Monday, December 26, 2005

How democracy moderates even the most hardened terrorists

I realise some will try to paint me as a terror sympathiser for saying this. But I honestly think the Israelis should allow a Palestinian government to be formed. Even if it involves candidates linked to HAMAS.

Presumably most of those accusing me of being a terror sympathiser will come from the usual sectors for whom it is impossible for the Palestinians to ever get in right.

These same unconditionally anti-Palestinian people complained when Palestinians living under areas ruled by the Palestinian Authority democratically elected Nobel Prize winner Yasser Arafat.

When the first democratically elected Palestinian government appointed a Christian woman to the sensitive portfolio of education, these people accused Dr Hanan Ashrawi of being a terrorist sympathiser. Their allegations followed her all the way to Sydney in 2003, when she was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize.

Now Palestinian election officials are allowing HAMAS candidates to contest in the election, and already we hear murmurs of threats of sanctions and withdrawal of aid pledges.

Yet the presence of HAMAS candidates will not be the first time terrorists have taken part in an election. Israeli critics of HAMAS should remember the numerous members of notorious terrorist groups responsible for many deaths (including the Stern Gang) who have been elected to the Knesset. At least two Stern Gang members have even been elected Prime Minister.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Shamir never dared to set foot in England as an outstanding warrant was current for his arrest over his involvement in the bombing of the King David Hotel that left scores of civilians dead.

Shamir was also believed to be responsible for the assassination of the Swedish peace negotiator Count Folke Bernadotte, shot at close range in Jerusalem in September 1948 whilst working under the auspices of the United Nations. Bernadotte hoped to secure a compromise peace plan which would create separate Jewish and Palestinian states.

Other former terrorists included Nobel Prize winning Menachem Begin and even current Israeli PM Ariel Sharon.

For this part of the world, involvement by HAMAS will not be the first time a violent terrorist group will have been welcomed into the peaceful democratic process. Yesterdays terrorists have often become today’s and tomorrow’s statesmen.

Including HAMAS in government will give the organisation a much-needed injection of the harsh realities of administration and government. It is hoped that in government, HAMAS will recognise the need to compromise, to aim for the possible rather than the rhetorically popular but unachievable. Carping and sending other people’s children to their deaths is easy. Balancing competing interests and making tough decisions that can even hurt your supporters is very hard.

No one can deny the murderous record of the armed wing of HAMAS and their co-option of suicide bombing from Sri Lanka’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (also known as the Tamil Tigers). Hundreds of Israeli civilians have died at the hands of HAMAS suicide bombers, and Israelis have every right to be anxious about sharing a border with a government incorporating a group advocating the destruction of Israel.

The 2005 film Paradise Now directed by Hany Abu-Assaad seems to accurately portray the reality of organisations happy to send the depressed and frustrated children of others to their deaths in the name of a sick and demented theology with little relation to mainstream Islam.

HAMAS is a proscribed terrorist organisation under Australian, EU and United States law. Its past actions have certainly earned this proscription. Nothing in this article should be construed as constituting support for the organisation and its murderous activities.

But what is perhaps often forgotten is the role groups linked to HAMAS play in providing essential services to ordinary Palestinians. HAMAS is not a terror monolith. In December 2001, exactly 3 months following the September 11 attacks, TIME Magazine reporter Tony Karon wrote about the “large scale welfare arm” of the organisation.

“Hamas provides educational, medical and other desperately needed welfare services in impoverished West Bank and Gaza towns and refugee camps, creating a marked contrast with the image of corruption and cronyism most Palestinians have of Arafat's administration.”

Karon also writes of how the Israelis themselves encouraged HAMAS to openly operate from 1987 until HAMAS commenced armed action in 1989. Israel hoped HAMAS would provide an alternative indigenous Palestinian leadership to Yasser Arafat, then viewed in Israel as an enemy.

The record of HAMAS in the organised, efficient and effective provision of essential services may make its involvement in a future Palestinian government a plus for a future Palestinian administration. Gaza remains one of the poorest population centres on earth. It is also one of the most densely populated.

It is arguable that in Lebanon, the political, media and welfare wings of Hizbollah (whose armed wing is also proscribed in Australia) have led to the scaling down of military attacks on Israel. Democratic political processes in Lebanon have also seen the withdrawal of Syrian troops, seen as prime sponsors of Hizbollah. The organisation has little choice but to abstain from violence.

