Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Smile of Islam

Terrorists are hijacking Islam. Islam is the victim of terrorism. Islam is being killed, and Islam is being blamed.

In London, that became apparent when a young British girl and those riding with her were mercilessly killed whilst travelling to work. She was a young bank clerk, the pride of her migrant family. She was a devoutly religious girl, and yet her sweet smile and gentle demeanour revealed the face of a truly modern British woman.

She was British. She was young. She was smiling in her published photograph. She was on her way to work. She was contributing to her society, to her economy and to her nation. She died at the hands of terrorists. At memorial services across the UK, she was being remembered and prayed for.

Tony Blair and George W Bush and John Howard and others paid tribute to her. As did other western leaders. Even those otherwise hostile to her could not help but remember her bravery.

If anyone was a martyr in this terrible tragedy, it was people like her. She was the symbol of modernity, of civilisation. Her death inspires us to fight on, to address the scourge of terror.

When we speak out against terror and its ideology, we will remember her name. When we face and address the emotions of our confused and frightened non-Muslim neighbours, we will be doing her proud.

God tells us that we should not regard martyrs as dead. They are alive. God is providing for martyrs, even if we do not perceive it.

She is a martyr. Her name and what it represents is being martyred. But her name and what it represents is not dead. Indeed, it is alive, sustained by God in ways only people of wisdom will understand.

We must fight terror so that her death not be in vain. We must fight terror so that her parents’ tears are wiped dry and replaced with the joy of knowing their daughter is a martyr and will enter paradise insh’Allah.

Islamic theology teaches us that martyrdom is not an automatic ticket to paradise. We are taught that amongst the first people to be judged on the day of judgment will be a martyr. He will be brought before God and questioned on why he died.

“I died to serve you and to make your Name respected and your Greatness acknowledged”, the martyr will say.

“No you most certainly did not!”, will be the Divine response. “You died so that people would say how great you were, so that people would write songs and poems and eulogies devoted to your bravery. And they did this. You have been rewarded. Today, there is nothing for you but the Hellfire!”

This is what he, the martyr, will be told before being dragged to hell.

He. Not she.

She had no intentions of glory or fame. She just intended to go to work. She was one of millions of anonymous Britons leaving the safety and comfort of their homes for the uncertainty of economic activity.

Now, in death, she has attained fame and glory. And her name deserves to be remembered and mentioned again and again.

She is from our family. We are from her family. She may be British, but she is also from the family of Islam.

The family of Islam are a British family. They are as British as the Blair family. They are as British as Prince Nassim or Nasser Hussein or other establishment figures. They are as British as Tim Winter and Zaki Badawi. And as Cat Stevens.

She shares her surname with the adopted name of the Cat. She is Shahara. She is the daughter of Britain, the daughter of the West, the daughter of progress and civilisation. And how fitting that she be the daughter of Islam.

Because Islam is not the enemy of progress, of civilisation, or indeed of the West. When terrorists attack the West, they attack Islam. They maim and murder Islam.

And they murdered Shahara, a daughter of Islam.

We will not allow her death to be in vain. We must fight for the family of Islam, for the name of Islam, for the reality of Islam. We will continue our fight.

We will not frown at our neighbours when they question our loyalty. But like Shahara, we will smile in the face of death. We will face the hatred of Islamophobes and their terrorist allies with the smile Shahara left us with, a smile that millions across the world saw.

We see her smiling face and we learn that the murder of Islam inspires some people to smile and others to weep. When Islam is murdered, we weep. When Islam is murdered, her enemies smile and cheer and dance.

When Islam is murdered, conservative columnists and professional Islam-haters cheer and congratulate each other. They tell the world to fight and kill Islam just as Shahara Islam’s murderers killed her. For indeed, Islam-haters and terrorists are both out to kill Islam.

But Islam will not die. God will preserve Islam. That is God’s promise. Islam can only be martyred. Islam doesn’t die.

Yes, we will say it. The London bombings were about martyrdom. Islam was martyred. British values and culture and traditions were martyred. British peace and liberalism were martyred. These British values are steeped in Islam. And they will not die. We must not let them die.

Lest the argument be spoilt by lengthy repetition, I end with the words of Shahara’s brother-in-faith and in humanity. Her brother Yusuf, also from the family of Islam, sang these words years before he ever thought of joining the family of Islam. These words are a virtual second national anthem for the people of London. We will remember these words as we simultaneously mourn and rejoice the martyrdom the smiling Shahara …

Oh I’ve been smiling lately,
Dreaming about the world as one
And I believe it could be,
Some day it’s going to come.

Cause out on the edge of darkness,
There rides a peace train
Oh peace train take this country,
Come take me home again.

Now I’ve been smiling lately,
Thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be,
Something good has begun …

Now I’ve been crying lately,
Thinking about the world as it is
Why must we go on hating,
Why can’t we live in bliss.

Cause out on the edge of darkness,
There rides a peace train
Oh peace train take this country,
Come take me home again.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Saturday, July 30, 2005

COMMENT: Multiculturalism, Terrorism and ASX Listing Rules - Part 1

In deference to her academic qualifications, I should refer to the newly-appointed (at least at the time of writing) director of the ABC as Dr Janet Albrechtsen. And as a favour to my fingers typing this piece at 2:14am, I should from now on refer to her simply as Dr J.

I have read some real gems of learning and erudition from Dr J over the years. I will never forget being amazed when she informed me of something my parents taught me but which I seem to have completely forgotten. In light of the despicable gang-rapes carried out by the dregs of humanity in south western Sydney, Dr J suggested that my parents taught me to rape white women.

Weird. I don’t recall my mum ever teaching me that. And considering her skin is so milky-white you’d think she was Bosnian, I can see why. As for my dad, well he was so devoted to the philosophy of raping white women that he sent me to St Andrews Cathedral School.

Huh? WTF??

Dr J informed her readers some years back that Muslim migrants teach boys to rape white women as a right of passage, a kind of religious and cultural initiation. Which makes me wonder – which Muslim parents taught the troops of Dr Radovan Karadzic to rape the white Muslim and Catholic women of Bosnia?

But that’s OK. After all, we have to believe Dr J. She does, after all, have a PhD in law. And for that reason, she was perfectly able to justify the war against the people of Iraq. Janet claimed that UN Security Council Resolutions and the UN Charter proved the “Coalition of the Willing” (or should that be “Killing”?) had justification under international law to attack.

And we should all believe what Dr J has to say about public international law. Dr J knows. She has a PhD. In law. So shut up and listen. She is a lawyer. She should know.

Yep. And if, God-forbid, I ever develop Hep-C, I will be able to rely on the expert advice of my gynaecologist. After all, he is a doctor. He has studied medicine. He should know.

Huh? WTF??

Dr J has a PhD in law. But what kind of law? Public international law? Or commercial law? Dr J started out her media career as a freelance columnist, writing pieces for the Australian Financial Review on ASX Listing Rules and corporate law, the subjects of her PhD thesis.

