Tuesday, October 24, 2017

CRIKEY: Extra! Extra! Bolt condemns white terrorism! (And other headlines you won’t read in the Hun)


A white terror suspect with links to anti-Islam groups was arrested at the weekend. Not that you'd read about it in the right-wing rags.




The weekend was awash with local and international news, sport and culture war. Australian athletes bagged gold medals in Rio like there’s no tomorrow. The Turkish crackdown continued unabated. Some cartoonist for a national newspaper leaked tears on the shoulder of visiting American humourist PJ O’Rourke, who, as this video illustrates, has far more respect for the suffering of the indigenous people of his homeland — not to mention refugees. The Republican Party is about to simultaneously implode and explode in one giant Trumpocpalypse.

And to top it all off, police conducted anti-terror raids in Melbourne’s north-west that led to the arrest of one suspect who was charged with preparing or planning a terrorist act and collecting or making documents likely to facilitate a terrorist attack.

These are extremely serious charges, so serious that the Herald Sun will have splashed the face of suspect Phillip Galea across its front page with a headline, “TERROR” — below which, in smaller letters, the words “IN OUR SUBURBS”. Today’s Herald Sun will no doubt have a six-page wrap-around featuring articles detailing:

  • Galea’s criminal history, including time served for possessing weapons; 
  • His history of involvement in extremist groups that have, in the past few decades, posed a threat to Australians of Chinese, Taiwanese, Singaporean, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, etc, heritage; 
  • The activities of groups like Reclaim Australia and the True Blue Crew including video on their Facebook page showing them using iron bars to smash heads “one leftie at a time”; 
  • Discussions among political leaders and security experts on the groups being declared terrorist organisations; 
  • Links between Australian right-wing extremists and similar groups in the United Kingdom, United States, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Greece, etc; and 
  • Op-eds from Andrew Bolt and Rita Panahi calling for right-of-centre parties to condemn right-wing extremist groups and their political wings, including Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the Liberal National Party branches in the Queensland seat of Dawson

I could go on and on about the saturation coverage of the Galea arrest across Australian press and the discussion it should arouse among pundits and pollies. But I won’t bother. Just buy yourself a copy of the Herald Sun, the Daily Tele or whatever paper suits your fancy. You’ll find hardly any coverage. 



Galea is no small fish in the Australian far right. Almost all the videos posted to the True Blue Crew’s facebook page were linked to WordPress blog RA Media. Many posts on that blog are authored by Galea, including one post welcoming the return of Pauline Hanson.

Last November, Galea pleaded guilty to possessing five Tasers and a quantity of mercury just days before an anti-immigration rally.

We don’t really know exactly what Galea was planning to do. The accused hasn’t been tried, and he should be granted the benefit of the presumption of innocence, not to mention quality legal representation and access to legal aid. And I would have much preferred Galea was charged under conventional criminal law instead of the new parallel criminal injustice system reserved for vaguely defined “terrorist acts”.

But what of those who agree with him on key issues relating to social cohesion, a key element of our national security? What about those who, like Galea, are right of centre, who want to end or curtail immigration of certain groups, who are against halal meat and/or new mosques? What about those who insist on a rock-solid link between Muslims — their religious and cultural identities — and terrorism?



Will we see the likes of Pauline Hanson, George Christensen, Cory Bernardi, Fred Nile, etc, loudly condemn Galea and his ilk? What about Andrew Bolt, Piers Akerman, Rita Panahi, Miranda Devine, Janet Albrechtsen, Alan Jones, etc? Will they acknowledge that their political theology has a problem with extremism and extremist violence?

When will moderate conservatives march through the streets protesting and loudly condemning violent extremism in their ranks?

Pfft. As if Australia’s white conservative elites will ever accept the possibility that one of their own could be a terrorist.

First published in Crikey on 08 August 2016.

CRIKEY: Great, polygamy-promoting Keysar Trad now ‘representing’ Australian Muslims


Keysar Trad has finally hit the big time. Are his PR skills up to the challenge?




