Friday, December 06, 2013
Monday, November 18, 2013
Political conservatism is such a wonderful thing. The status quo is worth maintaining because it obviously works. If it didn't, people wouldn't allow it to remain the status quo. But if you find the status quo doesn't work, change it gradually. It recognises that the populace are human beings not accustomed to radical change. Evolution always makes more sense than revolution, unless your preference is the rule of guillotines.
Since 1975, the Commonwealth has had in place the Racial Vilification Act, which seeks to implement our international legal obligations including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Twenty years later, the act was amended to introduce provisions on racial hatred.
Friday, November 08, 2013
Federal Attorney-General George Brandis SC wants to amend section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act to make it harder for people to make a legal complaint about race hate speech. The provision was introduced in 1996 during the last days of Paul Keating and with the full support of then-opposition leader John Howard.
When in opposition and during a speech to the Sydney Institute on May 7, Brandis proclaimed: “Who defends freedom of speech in Australia today? Is it really to be left to a few conservative commentators like Andrew Bolt and Janet Albrechtsen; a couple of think tanks like the Sydney Institute and the Institute of Public Affairs; and the Liberal Party?”
But at an IQ2 debate in Sydney last night, St James Ethics Centre executive director Simon Longstaff reminded us of another area of free speech that needs protection: insulting and lampooning religion and religious figures is still a criminal offence in most Australian states and territories. Laws allowing prosecution for blasphemy still exist in 21st century Australia, though under the common law such laws only protect the sentiments of Christians.
True, like the laws used to prosecute Andrew Bolt, blasphemy laws are hardly ever used. You’d think that the mere possibility of blasphemy laws being enforceable would be something for Brandis to immediately address. But then that would take away the chance for Tony Abbott’s favourite priest to seek injunctions against art galleries.
Longstaff chaired a debate entitled “God and his prophets (or his prophets for the less devout) should be protected from insult”. Malaysian Opposition Leader and former deputy PM Anwar Ibrahim was supposed to speak in favour of the motion, but he had to pull out at the last minute after prosecutors decided to appeal the quashing of his conviction under Malaysia’s medieval sodomy laws.
Julian Burnside QC was a last-minute replacement for Anwar. Joining him on the affirmative team was Uthman Badar, a PhD student in economics from the University of Western Sydney and a man whose freedom of speech our erstwhile government wants to take away by banning Hizb ut-Tahrir (“the Party of Liberation”), the organisation Badar represents in Australia. On the negative side was engineer Yasmin Abdel Magied and the awesome Thomas Keneally.
Believe it or not, the affirmative were not arguing that blasphemy should be an offence. They weren’t interested in using the law. Their focus was on what should be socially acceptable. Badar argued the starting point of any discussion on this topic should not be free speech — which he claimed was not a universal value but rather an ideological fetish often used by Western pseudo-liberals to brandish those regarded as inferior. Instead, the starting point should be civility. Unless you are rude and depraved, you don’t go out of your way to insult others. All too often freedom of speech is not about freedom of expression but rather the freedom of the powerful to offend others and incite discord.
Badar argued that, in Australia, Jesus is fair game but not the Anzacs. When you insult someone by attacking things they hold dear, you aren’t just screwing social cohesion; you’re also making a fool of yourself by projecting your own insecurities. Rupert Murdoch must be paying Bolt top dollar to go through all that.
Badar’s argument appeared sound enough, but it missed the point. The topic was about protecting G/god and H/his P/prophets. Yasmin Abdel Maguid pounced on this weakness by asking how pathetic creatures like us could protect so mighty and perfect a creator. And she argued that how you respond to an insult is really up to you. Free speech and religion must never be seen as mutually exclusive. None of the prophets (including Muhammad) insisted on protection from insult.
Burnside cited one of his law lecturers: “Your freedom to swing your fist stops at my nose.” My humble criminal law lecturer at Macquarie Law School would have argued that punching someone in the nose was not just a matter of offence. Burnside also spoke about anonymous letters he received which offended him, even though they were directed at Muslims. The same letter writer would claim Muslim extremists supported the ALP.
In response, Keneally argued that one man’s criticism is another man’s insult. OK, I admit there was more to the arguments of both Burnside and Keneally than that. They both argued that Muslims and other minorities needed protection from collective insults. But I wondered whether they were both underestimating the ability of minorities to form alliances and take the fight to the bigots. Or maybe I’m being too optimistic.
Plus I have to wonder what is more offensive — a 12-minute amateurish YouTube clip, or Murdoch claiming Muslims have lower intelligence because they marry their cousins? And should I be offended? Or should I just laugh it off as the idiocy of one businessman and not reflective of the editorial line of his powerful newspapers?
Around 80% of the audience supported the negative argument. I’m not sure how God voted, but then I couldn’t see Him anywhere amongst the crowd.
Monday, October 21, 2013
Claims among dubious Pakistanis that Malala Yusufzai is now Western puppet ignore her ongoing heroism.
Malala Yusufzai hails from the Swat Valley, a region known as the Switzerland of Pakistan and once a popular destination for middle class Pakistani holiday makers and international tourists. Swat is home to ethnically Pushtun people known for their conservative cultural and religious mores but also for their hospitality. Washington Post correspondent Pamela Constable notes in her book Playing With Fire: Pakistan at War with Itself that ambitious Swati Pushtuns "fled to construction jobs in the Middle East; those who stayed behind were described as dreamy and tolerant".
Malala (also pronounced Malalai) is a common name for girls in these parts. It was the name of a famous heroine who spent her wedding day on the battlefield tending to the wounded men of her tribe who fought the British forces at the Battle of Maiwind in July 1880. With no one left to raise the flag, she grabbed it and sang a few couplets of freedom before being struck down by British troops. Spurred on by her bravery, the men made a final assault and defeated the British foe.
That heroic Malala rated no mention in British war chronicles, but she became a heroine for her people.
Now things have gone into reverse. Hardly a year has passed since a modern Malala was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman who boarded her school bus. Far from being silent about her, the British press can't seem to get enough of Malala. She now lives in the relative safety of Birmingham where she attends an exclusive school and has even been invited for tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
Back home, there has also been a fair amount of adulation, though mixed with strong feelings of resentment toward her Western admirers if not ambivalence toward Malala. Some Pakistanis claim the awards and accolades she has received represent a betrayal of innocent people killed by American drone attacks which have claimed the lives of more than 1000 Pakistani civilians. The West chooses to ignore (and hence implicitly applaud) these deaths as part of the so-called war on terror. Pakistanis read Western newspapers and websites, and can see Malala giving Western rightwing cultural warriors and leftwing do-gooders a new symbol with which to belittle Pakistan.