Now if the UN Charter could be interpreted in the same manner as the ASX Rules, I would be perfectly satisfied with Dr J’s fatwa on the Iraq war. But relying on a commercial lawyer for advice on international law is about as silly as relying an expert in medieval European history for expert advice on modern Islamist extremism.

Yet this silliness seems to be rife at News Limited. You have Dr Daniel Pipes writing for the New York Post and other News Limited tabloids. And you have Dr J penning her nonsense at The Australian.

And this leads me to Dr J’s latest piece, entitled “End of an innocent age”. I will, however, have to find another time to finish this analysis. Dr J’s treatment of the London bombing and the role of "British homeboy terrorists" is so predictable as to virtually put me to sleep. Reading her piece, you'd think Ali-G set off the bomb. Yeah, right. Azziff.

Thanks, Dr J. You have cured my insomnia. I just gotta get some sleep. Good night!

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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Friday, July 29, 2005

COMMENT: AIJAC must work for peace between Jews and Muslims

OK, now I will try to be careful in what I write about AIJAC, formerly known as Australia/Israel Publications. The last time I wrote something about them and had it published, they threatened me with defamation proceedings.

On that occasion, I had lampooned an article by Michael Kapel which appeared in an old issue of the Australian/Israel Review. Those were the mid-1990’s, a time before Michael Danby had entered Federal Parliament. I was a young lawyer between jobs, and the last thing I needed was to go bankrupt.

I will try to criticise an article entitled “What is really irking radical Islamists?”, written by Dr Colin Rubenstein and published in the Melbourne Age on July 14, 2005. The problem is that I am quite concerned that his organisation might decide to brief their lawyers again.

So here I am, a litigation lawyer of 10 years standing, scared shitless in case some radical Zionist tries to sue me for defamation. Why should I be scared? Does litigation really make me fear?

I guess I can take to heart the fact that AIJAC is an organisation which is not exactly universally loved in the Jewish community. I can derive some comfort from the flack they copped in the Australian Jewish News over their mishandling of the visit of Dr Hanan Ashrawi. Prominent Jewish leaders on that occasion told AIJAC to butt out of the dispute, which threatened to rupture relations between the Jewish community and then NSW Premier Bob Carr.

The Jewish community? The Islamic community? The calathumpian community? How real are these terms? Are Jews a monolith? Are Muslims a monolith?

And this is where my criticism of the simplistic analyses by the likes of AIJAC writers, Daniel Pipes and others begins. Because AIJAC are so committed to painting Jews as being one monolith and always blindly supporting anything and everything Israel does, they also end up demonising anyone they consider opposed to or critical of Israel.

So if a practising Christian, a professor of English literature and a prominent peace activist is awarded the Sydney Peace Prize, AIJAC take it upon themselves to not only criticise her but to virtually hack her in a most brutal and personal manner.

And if AIJAC choose to sue me for defamation for saying that, I am happy. Because I will be able to show that my sentiments are echoed by many in the Jewish, Christian and non-faith communities.

Muslims have to learn that there is no point in being paranoid about Jews. And Jews have to learn there is no point being paranoid about Muslims. In my respectful submission, many of the items AIJAC publish do not help this process of dialogue and understanding.

AIJAC’s “winner takes all” and “you are either with us or with the terrorists” mentality is stifling the possibility of genuine and long-overdue dialogue between Jews and Muslims. How can you expect Muslim activists to want to speak with Jewish activists when the loudest Jewish voices are those apparently committed to demonising Muslim sentiments?

AIJAC likes to couch itself as mainstream, as speaking for democracy and freedom and other soft fluffy concepts. But they lambast anyone who even remotely criticises anything linked to Israel.

AIJAC has to understand that Muslims will not fall madly in love with Israel overnight. And if they do, it will be more reflected in the decency of ordinary Israelis and Jews (such as my mum’s first friend in Australia) than by articles lambasting “Islamists” or by giving terrorists legitimacy by attributing their acts to a religion which resembles Judaism more than any other.

When AIJAC and similarly-minded people present terrorism as an Islamic phenomenon, they are effectively also presenting it as a Jewish phenomenon. Why? Because no religion on the face of the earth resembles Judaism as much as Islam. And no civilisation was as generous and involved in the development and preservation of Jewish tradition as Islamic civilisation.

Maimonides wrote his best work in Arabic. When a xenophobic Muslim dynasty took over Spain, Maimonides found his best patron in Salahuddin Ayyubi (Saladdin). Shaykh Musa bin Maymoun al-Qurtubi was appointed Chief Medical Officer to Saladdin’s army.

Maimonides, a Jewish scholar and physician, was a man at the centre of Muslim efforts to liberate Jerusalem.

I would love to revive that age-old friendship between Jews and Muslims. I would love for followers of these two almost identical faiths to embrace each other as they used to in Baghdad and Cordoba. But that can only occur when we focus on the things which we have in common. AIJAC has to decide whether it wishes to be part of that process.

What is more important? World peace? Avoidance of civilisational conflict? Or defending anything and everything done in the name of a certain non-Arab country in the Middle East whose name is it Iran?

I choose peace and religious harmony. What will AIJAC choose?

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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Monday, July 25, 2005

OPINION: Muslim body does not represent the community

Muslim community governance mirrors that of Australian government. Just as we have local councils, Muslims have local mosque societies. These come together to form state and territory councils, similar to our state and territory governments. These councils there come together to form the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC).

Every catholic has heard of Cardinal Pell. Every Anglican has heard of the Jensen’s. But take a walk down Auburn Road in Auburn. Ask the average Muslim whether he or she has heard of AFIC.

Huh? AFIC? What’s that?

AFIC’s meetings are closed to ordinary Muslims. Further, in NSW, AFIC has made it a practice to create its own rotten borough Islamic councils when it disagrees with existing ones. Already, within a space of 5 years, it has created two new councils.

In 2001, it established the Supreme Islamic Council of NSW to replace the Islamic Council of NSW. Then it fell out with the Supreme Council, prompting some to predict a super-supreme council.

AFIC now has eyes on the Islamic Council of Victoria, one of the few bodies to act constructively in relation to the London bombings.

Muslims in NSW refer to their peak bodies as the “three pizza councils”. It all makes for after-dinner humour, but with the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent in legal fees in Supreme Court battles, few Muslims now find it a laughing matter.

AFIC projects itself to governments as the voice of Muslim Australia. Yet it rarely, if ever, consults with Muslim Australians.

Unbelievably, the Immigration Department awarded AFIC a large grant under its Living in Harmony project some years back. AFIC spent the money on hiring a media adviser and publishing a few issues of a newspaper. When the grant moneys finished, so did the paper.

AFIC has no idea of who it is representing. It has never conducted any survey or study on Muslim needs or attitudes or social trends. Before the Iraq war, AFIC claimed Muslims as a whole were against the war. On what basis did they reach this conclusion?

Now it seems that AFIC may be representing Muslim Australians at a proposed terror summit. And what steps has AFIC take to consult with local Muslims on the matter? What surveys or structured consultations has AFIC held with mosque congregations, university students, academics, business people and professionals that make up this dynamic and upwardly mobile faith-community?

