Sunday, June 19, 2005

HUMOUR/MEDIA: Akerman's Potato Theology

Conservative politics is about gradual change. It is about evolution, about recognising that human beings are not revolutionary animals or computer hardware that absorb ideology in the manner software is downloaded.

Conservative thinking has tended to involve intellectual rigour, the sort of rigour that classical and modern Islamic lawyers (and a least one irrelevant Canadian lesbian activist) have referred to as ‘ijtehad’.

But in the Australian tabloid press, it seems that intellectual rigour has been replaced with sycophantic slogans and ruthless hate-filled ranting.

The most recent column of Piers Akerman is a classic example of this. This sadly infantile editorial is an embarrassment to conservatives everywhere and is an embodiment of the old saying “dumb friends do more damage than enemies”.

One of the great metaphors of modern Australian politics involves urinating. We are told that you’d rather have someone inside the tent pissing out instead of outside the tent pissing in. But what if you have at least 1 person inside your tent who cannot control their direction?

The rescue of Douglas Wood has been an awesome achievement. How did it happen? What were the exact details? Who was really involved and when? Who knows. And who cares.

Certainly, on the night the PM announced Mr Wood’s release, the government was all smiles. Australia’s most successful conservative Prime Minister was happy to give credit where credit was due. He told the Parliament that Muslim Australians deserve to be recognised. “I also place on record my appreciation for the efforts of the Australian Islamic community and of Sheik Al Hilaly.”

Mr Howard is not the world’s biggest fan of Sheik Hilaly. Certainly he has expressed his misgivings to me when I have raised the matter with him in 1995 over a dinner at an Italian restaurant in Gladesville. I was a young struggling solicitor back then, as was my good mate who was joining us for dinner. Mr Howard was Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations back then, and he wanted to revive the old "Boronia Park" branch and fill it with young (preferably non-white) faces.

Mr Howard was not a huge fan of the Sheik thatnight. But in his speech to the Parliament coinciding with the release of Mr Wood, the PM showed the good sense that one would expect from a conservative.

The Foreign Minister was more forthright in his words. Alexander Downer is not what I would call a small “l” liberal. Indeed, his frequent attacks on “lefties” make him resemble PJ O’Rourke without the four letter words.
But the following exchange between Kerry O’Brien and Mr Downer speaks volumes:

Kerry O'Brien: Do you have any sense of how helpful the Mufti Sheikh al-Hilali from Australia has been in the process?

Alexander Downer: Well look he's made an enormous effort, the Mufti, and I think you know real credit should be given to him for the effort that he made and the risks that he took, including to his own security in assisting the team's efforts to try to get Douglas Wood released. And the Australian Islamic community more generally, you know, that's one of the assets we have as a multi-cultural country that people all came together as Team Australia and they brought their different strengths so we appreciated very much the contribution that Sheikh Hilali and more generally the Australian Islamic community made.
This is what conservative leaders in Australia are saying. Compare that to the ranting and carping performance by columnists of an Australian newspaper.

In the Sunday Telegraph, resident columnist Piers Akerman pointed out that Douglas Wood was not asking for potatoes when he was released. Nor did he attribute his release to the greatness of potatoes.

I am not sure if Mr Wood’s ancestry is Irish. I have an Aussie Russian friend who once ran as endorsed Liberal candidate against Paul Keating in the seat of Blaxland and is married to an Irish doctor. They were married in an Orthodox Church in Ireland. While there, he was treated to a feast of different kinds of potatoes. He often teases his wife by referring to the Irish fetish for potatoes, even if it means having potatoes with corn flakes for breakfast.

But according to Piers Akerman, it is a good thing that Mr Wood exclaimed “God bless America” as opposed to speaking of the greatness of potatoes.

Huh? What am I talking about? Hey, I know what I am talking about, but clearly Piers does not.

Australian hostage Doug Wood bellowed "God bless America" when he was released from captivity in Baghdad after 47 days spent bound and handcuffed.