Peace cannot be achieved without compromise. Further, even those known for their extremist tendencies are known to moderate their positions when the trappings of government are at stake. Politics is a dirty game, but its utility lies in its ability to sap the militancy of even the most players on the terror chessboard. Parliamentary hawks are generally less dangerous than militants locked out of a political process.

I am no fan of HAMAS, just as I am no fan of the Stern Gang. But as Israel’s own history of electing former terrorists to Parliament has shown, democracy has the power to moderate the radical and clip the wings of the fiercest hawks. If organisations linked to HAMAS do have the popularity inherently anti-Palestinian commentators claim they have, surely this is even more reason to expose them to the mainstream political activity.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Monday, December 19, 2005

Christmas unites us all

Christmas is traditionally a time for family and friends getting together and for exchanging gifts. Among my extended family and close friends, Muslim and non Muslim both were and will be done. And both sides of the Tasman are involved.

An uncle of mine from Los Angeles visited Australia for the first time. His wife convinced me to take both of them to New Zealand. “Come on, Irfan. You should know New Zealand. What sort of Aussie are you that you don’t even know your own country?”

Our trip coincided with the Sydney beach riots, whose occurrence made my relatives particularly desperate to leave Sydney. I joked with them: “Hey, you guys must be used to that sort of thing, coming from LA”.

We were in New Zealand for 5 days, only enough time to drive a circle around North Island. Despite our requests, my mother and aunt refused to remove their headscarves. As if the rioters were crossing the Tasman to cause more trouble!

The closest we did come to cultural conflict was one morning walking down the main street of Napier in search of breakfast. I noticed the locals were staring in our general direction. Naturally, I presumed the ladies’ defiance over their headscarves was disturbing the locals.

Then one of the locals shouted the real cultural reason for the stares. “What are you wearing that damned Wallabies jersey in New Zealand!”

Before leaving for New Zealand, I decided to deliver my Christmas gifts early. One recipient of this clean-shaven Islamic Santa’s largesse was a Kiwi friend of mine who never met her Muslim dad. This year she will receive from me a package of three books, including a selection of Rumi poems and the latest Deepak Chopra offering.

Other friends of various genders and persuasions will also receive gifts. And this year’s Christmas card list for my legal practice already has over 300 names.

As usual, I will spend Christmas day having lunch with my best mate. We both attended Sydney’s only Anglican Cathedral School. Some years back, I introduced him to a Japanese friend of mine. They instantly clicked. I was best man at their wedding. It was a truly Australian event — an Anglican boy marrying a Buddhist girl with a Muslim best man, all taking place at St Andrews Cathedral!

At age 14, I was given my first translation of the Qur’an in English. It was a very old translation first published in Lahore during the 1930s. The translator was an Indian named Abdullah Yusuf Ali who rose to the highest posts in the Indian Civil Service that formed the administrative bedrock of the British Raj. His is perhaps the most popular and widely used translation.

It was at school that I discovered the story of the Qur’anic Jesus. The story can be found in a chapter of the Qur’an named ‘Maryam’ (which is Arabic for ‘Mary’). It begins with the usual supplication that commences all but one chapter of the Qur’an: ‘In the name of God, Most Gracious and Most Merciful’. This supplication is used not only when commencing a reading of the Qur’an, but precedes virtually all the daily actions of a Muslim, both mundane and devotional.

The chapter then goes into how John the Baptist appeared on the scene. John (named ’Yahiya’ in classical Arabic) was born to Zachariah, and both father and son are revered as prophets.

Once John has been mentioned, Mary is introduced. She is described as withdrawing from her family ‘to a place in the East’, locking herself away from the rest of society. A man mysteriously appears in her private chamber. The following dialogue ensues:

MARY: ‘I seek refuge from thee to God Most Gracious: come not near if thou dost fear God.’

MAN: ‘Nay, I am only a messenger from the Lord, to announce to thee the gift of a holy son.’

MARY: ‘How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?’

MAN: ‘So it will be: Thy Lord saith: “that is easy for Me: and We wish to appoint him as a sign unto men and as a Mercy from Us”. It is a matter so decreed.’

The man was an angel. Christ was conceived miraculously. Following birth, Mary took her son back to her family. Her father was a respected Rabbi and Mary was always known for her modesty and chastity. Further Mary had made a vow not to speak to any man for a fixed period of time. When she was first publicly accused of sexual impropriety, she pointed to the baby Jesus.