John Howard needs to involve Muslim Australians in national security issues. Muslim Australians have a knowledge and understanding of terror groups which will prove invaluable to fighting this scourge.

But Howard and other mainstream leaders should think twice before taking the representative capacity of bodies like AFIC for granted.

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney employment and industrial lawyer. In 2001 he was the endorsed Liberal candidate for the seat of Reid in western Sydney. First published in the Australian Financial Review, Monday 25 July 2005.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

COMMENT: Howard Should Think Twice Before Listening To Muslim Peak Bodies

Muslim community governance mirrors that of Australian government. Just as we have local councils, Muslims have local mosque societies. These come together to form state and territory councils, similar to our state and territory governments. These councils there come together to form the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC).

Every catholic has heard of Cardinal Pell. Every Anglican has heard of the Jensen’s. But take a walk down Auburn Road in Auburn. Ask the average Muslim whether he or she has heard of AFIC.

Huh? AFIC? Is that some kind of new chocolate ice cream? Cadbury Afic – creamy chocolate filled with extra nuts.

AFIC’s meetings are closed to ordinary Muslims. Further, in NSW, AFIC has made it a practice to create its own rotten borough Islamic councils when it disagrees with existing ones. Already, within a space of 5 years, it has created 3 Islamic councils.

In 2001, it established the Supreme Islamic Council of NSW to replace the Islamic Council of NSW. Then, when it fell out with the Supreme Council, Muslims were already cracking jokes about its replacement and predicted it would be the Super-Supreme Council.

AFIC now has eyes on closing down the Islamic Council of Victoria, one of the few bodies that have acted constructively in relation to the London bombings. AFIC is attempting to find legal loopholes to replace ICV with a Victorian pizza council.

As a result, Muslim New South Welshmen refer to their peak bodies as “the 3 pizza councils”. It all makes for good after-dinner humour. But with the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent in legal fees in Supreme Court battles, few Muslims are now finding it a laughing matter.

AFIC projects itself to governments as the voice of Muslim Australia. Yet it rarely if ever consults with Muslim Australians. The extent to which it is out of touch with Muslim Australia was illustrated after the terrorist attack on Istanbul.

Turkish Australians are perhaps the largest and most established ethnic group in the Australian Muslim communities. Turks control more mosques than any other community, including in rural and regional areas. But when Istanbul was the subject of a terrorist attack, AFIC described the attack as one on the capital of Turkey.

All AFIC had to do was ask one of 200,000 Aussie Turks what the capital of Turkey was. Even “Crazy” John Ilhan knows the answer to that question. Then again, at least they issued a press release on the Istanbul bombing. AFIC’s website has no release over the London bombing.

Believe it or not, the Department of Immigration awarded AFIC a large grant under its “Living in Harmony” project some years back. AFIC spent the money on hiring a media adviser and publishing a few issues of a newspaper. When the grant moneys finished, so did the paper.

AFIC has no idea of who it is representing. It has never conducted any survey or study on Muslim needs or attitudes or social trends. Before the Iraq war, AFIC claimed Muslims as a whole were against the war. And on what basis did they reach this conclusion? Who knows.

Among AFIC’s more controversial decisions was the creation of the position of “mufti” as a means of securing permanent residency for Sheik Taj Hilali. The Sheik’s appointment was particularly controversial given his inability to speak fluent English and his being imam of a mosque whose executive only allows Lebanese to be full members.

Now it seems that AFIC will be representing Muslim Australians at a proposed terror summit. And what steps has AFIC take to consult with local Muslims on the matter? What surveys or structured consultations has AFIC held with mosque congregations, university students, academics, business people and professionals that make up this dynamic and upwardly mobile faith-community?

Mr Howard needs to involve Muslim Australians in national security issues. Muslim Australians have a knowledge and understanding of terror groups which will prove invaluable to fighting this scourge. But Mr Howard and other mainstream leaders should think twice before taking the representative capacity of bodies like AFIC for granted.

Like their Jewish cousins, Muslims are not fond of consuming pork. But for many Muslims, pigs will sooner fly into the mosque to lead the Friday prayer before they will feel AFIC is representing them.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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Thursday, July 21, 2005

OPINION: The loud minority grabs the Muslim limelight

FEIZ Mohamed stands up in front of 1000 people at Bankstown Town Hall and declares that women are eligible for rape if they dress a certain way.

Mohammed Omran declares on national television that Osama bin Laden is innocent. He ignores a huge body of evidence including bin Laden's own admissions.

These two imams have a lot in common. They both belong to a fringe strain of Islam rejected by both mainstream Sunni and Shia Muslims. They both studied at the same university in Saudi Arabia.

And both have small followings.

After his comments about dress and rape, most of the females in Feiz Mohamed's audience walked out.

Feiz Mohamed's 1000 people could hardly be compared to the 5000 that attend the Auburn Gallipoli Mosque each Friday. It fades into insignificance compared to the 30,000-plus who attend the annual Eid Festival and Fair at the end of Ramadan.

These two imams use inflammatory speech to gain an audience. They shout to be heard. And thankfully, they are generally ignored.

When young Aussie Mossies want to hear lectures, they download the speeches of Americans like Hamza Yusuf Hanson or Poms like Tim Winter. The last major Islamic scholar to attend Sydney, Dr Jamal Badawi from Canada, had much larger crowds at his talks.

So why are Feiz Mohamed and Mohammed Omran so often interviewed? Why do some journalists hang off every word they say?

Perhaps it is because they represent the typical caricature of a beady-eyed nasty terror-loving type. As a result, most Australians don't associate Muslim communities with the mainstream. The articulate Malcolm Thomas (chairman of the Islamic Council of Victoria) is not enough to convince the doubting tabloid Thomases to change their image of Aussie Mossies.

In the UK and the US the story is different. The BBC frequently hosts Tim Winter, a softly spoken Cambridge scholar. In the US, President Bush had the good sense to be photographed with Hamza Yusuf Hanson immediately after September 11.

Imam Hamza told British Muslims if they didn't like the culture, go and live in a Muslim country.

These are the voices of mainstream Muslim communities across the Western world.

And they all have a sense of humour. They are huge fans of the Canadian Muslim stand-up comic Azhar Usman. In his latest release Allah Made Me Funny!, Usman asks: Why do people blame me for 9/11? What makes you think I am responsible for 9/11? 7-Eleven maybe. But 9/11?

*The author is a Sydney lawyer. First published in the Daily Telegraph on 16 July 2005.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Hate Books Always On The Fringe

Theories on Islamic books you wouldn't read about
Irfan Yusuf
Thursday, 21 July 2005

I have a close friend who attended a Canberra Anglican school for 6 years. She is spiritually ecumenical with a keen interest in Hindu and Christian mysticism. Over the years, I have given her a number of spiritual books. Her favourite is a collection of Rumi poems entitled “Hidden Music”.