Chicago comic Azhar Usman tells a story of trying to convince his workmate to adopt the Islamic faith. The friend is reluctant. The friend says:
I’m not a huge fan of organised religion.
To which Azhar responds:
Hey, man. You need to become an American Muslim. We’re the most disorganised religion on earth!
Australia is no exception. These days, if you’re an Aussie Muslim wishing to find out what’s going on in peak Muslim bodies or Muslim independent schools, you need to have a subscription to Crikey, The Australian (other than the opinion page, though opinion and reportage generally go together) or read a Fairfax paper or the Guardian Australia. For instance, last week the Oz ran a piece on the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) headlined
Muslim leader stands down amid school brawl.
Apart from a court order, I couldn’t see much evidence of a “brawl” in the article. The headline seemed as outrageous as the 160-odd readers’ comments at the end, one of which read:
To soon? OK. I will try again after another slaughter of innocents on Australian soil.
Good to see that comment passed the moderation guidelines of
... anything prejudiced against any religion ...
and
... inflammatory and which will not positively further debate ...
not to mention
... poor spelling.
AFIC’s own website provided little by way of clarification. You can download the latest edition of the group’s magazine (dated January 2015), the annual report from 2014 or catch up on the latest press release, from March 27, 2016, concerning the Brussels attack.

Anyway, back to the school brawl. It appears that the president of AFIC, Hafez Kassem, has resigned. Kassem was relatively media shy. His replacement, however, doesn’t have that problem. Incoming president Keysar Trad is a man you have definitely heard of — unless you’ve just arrived on our planet.



Suffice it to say that Trad’s PR skills need some fine-tuning. More unkind folk may suggest the man is a walking, talking media stereotype. Seriously, every religion has its embarrassing bits. Which raises a simple question: why on earth does Keysar Trad have to bring up a proposal to change marriage laws to allow men to take on more than one mother-in-law?

Such as in 2008 when he told a journalist that he felt the urge to take on a second wife when his existing one was overseas. Or at the 2009 Festival of Dangerous ideas, when he spoke on why polygamy was good for Australia. Or in 2010, when he spoke about polygamy in the context of Centrelink payments. Or in 2012, when he argued laws should be changed to allow polygamy. Or, indeed, when he wrote on the topic for Crikey.

Then there is Trad’s volunteer work as translator and adviser to former Mufti Sheikh Hilali. At times, Trad’s translating skills have been found wanting, as Monica Attard discovered some years back. 

Back in those days, despite being the media’s go-to man for journalists too lazy to approach a woman for comment, Trad’s standing in Muslim circles was limited to being the president of the “Islamic Friendship Society”, which held regular meetings around his dinner table and whose members likely had the same surname.

But now Trad has hit the big time, able to spout his theories on polygamy as titular head of Australian Islam. True, AFIC doesn’t itself have the best reputation among governments and parents paying top dollar to send their kids to AFIC-run schools.

But more important is the problem that anything and everything to do with Islam is seen through the prism of national security, terrorism, radicalisation, etc. It’s a dangerous and divisive narrative that benefits extremists on all sides.

Is Keysar Trad someone who can meet the challenge of challenging the narrative, of defying the stereotype? Can he resist the urge to speak to every journalist who contacts him, to appear on every TV show, to comment on any and every controversy?

First published in Crikey on 02 August 2016

Friday, October 13, 2017

CRIKEY: Abetz should look in his own Nazi backyard before comparing refugees to terrorists


If comparing Eric Abetz to the Nazis is "unAustralian", what is comparing refugees to terrorists?



In the author’s note at the conclusion of his gorgeous book of Jewish refugee stories Cafe Scheherazade, Melbourne author Arnold Zable humanises the refugee experience, writing:
Whenever I hear of another outbreak of conflict somewhere on the globe, whenever I see images of columns of refugees snaking across war-ravaged landscapes, my thoughts turn back to the tales of survivors, living in Melbourne, many of whom I have known since my childhood.
Many of these refugees almost didn’t make it. Public opinion in Australia during the late 1940s viewed these desperate men and women, many victims of Nazi death camps, in much the same way as the Andrew Bolts and Rita Panahis and Piers Akermans of today regard asylum seekers from modern conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, etc — as queue jumpers, potential terrorists, people unable to integrate, people who represent a threat to our way of life and our security.
You wouldn’t expect Senator Eric Abetz to join in this chorus of guilt by association. As the child of German migrants, Abetz knows what it’s like to be tarred with the same brush as the kind of war criminals and mass murderers who make Islamic State look like apprentices. Unlike most Muslim migrants of today and Jewish migrants of yesteryear, Abetz has a direct link to the Nazi regime. His great-uncle Otto Abetz was German ambassador to the Vichy regime and was responsible for sending untold number of French and North African Jews to their deaths.


Otto Abetz served time as a war criminal after being convicted in 1949. His grand-nephews Eric and Peter became Liberal Party politicians. Peter, a West Australian MP, believes his great-uncle did some good things as ambassador, most notably saving Paris from Allied bombing. Eric, on the other hand, dissociates himself completely from the war criminal whose death in a car accident took place in the year Eric was born.

