Thursday, September 29, 2005

COMMENT: Introducing SATIC

Gerard Henderson once described unions and industrial commissions as being “The Industrial Relations Club”. Other allegedly conservative commentators frequently speak about “The Multicultural Industry”.

I’d like to propose the existence of the latest niche elite – “The Security & Anti-Terror Intelligence Club” (SATIC). And who are members of this club? Who are the members? How does one gain membership?

Well, I guess one set of members are the PM, State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers who form part of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). Then there are the various national security and other law enforcement apparatus. Then there are the self-declared experts who frequently issue fatwas on the state of terrorism in Australia and the region.

And what is the currency of this club? Is it open debate on the state of the economy and the labour market? Is it open discussion on the merits of cultural diversity and government-funded programs to promote same?

Nope. The currency of SATIC is intelligence, secret briefings, selective leaks to journalists and information that just cannot be disclosed but which can be used to defame and prosecute just about anyone who happens to fit the profile of a possible terrorist.

So how intelligent is this intelligence? How reliable is the information? How expert are the so-called experts? And what sort of presumptions underlay much thinking within SATIC on terrorism and security?

Allow me to start with one simple proposition – that I am a terrorist.

I may have missed out on being born in Australia by around 5 months. I may have grown up in the Prime Minister’s electorate. I may have spent some 10 years attending Sydney’s only Anglican Cathedral School.

I may have been an endorsed Liberal Candidate in a federal election during the 2001 elections. I may have edited 2 conservative youth magazines during my decade-long membership of the NSW Branch of the Liberal Party of Australia. I may have been part of the right-wing faction which delivered preselection to numerous conservative MP’s.

But the fact remains that I am a terrorist. I fit the terrorist profile. I arguably have Middle Eastern appearance (despite having mixed Turkish and Kashmiri ancestry and parents born in Delhi). My name suggests some sort of Muslim background (even if a Pakistani Christian cricketer shares part of my name).

Every single organisation proscribed under Australian anti-terror laws has some link to Islamic religion or Muslims. Compare this to the US, where over 35% of proscribed groups have no relation to Islam or Muslims.

Every single person prosecuted under anti-terror laws has been a Muslim. Ariel Sharon may have described those opposed to his disengagement plan as supporters of terrorism. But in Australia, don’t expect to see ASIO kicking in the doors of such people.

It took just one briefing from intelligence and law enforcement officials to convince political members of SATIC to reach agreement on laws which have been described by some lawyers as laying the foundations for the creation of a police state. And what was their information?

SATIC experts frequently cite intelligence, most of which cannot be tested. Yet in August, the Weekend Financial Review reported that ASIO’s budget for Muslim informants had blown out. Why? Because many informants were happy to take ASIO’s money in return for useless information, most of it designed to send ASIO agents knocking on the doors of the informants intra-Muslim communal enemies.

Now the president of the national police union has asked the government to indemnify police from prosecution in case people like me decide to sue police officers caught engaging in racial profiling. Police on the ground admit that the new anti-terror laws will only work with racial profiling.

And who will be profiled? Just Muslim extremists? Just people openly declaring their Islam? Don’t think so.

I expect my good friend who works behind a bar and never met her Muslim parent to be profiled just because she carries an Arabic-sounding name. I expect my cousins who regularly drink (and one of whom married a non-Muslim) to be profiled because of their name and appearance.

I also expect thousands of Christians and Jews of Arab background or thnicity to be targeted. I expect one of my close friends, a Canberra-born lass with an Indian Hindu mother and devout Catholic father to be profiled. Already, she complains of getting funny looks when she catches the train to university.

And who will benefit from this hysteria? Who will be cheering SATIC all the way to the finish line? Who will be pleased to see the rule of law and civil liberties eroded? My guess is a Saudi civil engineer hiding in a cave sporting a white turban and large beard …

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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Monday, September 26, 2005

COMMENT: Vandalising Muslim Civil Liberties

Australians were shocked to read of 4 mosques across New Zealand being vandalised in the wake of the London bombings. But the way the debate on anti-terror laws is heading in Australia, it seems civil rights are the target of state-sponsored terrorism.

Leader of the Labor Opposition Kim Beazley announced a plan to enable police to cordon off entire suburbs before exercising extensive and expanded powers. These include existing powers to search and confiscate. They also include powers to round up and detain people on the basis of which suburb they reside or find themselves in.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister John Howard has introduced a raft of security laws designed to make Australians feel safer and avert a terrorist attack. His proposals will be detailed at a terrorism summit this week when he addresses State Premiers.

The new laws contain sensible measures including beefing up security at airports. They also include providing Federal Police power to fine and even imprison suspects refusing to hand over documents.

Effectively the new measures enable police to deem certain people terror suspects. Once so deemed, persons are required to hand over just about any document which may provide clues to a terrorist attack.

So are these laws targeting persons of a particular ethno-religious background? The answer can be found in the list or organisations which the government has proscribed as terrorist organisations. Without exception, the organisations are somehow related to Muslims or Islam.

Compare this to a similar list of proscribed organisations under United States law. In his excellent terrorism primer entitled Terrorism Explained – The Facts About Terrorism and Terrorist Groups, Australian National University academic Clive Williams has provided a full list of 36 groups proscribed under US law.

The list is current as at 30 January 2003, and includes the Israeli Kahane Chai (Kach) movement, Basque group ETA and secular groups such as the Abu Nidal organisation, the Tamil Tigers and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The Government insists that Federal Police and Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) officers will exercise their powers with restraint and sensitivity. But Muslim Australian groups and civil libertarians are concerned about the implications of the laws for deemed terror suspects.

On August 28 2005, I had occasion to appear on the Channel Nine Sunday program’s Hypothetical moderated by Geoffrey Robertson QC. The scenario painted by Mr Robertson involved a possible terrorist attack coinciding with the Pope’s Visit for World Youth Day in 2007. A terror suspect is arrested and tortured.

The suspect provides interrogators with a tip-off that a terrorist will be attacking the pope using a machine gun and will appear from a certain government building. Police marksmen focus on the building and see someone who looks like a terrorist emerging from the building carrying what appears to be a gun. The suspect is shot dead.

On what basis was the person deemed a terrorist? In what way did he fit the terrorist profile? What makes the police think that the man looks like a terrorist?

Apart from Mr Robertson and myself, none of the panel saw any problem with the notion of a person having a certain appearance before being deemed a terrorist and treated accordingly. The panel included a judge, 3 senior politicians, police and intelligence officials, senior editors of mainstream media and a former State Governor.

As it turned out, the terror suspect was a contract cleaner from a local Australian family of Turkish background. His alleged weapon was in fact a vacuum cleaner. Yet the fact that a Turkish Australian whose family had probably been living in Australia since the 1960’s could be deemed a terrorist makes the new laws all the more frightening for local Muslims.

In an environment where no non-Muslim terrorist group has been proscribed, where Federal Government backbenchers are calling for headscarves to be banned and where police, politicians and the media make presumptions on a terrorist’s appearance, it seems Muslims and civil libertarians have every reason to be worried.

But it isn’t just observant or practising Muslims who may be targeted. Two examples will illustrate this. In both cases, names and details have been changed to protect anonymity.

Jane never met her Indonesian Muslim father. Despite growing up in Brisbane with her Dutch mother, she retained her distinctly Indonesian Muslim surname, an abbreviation of a common Arabic surname. Jane has brown skin and black hair.

Sita has dark brown skin and European features. Her mother is Indian Hindu and her father is Anglo-Australian. Sita has often been confused for being Pakistani, Lebanese or Iranian.

If either Jane or Sita had been the person walking out of the building carrying a vacuum cleaner, they would have equal chance of being profiled by police marksmen and shot dead.

Arab and Muslim names and culture have permeated almost every aspect of Australian life. The Governor of New South Wales Professor Marie Bashir shares a surname with an Indonesian imam believed to be responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings. Yet popularly held ignorance about ethno-religious differences and similarities and the lack of safeguards for civil liberties in proposed laws does give Muslim Australians reason to be alert and alarmed.

The author is a Sydney lawyer whose practises in employment and human rights law.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

Sunday, September 25, 2005

On London Bombings & Aussie Mossies

It is easy to demonise and hate. It is hard to remember and to understand. In the current environment of suspicion and fear, and with images of the London bombings still fresh in our memories, it is time for Muslim and non-Muslim Australians to re-assess some of their attitudes.

What follows are some scattered thoughts about the various issues raised in the aftermath of the London bombing. This is not a definitive discussion. Much more work needs to be done.