The Qur’an thus describes the first miracle of Christ — his speaking from the cradle in defence of his mother. His exact words were:

I am indeed a servant of God: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet. And he hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me prayer and charity as long as I live. He hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable. So peace is on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised up to life again!

I’m not sure if Joseph or the Three Wise Men appear in the Qur’anic account. But a number of Jesus’ miracles are mentioned. These include healing lepers and restoring life to the dead. Also mentioned is Christ’s ascension. The sayings of Prophet Muhammad mention Christ’s return to earth to establish the kingdom of God toward the end of time.

Given the status of Mary and Christ, it is not surprising that in the place where it all happened, the Palestinian town of Beit Lahm (Bethlehem), Muslims and Christians both celebrate Christmas. In many Muslim countries, Christmas is a public holiday. And when Christian leaders remind us that “Jesus is the reason for the season”, our Muslim brethren should find nothing objectionable.

Christmas should remind us that, despite minor cultural and theological differences, the things that unite us are greater in number and more important than those which divide us.

(Versions of this article appeared in the New Zealand Herald and the Daily Telegraph on 22 December 2005 and in New Matilda on 21 December 2005.)

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Monday, December 12, 2005

Downtown LA comes to Cronulla Beach

Earlier this morning, I found myself standing at Sydney Airport waiting for the Immigration Office to open. I was with some relatives visiting from Los Angeles, and we were preparing to fly out to New Zealand for a much-deserved holiday. I noticed a crowd of people standing around a TV screen watching like stunned mullets. They were mainly police, customs and security staff. They were from all different backgrounds. Their faces all expressed shock and disbelief.

What we saw were scenes of violence, thuggish behaviour and lawlessness at the otherwise fashionable Cronulla Beach located at the Southern tip of Sydney. What made the violence even more tragic was that most of it was draped with Australian flags and perpetrated in the name of Australian nationalism.

Over the weekend, an estimated 5,000 people descended on North Cronulla Beach chanting racist slogans and attacking anyone deemed of Middle Eastern origin. The violence spilled over into other parts of Sydney, with car windows being smashed at other waterfront locations across Southern Sydney.

Cronulla and its neighbouring suburb of Kurnell are amongst the earliest places where English settlers landed. The significance of these areas to both indigenous and Anglo-Australians is enormous. Apart from its historical and cultural significance, Cronulla is a popular weekend spot for families from across South Western Sydney.

These include young families from a variety of backgrounds for whom Cronulla is the most accessible coastal waterspot. It is also the only Sydney beach to have its own railway station, and has a legendary status as the heartland of Australian surf culture.

What appears to have sparked the riots was an unprovoked attack on two surf lifesavers at Cronulla Beach by a group of young men reportedly of Middle Eastern appearance. Police have already arrested one man in the Sydney suburb of Bankstown, which has a large community of Middle Eastern Australians.

A number of tabloid newspapers seemed to encourage the tribal nature of the violence. In the days leading upto the violence, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph repeatedly made reference to locals planning to take on “Middle Eastern thugs”. More responsible broadsheets (including The Australian, owned by the same group that publishes the Telegraph) were more restrained. Police and mainstream politicians (including local government leaders from the Cronulla area) also refused to buy into the racial overtones underpinning much of the reporting.

Once the violence was captured by television crews, it was obvious who would cop most of the blame. And it certainly wasn’t Aussies presumed Middle Eastern. Nor was it the Australian women of Muslim background who had their headscarves ripped off by drunken and stoned rioters.

TV crews showed images of young locals attacking innocent bystanders with beer bottles and bare fists. Many carried Australian flags. During attacks on anyone deemed Middle Eastern, the drunken crowd often frowned out the victims’ screams by singing “Waltzing Matilda” and “Advance Australia Fair”.

Reporter Damien Murphy, reporting from the scene of the riots for the Sydney Morning Herald, wrote on December 12 of “200-odd ringleaders, many clutching bottles or cans of beer and smoking marijuana, led assaults on individuals and small groups of Lebanese Australians who risked an appearance during the six-hour protest”.

Police also reported the presence of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups having a strong representation at the riots. Deputy Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione acknowledged that police had received reliable information of the involvement of groups such as the “Patriotic Youth League”.

Many have been taken by surprised by the ferocity of the tribalism at Cronulla. But as Paul Sheehan wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald on 12 December, gang violence is nothing new to Cronulla. During the 60’s and 70’s, Cronulla Beach was the scene of gang warfare between “westies” and “surfies”, both Anglo-Australian based “tribes”.