I have another close friend working medical research. She also has a superb sense of humour. I recently gave her 2 books on tib an-nabawi (classical medicine as taught by Prophet Muhammad) and a DVD of three American Muslim comics entitled “Allah made me funny!”.

Before writing this piece, I spoke to the owner of the Andalus Islamic Bookstore in Sydney (from where I purchased some of these items). I asked him what was his biggest seller. “We just can’t order enough of those books on baby names”, he said.

The biggest selling book from one of the most popular Australian Islamic bookstores is one used by parents to choose a name for their new-born child. A powerful metaphor for a religious community at the heart of mainstream Australia, and a far cry from some books sold at fringe salafist bookshops which seem to encourage young people to take their own lives and those of others.

Andalus also supplies the needs of members of Canberra’s educated and progressive Muslim community. The Canberra Islamic Centre hopes to establish Australia’s largest Islamic library. Already, it has collected an impressive array of rare books and manuscripts in a number of languages. It also sells books as part of its fundraising activities. Many of these books are sourced from the website.

Tabloid journalists and high rating Sydney morning shock jocks (the ones in Canberra are lucky to reach double figure ratings) may harp on about hate-filled books. A few days back I spent 45 minutes listening to a reporter from Channel 7’s Today Tonight show trying to convince me to name names of salafist book distributors. The way she was speaking, it seemed clear to me that she had never visited a single Muslim bookshop in Sydney.

The reality among mainstream Muslim Australians is quite contrary to sensationalist reports. No doubt there are bookstores selling these materials. But they are a small minority. And they have plenty of hate-filled stock as the more popular titles sell out much more quickly. It’s obvious books preaching fanaticism are just not selling.

Unlike other English-speaking countries (such as the United States, Canada and UK), Australia does not have a large Islamic publishing industry. When Fairfax journalist Nadia Jamal wanted to publish her account of growing up Muslim in Australia, she had little choice but to approach a mainstream Australian publisher.

Indeed, some of the best books on Islamic religion and culture only sell at mainstream bookstores. The popular US Muslim writer Yahya Emerick’s book entitled The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Islam is available at Belconnen Dymocks, as are books by New York Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Mainstream bookstores also sell popular titles on Islam by respected non-Muslim authors such as Karen Armstrong and John Esposito.

On the other hand, there are also books which talk about war and jihad. The Daily Telegraph recently made an issue of one bookshop in the western Sydney suburb of Auburn selling a book entitled “The Quranic Concept of War”. What the Telegraph didn’t report was that the book was a treatise on the historical rules of war under classical Islamic jurisprudence, not a modern terror manual. Further, the bookshop was managed by a small harmless sufi organisation, most of whose books are in Turkish.

Books about jihad are not necessarily offensive. Some journalists continue to harbour the misapprehension that jihad is the Islamic equivalent for medieval Christian “holy war”. But for mainstream Muslims, jihad typically refers to a spiritual struggle against one’s evil inclinations. In this respect, most sufi books are little more than manuals on spiritual jihad.

With followers of fringe ideological off-shoots of Islam responsible for most recent terrorist acts (including the recent spate in London and Baghdad), authorities are understandably concerned about literature being sold in religious bookshops. But this is no reason to believe that 400,000 Muslim Australians are busy reading terror manuals and planning suicide bombing attacks. Security and law enforcement agencies need to be alert. But alarmist sentiments should be left to immature morning shock jocks desperate for ratings.

(The author is a Sydney industrial lawyer who has advised peak Muslim organisations and independent schools. This article was published in the Canberra Times)

Thursday, July 14, 2005

COMMENT: Heads in the Sand on War & Terror

Today’s Australian (i.e. 13 July 2005) contains two interesting opinion pieces. Both reflect a ‘heads in the sand’ approach to reality.

The first is a refreshing and intelligent piece by Waleed Aly, a Melbourne commercial lawyer and executive member of the Islamic Council of Victoria.

It is not often that I can find words of praise for Muslim leadership in Australia. Muslim Australians have become accustomed to the reactionary and reactive (as opposed to proactive) nonsense that often passes for public comment amongst Muslim organisational leaders.

It seems I am not the only one to share these views. A growing number of Australian-born Muslims are reaching the edge of patience with imams and mosque presidents who just never know when to shut their mouths.

I was shocked when I saw the interview between Tony Jones and Mohammed Omran. Here was a man claiming to be a scholar and spiritual leader. Traditionally, Muslim scholars have been sensible and moderate in their views. They understand that Islamic theology and law are complex subjects, and they tread hesitatingly lest they stray. They also know not to speak in areas beyond their expertise.

But when questioned and probed on ultimate direct responsibility for the September 11 attacks, Omran was clearly out of his league. What makes things worse is that Omran brought up and spoke in bin Ladin’s defence in the first place.

But does this make Omran an apologist for terror and a man worthy of being defamed or even worse? Omran is a typical caricatured imam – large face, beady eyes, like some figure out of an old Hollywood classic of the Arabian nights.

And this makes him the complete opposite of what Muslim Australians have come to expect from Muslim scholars. Muslim Australians are more accustomed to the views of Western Muslim scholars and writers such as Tim Winter, Michael Wolfe, Feisal Abdul Raud and Hamza Yusuf Hanson. All four have condemned terror. All four reflect mainstream classical Islamic learning.

And all four find it impossible to speak against the overwhelming body of evidence, much of it produced by bin Ladin and his colleagues, of al-Qaida involvement in September 11. And until someone can provide better evidence, mainstream Muslims will continue to point the finger at bin Ladin.

In the case of bin Ladin, the evidence is clear. In the case of claims in the Australian editorial of 13 July 2005, the evidence is sadly lacking.

The Australian’s editorial uses the flimsiest of evidence to defend its claim that Western countries lack any direct or indirect responsibility for any terrorist attack anywhere in the world. It is a claim about as infantile as claims by Muslim extremists that no Muslim could ever plant a bomb in a bus or fly a plane into a skyscraper.

The Australian speaks of Western nations who sent armies and airpower to defend the Bosnians. To make such a claim on the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre is an insult to the memory of the victims. On that occasion, British and other troops under UN auspices stepped aside and allowed Bosnian Serb forces to massacre over 6,000 innocent civilians.

Human lives are human lives. The Qur’an and the Bible both say that the one who takes one human life unjustly is like one who kills all humankind. But if it has any meaning, Srebrenica deaths numbered over 100 times those in London. Yet the Australian has hardly reported on the 10th anniversary, instead glorifying the role of Western troops who engaged Bosnian women as sex-slaves and Western countries who enforced an arms embargo knowing it would stifle Bosnia’s attempts to defend itself.

The editorial then speaks in praise of the same multiculturalism which many neo-Conservative columnists from the same paper love to attack. But the real gem is the attack on Tariq Ali.

Mr Ali is from Pakistan. His father was a newspaper editor. Ali left Pakistan and fled to London, one of hundreds of dissidents from various third world countries seeking refuge in this truly international city.

So did Ali leave because of his religious views. Was Ali a democratic activist? Was he a poor suffering political refugee? No. Ali was a Marxist intellectual. He still is.