Taking Responsibility For Terror

London is no ordinary city. When terrorists attacked London, they attacked a city that had given refuge to scores of dissidents and activists from various Muslim countries.

Some years back, I had the misfortune of forcing myself to wade through Tariq Ali’s autobiography entitled Street Fighting Years. Ali is a typical Pakistani chardonnay Marxist. His father was the editor of an ex-colonial newspaper. When things got tough, Ali’s family flew him first-class to London.

Were it not for London, Ali might have been wasting away in a Lahore gaol at the mercy of the generals. And what thanks does Ali give to London?

In a piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald on July 11 2005, Ali blamed Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war as the cause of the London attacks. In other words, Ali was blaming the nation that gave him refuge for its own plight.

Perhaps if Iraqi dissident Abdul Majid Khoei were alive, he would have been troubled to read Ali’s piece. No doubt Khoei would have travelled on the trains and buses that were attacked. Perhaps he would have known some of the victims of the bombing. And Khoei was able to travel to Iraq precisely because British troops removed Saddam Hussein from power.

But in some senses, Ali does have a point. Ali notes that Islamo-fascists are a tiny minority who feel disenfranchised and disillusioned with British foreign policy. Although we will never know for certain, all evidence suggests that home-grown British Muslim youths were responsible for planning and carrying out the attacks.

Blowing Themselves Up For Allah

It is all good and fine to state that terrorists are a minority in all faiths. But how do home-grown British boys become suicide bombers? How do English-speaking educated mainstream youths reach a stage where suicide becomes an option?

This raises numerous questions which many Muslims find too hard to answer. Yet the answers to these questions are as crucial to national security as they are to Muslim community management.

The fact is that the way Muslim communities are managed is now a national security issue. The speeches Imams give, the decisions Muslim leaders take, the words and images Muslim organisational heads send out are being watched and monitored closely.

How do young Muslims become radicalised? What role to Imams play? What role do cultural expectations and identity crises play? What role does untreated depression and other psychiatric illness play?

Muslim Australians have been saying quietly over lunch and at dinner parties that radical imams need to be shut up. Muslims have been complaining for years about having a mufti who cannot speak proper English. Muslims whinge and complain about their incompetent leaders. Yet they do nothing about the situation.

Muslim inaction and silence are part of the problem. In the eyes of ordinary non-Muslim Australians, the onus is on Muslims to clean their house. When their internal filth becomes a threat to the health and lives of others, perhaps it is time for others to step in.

Wrong Words, Difficult Emotions

Muslim Australians need to be sensitive to the sentiments and emotions of their fellow Australians. It is not good enough to blame Piers Akerman or Andrew Bolt or Miranda Devine for writing an irresponsible or carelessly-worded opinion piece. Muslim Australians need to address the emotions and ignore the words.

Muslim Australians have to be seen to be doing something to address the difficult emotions of their fellow countrymen and women. Part of that process is to be honest about ourselves. We have to acknowledge our mistakes and openly correct them.

Sometimes this involves hanging the dirty linen on the line for people to see. Publicly rebuking incompetent leaders may make one unpopular with Muslim ghetto-dwellers. But it will earn plenty of respect in the broader community.

Australians are used to religious communities airing their dirty laundry on the line. When Dr Hanan Ashrawi arrived in Sydney to collect her Peace Prize, the responses and reactions and arguments of Jewish leaders were aired openly in the pages of the Australian Jewish News for all to see. Often the arguments became vicious and personal, with one prominent Jewish industrial lawyer accused of going soft on Bob Carr in order to win an ALP pre-selection.

We all know that many Anglicans are upset with the Jensens and that not all Aussie Catholics have time for Cardinal Pell. What harm will it be if Aussie Mossies come out and criticise radical Imams or even alleged moderate Imams who cannot speak English?

The Aussie Mossies

Muslim Australians have been part of mainstream Australia for over 150 years. Burke and Wills never made it back, but their cameleers did. At the turn of the century, Muhammad Alam was healing the rich and famous with his traditional Indian herbal remedies.

Australian writer Hanifa Deen has collected the family histories of various Muslim families in her classic work Caravanserais. Her book is evidence of the enormous contributions Muslims have made to shaping our national identity.

It is a historical and philosophical myth to suggest that Islam and Australian values are incompatible. Muslims believe in one God. They accept the miraculous birth of Christ and honour Mary. They believe in all the Biblical prophets including John the Baptist.

The Qur’an encourages mercy and kindness to others, standing up for the downtrodden and respect for parents and authority. The Prophet Muhammad equated work and enterprise with worship.

Islam is a European faith. Muslim Europeans were amongst the first wave of European migrants during the post-WWII era. They arrived from Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia and Albania. They settled in major cities such as Sydney and Melbourne. They also settled in major regional towns such as Shepparton.

An Australian Muslim is responsible for enforcing the government policy of mandatory detention. An Australian Muslim sponsors two major football codes. An Australian Muslim was appointed as the youngest chief executive of a major Australian bank.

In Sydney, it is not uncommon to find judicial officers, industrial commissioners and partners of major commercial law firms coming from Muslim families. Muslim Australians are holding senior positions in the faculties of major universities.

Australian Muslims often refer to themselves irreverently as “Aussie Mossies”. The title was coined during the late 1970’s by an Anglo-Australian convert who published a newsletter of the same name. The name reflects just how truly Australian Muslims really are.

Doing bin Ladin’s Work

With this sterling record of service to the community, the process of demonisation of Muslim Australians is most troubling. Yes, Muslims have their share of gang-rapists. But as Padraic McGuinness wrote in an opinion piece for The Australian, so do many other faith communities.

There is nothing inherently Judeo-Christian or conservative about demonising Muslim Australians. In fact, marginalising Aussie Mossies is exactly what a certain beady-eyed chap hiding in a cave wants.

Bin Ladin and his cronies are trying to convince Muslims across the Western world that they should join his demented jihad against the West. Thus far, they have been resisting. And with good reason. Terrorist victims include Muslims. One of the victims of the London bombings was a young English bank clerk with the surname Islam.

But when conservative columnists and writers and thinkers and politicians choose to demonise and marginalise Muslims, no one benefits except al-Qaida. Conservatives who demonise Muslims are in fact acting as agents of al-Qaida, marginalising Muslim youth and pushing them into the waiting arms of radicals.

Digging up old controversies or quoting verses of the Muslim scriptures out of context does not serve any purpose. For every 1 verse in the Qur’an preaching war and violence, I can find 10 verses in the Bible.

Innocent Victims

The diatribes and polemics of Andrew Bolt and Peter Faris QC achieve little except creating further hatred toward Muslims. But they also create hared toward others. Two examples will illustrate.

I practice from an office in North Ryde. My clerk is a young nursing student. She was born in Canberra, attended a posh Anglican College and now lives in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. She travels everyday to university and work by train and carries her backpack.

My clerk enjoys a good drink and has a boyfriend. Yet quite regularly, she is subjected to verbal abuse and even threats. She is labelled a terrorist and told to go back to Lebanon.

My clerk’s father is an Anglo-Australian of Catholic faith. He is a devout Catholic, and so is she. Her mother is an Indian Hindu. And Eileen “looks” like a Muslim.

She and I have a common friend who speaks “Unglush” with a “thuck” Christchurchian accent. Jane works behind a bar, and is almost always seen wearing a miniskirt. She never met her Singaporean Muslim father, and carries traces of his culture including an Arabic name. But apart from enjoying the poetry of Rumi, there is little Islamic about our mate Jane.

When people like Eileen and Jane become terror suspects and feel demonised, something is wrong. When a girl born in the nation’s capital is told to go back to Lebanon, it is time to re-visit some of the assumptions we make about each other.

St Paul and Rumi

So what is the solution to all this? Where do we find the answers? After 10 years of St Andrews Cathedral School education, I have decided that the solution lies in Chapter 13 of the 1st Letter of Paul to the Corinthians.

Call it tolerance or liberty or Australian values, call it what you will. St Paul calls it love. This mighty force is not just some crazy concept of dope-smoking hippies. You don’t need to hang out in Byron Bay to find love.

We can praise our civilisation and our values and our economy and our institutions as much as we like. If we do not have love, we are nothing. Faith that can move mountains is nothing compared to love.

For Muslims, the solution can be found in the founder of the Whirling Dervish sufis, the great jurist and mystic Jelaluddin Rumi. He wrote the same message as St Paul in this amazing passage:

Love is here; it is the blood in my veins, my skin.
I am destroyed; She has filled me with Passion.
Her fire has flooded the nerves of my body.
Who am I? Just my name; the rest is She.