Eric Abetz is sensitive about this issue. He said in 2008:
I think most reasonable Australians would regard any attempt to slur me by association with such a distant relative as completely unfair and, if I might say so, unAustralian.
But now Abetz is happy to endorse the slurs of his staffer and ACT Young Liberal president Josh Manuatu for a piece penned for the (less readable Australian edition of) The Spectator. The article argues that Channel Nine Today host Sonia Kruger was “right” to argue Muslim migrants should be banned, and that Australia should “carefully consider” her proposal.

Why? Because Muslims and Middle Easterners (including, presumably, Egyptian Copts, Lebanese Maronites and Israeli Jews) treat women and gay people very badly. Which I guess means Muslim migration needs to be reviewed or curtailed or basically … er … banned?

I have to agree with the fact that there are lots of cases where women aren’t treated nicely in Muslim societies. But some Australian women aren’t treated very nicely by their husbands and partners. An Australian woman has a much greater chance of being terrorised by her male partner than by IS.

But I wonder how nice the Nazis were to women and gays. Should we be worried about Germans with Nazi backgrounds migrating to Australia?

Will Manuatu write a similar piece stating persons of Nazi heritage or direct links not be allowed into Australia? Will Abetz endorse such an article?

Abetz says he isn’t proud of his family background, and he isn’t happy when his Nazi great-uncle is raised. Which raises the question: has he ever wondered how I and my family must feel when we are judged by Abetz and his staffer to the Nazified nutcases we know and hate as IS?

I don’t know much about my ancestors. I’ve been told my family are direct descendants of the last poet laureate of the Mughal Empire, Mirza Ghalib, whose poetry is celebrated in India and Pakistan even today.


Abetz came to Australia when he was three years old. I was a mere five months old when I arrived here with my family in 1970. My father had taken up a role as a junior academic. He worked hard and was last year awarded an Order of Australia.

I’m extraordinarily proud of my father. I doubt I could achieve as much as he has, notwithstanding all the benefits of being brought up here, not having to leave loved ones behind.

In primary school, I was incessantly bullied, labelled a “boong” and an “Abbo”. My father taught me to fight them back, to give as good as you get, to not just stand there and take it. With that in mind, my question to Abetz is this: just how unAustralian is it to compare migrants who, among other things, happen to have Muslim heritage to terrorists who relish murdering them and their families? Should my family be compared to IS or the Pakistani Taliban? Should I?

With all due respect, Senator Abetz. I won’t be lectured to by the grand-nephew of a convicted Nazi war criminal about my alleged links to terrorism.

First published in Crikey on 26 July 2016.

Monday, October 09, 2017

CRIKEY: The two men at the centre of the bloodshed in Turkey


Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen's rivalry extends to Australia.




Turkey is going through a period of potentially divisive transition. Its political and religious identity is up for grabs. And its substantial diaspora communities — in Germany, North America and Australia, among other places — are not immune.

The coup has been blamed on followers Fethullah Gulen — a Pennsylvania-based imam and businessman who has for years rivalled Erdogan for influence over the style and shape of Turkey’s democratic Islamism. It’s a struggle that reaches well beyond Turkey’s shores, even to Australia, where the Turkish government provides imams to Turkish mosques.

In Australia, a large number of mosques are managed by Turkish communities. These include not only established metropolitan mosques across Sydney and Melbourne but also in regional NSW and Queensland.

The Diyanet (Turkish Ministry of Religion) provides imams to most of these mosques and pays their wages. This gives Turkish mosques a huge financial advantage over their cash-strapped equivalents from other ethnic groups. However, few Diyanet imams stay in Australia for any length of time beyond a few years.

But also having a strong presence in Turkish communities are the secular Gulen schools and university faculties. The Gulen movement (known as Hizmet or “social service”) is believed to have links with independent non-denominational schools in Sydney and Melbourne, which are popular with Turkish parents. In addition to this, the movement has entered into arrangements with universities in NSW and Victoria.

Gulen is a former state imam and Islamist. But he is also a committed democrat who rose to prominence through his sermons in state mosques. He fled to the United States in 1999 after being accused in Turkey of Islamic extremism. 

Gulen and Erdogan were, for a time, allies. But in recent years, their views on Turkish Islamism have become clashed. Three years ago, the leaking of documents exposing the Turkish government’s corruption was blamed on Gulen’s supporters. Since then, the government has taken over several media outlets and educational institutions linked to Gulen in Turkey. And yesterday, Turkey’s prime minister Binali Yildirim sent the United States a request to extradite Gulen, who Yildrim called a “terrorist chief”, over his suspected role in the coup.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is very popular in Turkey — and his popularity has increased after the coup. A Istanbul-based political science academic and expert on Turkey’s diaspora, who asked Crikey not to name him given the increasingly dangerous situation for critics of Erdogan in Turkey, said the crowds supporting Erdogan over the weekend reflected
... all the colours in this alliance: Islamists, conservative nationalists, followers of various Sufi orders, extreme nationalists … all are now worshipping Erdogan.
The academic thinks from now on, criticising Erdogan will mean siding with the failed coup, and against the will of the people.