Responses from political leaders varied. As expected, the Prime Minister refused to label the rioters’ actions as racist, instead referring to longstanding “grievances” from the largely Anglo-Australian community. NSW Premier Morris Iemma appeared to contradict the PM’s stance, labelling the “sloganeering” as clearly racist.

But perhaps most concerning was the analysis of the local Member of Parliament Bruce Baird, regarded as a moderate small-“l” Liberal. Mr Baird referred to events of September 11 and the death of 6 locals in one of the Bali terror attacks as setting the foundation for simmering resentment toward anyone deemed Middle Eastern.

Unlike the Prime Minister, Mr Baird did not seek to whitewash the violence. He merely sought to explain its causes, many of which were based on the peculiar parochialism of the local “sufie” culture.

The resentment has only been reinforced by recent comments of some Muslim leaders, including comments concerning Australian model Michelle Leslie’s modelling of swimsuit fashion. Further, the often less-than-convincing condemnation of terrorist attacks by a number of Australian Muslim leaders have been widely reported and condemned even by their own communities.

Those taking on the responsibility of speaking for broader Arab and Muslim opinion in Australia have often failed both the interests they represent and the nation as a whole. With major exceptions in Canberra and Melbourne, the spokesmen (a word I use deliberately since so few are women) for this sector of the community has not shown itself capable of engaging the broader mainstream community.

At the same time, certain media outlets also need to exercise more caution, perhaps following the example of their counterparts across the Tasman who have tended to show far greater sensitivity in reporting on sensitive racial issues. Selective emphasis on the alleged ethnicity of certain perpetrators of violence does not help the situation.

It is now upto local civil, political and other leaders to examine the underlying issues, address grievances and provide real and lasting solutions. I wouldn’t like my relatives to avoid visiting either side of the Tasman thinking it isn’t any different to what they see in downtown LA.

The author is a Sydney lawyer and occasional lecturer at the School of Politics at Macquarie University.

(A version of this article was printed in Online Opinion. Thanks to Eddie & Vivienne Evans of the Country Inn & Suites 121 in Auckland City for allowing me to use their desktop!)

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Another hostage crisis in Iraq

It wasn’t long ago when Australians watched in horror as a fellow Australian was paraded on amateur video as a terrorist pawn. A shadowy Iraqi group known as the “Shura Council of the Mujahideen of Iraq” held Mr Wood directly hostage for 47 days, issuing threats and impossible deadlines and releasing videos of the captured Australian.

They also indirectly held Mr Wood’s family and the entire nation hostage. The Wood family were forced to employ measures which, at the time, they must have thought of as desperate.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on May 8 2005 that members of the Wood family travelled to the Imam Ali ben Abi Taleb Mosque to speak with Sydney’s Sheik Tajeddine el-Hilaly, whose various titles include “Mufti of Australia and New Zealand”.

Following the recording of a plea to the hostages in Arabic, Sheik Hilaly surprised media present by announcing he would personally fly to Iraq in an attempt to speak with the captors and secure Mr Wood’s release.

Sheik Hilaly was touched by the plight of Mr Wood, with whom the Sheik shared a common age and heart condition. The Sheik literally risked his life to travel to Iraq to seek the release of a fellow Australian.

Australians of Muslim background were sickened to see another innocent civilian suffering due to the acts of criminals committing crimes against humanity in the name of Islam. Despite his being subject to Muslim criticism due to irresponsible statements over the years, Sheik Hilaly won the hearts of Muslim and non-Muslim Australians through his mission.

Sheik Hilaly was provided with support and assistance by the Muslim peak body, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) who worked closely with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT) and Iraqi officials.

Now across the Tasman, another family is forced to endure the same trauma. The kidnapping of New Zealand resident and Canadian citizen Harmeet Singh Sooden and other members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) has some parallels to the treatment of Australian civilian hostage Douglas Wood.

New Zealand Muslims, like their Australian counterparts, cannot and should not be held responsible for the actions of ideologically charged maniacs who attack the lives of innocent people and hold families and nations hostage. But in conjunction with their Australian counterparts, New Zealand’s Muslim leaders may be able to take certain active steps.

The peak New Zealand Muslim body, known as the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ), should work with AFIC and the Canadian Islamic Congress to secure the services of Sheik Hilaly or other suitable mediators in an effort to secure the release of Mr Sooden and other hostages.