This may sound like mystical stuff made for love letters but not for serious analysis. I guess what I am trying to say is that without a preparedness to understand others and their perspective, we cannot really claim to be civilised. Those who love Australia will love all Australians.

(The author is a Sydney-based industrial lawyer and freelance writer. This article was submitted to the conservative magazine Quadrant.)

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Satanic Diaries

So Mark Latham has written a book in which he has sprayed former ALP colleagues across the factional spectrum and blamed them for his downfall.

So what?

Yes, it is big news for the ALP, who have finally found their own Salman Rushdie. Latham’s diaries are perhaps the closest thing to the Satanic Verses, and already numerous Shadow Ministers have issued fatwas against him.

But does that mean I should part with $35? I don’t think so.

I saw the Latham interview on the ABC Lateline show with Tony Jones last Friday night. Was it all that exciting? Certainly not as gripping as the Sydney Swans defeating St Kilda. I prefer real football to the political one.

I realise Melbourne readers may not take this too well, but I reckon the Sydney Swans showed far more heroism and fair play on Sunday night than the former Labor leader. Yes, both the Swans and Latham came up from behind. But The Swans heroically defeated St Kilda while Latham just kept stabbing the Federal Opposition in the back.

And when it comes to political thrillers, I think I could probably write more exciting memoirs of my 8 years organising and stacking branches for the non-Left faction in the NSW Young Liberals.

Those were the days when I was the political lovechild of Bronwyn Bishop and David Clarke (and no, I am in no way suggesting they were having a relationship). Bronwyn Bishop recently described me as a bomb thrower in Parliament. She is right. I was her bomb thrower. I threw her factional bombs at the likes of the small “l” liberals, especially her nemesis John Brogden.

Bronwyn was absolutely paranoid about Brogden. They shared many branches, and often had the same set of preselectors. As such, there was plenty of focus on doing numbers against J-Bro (as we often called him satirically).

But when Bronwyn started harping on about schoolgirls wearing pieces of cloth on their heads as a sign of rebellion, I realised she was trying to play wedge politics to please the little old ladies in her branches who had one more preselection to vote for her before entering their nursing homes.

And John tried to kill himself after a nasty factional leak, I knew that my former factional colleagues had gone too far.

Liberal factionalism is life-and-death stuff. Then again, so is ALP factionalism. But I want to ask you and myself some honest questions.

Is this the way to make important decisions in this country? Is this how we want to see our state and nation ruled?

How can we expect good government when political leaders spend so much time ducking for cover? And when political staffers spend tax payers’ money stacking branches and spreading rumours about internal political opponents?

When a young man of my age finds the entire circus so stressful that he feels like taking his own life, surely this must represent a wake-up call. Yet it seems that for the likes of Latham and Co, gossip and innuendo is a superb way to make money and continue one’s 5 minutes of fame.

But back to the Satanic Diaries. I am thinking I might buy a copy. But I hope Mr Latham will allow me the pleasure of waiting a few months before they hit the shelves at a heavily discounted price at Basement Books beneath Sydney’s Central Station. Until then, I’ll stick to the mystical poetry of Rumi and the latest issue of Quadrant.

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer and one-time NSW Young Liberal.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Attention All Men! Violence Against Women Is Never Acceptable

I have to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of special days to mark special causes. I mean, celebrating Mother’s Day seems a bit much. After all, every day should be mother’s day.

But the problem is that I am not always the best son. And most of us could improve in the way we treat our mothers. So perhaps Mother’s Day is a good reminder.

Days, weeks and months are often devoted to special occasions. In October and November, millions of Muslims will commemorate the sacred month of Ramadan. They will fast from dawn to dusk, and will engage in special prayers.

I will be unable to fast for much of Ramadan as I will be taking medication. The strict timings of my medication will not allow me to lawfully fast within the confines and requirements set by the Islamic personal law (known as the “sharia”).

I guess I will be able to make up for my omission in various ways. Taking part in White Ribbon Day is one such way. 25 November is White Ribbon Day, a chance for men to wear white ribbons to show their commitment for the elimination of violence against women.

It is a fact of life that violence against women occurs in every culture and is carried out by the followers of every faith. Islam in particular has a reputation of being oppressive, if not violent toward women.

But Muslim Australians have no truck for violence against women. This became clear to me when I decided to make my first foray into the public eye. A certain young sheik (religious scholar) from western Sydney had made remarks justifying the sexual assault of women based on how they dressed. I expressed my condemnation. Thankfully, I was not alone.

Thankfully, the broader Australian community was horrified. But what made many in the broader community pleasantly surprised was the vehemence of condemnation from ordinary Aussie Muslims.

From Byron Bay to Albury and from Bondi to Broken Hill, ordinary Aussie Mossies were expressing outrage at the remarks. Talkback radio was full of Muslim callers, women and men, expressing their absolute unequivocal condemnation for the man. In the end, nothing but a complete retraction and apology would do to satisfy the Muslim anger.

Of course, just as Muslims can express violent views, Muslim women can be the subject of violence. Indeed, many women presumed to be Muslim (because of their appearance and/or names) are often subjected to racist taunts and even physical attacks. It is not unknown to hear of women in headscarves (Muslim and non-Muslim) being subjected to abuse and attack.

Muslim women are feeling increasingly marginalised. Comments by certain female federal backbenchers do not help the cause. But there are so many other women feeling marginalised and are subject to abuse.

I believe that violence need not only take a physical form. There is also verbal and emotional violence. And then there is the more subtle violence of marginalising certain women, of making them feel like outcasts.

Women of all faiths and no faith in particular possess inherent honour. Islam, like so many other faiths, gives honour to women. The Prophet of Islam spoke of male scholars and martyrs going to hell whilst a female sex worker was promised paradise purely for saving the life of a dog dying of thirst. Yet Muslim (and indeed most other) societies will force a sex worker underground whilst honouring the scholars and martyrs.

Violence against women is a mere reflection of the gross hypocrisy and double standards of mankind in his dealings toward womankind. It makes me feel ashamed to know that in the 21st century, women like Mukhtar Mai and Amina Lawal can be subjected to male violence carried out in the name of a religious tradition that declares paradise to be under the feel of mothers.

Of course, it is easy for me to stand on my high horse and pontificate. I have not always been the best example in my behaviour toward women I have met during my adult life. But just as Ramadan is not for perfect Muslims, similarly White Ribbon day is not for perfect men. We Australian men need this day to reflect and to commit ourselves to the internal and external “jihad” (an Arabic word meaning struggle) against violence.

And our first targets should be acts and attitudes of violence against people’s wives, girlfriends, daughters, sisters and mothers. So on 25 November 2005, make sure you wear a white ribbon. Show your abhorrence to all forms of violence against women.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Friday, September 16, 2005

OPINION: Conservatism, Family, Religion and Wedges

In recent times, there has been much discussion about the relationship between conservative politicians and religious organisations. Speculation has arisen about links between Mr Clarke and Opus Dei and between Mr Howard and the Wahhabi sect of Islam.

We read of fringe Christian groups bankrolling and endorsing Ross Cameron’s campaigns in the federal seat of Parramatta. Then there are revelations that the Attorney General will be having dinner at the home of a man who is bankrolling Saudi Islamist fundamentalism in Australia. Mr Cadman’s appearance recently at a function hosted by a Lebanese group with close links to the Syrian Ba’ath Party have also not been all that helpful.

It seems that religious extremists are being co-opted to the conservative side. On the surface, this seems troubling. But according to Tony Abbott, there should not be anything sinister about church-going Christians (and by extension, mosque-going Muslims) entering Parliament.

At one level, religious groups should find a natural home in a socially conservative party. Mr Howard made a personal effort to secure a preference deal with the Family First Party. But after FF put the sale of Telstra last and look set to play a role in potentially derailing the industrial relations reform package, many will be wondering whether getting religious people involved in secular political issues is really a good idea.

So allow me, dear readers, to place my 2 cents worth into this political mass debate. We need to revisit conservative first principles. Conservatism has a number of features.

Firstly, conservatives are fairly happy with the status quo. They do not support revolutionary change. They prefer the more Darwinian model of evolutionary social change.

Secondly, conservatives prefer governments to keep their grubby hands out of as many matters as possible. Government is there to guarantee certain basic features such as the rule of law, defence and foreign policy. We don’t want to see Crazy John or Mad Ron running the Commercial List of the Supreme Court of NSW. Nor do we want an American businessman like Rupert Murdoch controlling our foreign policy (even though in practice this is probably already happening).