Prominent Western voices have in years past used a similar fetish to "rescue" non-white Muslim women. In her 2005 scholarly essay The war on terror and the "rescue" of Muslim women, Melbourne academic Dr Shakira Hussein mentions how in the lead-up to the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, Laura Bush and Cherie Blair (the respective wives of then US President and the British Prime Minister) both used the suffering of Afghan women to justify war. The United States and its allies initially removed the Taliban from power but at the same time allowed its own tribal Northern Alliance allies in Afghanistan to carry out similar, if not identical, forms of gendered oppression. To avenge the deaths of 9/11 victims, a greater number of Afghan victims (including women) were killed.
Given Western ambivalence toward the plight of many Afghans and Pakistanis at the hands of formerly Western backed terrorists and dictators, it's natural they might be a little suspicious of a situation where a young Pakistani girl is plucked out of obscurity by the West. In their eyes, she isn't the first Pakistani to be shot in the head by terrorists, and no matter how much one hates to say this, she probably won't be the last. But now she and her family live in relative safety. Hundreds of other Taliban victims and their families aren't so lucky. Their poverty-stricken voices aren't heard by the over-nourished West, nor are they nominated for international awards. God knows how they'd be treated if in desperation they boarded a rickety boat and headed for Australia.
But one can't help detect a certain conspiratorial tone from some Pakistani cynics. As if a 16-year-old is part of a Western plot to somehow destabilise Pakistan and ruin its image. It takes some guts for a girl who has survived being shot in the head to then visit the White House and tell the world's most powerful man to stop bombing her country. Yet this is what Malala Yusufzai intends to do. It is a task even Pakistan's leaders have failed to take up. Indeed for every finger pointed at Malala, surely three must point right back at Pakistan. Middle class Pakistani critics who emulate Western culture but resent a poor Pushtun girl being congratulated for her bravery should remember that.
As always, such conspiracies are egged on by Pakistan's neighbours. Pakistan's Dawn newspaper recently published a column by Nadeem Paracha which claimed Malala's real name was Jane, that she was the daughter of Hungarian Christian missionaries and that she was left with a Pakistani couple as a gift after they secretly converted to Christianity. The article was picked up as serious news by the allegedly serious Iranian Press TV news agency. It seems some in Iran's official media circles don't recognise Pakistani satire when they see it.
So what is the meaning of Malala? She is a symbol of Pakistani girls just seeking their God-given right to an education. The Prophet Muhammad insisted women and men seek knowledge, but God only knows which prophet the Taliban are following. How ironic that by almost snatching away her life, the Taliban have given her life genuine purpose and her nation's women greater stature. No amount of Pakistani or Western hypocrisy will take that away.
Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer. First published in the New Zealand Herald on Wednesday 16 October 2013.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
A cynic might suggest Western media regard the shedding of the blood of brown-skinned Catholics by the Tehrik-i-Taleban Pakistan ("Student Movement of Pakistan" or the Pakistani Taleban) as less newsworthy than the murders of Westerners by the Somali Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen ("Movement of Striving Youth" or al-Shabaab). But that is a discussion for another time.
What matters now is that we have two sets of victims struck by effectively the same perpetrator inspired by the same demented ideology. Whether the Pakistani Taleban or al-Shabaab, what we have is a global ideology seeking to impose its own demented political theology by force.
Like its al-Qaeda colleagues, the Pakistani Taleban rarely discriminates on the basis of religion. Though calling itself an Islamic group, it will happily spill Muslim blood. Shia mosques and neighbourhoods have been subjected to suicide bombings.
Sunni security personnel, soldiers and innocent civilians have been blown to bits by suicide bombers.
But its most recent attack on the All Saints Church at Kohati Gate in Peshawar deliberately targeted one of Pakistan's most disadvantaged faith communities. The service had just ended and the 400 worshippers were leaving the building when two suicide bombers detonated their devices.
Eyewitnesses reported around 100 parishioners lay in pools of blood. At least 80 were dead, more then half of them women and children.
It was the worst attack on Christians in Pakistan's history.
The church was built in 1882 on the design of a mosque, with a dome and minarets. It is one of a handful of churches that service some 60,000 Christians in Peshawar.
So why did this happen? Kamal Siddiqui, editor of the Express-Tribune, writes:
Pakistanis are dying in large numbers, mostly at the hands of religious militants who insist that their war is with America and not with us. One does not understand the logic of this. But it is an ideology that finds favour with many.
Pakistan is a country where there is too much tolerance for intolerance. On the same day as the church bombing, a mob in the Punjabi city of Sialkot threatened to remove the minarets of an Ahmadi house of worship. The Ahmadis are a small sect regarded by law as non-Muslims. Their houses of worship cannot be called mosques.
When the mob threatened to attack the Ahmadi building, police themselves tore down the minarets.
And so a church in Peshawar can have minarets but not a Ahmadi house of worship.
Pakistan is a country in which all kinds of excuses can be found for division. The Taleban need not try very hard to sow chaos. The chaos is already there. So often Pakistanis complain about American drone attacks. And rightly so. But more Pakistanis are murdered in sectarian violence than by drone missiles.
The Taleban temporarily ruled parts of Pakistan before being driven out by the army. In this respect, they have something in common with al-Shabaab in Somalia.
According to a 2011 report by Ron Wise of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, the militia started its life aligned to a moderate (or rather, somewhat less extreme) Somali Muslim party called the Islamic Courts Union (ICU).
Before that Somalia was a basket case where competing warlords committed all kinds of atrocities against civilians.
Religious leaders in the Somali diaspora are almost unanimous in their condemnation of al-Shabaab. In Minnesota, home to the largest Somali community in the US, local imam Abdul Hashi told journalists, "This type of activity, the killing of innocents, has no basis in, or relationship to Islam," and cited the Koran: "Whoever kills one soul, kills all of humankind, and whoever saves one soul, saves all of humankind."
Which makes the actions of al-Shabaab and the Pakistani Taleban pure evil.
Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer. First published in the NZ Herald on 26 September 2013.
Friday, September 13, 2013
The Education Of A Young Liberal
John Hyde Page
Melbourne University Press, 2006.
If a day is a long time in politics, how long would one describe a decade? This was roughly the period of John Howard’s prime ministership, which ended in such a spectacular fashion last November after a bunch of Liberal Party apparatchiks were caught out spreading a bogus pamphlet containing the kinds of messages John Howard’s favourite columnists and shock jocks were famous for.
A decade is also the period spent by both John Hyde Page and yours truly in the NSW Young Liberals. In my case, “double dipping” rules meant one could still be an adult member of the Young Libs (the cut-off age was 30) and the “senior” party simultaneously. It was also a time when Young Libs gatherings were dominated by all kinds of adult activities, including the sort of activities one might see in an adult movie. Not that I’ll admit to watching any such activities (even in the movies).
Young Libs (especially the self-styled moderates) have often seen themselves as the conscience of the Liberal Party, criticising conservative excesses in both the “senior” party and Liberal Parliamentarians. It was a Young Liberal who tipped off ALP campaigners in Lindsay about the “Ala Akba” pamphlet, triggering off a sting operation that led to the prosecution of senior Liberals including a member of the NSW State Executive.
