It's dark. Suddenly from the bushes, a tall Middle Eastern-looking bloke emerges, running across the road in front of you. He's wearing long robes and sports curly brown hair with a beard.

You suddenly swerve your car to avoid running him over. You stick your head out the window and scream out blasphemously, "Jesus f---ing Christ!" The man stares at you and implores, "Why are you swearing at me for? I just got run out of town by these strange white-skinned Camden people. I told them I was the Son of Man, come to establish the Kingdom of God. They told me they didn't want me there establishing some sharia state. They wanted to keep their place Christian. They told me to go back to Lakemba where my kind live."

I hope I haven't offended the religious sensibilities of Muslim and Christian readers. Despite some theological differences, both sets of believers look forward to Christ returning to establish peace and justice on Earth. The Quranic Society which wishes to develop its $1.5million parcel of Camden land for a school will hopefully not have to wait so long to see justice handed down by the NSW Land and Environment Court. The society was already expecting a fight with council even before lodging its development application. Members have mortgaged their houses to finance the development. The society's lawyer and consultant, former Sydney lord mayor Jeremy Bingham, boasts of never having lost a case like this.

In the meantime, some Camden residents can feel proud that their antics have placed their suburb on the world map. The Voice of America radio report described opposition to the school as
... as at times ... savage and graphic.
Neighbouring Campbelltown has a large Muslim community, most of whom are of South African origin. No doubt their relatives will be calling after one South African media outlet reminded readers of two pigs' heads rammed on metal stakes with an Australian flag draped between them at the site. You can imagine the reaction in South Africa when they learn of the involvement of the Australia First Party, one of whose leaders was convicted of a 1989 shotgun attack on the home of a local representative of Nelson Mandela's African National Congress.

The London Independent report carried the headline of

Suburban Sydney shows dark side as Muslim school row gets vicious.
The Macau Daily Times reports Camden and Cronulla together.

In 2005 anti-Muslim sentiment boiled over into ugly riots on the Sydney beach suburb of Cronulla, where rioters targeted people of Middle Eastern appearance. And in 2004, a severed pig's head was similarly impaled in front of a Muslim prayer centre in Sydney's north-west.

Once again, a small number of very loud morons (including people with no links to the Camden community) are ruining Australia's reputation in our region. Their incoherent rants will no doubt make Camden and Sydney a laughing stock. One fellow summed up the stupidity of much of the protest in saying,

My kids can't read Islamic, how are they going to go to that school, it's all crap.
Yes, indeed, it is crap. I can't read Islamic either. And notwithstanding the fact that my religion forbids gambling, I'd be prepared to place money on the fact that if the Prophet Muhammad were not unlettered, even he wouldn't be able to read Islamic. It's easy to laugh at all this, and to write these people off as just irrelevant nutcases, but the fact is that such sentiments are common parlance now.

Even major newspapers print all kinds of imbecilic notions. In October 2006, a national broadsheet newspaper published a story about an alleged honour killing in Brisbane. The report actually manufactured a verse from the Koran which didn't exist. And I've lost count of the number of times I have emailed journalists and columnists to ask for a reference from Islamic scriptures to martyrs receiving 72 virgins.

But whose responsibility is it to dispel such commonly held prejudice? The Rudd Government has announced that it will conduct anti-racism programs, but the real responsibility lies with Muslim religious leadership which should be spending time and resources on educating the broader community about Australia's Muslims and their heritage.

So what is Australia's peak Muslim body, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, spending its resources on? After a disputed meeting, various factions of the federation went to the NSW Supreme Court. A receiver has been appointed for at least the second time.

Still, at least my colleagues in the legal profession are getting something out of this internecine warfare. The federation, a body dominated by middle-aged men with poor English skills, doesn't reflect Muslim Australians, the largest bloc of whom are Australian-born, English-speaking and aged under 40. And the xenophobes of Camden don't reflect the reality of pluralist Australia.

With the majority locked out of discussion on the Camden school project, it's little wonder the debate has been hijacked by extremists.

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer. This article was first published in the Canberra Times on 30 May 2008.

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