Such efforts on behalf of the Australian and New Zealand Muslim communities are essential given the natural abhorrence Muslims have (or at least should have) toward terrorism. Moreover, the kidnap of members of the CPT movement does not in any way further the cause of Iraqi self determination.

The CPT movement were always known for their opposition to the invasion of Iraq by Coalition forces. Their work has not been confined to Iraq. The CPT have played a major role over the years in protecting and campaigning for the rights of Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the Occupied Territories, a cause close to the heart of Muslims in New Zealand and across the world.

Unlike other evangelical groups, CPT has shown enormous respect for the faiths and cultures of Muslim communities with whom they work. CPT works at a grassroots level, refusing to accept money from any government. Mr Sooden’s own devotion to the cause of justice was shown in his participation in numerous rallies in support of Palestinian rights in New Zealand.

In its press release dated December 5 2005 calling for the release of Mr Sooden and his colleagues, the Canadian Islamic Congress noted: “CPT members do not proselytize or ever attempt to "convert" those for whom they offer support. Rather, they are individually and collectively motivated by their faith to devote their lives to helping the oppressed, working for justice, and fighting against war by peacefully "getting in the way" of violence against the innocent.”

The press release goes onto acknowledge CPT members “took on their duties with one simple and courageous purpose: to bear witness to injustice and to sincerely work alongside the people of Iraq for justice and peace.”

New Zealand Muslim leaders, in conjunction with their Australian and Canadian counterparts, must take a leading role in assisting where possible to secure Mr Sooden’s release. They should use whatever influence and contacts they have in Iraq and the broader Arab and Muslim world to impress upon the hijackers that any harm done to CPT in effect harms work from which millions of Iraqis and other Arabs benefit. Not to mention the enormous grief such harm would bring to Mr Sooden’s family and millions of New Zealanders who stand with them.

A precedent has already been set by the Australian Muslim community in seeking the release of Australian hostage Douglas Wood. It is hoped FIANZ can follow the lead of AFIC and other Australian Muslim peak bodies and offer whatever assistance they can.

The author is a Sydney-based lawyer and columnist for

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Friday, December 02, 2005

COMMENT: Hansard Hat-Trick

First it was my former election opponent and ALP stalwart the Member for Reid who named me in Federal Parliament. Mr Ferguson expressed some surprise at my criticisms of certain Howard Government policies.

Then my former colleague in the Conservative wing of the NSW Liberals, the member for Mackellar, decided to accuse me of being a “Muslim activist” who was known for his abusive attitude toward women.

I’m not sure if Mrs Bishop’s claims about my attitude toward women led to my being selected as an official Ambassador for the Australian White Ribbon Day campaign to promote the UN’s designated International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Although I am pleased to say my efforts seem to have convinced at least one prominent figure in the construction industry to improve his attitude toward women.

Now it seems that the Member for Melbourne Ports has decided to ask a question. Mr Danby was a former member of the Australia/Israel Publications, an unincorporated entity which has already mentioned my name in vain in a number of their publications.

Since that time, I am informed the successor to the AIP and Mr Danby appear to have parted ways. This, however, does not stop Mr Danby from publishing the odd attack on anyone deemed to be saying something even mildly critical of a certain non-Arab state in the Middle East whose name is not Iran.

Indeed, I am not sure if Mr Danby has actually ever asked a question pertaining to the people of his electorate. Admittedly, I haven’t checked Hansard of late. But it seems Mr Danby’s concern is less about contentious industrial policies or welfare reforms and more about protecting the reputation of a certain foreign country.

(I welcome Mr Danby or a member of his staff to correct me if I am mistaken.)

Of course, I have no problems with Mr Danby doing this. I mean, I don’t live in his electorate. Although if my local member spent so much time harping on about a foreign power (even if it be my parents’ ancestral homes in the Indian sub-Continent), I would be a tad concerned.

On this occasion, Mr Danby chose to focus on a local issue, and I must say his question was fair enough. Mr Danby’s questions to Mr Ruddock concerned some comments I had made some months back about an anti-Semitic text being distributed at a camp organised by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) in 1985/86.

Mr Danby, of course, decided to make my comments much broader, almost seeking to cast aspersions that all Muslim organisations (including presumably Cypriot Muslim groups in his electorate) are openly distributing anti-Semitic literature to young Muslim Australians.