John Hyde Page spent much of his sojourn in the NSW Young Libs fighting my old political allies. Many of the events he describes early on in his The Education Of A Young Liberal are ones I participated in toward the end of my active membership. At the time, we thought we were making Australian political history. Reading Hyde Page’s book confirmed in my mind just how silly we were to entertain such political fantasies.
For a man of his age, Hyde Page has produced a surprisingly mature account of the operation of political structures within the Liberal Party. Certainly any young moderate who saw (and still sees) the stranglehold of the religious right in the NSW Young Libs will succumb to premature ageing.
Yet Hyde Page’s work is not a serious or pompous tome. Indeed, even a former conservative warhorse like myself found many occasions to laugh at factional stoushes which at the time were the source of political bipolar disorder – the elation of a successful branch stack followed by the depression of finding out the Annual General Meeting of the stacked branch had been knocked out for technical reasons.
The book was the subject of at least one defamation action brought by conservative party members. The offending chapter, provocatively entitled “Meeting With Nazis”, didn’t exactly provide glowing references to some of my old factional allies. Hyde Page describes some rightwing cadres he met as “spruiking enthusiastically like a used-car salesman”. He writes of the Machiavellian-ness of one conservative hack in these terms: “I got the impression that you never found out what [he] was really thinking, no matter how much time you spent with him”.
To his credit, Hyde Page doesn’t reserve his often devastating wit on his former opponents. In this respect, his work describes not just inter-factional warfare but also intra-factional intrigue. Much of this was played out in the context of two highly contested preselections in the blue ribbon eastern suburbs seat of Wentworth, now held by Liberal Party leadership aspirant Malcolm Turnbull.
Wentworth changed hands twice during Howard’s term in office. It was first held by former Tourism Minister Andrew Thomson, a member of the conservative wing. Thomson was the subject of a preselection challenge from former Young Liberal President Jason Falinski, a moderate. Hyde Page actively assisted in branch development (read stacked branches) in the Wentworth electorate against Falinski and in favour of another moderate, former Liberal Party President and barrister Peter King.
Hyde Page and his allies’ brazen tactics included holding a barbecue at the University of New South Wales during which free beer and sausages (financed from a factional slush fund) were handed out to students who agreed to fill out membership forms. He was rewarded for his efforts by Peter King MP in the form of employment in King’s electorate office. To say that Hyde Page’s anti-Falinski role made him persona non grata with many in his own faction would be an understatement. His status was only made worse with many of Hyde Page’s new moderate opponents supporting Malcolm Turnbull’s tilt for the seat.
You don’t need to be an expert on factional politics or the operation of political parties to enjoy this work. Hyde Page colourfully describes such dark political arts as branch-stacking, ballot-rorting and constitutional hair-splitting. Hyde Page’s flippant, humorous and highly engaging writing style would have to make him the closest thing to a more conservative Mungo MacCallum, or perhaps even a less conservative PJ O’Rourke. Not a bad plug from a former factional opponent!
This review was first penned in 2008. It is finally seeing the light of day after accidentally located on an external hard drive at the bottom of a pile of papers in the author's exceptionally messy study.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Tony Abbott has been handed a resounding victory but he is likely to inherit major problems in the Senate.
Back in the 1980s, when I was an innocent Sydney teenager, politics was so much simpler and hence so much more boring. We had Labor and we had the Liberal/National Coalition. Labor behaved as Labor should, while the Coalition were as conservative as expected. There was also a third force, called the Australian Democrats, who were boring as all buggery and whose sole responsibility was to "keep the bastards honest" in the Senate. Exactly how this was done went right over my young head.
These days, Labor is behaving like the Coalition while the Coalition's rhetoric sometimes makes me wonder whether they are channelling Genghis Khan. Instead of the Democrats, we have the Greens and a host of independents who often hold the balance of power in the Senate and can make governing almost impossible.
The last six years has seen Australia's Labor Government at war with itself. In 2010, Australians went to the polls, facing an ostensible choice of Labor's Julia Gillard and the Coalition's Tony Abbott. They got a hung Parliament. A handful of independents went with Julia Gillard to form a weak Government.
But over the weekend, the nation decided they wanted a break from unstable government hamstrung by fringe interests spoiling the law-making process. Tony Abbott was handed a decisive victory. Kevin Rudd, who stabbed Julia Gillard in the back after she stabbed him in the back, just managed to hold his seat.
Abbott ran a disciplined campaign with few gaffes. Actually, that isn't quite true. There were some absolute doozies from the Abbott camp. On one occasion he praised Western Sydney candidate Fiona Scott for her sex appeal. Scott went on to tell the ABCTV current affairs show Four Corners:
[Asylum seekers are] a hot topic here because our traffic is overcrowded." When asked to clarify, she replied: "Go sit on the M4 [freeway], people see 50,000 people come in by boat - that's more than twice the population of [western Sydney suburb] Glenmore Park.
And I thought all the traffic at Bondi beach was the terrible Kiwi drivers.
Scott comfortably won her seat. Tony Abbott has a huge majority in the House of Representatives. He can easily form a government but he has no control over the Senate. Few governments ever have had a Senate majority, but at least they've known who they must negotiate with. But this time around, the Senate looks likely to have an undisciplined unrepresentative selection of minor and single-interest parties holding the balance of power.
In NSW, a mega-libertarian bunch calling themselves the Liberal Democrats confused a swag of Liberal voters. Voters had to complete a Senate ballot paper big enough to wrap around like a sari. The Liberal Democrats were fortunate enough to be placed first on the ballot paper. Their incoming Senator David Leyonhjelm, a former veterinarian, told Fairfax Media, "Looks like I'm going to be the senator for the donkeys".
Leyonhjelm supports a virtual flat income tax, freedom to carry concealed weapons, an end to bicycle helmets and rolling back the "nanny state".
The madness doesn't end there. In May 2012, billionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer approached the Coalition to run as a candidate in the seat of then ALP Treasurer Wayne Swan. Mr Swan's response was: "The Liberal Party, particularly in my home state, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Mr Palmer". Palmer was a major donor to the Coalition.
When he fell out with the Coalition and formed the Palmer United Party (PUP), the eccentricities only multiplied. In China Palmer is building a massive ship, the Titanic II, which will retrace the ill-fated voyage of its predecessor. He is also developing his own Jurassic Park on the Sunshine Coast which will contain 160 giant dinosaurs, each of which can move and make some loud noise.
After the election, Palmer and his party will make some serious noise in Canberra. His private jet, painted with PUP colours, has made some noise in the sky. He is still in with a chance to win his Queensland Lower House seat, and there will be at least two PUP senators as well. One of them is rugby league legend Glenn Lazarus, nicknamed "The Brick With Eyes". Sounds like a formidable senate negotiator.