But most importantly, conservatism wants to preserve certain basic values and institutions, the most important of which is the family. A truly conservative government will always act to preserve the family.

Conservative governments encourage religious groups to get involved in social welfare, and this is largely to do with the fact that these groups foster and promote the very family values that conservatives allegedly uphold.

Families are sacred, regardless of what colour or ethno-religious group the family members belong to. And when families are split apart, conservatives find the process inherently abhorrent.

Which raises a number of basic questions. To what extent are conservatives concerned about the splitting up of mixed Aboriginal families that took place up until the 1960’s? What steps has the government taken to assist and compensate families that were taken from their parents? Are part-Aboriginal children and families worth less than other families?

To what extent has this allegedly conservative government considered the impact of its industrial policies on families? What family impact assessment has been undertaken on the impact of removing various leave provisions from industrial awards and agreements?

Why are families of asylum seekers split apart? Why are family reunion programs in immigration programs tightened?

And what role will religious groups play in the implementation or development of policies affecting families? Will the Coalition consider arguments put forward by the likes of Senator Fielding in their policy development? Or is the Family First Party only good for providing preferences?

Are conservative parties really interested in having the shared Abrahamic heritage of religious elements reflected in their policy? Or will religion only be used as a means to play wedge politics and gain ethno-religious branch stackers?

More importantly, how are conservative values and institutions benefited by the insistence of some allegedly conservative politicians to demonise and ridicule certain mainstream religious communities? Why is anti-Semitism (be it of the anti-Jewish or anti-Islamic variety) becoming more and more acceptable in mainstream conservative discourse?

Why hasn’t John Howard openly reined in Bronwyn Bishop and Sophie Panopoulos over their infantile and imbecilic remarks? Would Mr Howard have reacted differently if another ethno-religious group were targeted?

If Australian conservative politics is to maintain some integrity, it must address these difficult questions and find rational answers. Otherwise, it risks descending into a quagmire of populist prejudice and tabloid pseudo-intellectualism.

And whilst wedges may make an excellent and filling snack if you missed lunch, they are not all that filling as a coherent social policy platform.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

POLITICS/COMMENT: On the Dangers of Young Liberal neo-Conservatism

We are often told that conservative politics is about maintaining certain traditional values. Conservatism seeks to maintain in place certain social values which are said to be tried and tested, unbroken and therefore not in need of fixing.

Conservatives are not opposed to change, but they are opposed to revolution. Conservative change is gradual. It takes into account individual and collective human nature which resists sudden and violent change. Conservatives believe in evolutionary change, a kind of political “survival of the fittest”.

Conservatives in the Australian context tend to regard themselves also as medium to big “L” Liberals. John Howard is often quoted as saying that the relatively more conservative Liberal Party of Australia is a broad church encompassing conservative and liberal strands.

But in my opinion, conservatism has been hijacked by emotional and political refugees from the liberal left. The new ultra right-wing of the NSW Liberals consists largely of former members of the left-leaning “Group” faction who have fallen out with the old power-brokers of the Group and have decided to switch to the Right.

When the Group controlled the NSW Liberals, they had a born-to-rule, winner-takes-all attitude. There was no room in their camp for anything resembling conservatism. In those days, there were only two factions in the NSW Liberal Party. There was the Group. And then there was the rest of the world.

That latter faction was for many years led by centre-right people. I was (and still am) proud to be associated with these small “c” conservatives. Notwithstanding my ethno-religious background and fairly “soft” views on certain issues (such as multiculturalism and Aboriginal land rights), the centre-right were happy to have me on board.

Yet when the ex-Group forces started to gain strength in the non-Group forces of the Liberal Party, they realised that they could not find a place without driving the centre-right out. From the end of the 2001 Federal Election campaign until mid-2003, this neo-Conservative element fought tooth-and-nail to remove centrists from the party.

The first domino to fall in this regard took place back in 1997. The President of Parramatta Young Liberals was getting ready to hand leadership of the branch to a talented young bunch she had recruited. Parramatta Young Liberals was one of the largest centre-right Young Liberal branch.

It was the largest branch in the Parramatta Federal Electorate Conference (FEC) of the Liberal Party. The then federal member saw the President as a threat. He and his staffer masterminded a whispering and stacking campaign. The result was the rise of Alex Hawke to the throne. Ironically, Alex was the very person the branch President wanted to take over the branch.

Hawke was rewarded for his efforts with a staffer position with the Federal Member. He then moved onto work with ex-Grouper and former feminist lawyer Senator Helen Coonan before taking up his present position with David Clarke MLC.

Hawke went onto carve out a new faction with the assistance of his employer and a large number of ex-Group Young Liberals. He felt that prior to taking over the Young Liberal Movement, he would have to destroy his internal factional enemies.

So came the 2 years of long knives. One by one, centre-right Young Liberal and Senior Branches were either shut down or stacked out. Among the victims was my own branch of Bankstown Young Liberals.

Bankstown Y/L has an interesting history. It was the first branch which Councillor Shane Mallard (of City of Sydney Council) joined before going onto become the President of the NSW Y/L Movement. It was traditionally a Group branch before being taken over by the centre-right.

Branch patron of Bankstown Y/L was the then-Group MLC Stephen Mutch. When I joined, the president was the only son of Italian parentage who was studying law. The secretary was a Hindu Malaysian-Tamil republican and the treasurer was an Indian Catholic of Goan parentage.

Bankstown Y/L became known for its large functions. First, there was a reception for the visiting member of the Bosnian Presidency, Dr Nijaz Durakovic. Also hosted by the branch have been former Pakistani cricketing legend Imran Khan and the former Mayor of Sarajevo.

On the eve of his ascension to the leadership of the Parliamentary Liberal Party, the branch hosted John Howard in the presence of waiting TV news cameras. Mr Howard was seen chatting with Asian community figures in a Chinese Restaurant across the road from the Keating stronghold of the Bankstown Sports Club.

Those were the days when the Bankstown Y/L’s saw the Labor Party as the real enemy. But when Hawke and his associates sought to re-establish the branch at the Croatian Club in 2004, the real enemy were the left-leaning liberals. And many young Croatian Australians with close links to the HVO (the Bosnian Croat militia that fought during the Bosnian war) and the old Ustashi were recruited.

The branch which had been presided by 2 Muslim Australians was now recruiting new members using anti-Muslim rhetoric. Violence was the hallmark of this episode of ethno-religious wedge-politics. Alex Hawke was seen to be at the heart of this push.

If this wedge politics is translated into mainstream politics, Australia is in for a rough ride. For that reason, it is in the broader national interest that political wedgers be identified and made an example of. That process has already started.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Why I Spoke Out

In 1993, I joined Bankstown Young Liberals and the Macquarie University Liberal Club. Early in my political career (I was around 23 at the time), I had placed my lot with the conservatives of the Party.

In 1995, I met David Clarke for the first time. I admired his forthright and straight forward manner. You always knew where you stood with David. I admired his common touch and his good humour. In the dirty game of politics, with so many people so highly strung, it was great to have someone senior who could crack a good joke and enjoy taking the piss out of others and himself.

I still like David, notwithstanding the fact that he has threatened to sue me. I think he has a following in the Party, and he does have some role in the Parliament. And before the London bombings, I saw his somewhat extreme views as relatively harmless.

I read his speeches in which he praised certain extremist religious and nationalist groups. I am aware of allegations that he attended meetings of groups such as the League of Rights. I know of things he has said in the past which, if I were to reveal today, would sink his political career.

But I also know that he said these things in the late 1990’s and during the period leading upto February 2002. I am also aware of things he and his factional allies said about me following that time.

I fell seriously ill in February 2002. A long-standing thyroid problem was finally discovered and diagnosed. This explained the almost constant weight problems as well as my somewhat cynical and morose mood.

Nothing any Young Liberal or Senior Liberal said or did caused me to fall ill. Indeed, I was on top of the world. My practise was expanding. I was basking on the glory of achieving a 5.1% swing in a safe Labor seat. I had everything going for me. Then I fell ill.

I was forced to shut my practise at a time when it was about to expand. I had achieved so many milestones and was ready to reach many more. But one day in mid-February 2002, I collapsed into a heap. No one quite knew what it was. At first, it seemed like a nervous breakdown. Later, when I was tested to see if anti-depressant medication was suitable, it was discovered my thyroid gland was not functioning properly.

It took me some 15 months to recover to a state where I could take up another legal job. In the meantime, my former political friends and allies were subjected to a brutal campaign to force them out of the party. The architects of that campaign were Alex Hawke and his colleagues.