In Turkey’s diaspora, the divisions mirror those in Turkey. And tensions are rising. In Germany, supporters of Erdogan attacked a school associated with Gulen in the wake of the failed coup. And in Colorado, those in the local Gulen movement say they have also been made targeted by supporters of Erdogan.

In Australia, suspicions about Gulen’s influence have generally been limited to more paranoid sources. In the US, querying Gulen lobbying activities has been a much more mainstream affair.

Given the large, perhaps disproportional and largely ignored influence Turkish religious institutions have among Australian Muslim groups, relations between pro- and anti-Gulen forces will be something worth keeping an eye on.

First published in Crikey on 20 July 2016.


CRIKEY: News Corp gumshoe Sharri Markson does serious jernalisms on toddlers’ hair



News Corp senior writer Sharri Markson has whipped up a brand new scare campaign against Muslims based on the practice of toddlers wearing hijabs.

Ramadan is the month of spiritual miracles. This year, it was especially miraculous in Australia as the imams managed to get their act together and declare that the lunar month would end on the same day. Normally, the month begins and ends on separate days, depending on your mosque. For example, the mosque serving your ethnicity (assuming you have a single ethnicity, which has its own mosque) could determine Ramadan by resorting to a calendar, or it could do it by sighting the moon with the naked eye.

Still, it’s not every day that you see 50,000 Muslims performing their Eid prayers on Haldon Street, Lakemba. Mostly these are the people who don’t turn up to the mosque at any other time of year. This year, The Australian sent its senior writer Sharri Markson to cover the event. In one report, she advised that

... toddlers have begun wearing the hijab as Australian Muslims follow a global trend of younger children covering their hair. 

Did you read that, punters? A global trend. That’s a bold claim to make. To establish such a trend, you’d need to do a huge quantitative and qualitative study across not just the 180-plus ethnicities that make up Australian Muslims but also Muslims across the planet, including the 20%-plus of Muslims living as minorities in everywhere from India to Taiwan to our cousins across the dutch.

Did Markson ask some women about this? There were 50,000 people there, and my guess is at least one-quarter would have been women. On unfairly conservative estimates, perhaps half would have spoken English as their first language. So Markson could have asked any one of 6250 women and girls.

She might well have, but not one is quoted in her story. She might have gone to any number of mosques in Sydney catering for other ethnic groups, including groups where women only cover their hair during the actual prayer time and/or when listening to the scripture being recited, not just for an hour or so after emerging from the mosque. She might have joined my parents at the Urdu-speaking mosque in Rooty Hill and sat with my mum and all the other south Asian women with their hair loose draped with translucent “dupatta“, which would quickly be removed as soon as the prayer was over. 



But why would you do that when you can speak to Keysar Trad, a controversial imam and the former president of a peak body with a bombastic name? Interestingly, none of her sources confirmed Markson’s claim that Muslim toddlers and girls across the world are increasingly covering their hair. 

In her other article, Markson was most disappointed that NSW Premier Mike Baird

... failed to condemn the community leader’s inflammatory remarks. 

And what were the inflammatory remarks of the President of the Lebanese Muslim Association? Muslims felt under siege from Muslim-phobic politicians, felt vulnerable to bigotry and hatred and were subject to

... divisive and toxic policy decisions. 

Gosh, how inflammatory can you get!

And worse still,

... [n]one addressed the issue of radicalisation, focusing instead on Islamophobia and racism. 

Terrible. You’d think a Muslim leader would use the occasion of Eid to read out Andrew Bolt columns.

Being the awesome investigative reporter that she is, Markson wasn’t content:
“Mr Baird refused to condemn Mr Dandan’s remarks when contacted after the ceremony. ‘There were a number of other speakers but the Premier won’t be doing any commentary on their contributions,’ his spokesman said. 
Asked why he spoke about ­racial vilification towards the Muslim community but did not use the opportunity in front of 40,000 people to discuss radicalisation or terrorism, Mr Baird’s spokesman said ‘there were many subjects the Premier did not mention in his remarks, which occupied less than three minutes’.”
Seriously, one of the toddlers in a hijab or dupatta could have told Markson that.

First published in Crikey on 8 July 2016.