To his credit, Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock addressed the issues with precision and balance. He noted that the claims I made concerned activities back in 1985, back in the days when it was OK to claim all Palestinians were a bunch of Jew-hating Nazis who hijacked planes.

In case anyone feels my description of the discussions between Messrs Danby and Ruddock is somewhat unfair, I reproduce the relevant section of Hansard which was provided to me by a kind journalist from the Canberra Press Gallery.

(Question No. 2279)
Mr Danby asked the Attorney-General, in writing, on 6 September 2005:

(1) Has he seen allegations by Mr Irfan Yusuf, a former Liberal Party federal election candidate, that Islamic organisations are distributing the notorious anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, to Islamic youth in Sydney.

(2) Has he seen further allegations by Mr Yusuf that copies of the Protocols are being supplied to Islamic organisations by the Embassy of Saudi Arabia.

(3) What steps is he taking to ascertain the truth of these allegations and what steps will he take to prevent the importation or circulation of material such as the Protocols which is fraudulent, defamatory, inflammatory and designed to foment racial and religious hatred.

Mr Ruddock-The answer to the honourable member's question is as

(1) Yes. I am aware of Mr Yusuf's statements to media outlets. Although I note the allegations by Mr Yusuf relate to an incident in 1985 in which he claims that he and other attendees at an Islamic camp organised by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils were provided with copies of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.

(2) Yes. I have seen a statement made by Mr Yusuf to Radio National on 28 August 2005 that he received a copy of the book The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. I am aware Mr Yusuf further alleged the book had a stamp of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils on the inside cover and that the book was a gift from the Saudi Embassy. I note this allegation also relates to activities in 1985.

(3) The Australian Federal Police has not received any complaints or allegations regarding The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion since 1997. A strong criminal legislative framework already exists at a federal level. Mr Danby would be aware that the Australian Government is introducing a range of measures to improve the national security framework, including a new offence against inciting violence. Inciting a person to commit any criminal offence is an offence in its own right under section 11.4 of the Criminal Code Act 1995. In order to address situation in which statements aimed at the naïve and impressionable may incite criminal activity or terrorist acts, the Government has modernised the offence of sedition in sections 24A to 24F of the Crimes Act. These offences cover a person who engages in a 'seditious enterprise' with the intention of causing violence or creating public disorder or a public disturbance, or who writes, prints, utters or publishes any seditious words with the intention of causing violence or creating public disorder or a public disturbance. The new offence will address problems with those who incite directly against other groups within our community, including against Australia's forces overseas and in support of Australia's enemies.

There is a good faith defence where the communication is merely about criticising government policy. In addition, ASIO has said publicly that it works closely with police services in relation to threats to Israeli and Jewish interest and maintains regular contact with representatives of the Jewish community. ASIO also maintains regular contact with the Muslim community leaders and works closely with police services in connection with threats to the Muslim community. Mr Danby would also be aware that the Australian Government is introducing a range of measures to improve the national security framework, including a new offence against inciting violence.

Possible alternative measures available to deal with this material include prohibition as racial vilification under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, or the involvement of the Australian Federal Police where criminal conduct is alleged.

An application for classification of a publication may be made for Law enforcement purposes, under section 22A of the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995. I am advised that no application for classification has been made for this publication. Accordingly, no comment can be made on the appropriate classification of this book. If it were to be submitted, its classification would be a matter for the Classification Board.

The Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act 1975 prohibits racial vilification on the basis of race, colour, or national or ethnic origin ('offensive behaviour based on racial hatred').

Racial vilification covers acts that offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate a person or groups of people. The prohibition is subject to a number of exemptions which are intended to ensure that debate can occur freely in respect of matters of legitimate public interest. Complaints of racial vilification may be made to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 does not cover criminal conduct. Any allegations of criminal conduct should be referred to the Australian Federal Police.

Most importantly, it must be remembered that the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are fundamental human rights that are enjoyed by all Australians. These rights are subject to limitations that are reasonable and necessary in a free and democratic society to achieve an appropriate balance between freedom of expression and the protection of groups and individuals from offensive behaviour.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

COMMENT: Turkey's PM sets foot in Australia & New Zealand

Over the next fortnight, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be visiting Australia and New Zealand. His tour will be the first visit by a Turkish Prime Minister for at least 10 years.