My favourite? The Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party (AMEP) in Victoria who look set to pick up a Senate spot after achieving a whopping 0.52 per cent of the primary vote. Candidate Ricky Muir is just your ordinary Aussie bloke who doesn't mind uploading videos on YouTube of him throwing kangaroo poo at his brother. Muir, who has had a long stint in politics with his 3-month AMEP membership, told ABC: "If you haven't spent much time in the bush, you go out there and you'll discover that there is poo everywhere."
I guess they don't call Canberra the bush capital for nothing.
Tony Abbott is going to have a hell of a time negotiating with the motley crew likely to inhabit the Senate.
Irfan Yusuf was a Liberal candidate in the 2001 elections. Politically he prefers to be left right out.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Everyone knows Aussies love their beer. Those few Aussies like myself who prefer to stay dry can't help but be entertained by beer adverts. And where would Australian cricket be without brewery sponsorship? The two make an awesome team.
But recently there have been some divisive (if not downright bigoted) attempts to drive a wedge between the two.
Fans of less gentlemanly sports such as the AFL and NRL have come to expect slurs from fans, commentators and officials. We all remember Sydney Swans star Adam Goodes being vilified by a young fan and then by the president of another AFL club. But for the federal election, cricket could have been plunged into a racial scandal. Maybe Australian sport does need some extra time in purgatory after the silly bigoted remarks and attitudes that have the ability to ruin the reputation of Australian cricket.
Fawad Ahmed is Australia's next great leg-spinning hope. He arrived in Australia on a short-term visa in 2010 from Pakistan, and then applied for asylum. His original home was the rural district of Swabi near the border with Afghanistan. He'd played cricket at district and first class level in Pakistan. One of his close friends, a local cricketer, was murdered by the Taliban. Ahmed was also threatened, both for his cricket (seen as an irreligious pursuit) as well as for his support of a local NGO pursuing women's rights.
Ahmed's appeal to the immigration minister for refugee status was supported by Cricket Australia. He is seen as possibly the next Shane Warne.
While other sports people are famous for consuming drink, snorting powder and/or a not-too-respectful attitude to women, Ahmed's life is an alcohol-free zone. He isn't opposed to playing in a team of mainly beer drinkers. He doesn't mind playing on grounds with CUB placards. He's a teetotaller, not a teetotalitarian.
Cricket Australia did its cultural homework. Chief executive James Sutherland said he approached Ahmed on the recent Australia A series in England. They suggested he may not want the VB logo on his uniform. Ahmed agreed.
The arrangement was initially the subject of rational objection. Former Australian fast bowler Geoff Lawson argued that if VB is paying you to play cricket and you don't like it, find another job. Lawson is hardly a religious bigot, having coached the Pakistan national squad and lived in the country.
Former Australian test batsman Doug Walters argued that if Ahmed didn't like the uniform, he shouldn't be allowed to play for Australia. He told The Daily Telegraph: ''I think if he doesn't want to wear the team gear, he should not be part of the team. Maybe he doesn't want to be paid, that's OK.''
There is a legitimate argument that a professional sportsman whose wages are paid by a sponsor should be part of legitimate efforts to ensure that sponsor gets maximum bang for sponsorship buck.
Cricket is no longer a sport dominated by England and Australia. Innovations such as Twenty20 have shifted the power and money of the game to the Indian subcontinent, which boasts national teams from Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.
Australia already has a reputation overseas for treating refugees awfully, locking them up for years in virtual prisons and using them as political footballs in election campaigns.
A columnist for The National, a newspaper in Abu Dhabi, recently wrote that ''Australia has just voted in Tony Abbott as their new prime minister, whose not-so-nuanced approach to handling refugees is to 'stop the boats' and hence that Ahmed cannot look forward to much nuance from Australians if he doesn't score wickets quickly''.
Our reputation will hardly improve in international cricketing circles after comments made by former Australian international rugby union player David Campese in a tweet that read: ''Doug Walters tells Pakistan-born Fawad Ahmed: if you don't like the VB uniform, don't play for Australia Well said doug. Tell him to go home.''
Campese's tweet made headlines in sports pages across the cricketing world. South Africa's Weekend Argus reported Campese was suspended as a panellist on TV program SuperSport. South Africans don't seem to mind star batsman Hashim Amla not wearing a Castle Lager logo on his shirt.
Sydney's Anglican Dean, Dr Phillip Jensen, saw a deeper meaning in all this. After comparing Fawad Ahmed to the brave Christian athlete Eric Liddell who refused to run in the Olympics on a Sunday, Jensen remarked:
''How sad that it is the Muslim minority that are showing up our culture's commitment to jingoism and materialism. I wonder if Christians don't because our conscience was purchased a long time ago.''
The irony is that Carlton & United Brewery is quite happy with Ahmed's decision. A beer company is showing more sensitivity to clean living ways than some of Australia's top sports people. This and any further controversy can only be good for sales.
Irfan Yusuf is an award-winning author and champion armchair cricketer.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Germany’s Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, once remarked: “Numerous politicians have seized absolute power and muzzled the press. Never in history has the press seized absolute power and muzzled the politicians.
… talk back radio, where we are virtually left with the world of John Laws and Alan Jones, who dominate their interviews with their own opinions and tend to measure interviewees against those opinions. Often you can only hope to get a word in if you happen to agree with them.
… in television, we are left with the tyranny of the 10-second news grab (selected, of course, by the interviewer) …
(John Hewson, “Tame media is bad news”, AFR, Friday 31 March 2006)
Sunday, September 01, 2013
Muslims around the globe are joining protests on streets and on social media against military takeover.
Protests have spontaneously erupted in cities across the Muslim world, from Istanbul to Lahore to Jakarta. Apart from some clashes with police, mostly the protests have been peaceful and matched by parallel protests on Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media.
Meanwhile, photos of the dead and the living in Egypt's nascent democracy are going viral. There is a photo of Habiba Ahmed Abdel Aziz, a multimedia volunteer for the Muslim Brotherhood standing in the crowd holding a camera on small stand. Next to this is a photo of her lifeless face in a white shroud. But it isn't just ordinary Egyptians being murdered by a military that each year receives millions in military aid from the US. Soon news spreads across cyberspace that an Egyptian athlete who won bronze at the London Olympics is among the dead. The 17-year-old daughter of a Brotherhood leader is filmed being cut down by a sniper.
Indeed, Egypt's counter-revolution is being televised to those who care to watch. Egyptian protests are making international headlines while their parallel international equivalents are being ignored by our allegedly honest independent Western media outlets. Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation and perhaps Asia's most vibrant democracy, has close spiritual ties to Egypt, home to Al-Azhar University in Cairo, perhaps the most Sunni Muslim seminary in the world.
Large numbers of Indonesian religious scholars are Al-Azhar graduates. Egyptian religious culture is regarded as reflective of the epitome of orthodoxy in many parts of the archipelago. Hence Indonesians have hit the streets following the 3 July coup.