He did not cry "Alu Akbar" as some in the Australian media may have expected given their feting of the Lakemba-based mufti, Sheik Taj Eldene Alhilaly.
For some reason, Piers believes that Muslims worship potatoes. He has ascribed to Muslims an extraordinary claim, and has accused one quarter of the world’s population of regarding potatoes (or “alu”, as they are called in Urdu) of being greatest (or “akbar”).

I am no Islamic scholar. But I reckon I know enough about Islam to realise that Muslims do not worship potatoes or indeed any other vegetables. Indeed, I am at a loss to find any mainstream faith that ascribes divine powers to so humble an ingredient.

I am also not an expert on intelligence matters or about the operational details of Iraqi rescue missions. Piers, however, is an expert. And in his expert opinion, the Americans and the Iraqis did it all. The sheik did bugger-all.

I am not sure how old Piers is or what his health situation is like. But I wonder whether Piers would have dropped everything and flown to Iraq had the Wood family approached him. And I wonder whether Piers would have been so successful in delivering much-needed medication to Mr Wood.

What concerns me also is the fact that Piers’ undermining of Sheik Hilaly actually creates problems for Australia. What happens if another Australian is kidnapped? What happens if the Sheik’s services are needed again?

Imagine if an insurgent were to negotiate with the Sheik after reading a major conservative Australian columnist allegedly close to the government questioning the Sheik’s credibility. Imagine how more difficult the Sheik’s task would be then.

Which explains why Mr Akerman was gagged so soon after he published his first pseudo-conservative rant after it was revealed the Sheik was leaving for Iraq. Akerman’s antics were proving a national security risk. Yes, indeed stupid friends are more dangerous than enemies.

Finally, Akerman praises the Wood brothers for their “impeccable manners and appearance”. As if to suggest that everyone else involved had awful manners and even worse appearance. Funny that. Because I always thought Mr Howard had impeccable dress sense.

I guess Akerman was more having a jab at Sheik Hilaly for looking so woggy. I mean, reeeeeally, as one Liberal MLC likes to say. These bloody Egyptians who come here and dress like something out of a Mel Gibson movie. Who does he think he is to look and dress like Jesus Christ?

So there you have it. Muslims worship mashed potatoes. The Mufti dresses as if its mufti day. John Howard has bad manners. And God bless America.

Another Sunday, another column from a man whose acumen may have been pierced by a potato cutter. But as the jingle says: "Sunday, just isn't Sunday without the Sunday Telegraph". And on Sunday 19 June 2005, whilst they continue taking bows and receiving bouquets from ordinary Australians, Aussie Mossies can throw a few eggs (or should that be potatoes?) in Piers' direction.

I would have liked to write a little about Andrew Bolt's contribution to the ongoing debate on potato theology. But the words of my colleague Stephen Hopper still ring in my ears. In an entertaining interview on the ABC Insiders program, Mr Hopper made these responses to Bolt:

ANDREW BOLT: So he's gone to a war zone in Afghanistan to seal a deal to do with cleaning. Do you really think that's remotely credible?

STEPHEN HOPPER: No, no, nice try. We haven't said where Mr Habib was from the time he left Sydney until he was detained. Just because an interviewer makes an assertion of him being in a certain place and he doesn't answer that question. There is actually a number of questions about his locations at various times that he didn't answer but they just played one but because a journalist makes an assertion doesn’t mean it’s true.

ANDREW BOLT: Even if it is northern Pakistan is he really doing a cleaning deal in northern Pakistan, is that what you're asserting?

STEPHEN HOPPER: Oh well, I mean some people say that you masquerade as a journalist.
Oh, and in case Piers is reading this. Mate, the last time you defamed me in one of your columns, you failed to spell my name correctly. Should you wish to defame me again, make sure you spell the damned name right! Or better still, just call me God (or should that be Alu?).

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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