Mr Erdogan represents a new generation of conservative Muslim leaders. In the past decade, Turkish politics has stepped in a more Islamist direction, especially as Muslim parties have enjoyed increased popularity after more secular parties have been wracked by corruption and scandal.

Mr Erdogan came to power as the leader of the conservative Islamist AK Party. The term “Ak” literally means “purified” and has been used by a number of Sufi groups as a pronoun to their various operations. A group of Islamist radio and TV stations in Turkey are called “AK-RA” and “AK-TV” respectively. But in reality, the AK Party is little more than a Muslim version of the Christian Democrat parties common in other European countries.

Indeed, even the most sceptical observers of Turkey agree that the present Turkish government is not turning its face totally eastward. Erdogan is a firm believer in liberal democracy, and he has proven to be the most active Prime Minister in terms of seeking Turkey’s entry into the European Union.

Turkey’s proposed entry to the EU is being opposed by some European leaders who see Turkey as too big, too poor and too Muslim. During a recent visit to the conservative Centre for Independent Studies, Swedish economist Johan Norberg suggested that Turkey’s entry to the EU should be supported for these very reasons.

In relation to Turkey’s Muslim culture, Norberg suggested that the influx of Turkish workers will force EU nations to free up their over-regulated labour markets and break down existing migrant ghettoes which are categorised by high unemployment and simmering resentment.

He also suggested that Turkish Islam is hardly the type which would reinforce existing pockets of extremism. If anything, Turkey’s more liberal Ottoman Sufi approach to Islam and its historical engagement with Europe will be an effective antidote to the threat of alleged radicalisation of European Muslims.

Norberg’s words are not the observations of a neo-capitalist idealist. His views are grounded in an understanding of Ottoman and modern Turkish trends of Islamic thought. The Ottoman Empire was a very European empire. It should be remembered that the Ottomans were already in Europe prior to the conquest of Constantinople, and indeed that conquest took Ottoman armies eastward and not westward. Further, Ottoman religious institutions tended to be dominated by European converts.

Modern Turkish Islam has a very strong foundation in the classical Sufism of universalist thinkers such as Rumi. Indeed, the city of Konya where Rumi is buried is regarded as Turkey’s Islamic heartland.

My own experience with Turkish Islamic scholars has been that they place enormous emphasis on this-worldly affairs, especially on business. Turkish Imams (who make up the majority of Imams in Australia) emphasise engagement with the mainstream in all areas of life. Their message is a far cry from the isolationist theology of some more radical Middle Eastern Imams.

Erdogan himself is a reflection of this thinking. Despite his impeccable Islamic credentials, he is also no stereotypical mullah. He is a father of four whose son is currently studying at Harvard. Erdogan refused to follow the lead of the newly elected Iranian president by calling for the destruction of Israel.

If anything, under the Erdogan government Turkey’s relations with Israel have improved. Turkey has sponsored talks between the foreign ministers of Israel and Pakistan, and Turkey maintains close diplomatic, military and cultural ties with Israel.

The current Turkish PM is also firmly opposed to all forms of Islamic extremism and terrorism. In this regard, Erdogan is following Turkish public opinion. During a recent terrorist attack on an Istanbul synagogue, Mr Erdogan vowed to pursue those responsible and bring them justice. By all indications, his calls resonated positively across all sectors of Turkish society. Further, as an active NATO member state, Turkey continues to support the war on terrorism.

Turkey’s engagement of European liberalism goes beyond merely winning the Eurovision song contest. In April 2004, the Turkish government led a campaign for Cypriot Turks to support the re-unification of Cyprus.

Greek Cypriots voted overwhelmingly against Cypriot unity. Ironically, despite their rejection of UN-sponsored reunification, the Greek section of Cyprus was granted EU membership.

Australia has a large and well-established Turkish community. Over 100,000 Turks and their descendants have had a presence in Australia since the 1950’s. Out of all Muslim ethnic groups, they are the most organised, the best integrated and have the greatest number of mosques. Australia needs to make greater use of its Turkish communities with a view to secure the substantial advantages flowing from closer economic ties with this growing economy.

Both Australia and New Zealand forged their first links with Turkey on the battlefields of the Gallipoli peninsula. Each year, our embassies and high commissions across the world hold ANZAC Day ceremonies, and we make a point of inviting Turkish diplomats to also attend.

Turkey’s economic and cultural ties with Australia and New Zealand have overcome the effects of that initial encounter. And with Prime Minister Erdogan’s visit, it is hoped these ties will grow stronger.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf