Friday, July 29, 2005

COMMENT: AIJAC must work for peace between Jews and Muslims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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