And guess what. Marxists don’t believe in God. Muslims do. They are required to. And what does all this mean? It means Ali does not speak for mainstream Muslims anymore than the editor of Green Left Weekly speaks for mainstream Australians.

You’d think the Australian would no better. You’d think the Australian would have understood enough about its tens of thousands of Muslim readers, their sentiments and their cultures. But then again, the Australian was the same newspaper that happily defends one of its columnists who accuses those same Muslim readers of teaching their kids to rape white Australian women.

The editorial in the Australian represents many of the same infantile traits that Waleed Ali criticises in his piece. But can we dismiss an entire newspaper for the sake of one editorial? I don’t think so. We are all human. We should be allowed to make mistakes from time to time. And we should be prepared to forgive. And we should be prepared to recognise the good in all people and all things.

And so I end with a quote from the same editorial that I have just trashed. Because this is perhaps the ream message in the editorial, and was perhaps the real intent behind its publication.

Unfortunately, this kind of marshmallow-mindedness is not confined to an
insignificant minority. After every terror outrage, much of the moral
middle-class appears to focus instantly on that greatest – yet, so far, most
invisible – of all horrors: the possibility of a "backlash" against law-abiding
Muslims. Between attacks, they focus on the curtailment of civil liberties
implied in new anti-terror laws, as if that were our biggest problem. In fact,
if the British Law Lords had not deemed Tony Blair's new anti-terror laws "not
strictly required by the exigencies of the occasion" earlier this year, last
Thursday's awful occasion may have been preventable.

Woops. I must have read the editorial correctly to begin with. It seems I was right after all!

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Wrong Words, Difficult Emotions

Some friends of mine are seriously thinking of moving to Canberra. They are expanding their business, and want to open a factory from where they can service clients. If their business grows, they will provide livelihoods and jobs to numerous Canberra households, not to mention contributing to the local economy.

And what is it that impressed them so much about Canberra? I spoke to one of the directors.

“When I walk through Civic wearing my hijab [traditional Muslim headscarf], no one even takes a second look at me. Everyone is friendly and helpful. It’s such a friendly place. They don’t presume I have bombs strapped to my ankles or something crazy like that”.

That was on Sunday night. The views expressed by this couple were in accord with what I personally know and have experienced. Canberra is not a place where racism is the flavour of the month.

My family are originally from Canberra. When my Delhi-born parents arrived in Australia, they headed straight for Canberra. My mother made her first friend in Canberra, a Hindi-speaking Jewish lady named Anne. How typical of the Canberra environment that it could be the scene of a lasting friendship between a Jew and a Muslim.

One of my closest friends, a Sydney paramedic, grew up in Canberra. Both she and my sister were born in the old Canberra Hospital. In 2003, when I decided to enrol in a Masters Program, the ANU Faculty of Law was my first choice. And because I stayed in Melba, the law library at UC was a regular place for study.

I have always regarded Canberra as a vibrant cosmopolitan city where people do not care what colour your skin is or which God you worship (if any) or how much chillies you put in your food. Hindus in Florey and Muslims in Yarralumla or Monash gather for worship in as much peace as Catholics in Manuka.

With these experiences of Canberra, readers can imagine how shocked I was to be asked by one Canberra talkback host about why Muslim Australians refuse to assimilate. What made me even more amused was that the questioner spoke with a more British accent than my broad East Ryde “Strayn” accent. It sounded like John Howard asking Prince Charles why he did not show more loyalty to constitutional monarchy.

Muslim Canberrans play an active role in Canberra life. They work senior public servants, political staffers, academics, lawyers, doctors, engineers and in other professions. They manage small businesses and large Commonwealth government departments. They employ and are employed by Canberrans of other faiths and of no faith in particular.

In the recent terrorist attacks, Londoners from all backgrounds suffered. A recent edition of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph included the story of a devout Muslim girl whose parents were originally from the Indian sub-Continent. She is missing and presumed dead. Her family were shown on UK television mourning her disappearance.

When Canberra faced its bushfire tragedy, all Canberrans suffered. And all Canberrans pitched in and provided assistance to those directly affected. Amongst the donors were members of the Canberra Islamic Centre who collected funds and provided other support and assistance to the relief effort.

Given these contributions, one wonders what more Canberran Muslims could do to “assimilate”. But it is also true that in difficult times, people can use the wrong words to express difficult emotions. And although I did enjoy giving that talkback host a run for his money, perhaps his words reflected the pain and anguish that many feel.

So how should I respond? Perhaps it would be best to use the words of a man at the centre of the London tragedy. Mayor Ken Livingstone had hardly finished celebrating London’s Olympic dream coming true when he was faced with the stark reality of terrorism in his heartland. He had every reason to use the wrong words to express difficult emotions.

And whilst others were getting ready to blame and attack anyone who resembled Islam, Ken Livingstone told it how it was. He described the terrorist attacks as being “aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old … an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever.”

The Mayor went onto say that “the city of London is the greatest in the world, because everybody lives side by side in harmony. Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack. They will stand together in solidarity alongside those who have been injured and those who have been bereaved”.

Canberra and London share the same features – harmony, tolerance, solidarity. Those who act and speak against these values are helping terrorists achieve their goals. The fuel of the terrorist fire is hate. The opposite of hate is love. And those who love Canberra will love all Canberrans.

© Irfan Yusuf, 2005

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

MEDIA: Why Canberrans Prefer Radio National

Canberra is a beautiful, vibrant, cosmopolitan city. A place where ordinary Canberrans share space with diplomats, overseas students and other temporary residents.

Canberra is also an educated city. Just about everyone has at least a TAFE diploma or is in the process of getting one.

Canberra is also a city where new Australians participate and are made to feel welcome. It is not a racist place. You can wear any kind of clothes in civic without anyone being the slightest bit interested. Canberrans have seen it all.

How do I know all this? Because my family are from Canberra. My sister was born in Canberra. I myself have lived in Canberra, and am currently enrolled in the ANU Faculty of Law. I have relatives and friends living in Monash, Evatt, Gordon, Belconnen and other Canberra Suburbs.

So when I was asked to be interviewed by Canberra radio, I expected the interview to be a polite and intelligent exchange of views. The interview was being conducted in the aftermath of an article published in the Daily Telegraph on that day (11 July 2005).

That night, I was to be interviewed by one of Sydney radio’s more colourful identities. Stan "the Man" Zemanek just doesn’t hold back. He asks you the most provocative question directly and will insist you provide a direct answer. And he can be very tough.

So when I received the call from the lady from 2CC, Canberra’s talkback radio station, I was rather surprised. Why?

Well, for a start, I never knew Canberra had talkback radio. When I am in Canberra, my only radio listening is to one of the pop music stations, Triple-J or ABC Radio. Most people I know in Canberra do the same.