The United States prefers not to use nasty terms like "coup" to describe the military removal of a democratically elected government followed by a massacre of its citizens. To do so would threaten its ongoing $1.5 billion military aid package to the Egyptian military which underpins the Camp David Peace Accord with Israel. Protecting the security needs of the only democracy in the Middle East is far more important than supporting nascent democracies in other Middle Eastern nations. Or to quote the Israeli ambassador to Cairo: "Al-Sisi is not a national hero for Egypt, but for all Jews in Israel and around the globe."
The United States and Israel have a firm ally in the democratic moderate secular nation of Saudi Arabia. The last thing Saudi's absolutist absolute monarchy would want is a host of Arab springs in its own backyard. At first, Saudi Arabia's role in Egypt's democracy was to act as puppet master for the Salafist faction.
Saudi Arabia has now directed its Salafist allies in Egypt to back the Egyptian generals. It is also using its influence in the Arab media to flex its muscle. In Kuwait, well-known preacher Tareq el-Swaidan has been sacked as director of a Saudi religious channel due to his Brotherhood links.
The Saudi prince Al-Waleed bin Talal wrote on Twitter that Mr Swaidan had been dismissed "for admitting he belongs to the Brotherhood terrorist movement". The Saudi dictatorship has pledged $5 billion to the military junta.
The mastermind behind the military takeover and massacre is hardly a staunch secularist. General Abdul Fattah el-Sisi was appointed by former President Morsi in August 2002 to head the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Sisi was trained in Egypt, the UK and the United States. Unlike other SCAF members, Sisi is a deeply devout man. Despite the support it is receiving from the US, Sisi's military rulers are flooding the country with anti-American propaganda, claiming that the US Government and media are supporting the protesters. Successive military regimes have used this kind of paranoia to deflect attention.
Egypt is moving forward headlong into the past when elected presidents won polls with 99 per cent of the vote. The Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi wasn't perfect, but he was Egypt's first elected President. Egyptian media were free to lampoon him without risking imprisonment and torture.
We now have no idea where Morsi is being held. On the other hand, former military strongman Hosni Mubarak, the man overthrown in Egypt's revolution who faces trial, has been released. In the long term, Morsi's opponents have little option but to rally not only around the army but possibly their original nemesis.
Egypt's anti-Brotherhood liberals have proven to be democracy's worst enemy and the army's best ally. As an electoral force, they proved disorganised, unable to agree on a presidential candidate to oppose the Brotherhood. They seem only able to unite against a power, not for a cause. In Egypt, liberals have given up on liberal democracy.
First published in the New Zealand Herald on Tuesday August 27 2013.
Words © 2013 Irfan Yusuf
Sunday, July 28, 2013
In the 2010 elections Mr Abbott almost made it to the top job with the slogan of "Stop The Boats". Until some days ago, this mantra should have been Mr Abbott's ticket to the PM's house. Mr Abbott has effectively capitalised, indeed monopolised, on the love-hate relationship many Aussie voters have with boats.
In Mr Abbott's electorate, just about every punter owns a boat. Elsewhere, owning one is just about every bogan's dream. But boats are also a nightmare because they're often the vessels that bring dark-skinned unwashed illegal immigrants to our shores. The 5600 boat people that flooded the country in 2010 represented a huge threat to our migration system and our security compared to, say, the 53,900 harmless overstayers largely from Europe and North America.
So who is to blame for this influx of boat people? Is it the bullets and nooses and torture chambers of the God-awful governments, militias, mullahs, juntas and civil wars these people are fleeing? Is it crazy theocrats like the Taliban our brave troops are fighting in Afghanistan and our American allies are cosying up with in peace talks in Qatar?
Since 2001, Australian politicians have had a simple answer. The blame for the influx of asylum seekers lay with the asylum seekers and the people who smuggle them here. Boat people are "queue jumpers". People smugglers, often former asylum seekers themselves, are a bunch of crooks.
Mr Abbott's solution - send in the navy to turn any boats around so they can go back to where they came from. Almost always that means Indonesia. Too bad for Mr Abbott that many Indonesian leaders find this approach inhumane and impractical. And Indonesia knows our Opposition will take their opposition seriously.
Now Mr Abbott faces a new Prime Minister who is just as ruthless. A few days ago, Kevin Rudd signed a deal with Peter O'Neill, leader of Australia's impoverished northern neighbour and former colony Papua New Guinea. Mr O'Neill has agreed to house unlimited numbers of boat people on the remote northern island of Manus or in other facilities.
Mr Rudd has instructed the Immigration Department to place advertisements in local newspapers declaring "If you come here by boat without a visa YOU WON'T BE SETTLED IN AUSTRALIA". A version of this message in video form is also in Arabic, Dari, Farsi, Pashto, Sinhalese, Tamil and Vietnamese.
Mr Rudd has effectively closed the door to asylum seekers arriving by boat and has thrown away the key in the direction of Port Moresby. A recent issue of the Economist rates Port Moresby as the 139th most liveable city in the world, below Karachi and Harare. Manus Island would unlikely make any list of liveability. It's true that PNG has at least acceded to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, but they have sought exemptions on providing basic services to refugees such as employment, education and housing.
But that's not all. Catherine Wilson writes in Crikey:
Female asylum seekers will find themselves in a society grappling with very high levels of gender and sexual violence, with inadequate law enforcement. Last year the World Bank reported that violence victimisation rates in PNG were among the highest in the world and violent crimes were on the increase.
Bleeding heart do-gooders like myself are frothing at the mouth and penning editorials on how Mr Rudd's new policy is tougher and less humane than anything Mr Abbott ever came up with. And that's exactly the message Mr Rudd wants to get out there. On asylum seeker and border protection, Kevin Rudd sounds more like Tony Abbott than Tony Abbott. At least that's how it will look until Mr Rudd wins the election and then reviews the policy in 12 months time.
Retired Brigadier Gary Hogan, a former Australian Defence Attache to Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, recently wrote for the Lowy Institute:
A cargo cult mentality is alive and well in PNG and this afforded the necessary levers for the Australian Prime Minister to pull so deftly in his game-changing policy statement, which will almost certainly stem boat arrivals in the near term, until people smugglers and Australian activists are able to find paths around the absolutist decree that even legitimate asylum-seekers will now not find sanctuary in Australia.
Australia, a huge and sparsely populated island continent whose European incarnation was established by criminals arriving in boats, has turned its back on desperate boat people who have in the past made terrific citizens. Still, our loss could be Kevin Rudd's gain. Which I guess is really all that matters.
Irfan Yusuf is an Australian lawyer and author. First published in the NZ Herald on Thursday 25 July 2013.
UPDATE: An excellent comment from Dr Susan Harris Rimmer of ANU can be found here.
Friday, July 05, 2013
 The Egyptian army has moved in, suspending the constitution and removing the democratically elected government of President Mohamad Morsi. The opposition, consisting of a hotch-potch of supporters of the former dictator, some opposition parties and allegedly liberal opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood party (to which Morsi belonged), are cheering the end of democratic rule.