These people also spread malicious rumours about me and the circumstances of my practise being closed. They said that I had been struck off for fraud. Or they said I had dipped my hand into the trust account and misappropriated funds. Or they said I had been found guilty of professional negligence.

All these things were said. My name was mud in the Party. I felt I could not return. I was regarded as too “colourful” (to use David Clarke’s terminology).

Yet the reality was that I had appointed a manager to close down my practise on my own accord and on doctor’s orders. It was a difficult and painful decision which took over 15 months off my legal career and ensured I lost over $100,000 in work-in-progress fees.

I made the painful decision and did the right thing. Yet I was accused of being a cheat and a fraud by persons I had assisted both politically and personally.

The rumours spread about me almost led me to have a subsequent breakdown. But I survived thanks in no part to the inspiration of a former Liberal Party member who had been demonised by the same people. Patrick was a rock on which many of us leaned. When he succumbed to and died from leukaemia, he left behind a legacy of friendship that transcended factional rivalry.

Patrick suffered a nervous breakdown thanks to allegations made by this faction. Had his other illness not taken him over, Patrick may have been able to take anti-depressants. Instead, he found comfort in the company of friends and God. Patrick was a true Christian to the end – compassionate toward all and able to recognise truth and wisdom in all traditions.

Patrick brought people together. Yet he was demonised. He suffered and was driven to a breakdown and near-suicide. Just as I was. Just as John Brogden was.

I never liked John Brogden’s politics. But John is my age, of my generation. Whatever I think of his views on many issues, he has spent the best years of his life working for the Party. When Hawke and others were still in their ideological diapers, Brogden was spending untold hours doing unpaid work for a cause he loved.

John was driven to attempt suicide by these same people who almost drove myself, Patrick and so many others down this road. In my case, I was already down when I was kicked. In John Brogden’s case, he was ready to soar when he was cut down.

In the case of other friends of mine, they have had rumours and skeletons dug out. Some have had their employers phoned and told lies to, resulting in loss of employment. Others have had their marriages threatened.

And the gall of people to accuse John Brogden of being a racist. I can say a lot of things about John. But I can never truthfully accuse him of being a racist. I am yet to meet a small “l” liberal I could describe as a racist. I wish I could say the same for my own former factional colleagues.

It took John at least 6 drinks before he could make a racist joke. Yet his accusers openly espouse racism when sober. They support racist and anti-Semitic groups, attend their functions and support their politics.

I never heard David Clarke condemn Sophie Panopoulos or Bronwyn Bishop for their comments on the cloth my mother occasionally wears on her head. But then, I know that David was always a supporter of Pauline Hanson’s vision.

So why did I speak out? Partly because of an important piece of advice my good friend Charlie Lyn once gave me. He said: “The Liberal Party never rewards loyalty. Take your chances when you can. Don’t rely on others as these people will just as easily stab you in the back.”

I also spoke out because, like so many people, I felt what John Brogden and his family were going through. John’s wife and family are seeing him in a state they are perhaps unaccustomed to. My family saw the same thing, and it still haunts them.

John Brogden was the most prominent victim of these Factional Nazis. Whatever he may have stood for in the past, he was the Liberal Leader. He should have been supported. The vicious nature of the rumour campaign almost drove him to take his own life.

That same rumour campaign made Patrick’s last days miserable. And when news spread of his illness, none of these former factional allies so much as visited him in hospital or attend his funeral.

In short, I speak out for Patrick whose body is 6 feet under the ground in Rookwood but whose soul is (I believe) in a place where all saints go. Patrick never had a chance to clear his name or expose the hypocrisy of his accusers. I hope he is smiling as he watches the right-wing factional circus being exposed.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Thursday, September 08, 2005

COMMENT: Defaming the Defaming and the Defamed

Defamation law is one of the more esoteric areas of law, full of exceptions and controversies and nooks and crannies that can delight students and enrich barristers.

And if threats of “legal action” made by Liberal MLC David Clarke are to be taken seriously, it appears I will need to brush up on my knowledge of defamation law quite soon.

I admire Mr Clarke for his guts in dealing with the matter. Unlike his factional ally, Bronwyn Bishop, Mr Clarke has not chosen to hide behind Parliamentary Privilege to respond to my comments. Further, he has not accused me of being a terrorist or a bomb-thrower as Mrs Bishop has done.

In Mrs Bishop’s case, I acknowledge that I have been very much a bomb-thrower. However, virtually all the bombs I have thrown have been against the Left faction of the NSW Liberals known as “the Group”. Mrs Bishop has been a beneficiary of my actions, and has even endorsed these actions.

Part of my collection of weapons of mass political destruction was a conservative youth magazine entitled pro-Action. Mrs Bishop permitted me to reproduce a speech given by her in the ANZAC Day edition of the magazine. I would be happy to show copies of the magazine to any journalist.

Further, I distinctly recall Mr Clarke being a huge fan of the magazine. No doubt, should the matter reach court, Mr Clarke will need to swear on the Bible before he dares contradict my version of events in this regard. Indeed, Mr Clarke did express some reservations concerning the magazine, one of which concerned my criticism of Pauline Hanson and her policies on racial and immigration issues.

On Wednesday 7 September 2005, Mr Clarke was interviewed by ABC reporter Alison Caldwell. Mr Clarke described me as having ...

... a very colourful and interesting background.
Given the role Mr Clarke’s staffer Alex Hawke played in the defamation of myself and other members of the Centrist strain of the non-Group faction, I am not surprised in the description of my background.

Indeed, the role Mr Clarke has played in the development of my background is a matter which perhaps Mr Clarke is somewhat uncomfortable with. Mr Clarke is aware of the key role I played in the non-Group faction. He knows that his ascension to the Upper House of the NSW Parliament is the result of the efforts of numerous people whom his staffer had defamed and politically “stabbed” during the years leading upto his ascension to the Presidency of the NSW Young Liberal Movement.

Mr Clarke is aware of my role in ensuring key reforms to the NSW Liberal Party’s constitution were successfully resisted. He is aware of my attendances at virtually all factional meetings of the NSW non-Group forces. He is also aware that my own branch hosted many of these meetings at the Lithuanian Club in Bankstown.

If my background is colourful and interesting, it is because of the key role Mr Clarke played as a political elder and mentor.

I have no problem with Mr Clarke personally. But I do have a problem with some of the sentiments he has expressed in some of his Parliamentary speeches. I have a problem with his comments on a range of issues, and I am concerned that his own staffer is telling journalists that Muslim Australians like myself do not belong in this country and need to assimilate more.

I have a problem with Mr Clarke and his allies seeking to marginalise myself and 300,000 other Muslim Australians together with countless thousands of people deemed to be Muslim because of their names and/or appearance.

If Mr Clarke is prepared to openly take the following steps:

*distance himself from the comments of Messrs Bishop & Panopoulos,
*undertake to rein in his staffer’s racist comments to journalists, and
*undertake never to make any anti-Semitic (be they anti-Jewish or anti-Muslim) remarks

Then I will give serious consideration to negotiating a resolution of any outstanding matters with Mr Clarke.

Mr Clarke needs to more closely monitor and supervise what his staffer is saying to media and members of the public. When Alex Hawke makes islamophobic remarks to journalists, these reflect on Mr Clarke himself. They also reflect on the Liberal Party and on Mr Howard.

More importantly, they create an environment where members of a community which has been at the heart of Australian life for more than 150 years are made to feel unwelcome and unwanted. When my Muslim background leads Mr Clarke and his staffer to suggest that I am not welcome in the Liberal Party, we have a serious crisis on our hands.

Mr Howard has gone out of his way to welcome people of all backgrounds and faiths into the broad church of the Liberal Party. He has also made Muslim organisational leaders key stakeholders in national security. Mr Howard understands that marginalising this faith community is adverse to the interests of national security.

I believe Mr Clarke more than likely agrees with Mr Howard’s sentiments. If that is, in fact, the case, Mr Clarke should openly repudiate the islamophobic comments made by his staffer to a number of journalists.

It is one thing to allegedly defame one Member of Parliament. It is another for that Member’s staffer and a President of the national youth wing of a major political party to defame and marginalise over 300,000 Australians. Mr Hawke’s group-defamation must be stopped and curtailed. Freedom of speech should not include freedom to incite hatred.

If Mr Clarke is serious about his claims to not being anti-Semitic, he must stop his staffer Alex Hawke from making public statements which offend and marginalise followers of a major Semitic faith in Australia. And Liberal leader Peter Debnam, whose seat of Vaucluse has a large Jewish community, cannot afford to be seen to be shielding anyone with anti-Semitic links.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

COMMENT: Mrs Bishop defames me under Parliamentary Privilege

I refer readers to the personal explanation provided by Mrs Bishop as contained on page 11 of the Hansard. The relevant excepts taken from Hansard are reproduced below …

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (Mackellar) (3.05 pm)—Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.