I was surprised when I ended up being interviewed by someone who clearly was not accustomed to the ways and mores of Canberrans. He was clearly someone who had never set foot into Civic (as Canberra's CBD is known) or had a few drinks at King O’Malleys on a Saturday night. And from his questioning, it was obvious to me he had not set foot in an educational institution.

Here is a sample of some of the infantile questions I was asked. Now before reading them, I must tell you that I am in the process of obtaining a transcript. So what I write here may or may not be 100% accurate.

“Why aren’t more Muslims protesting in the streets against terrorism?”

“When will all your clerics condemn violence?”

“When will your clerics preach a version of Islam that does not award 72 virgins to you if you blow yourself up?”

“Why can’t your clerics see that Australians are scared of Muslims?”

“Why don’t you migrant Muslims learn to assimilate?”

I wish I knew which Canberrans were scared of Muslims. Because I have never known that fear to exist. Perhaps the absence of fear might explain why so many Canberras are happy to eat out at Ali Babas. It might also explain why there are so many branches of the National Australia Bank in Canberra. People in Canberra probably don’t find Ahmed Fahour (one of the NAB’s senior executives) all that scary.

The questions on assimilation were really quite silly. I mean, fancy a shock jock with a slightly English accent telling a Sydney lawyer with a broad “Strayn” accent to assimilate more. A bit like John Howard telling the Prince Charles to be more favourably inclined to constitutional monarchy.

And I wish I knew what role a protest in the streets would play in the aftermath of Australian deaths and injuries in London. Surely making loud noises is not the way to pay one’s respects to the dead (at least 10% of whom were Muslims anyway). My preference is quiet contemplation and prayer, not protests and burning effigies of Usama bin Ladin or some other wacko we only started hearing of when he was reported in the Western media.

As for the clerics, well I have never met a Muslim cleric. And you can imagine how my interviewer must have felt when, after asking a long-winded question about clerics, he was informed that Islam does not have clerics. And to make matters worse, he did not bother to read an article in the Canberra Times (which perhaps many of his listeners would have read) in which I spoke about the absence of clerics in Muslim societies.

A range of other questions were asked, often based on presumptions which anyone who has attended ANU or UC or ACU or even high school in Canberra would know are just infantile. And when I pointed out that these types of questions are not the type ordinary Canberrans would answer, the interviewer realised he was out of his league.

The interview ended with a humorous monologue in which the interviewer claimed that my describing his questions as those of a “shock jock” was racist. When I suggested to him that radio talkback hosts did not constitute a race, he completely lost it.

It was truly hilarious stuff. A shock jock tries to be a smart-ass with a poor migrant unassimilated pro-terrorist follower of extremist clerics looking forward to 72 fictitious virgins. And the shock jock ends up being given a good kick and completely losing it on air. In the end, most listeners would have realised where the real extremism was coming from.

Is it any wonder more people listen to Radio National in Canberra? Is it any wonder Canberrans prefer the good humour of James O'Loghlin (with whom I was fortunate enough to work as a duty solicitor at the Blacktown Local Court during the mid-1990's) to the rants of some morning shock jock whose name is so easy to forget?

Postscript: I though I would ask some Canberra people what they thought of the interview. So I rang one of my Canberra clients. He was at work at the time.

“So did you hear the interview on 2CC?”, I asked him.

“Yeah. You sure gave that bastard a good pasting. I hope you perform like that for me when we get to court!”, he replied.

I asked another client. He said: “Mate, I never listen to talkback. It makes me sick. My wife only has it on when John Laws is talking.”

I then asked a lecturer at one of the universities in Canberra. He said: “Talkback is about as popular here as pork is at a bar mitzvah.”

That’s life. And I certainly am not Derryn Hinch!

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

Monday, July 11, 2005

OPINION: Send Muslims home? Fine, I'll go to East Ryde

TERRORISTS murder and maim. They claim to do this in my name. They will tell the world they did it to protect me and defend my rights.

When I was studying law at Macquarie University in the early '90s, I was taught never to present hearsay evidence in court unless a rule of law allows it. You cannot judge someone by what others attribute to them.

But some people are pointing fingers at me without asking what I actually think. They accept what others claim I am saying.

Out there in the broader community, people are frightened. I am frightened. So are my friends. On Friday night, I visited a young couple. The husband is a banker, the wife a financial adviser. They are a typical Sydney family. We were watching the TV news. We were terrified by what we saw.

"This morning I got off the train at Circular Quay. I asked myself, `When will it be my turn?''' the wife said. Replied the husband: "These terrorist bastards are making me edgy.''

Will it surprise you if I tell you that my friends are Australians? No. What if I told you they are Muslims? What if I told you that more than 20 per cent of the September 11 victims were of Muslim background? Would you believe me if I tell you that one of the first people President Bush consulted after September 11 was a Muslim scholar of Greek-American heritage named Hamza Yusuf Hanson?

You are frightened. So am I. So are people of Muslim background who manage Australia's largest financial institutions, who are partners of major commercial law firms, who are deans of faculties in major universities and who study at university.

We are frightened because if this happened in Sydney, we would be among the dead and wounded. We are frightened for the same reasons you are. What are we going to do about it? We will do exactly what you do. We will continue paying our taxes to fund law enforcement and intelligence services. We will be vigilant and report anything and anyone we find suspicious.

Some say we need to do more. So we will condemn and condemn and condemn terrorists again and again. Some say our mosques need to be closed down and we need to go back to where we came from. No problem. I will go back to East Ryde. My Muslim friends mentioned earlier will leave Concord and go back to Marrickville.

Some people will say anything to show hatred towards the world's 1.2 billion Muslims. Their hate is exactly what the terrorists want. They want you to victimise and blame me. Why? Because terrorists hope I will fall into their arms.

But I am not going to let that happen. And neither will the overwhelming majority of my fellow Muslim Australians. Because Sydney is my home town. I will do everything in my power to stop the terrorists.

Terrorism is about hate. The opposite of hate is love. As St Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians, "Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres''.

Those who truly love Australia will love all Australians.

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney industrial lawyer who learned about St Paul's letters after spending eight years at St Andrews Cathedral School. This article was published on page 19 of the Daily Telegraph on Monday July 11 2005.

© 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Advice To My Learned Friend

It is proper etiquette for a solicitor appearing in court against Senior Counsel to refer to the Counsel as “my learned friend”.

But with all due respect, I am yet to find much learning evident in recent calls by Melbourne QC, Peter Faris, to intern Imams and persons caught photographing public monuments.

In a posting to his website dated 8 July 2005, Peter Faris QC called for the implementation of wartime legislation similar to that established during the Second World War.

“Wartime legislation like this is now necessary”, wrote Mr Faris. “Mullahs or Imams or whatever who preach or violence of Jihad should be detained.”

Mr Faris is a prominent Melbourne barrister and former Chairman of the National Crime Authority during 1989-90. He is an expert in criminal and computer law. In the past, he has worked as a criminal lawyer for the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and is a founder of the Fitzroy Legal Service.

Despite this impressive record of service, Mr Faris has expressed some remarkably regressive views of late. He was recently quoted as suggesting that torture of terror and criminal suspects was acceptable. His comments were described by the Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, Lex Lasry QC, as “bizarre” and a “ludicrous concept”.

