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