 Few Western news channels have broadcast the speech given by Morsi after the army announced he was being deposed. A partial English translation can be read here.
 The elections which elected Morsi were largely regarded as free and fair. Many of those supportying Morsi's ouster were also supporting dictator Hosni Mubarak's ouster which took place when he resigned in February 2011. Jonathan Steele from The Guardian argues these points further here.
 Morsi and his aides have been taken into military custody. The Army has issued arrest warrants for some 300 members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Are we now back in the days of President Gamal Abdel Nasser when the MB would be mercilessly hunted down and tortured? Will we be seeing military tribunals set up to try and hang MB members as took place under Hosni Mubarak?
"In the space of one night we are back 60 years," said Amr Darrag, a senior Muslim Brotherhood member and former minister for international co-operation. "All of our leaders are being arrested in the middle of the night. Their houses are being stormed. Their children are being scared. All of our remaining leaders are banned from travel and this is just the start. "Yesterday we were part of the government doing what we thought was best for Egypt. Even if you don't agree with us, this has gone too far." In his book Nasser The Last Arab, Palestinian journalist and Arab nationalist Said K Aburish writes about Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser's paranoia about the MB. Aburish further alleges that the MB received support from the United States, who prevailed upon Saudi Arabia to bankroll the MB not just in Egypt but across the Arab world. This was apparently confirmed by the son of Said Ramadan, one of the MB's senior leaders. Jordan's King Hussein provided MB leaders with diplomatic passports, and millions were directly transferred into Said Ramadan's Swiss bank account.
 "This is a celebration of the end of democracy" were the words of Channel 4 newsreader Krishnan Guru-Murthy. One protester he later interviewed had these words:
We feel excited. We feel so happy. We don't believe it. We don't believe it. We can do this everytime we have a president that who ignore us, that who doesn't see us, we will not just throw him away but we will kill him.
Liberal sentiments indeed.
 And what do the Yanks reckon? David Weigel writes in Slate that the Obama Administration is probably very happy with the outcome.
So we're back to a simulacrum of the 2011 situation. Power hasn't been taken from a secular autocrat. It's been taken from an increasingly religious and autocratic politician, someone who'd won an election but might have lost to a unified opposition ... No, despite years of "congratulations to Egypt!"-style pablum, this is probably the outcome the administration prefers. It's a mess that removes an unpredictable force right next to Israel, and replaces it with a reliable, undemocratic force.
 A New York Times report of 3 July 2013 seeks to explain why the military at first accepted the MB and then why their patience with Morsi wore thin.
Although many in the military distrusted Mr. Morsi’s Islamist background — the Brotherhood had been outlawed before the revolution — they welcomed his inauguration in June 2012 as an exit from the accountability of governing. Mr. Morsi also granted two key demands: squashing the possibility of postrevolutionary prosecutions of military officials for Mubarak-era crimes and passing a Constitution that excused the military budget from parliamentary oversight. That, plus the perception that Brotherhood members were at least competent and disciplined managers, appeared to give the military confidence that the Islamist group would be a worthy partner.Apparently the army became upset with the economic stagnation and then protests in the streets. I'm not sure if an army is equipped to enforce desirable economic policy.
 The same NYT report ends with this perceptive remark:
... analysts said the opposition was naïve in cheering the military’s return to power as a step in the postrevolutionary transition to democracy. “The liberals and the revolutionaries are too quick to hop into bed with the military — it is not their friend,” said Mr. Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations. “The most important thing from the military’s perspective is preserving its place as the locus of power and influence in the system.”
To be continued ...
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
There was a time when Aussies wondered about the political immaturity of our relatives across the ditch. Your obsession with the sex lives of your politicians was making you, our soft, cuddly Kiwi cousins, more resemble scratching koalas wounding the fur on each other's faces.
It got to a point when, in September 2006, your then-Prime Minister Helen Clark was point-blank asked by a reporter whether her husband was having an affair. Her response seemed to end the matter.
"I've been married for 25 years. I have a happy marriage. I've always had better things to do with my hard-earned money than waste it pursuing smut-mongers."
Ho ho ho, we laughed like a bunch of bloated sun-drenched Santas. Things in Australia could never get so bad.
Fast-forward almost seven years and it is time for you, my Kiwistani brethren, to have a laugh. I wish I could say the last laugh, but it probably won't be, given how damned sexist we ditch-dwellers are.
Ever since Julia Gillard kicked her predecessor Kevin Rudd in the proverbials and took over the top job, all kinds of things have been said about her anatomy, her sexuality and that of her partner of many years.
Where do we start? Perhaps with Ms Gillard's refusal to become Mrs Tim Mathieson and make babies. As far back as May 2007, Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan issued this fatwa: "I mean, anyone who chooses to remain deliberately barren - they've got no idea what life's about." This was followed up by Liberal Senator George Brandis who declared: "She has chosen not to be a parent; she is very much a one-dimensional person."
But obsession with Ms Gillard's private parts goes further. At a recent Liberal Party fundraiser, the menu included the following items that were thankfully not served: "Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail - Small Breasts, Huge Thighs & A Big Red Box." And in the last few days, Liberal MP Don Randall tried to inject some industrial policy into the mix by claiming: "The problem is that the mining industry is being pussy-whipped by Julia Gillard."
I'm not sure what happened to that journalist who asked Helen Clark about her husband's sexuality. But Howard Sattler, Fairfax Radio shock jock from Perth, didn't last long after a lengthy exchange with the Prime Minister during a recent interview. Apparently before the interview, Sattler had cleared with the PM and her staff that it would be a frank exchange that would include aspects of her personal life. Ms Gillard agreed.
What she wasn't expecting (and no doubt what Sattler's listeners also weren't expecting) was to answer suggestions that her partner Tim Mathieson was gay because he had worked as a hairdresser. The shock jock's spirited on-air defence of his line of questioning consisted of: "But you hear it. He must be gay ... You've heard it. It's not me saying it, it's what people say."
This happened this month. This week, the publicly funded youth station Triple J was also caught out when one of its regular commentators suggested that the PM showed way too much up top in Parliament.
And no, columnist Grace Collier wasn't suggesting that Ms Gillard don a burqa.
"I don't think it's appropriate for a Prime Minister to be showing her cleavage in Parliament. It's not something I want to see. In my opinion as an industrial relations consultant, it is inappropriate to be in Parliament, it is disrespectful to yourself and to the Australian community and to the Parliament to present yourself in a manner that is unprofessional."
In response (and perhaps as a slap in the chest to South Asian men like myself), feminist Eva Cox declared: "Men don't have breasts to show."
Opposition leader Tony Abbott, on the other hand, is quite happy to show his breasts and much more on the beach in his role as a surf lifesaver. As an avid bike rider, Mr Abbott's bike shorts are also quite revealing to anyone who cares to look.
With an election due in September, Australian voters can only hope that there is much less talk about sexuality and nether-regions and more about policy.