More telling than Mr Faris’ comments on his website were comments made by readers supporting his stand.

One contributor under the nickname “Gravelrash” has suggested that “some ozzie Mozzies should be in Baxter, for the sake of national security”.

Other parts of Mr Faris’ blog show the same disdain for Islam and Muslims. I have no doubt Mr Faris is entitled to his opinions. But as a good barrister, he would be expected to at least provide some evidence to back his claims.

Unfortunately, such evidence is not always forthcoming. Unless one were to presume that the hate-filled rants of Islamophobes like Daniel Pipes are to be considered evidence.

In one telling post, Mr Fares summarises his views in these words: “I’m over Muslims, Islam the whole lot. I don’t care whom (sic.) they are, where they came from or what they want from the world. I’m over the murderous nature of a religion that would hold the whole world to ransom. I’m over the people who continually try to defend it. I’m over hearing that the ‘majority of Muslims’ are decent people. If they are so decent why don’t they get out and hit the streets and show us that they don’t support what is happening around the world.”

For such sentiments to come from families of victims is understandable. But for these to be expressed by a prominent senior counsel thousands of miles from the scene is just unacceptable.

Mr Faris’ irresponsible comments are a far cry from the sober tones of a man at the centre of the London tragedy, Mayor Ken Livingstone. Immediately following the bombing, the Mayor had this message for the world:

“I want to say one thing specifically to the world today. This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at Presidents or Prime Ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever.

That isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted faith - it is just an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder and we know what the objective is. They seek to divide Londoners. They seek to turn Londoners against each other. I said yesterday to the International Olympic Committee, that the city of London is the greatest in the world, because everybody lives side by side in harmony. Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack. They will stand together in solidarity alongside those who have been injured and those who have been bereaved and that is why I'm proud to be the mayor of that city.”

Terrorists want Londoners to turn on each other. They want Western Muslims to resent and fate Western non-Muslims and vice versa. When citizens of Western countries such as England and Australia begin to turn on each other, the terrorists will be cheering them on from the sidelines.

I would suggest to those like my learned friend who are tempted to express such sentiments to remember the words of London’s Mayor immediately after this tragedy. They should remember that terrorism, not Islam, is the enemy.

Or as one American Muslim scholar said after September 11: “Terrorism is to Islam what adultery is to marriage”.

(The author is a Sydney industrial and employment lawyer.)

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Friday, July 08, 2005

From Sydney To London - Muslims Must Condemn Terror

The last 24 hours will have been an emotional roller coaster ride for the people of London. Following the elation of winning the right to hold the 2012 Olympic Games, at least 7 deadly explosions have brought death and tears to this jubilant city.

The Olympic win promised to be an enormous boost to the East End, home to many impoverished groups including sub-continental Muslim migrants. Now these same migrants and their brethren in communities across the Western World will once again be asked to explain and prove their loyalty.

And how should London Muslims respond? Should they hide behind the catch-cry of discrimination? Should they remind fellow citizens that Muslims are just as English as their countrymen and women are? Or should London Muslims act sensitively to allay fears and uncertainties?

London Muslims are victims of these attacks just as much as other Londoners. They share the natural feelings of vulnerability, besieged by what appears to be yet another attack by extremists using Islam as an ideological weapon.

When western citizens are kidnapped by extremists with Muslim-sounding names, the reputation of Islam is hijacked. When western citizens are murdered and executed, Islam is also being murdered and executed. When western citizens are the target of injustice, Islam is treated unjustly.

Islam is an Arabic word that means ‘peace’. How can peace be established with bombs and suicide attacks and kidnappings? How can peace be spread through killing peaceful civilians?

Islam is a word that also means ‘surrender to God’. Our Lord never taught us to kill and maim civilians. Our God never taught us to harm people who do not harm us.

The English people recently delivered a severe blow to their government over its involvement in the Iraq invasion and occupation. Even before the war, perhaps the largest anti-war rally was held in London. The hearts of English men and women are on the side of the victims, of innocent Iraqi and other children , women and men who die each day across the Muslim world.

London has provided sanctuary to hundreds of Muslim refugees and dissidents fleeing repressive Muslim regimes. For over a decade, London was home to the late Abdul Majid Khoi, one of Iraq’s most senior religious figures. Muslim dissidents and activists speak their minds more freely in London than perhaps anywhere else in the world.

The time has come for these English Muslim dissidents and activists to raise their voices and condemn the attacks on the city that has provided them with freedom and sanctuary.

One of the best remembered incidents from early Islamic history is the story of repressed Muslim refugees fleeing from Mecca to Abyssinia at the orders of the Prophet Muhammad. This small band of Muslims sought protection and refuge from a Christian King, known in Islamic tradition as Najashi.

Notwithstanding strong submissions from the Meccan authorities and support from his advisers, Najashi granted the Muslims a fair hearing and natural justice. Following an impassioned speech by the Prophet’s cousin, Jafar, Najashi orders that the refugees be granted sanctuary for as long as they wished to remain in his kingdom.

The Christian kingdom of Abyssinia proved a safer place for Islam than the Arabian peninsular. While the Prophet and his remaining disciples faced famine, exile and war, his cousin and some 70 other Muslims enjoyed peace and security under the auspices of a Christian king.

London is to many Muslims what Abyssinia was to these early Muslims. And just as the King of Abyssinia granted the early Muslims a fair hearing, natural justice and security, so has London done the same.

The Mayor of London has been a prominent supporter of human rights for Muslims, particularly for Muslim women struggling against discrimination based on dress. The English Parliament has welcomed Muslims such as Lord Ahmed and Baroness Uddin into its hallowed halls. Muslims are free to participate at all levels of English society.

The nation that cheered for its cricket team even when captained by one Nasser Hussein deserves to feel secure in the knowledge that its Muslim citizens openly and publicly condemn the perpetrators of these attacks. Muslim Englishmen and women must echo the condemnation of terrorist acts and ideologies already expressed by prominent English Muslim scholars such as Tim Winter and the late Martin Lings.

The time to speak is now. Muslims must speak out now. Or else they will be condemned by their silence. And at a time of terror-induced pain and tears coming so soon after Olympic elation, English Muslim silence will speak louder than any detractors’ words.

(The author is a Sydney lawyer.)

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Why Employers Should Support Unfair Dismissal

John Howard has proven to be a friend of the Aussie battler. He has kept interest rates down. He has allowed more young Australians to buy new homes by giving them stamp duty concessions and the $7,000 grant.

Mr Howard has helped keep the economy strong and has committed himself to reducing red tape for small business. He has also promised to free up the industrial relations system, replacing the layers of state legislation and awards with a single federal system.

Mr Howard’s proposal reads really well on paper. No unfair dismissals for businesses employing less than 100 staff. A national workers compensation system. Simplified awards. The system sounds great. But there’s one hitch.

The system just won’t work.