The SPEAKER—Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?


The SPEAKER—Please proceed.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP—It has come to my attention today that an opinion piece has been authored and distributed by a Muslim activist, known for his offensive behaviour to women, by the name of Mr Irfan Yousef. He has made a number of scurrilous, ridiculous and inaccurate statements concerning me. For the record, I totally refute his statements but, as he has not resorted to bomb throwing, I guess we can handle his accusations.

Mrs Bishop makes a personal explanation in response to an “opinion piece”. She has not advised which piece she is responding to. Her comments have been made under parliamentary privilege. Had they been made outside Parliament, they would have constituted an actionable defamation.

Mrs Bishop describes me using most unfortunate language. Given my 10 years membership of the NSW Liberal Party, and given my involvement in the very same faction to which Mrs Bishop belongs, and given my preparedness to stand as an endorsed candidate in Local, State and Federal elections, I am dismayed by her description of me as a mere “Muslim activist”.

Yet two further defamatory imputations are of particular concern to me.

First, she says I am “known for ... offensive behaviour toward women”. I would request that Mrs Bishop provide an example of such offensive behaviour together with the source of her information.

Mrs Bishop knows me well. She knows that from 1994 to 2002, I was a factional warrior for the non-Group faction of the NSW Liberals. She has even consulted me in relation to assisting her in a possible stack of branches in her conference against the State Member and former opposition leader, John Brogden.

Mrs Bishop will have last met me in person at a farewell dinner for former NSW Premier and Federal Finance Minister John Fahey. On that occasion, she would have seen me accompanied by male and female friends. Indeed, I distinctly recall Mrs Bishop having her photograph taken with my female friends, all of whom were wearing headscarves.

Further, Mrs Bishop will have remembered me from numerous factional meetings I attended where she was also present.

Mrs Bishop knows me well enough to be able to provide one example of where I have behaved offensively toward a woman. Indeed, my first op-ed piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald was a critique of a Muslim sheik’s offensive remarks concerning women’s dress.

Mrs Bishop’s suggestion that I have “not resorted to bomb throwing” speaks much for her attitude toward persons presumed to be from a particular background. I am not known to have ever engaged in the use of any weapons, beyond the odd game of skirmish paintball and my poison pen (which was usually directed against Mrs Bishop’s political opponents within the Liberal Party).

I take Mrs Bishop’s comments to be an allegation that I have perhaps in the past or maybe in the future would resort to terrorist activities. In the context of her naming me as “a Muslim activist”, I can only take this to mean that Mrs Bishop is suggesting I would engage in terrorist activities.

Again, I urge Mrs Bishop to provide an example of where I have engaged in terrorist activities. I do recall having politically terrorised members of the Group faction of the NSW Liberals. My number-crunching and editorial activities have seen numerous Group MP’s feel some political discomfort. The only bombs I recall throwing have been as a member of the non-Group Young Liberals known as “The Team”.

If Mrs Bishop regards my past political activities in the Young Liberals as terrorism, I guess she would have to regard herself as a terror-cell leader. At least one former staff member of hers actively assisted in the distribution of my “terrorist” magazine. But beyond these activities, I am not aware of any accusations of involvement in terrorism.

Naturally, I realise that some would regard possession of a Hebrew surname such as “Yusuf” as being sufficient evidence of terrorist sympathies. At this stage, I have no inclination toward dropping my paternal grandfather’s name as my surname. I am proud of my Indian Mughal Turkman heritage, and see no reason to rid myself of its trappings.

But of special concern to me is Mrs Bishop’s inability to spell my surname. My humble surname is but 5 letters, and is a common Hebrew and Arabic spelling of the popular name “Joseph”. I am sure Mrs Bishop would have many persons in her electorate of the same surname.

Surely Mrs Bishop would have copies of the conservative youth magazine “pro-Action” which I used to edit and which list me as editor. Indeed, Mrs Bishop gave me permission to reproduce one of her speeches in the ANZAC Day edition of the magazine. Further, one of her former staffers provided me with material from the “Their Service, Our Heritage” kit for use in the magazine.

Mrs Bishop should know how to spell my surname, and I am offended that she has spelt it incorrectly. I would request she arrange for the correct spelling of my name to appear in Hansard.

I have written to Mrs Bishop some 2 weeks ago, requesting a meeting with her so that I can introduce her to Muslim women residing and/or doing business in her electorate. Many of these women choose not to wear headscarves. I have invited Mrs Bishop to meet with these women and gain a first-hand Australian perspective of the issues surrounding the hijab in schools. An invitation has also been sent to Mrs Bishop’s colleague, Ms Panopoulos.

Mrs Bishop is free to contact me. I would be happy to meet with her. Alternatively, she can e-mail me. Alternatively, I would be prepared to go “head-to-head” in a live on-air discussion with both Mrs Bishop and Ms Panopoulos on Lateline or any other serious and reputable current affairs show (which I guess rules out Channel 7’s Today Tonight!).

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

POLITICS/COMMENT: Not the Best Party?

Kurt Kennedy is an Australian from Canberra who has recently made headlines as founder of the first proposed Islam-based political party. He is seeking registration with the Australian Electoral Commission of the clumsily-named “Best Party of Allah”.

He claims to be secretary and president of this party, and was a candidate in the 2004 elections for the ACT Legislative Assembly. Kennedy is reportedly an Australian of Vietnamese origin. He is initially having the party registered in the ACT only, but will be seeking national registration.

So who is Mr Kennedy? Where is he from? What standing does he have in the ACT Muslim community?

Mr Kennedy’s website for his 1994 campaign in the Mononglo electorate states that he is a lawyer and composer. On 11 September 2004, he issued a press release which gives more details about his background. It describes Kennedy as arriving in Australia from Vietnam in 1979 at age 7. He is currently 33 years old, and is completing a postgraduate degree in law. He is married with 2 children.

Mr Kennedy claims that his party represents “believers in Allah”. Yet many Muslim leaders have neve head of him. Former Islamic Council of Victoria chairman Yasser Soliman sent out an e-mail to various groups seeking information about Mr Kennedy.

The party apparently has around 100 members. There are 400,000 Muslims in Australia. There are over 400 mosques across the country, with most mosques having their own governing body. Mr Kennedy is not known to have been a member of any mosque society, nor does he list membership of a mosque society in his promotional materials.

In the ACT, the Canberra Islamic Centre has an excellent relationship with members of the ACT Legislative Assembly across the political spectrum. ALP and Liberal MLA’s regularly attend CIC functions and events.

Mr Kennedy seems to be outside the mainstream Canberra Muslim square. Having lived in Canberra for some 6 months, and being a life member of the CIC myself, I cannot say I have ever met Kurt.

Further, I spoke with Mr Kennedy on 6 September 2005 in my capacity as a columnist for the Adelaide-based Australian Islamic Review. From my discussions with him (which lasted around 10 minutes over the phone), it seems that Kurt does not have much idea about the relationship between Islam and government or Islam and politics.

Worse still, Mr Kennedy has not had any formal exposure to Qur’anic and other theological sciences. He acknowledges that he does not have any substantial knowledge of classical Arabic, nor does he have any formal exposure to classical works of Qur’anic exegesis. At best, his understanding of Qur’anic concepts is shallow and rudimentary.

Mr Kennedy believes (and in my view, correctly) that much of the Qur’anic law is already contained in the statute books and the common law of Australia. His view is confirmed by scholars such as Professor John Makdisi, Dean and Professor of Law at the Loyola University in New Orleans. In a 1999 article published in the North Carolina Law Review, Professor Makdisi writes about what he calls “The Islamic Origins of the Common Law”.

Some years back, a NSW Supreme Court Judge also wrote about the influence of Islamic law on the development of alternative dispute resolution procedures in modern commercial law.

In 2003, a representative of the Indonesian Muslim organisation Nahdhlatul Ulama told an audience at a lecture organised by the Centre for Independent Studies that Indonesian Muslims tend to associate sharia law with non-interest banking. Sharia-based financial products now represent a major activity of institutions such as HSBC.

Prominent industrial barristers such as Peter Costello would be well-advised to read the works of these scholars before speaking on matters pertaining to sharia law and its role in Australia.

Muslims have been at the heart of mainstream Australian life for over 150 years. Today, major financial institutions, university faculties and commercial law firms are being headed by Australians of Muslim background. Within the Liberal Party, Muslims play an active role. Liberal Party members of Muslim background are currently sitting local government councillors in Auburn and Canterbury City Council.

Yet recent examples of irresponsible political rhetoric have made many Muslim Australians feel unnecessarily marginalised. In particular, comments made by my former colleagues in the conservative wing of the NSW Liberal Party have been most unhelpful.

Perhaps Mr Kennedy is one of these marginalised Muslims. His party website does refer to recent comments by Parliamentarians in relation to hijab and other issues. Comments made recently by Ms Sophie Panopoulos in response to the formation of Mr Kennedy’s party do little to reverse that process of marginalisation.

However, formation of a party specifically targeting Muslims will simply provide more fuel to the fires of Islamophobia which Messrs Panopoulos, Bishop & Co are seeking to light and burn. In this respect, Mr Kennedy could not have found a worse time to form his Best Party of Allah.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

Monday, September 05, 2005

Turning Fruitloops Into Criminals

Some people believe the earth is flat. Others claim God is a potato. Still others claim that Hitler had the right idea but the wrong race. And then there are those who think Muslims are a threat to national security.

All these groups are fruitloops. They exist on the fringe of the national discourse. Every now and then, they raise their heads with trepidation, hoping they will not be beheaded. But most of the time, they swim just below the surface.

How should we approach them? Should we go in all guns blazing? Should we legislate and then litigate?

I have a lot of admiration for the work of the Islamic Council of Victoria. Unlike most Muslim peak bodies, ICV has made a genuine attempt to engage with the broader Australian community. ICV membership reflects its faith-community.

Muslims have been at the heart of Australian life for over 150 years. One Muslim Victorian, John Ilhan, was quoted in the August issue of the Australian Financial Review Magazine as stating that his religious values affect his business. And what were his Islamic values?

The first and most important value for him was to always be prepared to say sorry when you have offended someone.

Two people who refuse to follow this Islamic value are pastors Danny Nalliah and Daniel Scott. The ICV commenced proceedings against them in the Victorian Consumer & Tenancy Tribunal (VCAT). Those proceedings are now subject to appeal, and I am mindful of writing anything which might compromise the court’s consideration of the appeal’s merits.

When ICV first commenced proceedings, a number of Muslims were concerned about the impact of such proceedings. Some were concerned about turning these 2 fringe clerics into free speech martyrs. Whilst it is true that the 2-Dannys are hardly in favour of free speech (they have, after all, been accused of calling for the Qur’an to be banned), litigating against them ma not have been the wisest move.

Further, their message has some appeal in the broader community. Muslim imams and leaders have proven incapable of articulating their beliefs in a proper and sensible manner. As such, extreme responses to mainstream Islam have gone unanswered. Or worse, fringe Muslims have appeared projecting fringe views. At least one fringe imam has claimed that Usama bin Ladin was “a great man”.

The fact is that you cannot legislate against fruitloops. Muslim leaders have to learn that hiding behind the coat tails of some anti-discrimination body will not serve their interests. If anything, it will serve to marginalise Muslims even more.

Aussie Mossies are not foreign to Australia. Burke and Wills may not have made it back to safety, but their cameleer Muslim colleagues did. No Makassan fishermen ever slaughtered Aboriginal tribesmen. And I challenge anyone to suggest that John Ilhan doesn’t understand Aussie values.

Our mandatory detention policies are the stuff all true blue Aussies are allegedly proud of. Many of those who demonise Muslims are happy with this policy, despite the fact that the bureaucrat responsible for its implementation is an Aussie Muslim chap named Abdul Rizvi.

We do not have to justify our place in this country. But unfortunately, many of our leaders want to lock us into the whirlpool of irrelevance whereby our existence is justified by how many cases we can flick to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board and other similar bodies.

I don’t think the ICV is in that category of Muslim leaders. I think the ICV wants to engage with the broader community. ICV executive members like Waleed Aly and Malcolm Thomas are fiercely proud Aussies and excellent spokespersons for their community.

Yet my fear is that ICV, in pursuing the Catch The Fire Ministries, is really not helping their cause. If anything, they risk turning a bunch of fruitloops into criminal martyrs. The might actually end up giving CTF credibility they simply don’t deserve.

Of course, I have to admit that I have fundamental ideological objections to any legislation making vilification a criminal offence. In that regard, I am more in line with the views of Amir Butler and Catholic MP Hon David Clarke MLC.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Our Mate Clarkey - Part 1

I remember first meeting David Clarke in 1995 at a Young Liberal meeting held at a pub in Kirribilli. At the time, I was on the executive of the Bankstown Young Liberals. My girlfriend at the time was the president of Parramatta Young Liberals. Alex Hawke was nowhere to be seen.

The Young Libs I was associated with were part of a coalition known as “the Team”. These Young Libs were not associated with the ruling “Group”. Most of us were Centrists, but there were some hard-right people at the meeting. One of them was David Clarke.

Among the people at the meeting was a young PhD student from Sydney University named Peter Phelps. He produced a newsletter known as “The Atlas”. Peter was a bright young lad with conservative views. Chairing the meeting was Nick Campbell, then president of Kuring-gai Young Libs. I knew Nick from Macquarie University, where he had some involvement on the periphery of the Liberal Club.

David Clarke was introduced to me as a “hard right-winger” by an old friend John Ruddick, former staffer to Ross Cameron MP and the voice behind “Banjo” on the Stan Zemanek Show. John was a huge fan of “Clarkey” and introduced him as a hero of “the Right”.

Clarke was immediately interested in my background. He was particularly interested in whether I had a “Moslem” affiliation. From Day 1, he encouraged me to get “Moslems” to join the Young Libs. I told him I found it difficult to recruit as most of my friends were ALP voters.

“Don’t worry about that. Even if they’re ALP members, we can get them in. Take me along to their functions. I’d be happy to show them that we hate homosexuals and Jews as much as they do”.

At first, I thought he may have been joking about hating Jews. I wasn't sure whether his beef was with specific Jewish people or with Jews as a whole. It was also often hard to tell if Clarkey was serious or half-joking - he always came across as a jovial fellow.

But in my subsequent encounters, Clarke boasted about how he had acted for Slovenian writer Lyenko Urbanchich in a defamation action against prominent Jewish community figures.

Clarke told me of his affiliation with a Catholic organisation called “Opus Dei”. Both he and his wife were active in the organisation, and Clarkey often boasted about how Gamal Abdel Nasser had asked Opus Dei to help him administer Egyptian universities.

Mr & Mrs Clarke were also huge fans of the late Bob Santamaria. Clarke encouraged me to subscribe to the magazine “News Weekly”, then published by an organisation associated with Mr Santamaria.

I later read about Mr Santamaria’s role in a schism within the ALP and the formation of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP). Clarke’s wife was a leading figure in the “Democratic Students Club”, the student wing of the DLP, at the University of New South Wales.

As I got to know David, I noticed he would often invite friends of mine to special meetings in the city. For some reason, I and a number of others were not invited. Us non-invitees all had one thing in common – we were from non-Christian families. Clarke was always "hush-hush" about these meetings, never explaining what they were about. Also attending these meetings was Senator Heffernan.

Later, I started publishing factional publications for non-Group Young Libs. These included a newsletter entitled ‘Westerly Winds” and a magazine entitled “pro-Action”. Clarkey enjoyed reading these publications, but did question my open promotion of multiculturalism.

I recall on one occasion being lectured by Clarkey about Pauline Hanson. I expressed my reservations about Ms Hanson in an article for pro-Action. Clarkey was upset at my article, and said that Pauline was a great conservative Australian who deserved our support.

When I pointed out that she was criticising the Prime Minister, Clarkey told me that the PM actually supported Hanson’s agenda. Clarkey said all good conservaives should support Hanson as she represented what mainstream Australians believed in. He showed his support by sending a letter of support and a donation to the One Nation Party. Clarkey also actively agitated in favour of One Nation within the party, and voted against a State Executive motion to place Ms Hanson’s party last on the Liberal Party how-to-vote card.

Clarkey had a special venom for certain Parliamentarians. These included Senator Marise Payne and John Brogden. Indeed, Clarkey and Bronwyn Bishop would often be seen huddled at State Council meetings plotting against Brogden. Bronwyn was particularly concerned that Brogden was stacking out branches in her Federal Electorate Conference (FEC) to secure his own position as State MP for Pittwater.