Irfan Yusuf is a lawyer, author and former Liberal Party candidate. This column was first published in the NZ Herald on Tuesday 25 June 2013.
Monday, June 17, 2013
Rumours, jokes and innuendo are no grounds for radio DJ's ro question anyone's sexuality, IRFAN YUSUF SAYS.
Here’s a short course on court procedure. A lawyer stands at the bar table of the ACT Magistrate’s Court to cross examine the accused.
"Mr Mathieson, I understand you are a homosexual, is that correct?"
"Mr Mathieson, I understand you are a homosexual, is that correct?"
The accused is perturbed.
"I’m not sure why you ask that, but no I am not."
The Magistrate also expresses her surprise.
“Mr Yusuf, what is the relevance of this line of questioning? Mr Mathieson is merely appealing a traffic fine.” The lawyer continues in a loud bombastic voice.
Would the magistrate bring a stop to such irrelevant questioning? And how would the lawyer’s colleagues and others present in the court room respond? And if the lawyer were referred to the Law Society’s disciplinary panel, what possible explanation could he have for inserting questions of sexuality in a case about someone parking a car for 31 minutes in a 30 minute zone while going to get a haircut?
It all sounds like a draft skit rejected by the writers of Monty Python. We don't tolerate this kind of pseudo-comedic "logic" in the real world of workplaces, courtrooms, offices, universities, hospitals etc. So why do we have to put up with it being repeatedly played out on the airwaves?
Only the most crude and infantile listeners would have been amused by Perth shock jock Howard Sattler’s recent line of questioning to the Prime Minister about the sexuality of her partner of 7 years. And his “logic” in pursuing this line of questioning? Apparently there were plenty of “myths, rumours, snide jokes and innuendo". Yes, there were plenty of jokes and innuendo in the four part ABC series At Home With Julia which starred Phil Lloyd (aka Miles Barlow) as the PM’s partner.
In one memorable scene of the show, the PM and her prince were seen recuperating after a horizontal folk dance under the Australian flag on the floor of her Parliament House office. And the recurring theme of the show is of Mr Mathieson constantly trying to find excuses to ask his princess to become his bride.
Marriage equality isn’t on the cards, so there’s certainly nothing camp about a marriage proposal.
(Perhaps the show’s writers should have included the character of a Perth shock jock continuing to insist: “But you're in a heterosexual relationship? That's all I'm asking.”)
And Kate Legge’s profile in The Weekend Australian on 9 March 2013 didn’t exactly paint the stereotypical picture of a fan of The Village People. Our First Bloke, the man Prince Charles refers to as “Denis” (after the late husband of the late Mrs Thatcher), is about as cricket crazy as John Howard.
Legge writes: “His registry since 2009 reads like a sports junkie's almanac. He's present at almost every major event on the Australian calendar: Formula 1 Grand Prix; Derby Day; Oaks Day; Twenty20 games; Test Matches; the Australian Open; State of Origin; the Bradman Oration; Sports Australia Hall of Fame dinner; final series for AFL and NRL”. Not the sort of bloke we’d have called a poofta in the playground in the 1980’s.
But this isn’t enough for Sattler, who continues: “But you hear it. He must be gay … You've heard it. It's not me saying it, it's what people…”
But this isn’t enough for Sattler, who continues: “But you hear it. He must be gay … You've heard it. It's not me saying it, it's what people…”
On this basis I wonder if Mr Sattler would ask one of his colleagues, say Sydney’s Alan Jones, if he was gay? Would Jones tolerate it? Should he?
And now the Americans, the British and even our Kiwi cousins are having a laugh at our expense. Sattler’s remarks have made international headlines. Britain's Daily Mail, The Guardian and The Huffington Post are all having a good laugh at our expense. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, how often do we chuckle at the Americans when we read some of their allegedly respected commentators spreading rumours that President Obama might be a Muslim named “Barry” who doesn’t have an American birth certificate? (True, such lunacy doesn’t stop these commentators being invited to the podiums of our most prominent think tanks). The more highbrow among us love citing the likes of shock jock Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.
Other shock jocks have attacked Sattler’s offensive questioning. But that hasn’t stopped them from from showing little respect for common standards of decency in the past. Derryn Hinch and Ray Hadley are hardly names synonymous with quality journalism.
I'm all for free speech. But people like Sattler gone free speech a bad name. That might explain why his employers have acted before their own names are dragged through the mud. But advertisers also need to be vigilant also. And consumers and pressure groups need to withdraw support for advertisers who continue to fund public offence.
I'm all for free speech. But people like Sattler gone free speech a bad name. That might explain why his employers have acted before their own names are dragged through the mud. But advertisers also need to be vigilant also. And consumers and pressure groups need to withdraw support for advertisers who continue to fund public offence.
The fact is that the internet age is fast making the era of shock jockery redundant. In Canberra, 2CC can only dream of having the ratings of ABC Local Radio 666. In regional areas, the government broadcaster is king. Surely radio listeners deserve better than hearing smut and innuendo passed on as journalism.
Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer and author. This was first published in the Canberra Times on Saturday 15 June 2013.
Saturday, June 15, 2013
Despite the death of Osama bin Laden, Pakistan is in danger of tearing itself apart in a war on sectarian terror.
Pakistan is ripping itself apart, one minority at a time. With Osama bin Laden dead and beneath the ocean, many regard terrorism as no longer a serious international concern for Pakistan.
Whatever problems the country has are only issues for countries such as Australia and New Zealand when more asylum seekers from that part of the world head to our shores in leaky boats.
Pakistan is in the grip of a war on terror. However, it is a war that few of us in the West are taking any notice of. Perhaps it is because the victims are not white-skinned Judeo-Christian Westerners. The victims are largely Shia Muslims. The perpetrators are largely fanatics of the Sunni variety, some funded by private donors and perhaps governments in the Gulf region and Saudi Arabia.
Pakistan's minorities have always had it tough. The Pakistani flag consists of the traditional Muslim crescent and star with the green background. It also has a white strip adjacent to the flagpole. The white represents non-Muslim minorities - Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Parsees and other faith and ethno-religious communities.
The flag recognises that minorities play a key role in a state that was founded on the basis of a kind of religious nationalism (an Islamic Zionism, if you will), a homeland for Indian Muslims. It was always taken for granted that Shia Muslims were part of the green-crescent striped majority. After all, the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was of Shia Muslim heritage.
In recent times, attacks on Shia Muslims have become widespread and endemic. The perpetrators are followers of the late Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, a religious scholar from Punjab who belonged to the Deobandi school, one of two competing schools of the Sunni sect in the Indian subcontinent.
During the 1970s Jhangvi, not dissimilar to most Pakistani imams, focused on religious education and preaching. Although a member of a theocratic political party organised by other Deobandi scholars, Jhangvi was more interested in preaching.
Things changed in 1979 with the emergence of Ayatollah Khomeini's Shia-based Islamic revolution in next-door Iran. The revolution posed a direct threat to the Arab states, including Saudi Arabia which regarded itself as naturally holding religious leadership and prestige as home to the two holiest sites of Islam. Saudi Arabia's interests were allied to those of the United States, which continues to fear Iran's expansionist revolution.