Communism was really good on paper. It still looks superb. But we all know that communism just doesn’t work. And Mr Howard’s industrial reforms look like going in the same direction.

Let’s look at unfair dismissal. We have all read the horror stories of employers forking out tens of thousands of dollars on legal fees just to sack someone caught stealing. But how many cases ever reach as far as a hearing?

In NSW, the unfair dismissal system operates using simple forms. You don’t need a lawyer to make a claim or to defend one. The forms are easy to fill out and readily available at the website of the Industrial Relations Commission.

The procedures and law at both state and federal level are basically the same. A commissioner gets involved at first instance and tries to conciliate in an informal manner. In practice, that commissioner tells it as it is to both parties.

The most a worker can get is 6 months wages. Workers represented by lawyers generally pay legal fees from their award. Rarely does one party pay the other party’s legal costs. Most claims settle at conciliation.

Employees who believe they have been unfairly sacked have other remedies also. They can bring a myriad of discrimination claims, unfair contract claims, workers compensation claims and other claims. They can make life difficult for their former bosses by dobbing them in to any one of numerous regulatory bodies, including the local council, licensing bodies, ASIC and other government agencies.

Removing unfair dismissal opens the floodgates to employees making more difficult and expensive claims. There are plenty of personal injury lawyers twiddling their thumbs looking for things to do. And these lawyers will often happily act for employees on a speculative “no win no pay” basis in major claims.

If Mr Howard removes unfair dismissal, what will he do about all the other potential remedies? What will he do when small business starts complaining about rising fees in discrimination claims, unfair contract claims and other similar claims?

Defending unfair dismissal claims costs money for employers. But the alternatives are even more expensive. And many of these alternatives involve the employer potentially being liable for legal costs of their former employees as well as compensation.

Business is all about watching the bottom line. Removing a cheap and efficient remedy like unfair dismissal will hurt the bottom line of small business even more than keeping the remedy. If small businesses knew how much it would cost to defend the alternatives, they would be clamouring for unfair dismissal laws to stay in place.

(The author is an industrial relations lawyer and was a Federal Liberal candidate for the seat of Reid in the 2001 election.)

Saturday, July 02, 2005

The Jihad On Jihad?

When Sydney’s Imam Hilali was leaving for Iraq on his mission to free Australian hostage, he was criticised by his former adviser Keysar Trad for using the term “jihad” to describe his support for Iraqi opposition to continued American occupation. It was not the first time Imam Hilali has been criticised for using this term.

Mr Trad had a point. Yes, many Muslims agree that the Americans should leave Iraq as soon as possible (perhaps one of the few times they agree on anything). But by using the term “jihad”, Imam Hilali opened himself to accusations that he was supporting the methods of Wood’s kidnappers.

As someone who has spent the last decade dealing with mainstream media, Mr Trad understood well that the term “jihad” is regarded as being akin to terrorism. He would have been similarly concerned when reading the headline appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald on July 2 2005 – “Raided men defend their part in jihad”.

The story was based on interviews with four “Middle Eastern men” whose homes had been the subject of ASIO raids. These men claimed to be following a “pure” form of Islam as practised by the Taleban in Afghanistan.

Yet their idea of jihad would have been enough to send shivers down the spines of security officials. This kind of jihad was precisely what we are fighting against in our war on terror. Emulating the Taleban meant following in the footsteps of Usama bin Ladin.

Following the coordinated terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11 2001, a new phrase entered the hallowed hall of political correctness. Ironically, this time the phrase was one invented by the right of the political spectrum.

Thus far, we had been used to sacred cows like ‘reconciliation’ and ‘multiculturalism’ emerging from left of centre field. But on this occasion, it was a key player who kicked the political ball from the right wing and straight into the back of the net.

George W Bush, one of America’s most conservative presidents and a darling of the Arab/Muslim voters of North America, had coined a new phrase. He had declared the beginning of the “war on terror”.

We were all carried away with the emotional fervour following September 11. At an Islamic school located in the geographical heart of Sydney, a reception and prayer service was held for the American ambassador to Australia. Ironically, this school was heavily funded and supported by Saudi Arabia, a country many blame as being the biggest financier of terrorism. It was also the country from which the majority of the September 11 hijackers hailed from.

Later, Mr Bush described his new war as a “crusade”. He was later forced to retract his statement after being advised of the negative connotations this word would have in the minds of the American Muslim voters who pushed him over the line in Florida and other key states.

Yet many of Bush’s supporters and neo-Conservative fellow-travellers regard the war as a crusade, a civilisational war on Muslims in general. Some, like Franklin Graham, seem to have openly declared war on Islam. Others, like Daniel Pipes, have been a bit more subtle and sophisticated in expressing their hatred for Islam.

Political correctness also spawns its opposites. And perhaps the most politically incorrect word in the entire terrorism debate is jihad. Yet despite its maligned usage, the term jihad is quite benign.

Jihad is typically translated as “holy war”. The Arabic word for holy is “quddus”. Hence, Arab Christians describe the Holy Spirit as “Ruh al-Quddus” (literally “the Spirit of the Holy”). Holy war would be most closely translated as “harb al-quddus”. Sounds nothing like jihad.

So what is jihad? It is related to another word called “ijtihad”. This word represents a basic element of Islamic intellectual and social traditions described by writers across the spectrum of Muslim thought, from Ayatollah Khomeini to Irshad Manji.

Ijtihad and jihad are both about struggle and effort. Ijtihad is an intellectual struggle to find solutions to new problems using ancient religious texts. It describes the ongoing process of legal evolution, not dissimilar to the common law tradition.

Jihad is the general notion of struggle, of the search for truth and justice. It is a word used in many contexts – religious, legal, commercial, intellectual and political. In the military context, it refers to a just war. In other words, what a crusade should be.

Yet today’s neo-Conservative crusaders regard the war on terror as a crusade on jihad. They are assisted by ignorant journalists who continue to translate a benign religious term as some seditious plot. Sadly, the rhetoric and behaviour of a small minority of Muslims assists in this process of misunderstanding.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Friday, July 01, 2005

What a load of ...

Recently, I visited a friend and handed her a copy of an essential philosophical treatise on the excrement of male cows. My friend is an internationally acclaimed neuro-scientific researcher who has carried out and published research work in conjunction with scientists in three countries. And she was most impressed with my gift.

Our universities thrive on research. Learning is a process of identifying and objectifying reality. Philosophy attempts to model reality and present it in a simplified format using human language.

A major branch of philosophical inquiry is epistomology. This subject is graced with a title so noble and impressive that I will neglect researching its meaning by reference to a linguistic document. However, I note that the 2nd syllable of its title may contain some clues as to its value. Or perhaps it is a reference to the extraordinary intellect required for political leadership.

Many a time, I have completed a certain daily process and have wondered at the meanings of my bodily releases. Thankfully, like my Asian cousins, I am able to earn enough doing nothing useful to be able to afford somewhere to place myself when the need arises. Perhaps, after buying and reading the said treatise, I will be in a position to understand and appreciate that it's all just a load of bullshit.