In 1998, I sat on a preselection panel for Pittwater. Clarkey sat down with me before the meeting and came up with a nasty question for me to ask Mr Brogden at the preselection. I was reluctant to ask the question as I deemed it too nasty. Clarkey insisted I ask it, even threatening me with expulsion from the non-Group forces.

Against my better judgment, I asked a nasty question. Thankfully, it wasn't the identical question Clarkey had drafted. Clarkey's question concerned lowering the age of consent for homosexual males. My question concerned whether Brogden had any involvement in the Group effort to unseat Federal Member for Cook Stephen Mutch, who was patron of my Young Liberal branch.

Despite my nasty question, John went onto win the preselection convincingly.

At all times, Clarkey insisted that he had no ambitions of ever entering Parliament. He sad he was too devoted to his legal practice. Clarkey’s sole source of work was in personal injury and workers compensation. However, his bread and butter was soon being affected by changes to legislation affecting these compensation regimes. Clarkey decided there was no future in personal injury, and hence began his attempts to gain preselection for the Upper House.

To be continued …

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Penberthy Is Innocent

David Penberthy represents the new generation of Australian journalism. He actively encourages and involves communities that have been traditionally marginalised and maligned in the press. He wants to turn the Daily Telegraph into a paper young people will feel comfortable reading. He wants to improve the quality of writing and the overall look of the paper.

Am I being sarcastic? No. I am serious. Am I saying this because I sometimes write for the DT? No.

In April 2005, I saw a certain Liverpool Sheik on TV saying that women who dress a certain way are eligible for rape. I put pen to paper and rang a friend in Melbourne who put me onto the opinion editor of the Sydney Morning Herald. Within 48 hours, I had my first op-ed piece published.

Within 72 hours, I was being "head-hunted"by an editor of the DT.

“David asked me to phone you. He was upset that you do not write for us. We are quite serious about it. We want new and different voices to be heard.”

To accuse David and the DT of being anti-Liberal is a joke. After all, I have not been able to publish anything in a News Limited paper critical of Mr Howard’s industrial reforms. Neither the Australian not the DT will touch it. Their policy is to support the Libs on this one.

Further, one of the DT’s star columnists is Piers Akerman. Now anyone who knows Piers will testify to the fact that he is NOT anti-Liberal. If anything, he is accused of being so pro-Liberal that most people take for granted that he will never praise an ALP government.

Akerman has in the past spoken at Liberal functions and gatherings. Prior to the Talibanisation of the non-Group forces, Akerman spoke at a non-Group factional dinner organised by a prominent Eastern Suburbs Liberal.

Akerman has been a fierce supporter of the conservative Liberal cause. Who could forget the column he published about Ron Phillips signing up members and paying their fees using a single personal cheque? Or the classic articles in which he hacked into Jason Falinsky and other hard-core Liberal lefties?

On the other hand, Penberthy also ensures ALP hacks like Stephen Loosely also have a say. And Anita Quigley is no raving right-wing nutter.
Compare the Opinion pages of the DT to that of, say, the Sydney Morning Herald. I often find SMH opinion pages so boring and predictable. Generally just pieces by the usual suspects – Gerard Henderson, the token conservative bimbo Ms Devine, the latest splash from anti-Semite Daniel Pipes. And if we are lucky, some soft lifestyle piece by the opinion editor herself Julia Baird.

From time to time, there is a decent article by a Herald journo or an independent expert like Professor Amin Saikal or even a new face (such as the recent piece on the head scarf issue by young Muslim lawyer Amal Awad). But these are exceptions, not rules.

The DT may be seen as a tabloid. But the SMH is not far behind. Which probably explains the mass-exodus of Herald journos southward to join the Age. I give the DT another 12 months before the quality of its news surpasses that of the SMH. Perhaps then, the two papers could swap names.

I can just see it now. The Sydney Morning Telegraph. And the Daily Herald!

The SMH is still my favourite paper. Well, until recently, when I discovered how my views sharpened after religiously reading the Australian Financial Review. And the best Opinion pages in Australasia have to be those of the Canberra Times and the New Zealand Herald.

Yet the Telegraph has its place. It has the biggest readership. It cannot be ignored. Certainly Liberals don’t ignore it. Which explains why so many members of the Group used to take David Penberthy out to lunch so often. When Penberthy was writing pieces praising Group Young Liberal presidents, he was a good bloke. Why is he suddenly being treated as the devil incarnate by certain Liberals?

No DT columnist or journo puts a gun to a Liberal Party person and forces then to speak. If scandals about Liberal leaders reach the hallowed pages of the DT, it is less a reflection on the paper and its editor. It is, rather, more a reflection on the factional rivalries and nastiness within the Party itself.

© Irfan Yusuf

Friday, September 02, 2005

POLITICS/COMMENT: Twin Nations Finally Start Talking

Pakistan and Israel were founded hardly a year apart. They were both nations carved out for a religious minority. The creation of both these states involved uprooting millions of indigenous peoples who had been living there for centuries. They both have had difficult relations with their neighbours.

Pakistan and Israel are both close allies of the United States, and have been so since their creation. The religions that inspired their creation could be regarded as near-identical twins. Add Jesus, John the Baptist, Mary and Muhammad to Jewish theological equation and you have Islam.

Pakistan if often described as an Islamic Israel. And Israel could just as easily be described as a Jewish Pakistan. So why has it taken so long for these two nations to start talking?

On 1 September, the foreign ministers of both nations met and talks in Istanbul. The Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom described the event as an “historic meeting”. Meanwhile, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri described his country’s willingness to “engage” with Israel, though stopping short at this stage of establishing full diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

So what led to all this? Was Pakistan pushed? Did the United States lean on President Musharraf and threaten sanctions of talks did not commence?

In fact, none of these scenarios are realistic. What is realistic is a growing sense of realism in the Muslim world. With international media showing scenes of Israeli soldiers forcibly removing settlements from the Occupied territories, and with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon openly describing settlers as “Jewish terrorists”, Muslims are beginning to realise that Israel is prepared to make concessions.

It seems the Muslim world is going through a process one may describe as “Saladdinisation”. Saladdin, the Kurdish general who fought the Crusaders, fought to remove the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem and liberate the city. Saladdin is regarded as a hero, a veritable warrior-saint in Muslim consciousness.

Yet Saladdin was no blind warrior. He was a wily politician who realised that the real battle was the one not involving loss of life. He was more concerned with political posturing than with killing infidels.

Saladdin fought the Christian kingdoms but had no hesitation in recognising them and holding dialogues and entering treaties with them. Yet perhaps more significantly, Saladdin did not see the fight against the Crusaders as a war on all Christians.

He actively recruited soldiers and advisers from Christian communities, and made a point to understand and address the ideological motivations of the Crusader warriors. He also exploited their weaknesses, the poverty of their soldiers and the tribal and ethnic rivalries between the various Crusader factions.

Saladdin won battles in the battlefield, but also won lasting respect off the battlefield. His military successes are well remembered, but his diplomatic successes were all the more remarkable.

Had Saladdin taken the rejectionist ad isolationist approach which so many of his junior officers advised he take, he would never have even come close to liberating Jerusalem and removing the Crusaders from the region. Yet it is this very approach which most Arab and Muslim nations continue to take.

The failure of Muslim nations to have friendly relations with a Jewish entity is an anomaly in Muslim history. Saladdin’s own personal physician and adviser was also a rabbi. In fact, he was perhaps the greatest medieval Jewish theologian, known to Muslims as Shaykh Musa bin Maymoun al-Qurtubi and to Jews as Moses Maimonides.

In the Indian sub-continent, Jews and Muslims have always had friendly relations. The Jewish communities in Bombay and Poona often use the word “namaz” to describe their prayer, a word generally used by Muslims to describe the 5 daily prayers.

The powerful Memon Muslim tribes in the Gujarat state of India have always traded with Jewish communities. Substantial Memon communities exist in South Africa, and they trade extensively Jewish South Africans of Lithuanian and Latvian ethnicity. Even in Australia, there are strong business and social links between South African Muslim and Jewish migrants.

It was, therefore, only a matter of time before Pakistan’s government would cave into pressure from its own influential Memon business sector and commence talks with Israel. Pakistan’s dialogue with Israel is probably more about rupees than any ideological shift.

Pakistan’s Islamist sector will attempt to hijack the discussions. But their efforts will be thwarted by the fact that these talks are being hosted by Turkey’s Islamist government. Perhaps Pakistani Islamists could learn some pragmatism from the sensible AK Party of Turkey.

Talks between Israel and Pakistan are a welcome step. One can only hope that these talks will be the beginning of a new era in Muslim-Jewish relations which will revive the historically strong ties between the two faiths.