The Saudis funded a number of sectarian anti-Shia groups in various Muslim countries as well as minority Muslim communities.
Among these were a group founded in 1982 by Maulana Jhanvi called Anjuman Sipa-i-Sahaba Pakistan (ASSP), literally "Movement for Defending the Prophet's Companions". Many Sunni Muslims accuse Shia Muslims of defaming the companions of Muhammad, including a number of his wives. Sunni theology is built upon reports of Muhammad's sayings and actions as reported by the companions. Hence, attacks on the honour of these companions is regarded as an attack on Islam itself.
The ASSP message was simple - Shias must be declared a non-Muslim minority in the same manner as Christians, Hindus and other faith groups.
Attacks on Shias are frequently placed with attacks on the Iranian regime. In one recording handed to me during a trip to Pakistan in 1994, I heard Maulana Jhangvi declare "Khomeini peh laanat beshumar. Shia-on pe laanat beshumar" (Abundant curses be declared on Khomeini and upon all Shias).
If such sectarian preaching were limited to curses and distribution of cassette tapes, it may not be cause for concern. After all, Shia Muslims make up around one fifth of Pakistan's population. They occupy positions of influence across politics, popular culture, academia, media and other sectors of Pakistani life. Among them are current president Asif Ali Zardari and his deceased wife Benazir Bhutto.
But among them are the less visible and more vulnerable Hazara ethnic group, located mainly in the Western province of Baluchistan which borders Iran. Attacks on Hazara, virtually all of whom are Shia Muslims, have stepped up in the last year or so.
In one incident, some 100 Hazaras were murdered in Quetta. The plight of the Hazara has been largely ignored even by Shia Muslims from other ethnic groups. Sunni extremists frequently complain about Shia dominance in Pakistani media. But as Pakistani journalist Kiran Nazish wrote in Forbes magazine in January, "the media, particularly television media in Pakistan, had been ignoring the issue" while smaller-scale loss of life, cricket scores and Bollywood starlets are readily reported.
It was only when Hazaras took the extreme step of refusing to bury the victims, preferring to sit with the bodies in sub-zero temperatures, that Pakistanis took notice.
Ironically, these same coffins were draped with the Pakistani flag. Though it remains to be seen which side of the flag the Hazara will be deemed to be part of - the green and white majority or the white strip that is being bloodied and driven off the flag.
In recent days, other Shia communities have been attacked. Over 50 were killed in the most recent attack on Abbas Town, a Shia enclave in the southern port city of Karachi. Shia Muslims in Lahore have begun receiving death threats.
Unless the situation is brought under control, Pakistan could become a huge version of Northern Ireland. Imagine the refugee crisis when 20 per cent of Pakistan's 180 million people effectively become refugees.
Irfan Yusuf was born in Pakistan and is author of Once Were Radicals: My Years As a Teenage Islamo-fascist. This article was first published in the NZ Herald on Monday 11 March 2013.
Thousands of protesters march through the streets of major cities of a European nation. They complain about the apparently autocratic style of their democratically elected leader who ignores their concerns. Police have used fairly brutal force to quell protests, including tear gas, water cannon and rubber-coated bullets.
Had this been Spain or Greece, it would almost certainly have been related to EU-imposed austerity measures. Europe's economic woes have provided plenty of fodder for protest. Spanish workers have been laid off by the thousands, and its unemployment is at record levels. A neo-Nazi party is attracting tens of thousands of disgruntled Greeks. In Cyprus (at least the non-Turkish part), people have had substantial portions of their savings shaved from bank accounts.
But in Turkey, scene of the mass protests that started in late May, protesters have few such fundamental worries. Instead, their worries began with the survival of Gezi Park in Istanbul, to be levelled in favour of a residential and shopping development.
Such environmental and heritage concerns are important. But one has to wonder what those in more economically depressed European nations must be thinking. "Oh, if only we had the luxury of protesting against the destruction of a park," and, "if only we had a few housing and shopping centre developments in our town".
And the majority of Turks who did not hit the streets of Istanbul, Ankara and other cities must be wondering why Western media have made such a fuss about what the ruling party (which gained over 50 per cent of the vote in the last elections) claims is a tiny handful of radicals. It doesn't help the protesters' cause domestically that they don't present as a united group, some having concerns limited to environmentalism and others seeking nothing short of regime change.
No doubt, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hasn't handled the crisis terribly well. Even people in his party, such as his President Abdullah Gul, have openly stated that a softer touch would have been preferable. "If they have objections, we need to hear them, enter into a dialogue. It is our duty to lend them an ear." The protests could have been limited to Istanbul instead of turning into a national phenomenon.
But some would have you believe that Turkey's current government wants to see the country become a full-fledged sharia state, with former criminals walking armless and perhaps even headless through the streets. A recent issue of the Economist showed a cartoon of Erdogan dressed in the outfit of an Ottoman Sultan, as if he was ready to lead a jihad and conquer Constantinople all over again.
Writing for CNN, Fadi Hakura complains of "the Government's recent enactment of tight restrictions on the sale and promotion of alcohol". He claims that "many secular Turks complain that the Islamist-rooted Government is intolerant of criticism and the diversity of lifestyles."
Such sentiments would seem laughable to other secular Turks who don't see secularism as the imposition of a militant nationalist religion built around the cult of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic. Turkey's past leaders, in cahoots with the military, have inflicted the grossest and most ridiculous forms of intolerance on its people.
Erdogan has not sought to ban alcohol consumption completely. His government seeks to curtail it at certain times. Compare this to the attitude of previous Turkish governments to women's dress. Until 2010, women who chose to wear headscarves were barred from attending universities. In 2007, Emine Erdogan, the PM's wife, was barred from entering a military hospital for failing to remove her scarf.
Perhaps the most notorious example of secular extremism was seen in 1999 when an elected MP, Dr Merve Safa Kavakci, was prevented from taking her Parliamentary oath simply because of a traditional piece of clothing she wore on her head. In 2007, the European Court of Human Rights found her expulsion from Parliament was a violation of human rights.
Erdogan's tactics in relation to the recent protests have been heavy-handed. But one wonders what would have happened if this kind of protest had taken place under previous Turkish governments. Erdogan knows what it is like to be on the wrong side of a dictatorial regime. In 1997, he was jailed for merely reciting a poem during a speech.
This may be Erdogan's last term in office. But for the sake of his successor, his party and his nation, Erdogan needs to recognise that a small but influential and highly articulate mass of protesters could leave his legacy of electoral triumph, political reform, economic success and international respect in tatters. A devout Muslim like Erdogan should recognise the value of humility.
• Irfan Yusuf is author of Once Were Radicals. This column was first published in the NZ Herald on Friday 14 June 2013.
Words Copyright © 2013 Irfan Yusuf