Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Clarke forces now even targeting Christian MP’s

“I’ve had it with the New Right. They’ve become like a religious cult. The other day, one of their members came up to me and told me she prays every Sunday for the defeat of the Moderates. Talk to me about politics, but why bring prayer into it?”

These words were spoken to me by a former conservative Liberal Party member who has run for Local, State and Federal Parliament as an endorsed Liberal Candidate. They indicate a battle being waged for the soul of the Liberal Party.

This war is now being played out in the preselection process. Clarke’s faction is now openly threatening long-standing and loyal sitting Liberal MP’s. The Clarke forces are openly moving to defeat popular Member for Baulkham Hills Wayne Merton.

Mr Merton is a popular local figure and a devout Christian whose family are active in church affairs. It seems strange that a Christian MP is being challenged by a faction claiming to promote Christian values.

The challenge against Merton is a most unusual one. Merton has not acted against Clarke or the Religious Right. If anything, Merton should be seen as an ideological ally of the Christian Right.

But it doesn’t stop with Merton. Sources tell me that longstanding MP for the Hills and Shadow Environment Minister, Michael Richardson, is also facing threats for his seat from the Christian-Right. Like Merton, Richardson is also a devout Christian with very strong links to congregations across the north-western Bible-belt of Sydney.

John Howard has always insisted that his Party is a broad church incorporating conservative and liberal strains. Notwithstanding recent adverse comments on aspects of some religious cultures, Howard himself has always had a strong aversion to sectarianism. During his term as inaugural “resident of the NSW Young Liberals, Howard went against the sectarian powers-that-be and supported state funding for Catholic schools.

Yet religious chauvinism plays an increasing role in the recruitment practices of the dominant Right-faction of the NSW Liberals led by David Clarke, a former personal injury lawyer and current Member of the Legislative Council.

The mere recruitment of members from churches shouldn’t pose a problem for a party that prides itself on welcoming people of all backgrounds and faiths. However, in Clarke’s case, it is more a case of the unfortunate use of religious wedge politics.

Clarke’s speeches in the Upper House reflect the selective use of sectarian chauvinism. In a speech to the NSW upper House on 23 February 2005, Clarke described Australia as not having a Judeo-Christian or Abrahamic ethos but rather on exclusively “Christian foundations and institutions and in accord with 2,000 years of Christian western tradition”.

The modus operandi of Clarke and his allies are quite straight forward. They contact a small Christian minority community, often from the Middle East, and plays on their sense of victimhood to attract members to the Party. Often Clarke’s rhetoric is aimed at using pre-existing ethnic and religious tensions, thereby excluding other communities from branch stacking and recruitment drives in the area targeted.

On 3 May 2005, Clarke addressed the NSW Parliament on the virtues of one competing faction of the bloody Lebanese Civil War which raged since the 1970’s and whose embers are still burning. His interpretations of Lebanese affairs would be regarded by many Lebanese Australians as extremely provocative.

Clarke praised the Lebanese Forces as “protectors of Christianity and the embodiment of the history, faith and traditions of Christian Lebanon” and “the legitimate and authentic voice of Lebanon's Christian population”. He paid special tribute to Dr Samir Geagea, a man regarded by many Lebanese as a war criminal.

Clarke described Lebanon as “a centre of Christian civilisation, culture and faith” and Palestinians refugees as “largely of a different religious faith”. He also described the foundation of the Lebanese forces by the “martyred” former Lebanese President Bashir Gemayel as a response to “an upsurge of an extremist Islamist presence seeking nothing less than the Islamisation of the country” that included efforts of “every Imam who followed Osama Bin Laden”.

It’s quite likely that the period of the Lebanese Forces’ ascendancy coincided more with a time when the al-Qaida leader was busy chasing skirt in London and Beirut nightclubs to bother about Imams of any persuasion. This doesn’t stop Clarke from making inaccurate and deliberately provocative comments on Lebanon’s sectarian politics otherwise known for its complex and slippery alliances.

Clarke’s other speeches have praised Christian denominations such as the Hillsong Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

It would be unfair to criticise Clarke for merely praising various congregations. However, it is known that such praise is often used as the basis for recruiting socially conservative members from these communities who are used to fight factional battles inside the Liberal Party.

Perhaps the most contentious sectarian manoeuvre by Clarke has been his apparent support for the establishment of an Assyrian homeland inside Iraq. Since the bombing of a Shia Muslim shrine on 22 February 2006, Iraq has been plunged into an orgy of sectarian violence that has claimed over 20,000 civilian lives in a mere 6 weeks.

Assyrians are one of any number of Iraqi ethno-religious communities vulnerable to attacks by extremists and terrorists loyal to al-Qaida or the deposed former Iraqi government.

The notion of an Assyrian homeland (either autonomously within or independent of Iraq) is, in the current climate and notwithstanding the merits of the cause, a political hot potato.

For a Liberal Parliamentarian to raise such issues at a time when Australian troops are currently risking their lives to secure Iraq for the benefit of Iraqis of all denominations is grossly irresponsible.

Overtures by Mr Clarke and his allies to supporters of Assyrian independence will severely embarrassment the Federal Government at a time when Ministers are being cross-examined at the Oil For Food Inquiry.

If Peter Debnam wishes to win the next State Election, he would be well advised to rein Clarke and his allies in. Or perhaps to push them toward the Christian Democrats. Either way, the rise of sectarian politics will only benefit the Iemma government.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Middle Eastern crime without Muslims

Last night, I received a call from the producer of a Sydney talkback radio show. She asked me if I wanted to make any comment about comments made by one Dr Jamal Rifi which were quoted in the Daily Telegraph.

Dr Rifi is a GP based in Belmore, and was at one stage (and perhaps still is) a Commissioner of the Community Relations Commission. He at one stage was a broadcaster and board member of the Voice of Islam radio station that was at one stage broadcasting from the offices of the Islamic Council of NSW in Chullora.

Dr Rifi allegedly told the DT that the reason Lebanese Australians were reluctant to dob in the perpetrators of much of the Middle Eastern gang violence was because they feared retribution from gangs and did not have any confidence in the police to protect them.

I haven’t read the actual article, which as far as I know was not on the DT website. What I have said above is merely hearsay from the producer of the talkback show mentioned in the first paragraph.

I am always amused by attempts by some elements of Lebanese Christian denominations to paint the problem of crime gangs as one strictly limited to the Lebanese Muslim communities. The same claims are also made by reconstructed Marxists and senile pseudo-conservative monoculturalists whose views were heavily promoted on the op-ed pages of the Australian in the immediate aftermath of the Cronulla riots.

The basic message was simple – those bloody Muslims gang-rape our women, assault our lifeguards, plant bombs in our nuclear facilities and turn our suburbs into crime hotspots.

Of course, the fact remains that many of the most notorious Middle Eastern gangsters (both behind bars and outside prison) were and are from Christian denominations. Further, we know that a number of thugs and war criminals associated with the former South Lebanon Army have been granted asylum in Australia, despite their possible involvement in torture and other crimes against humanity.

And today’s Sydney Morning Herald reveals a side of Middle Eastern (and nominally Christian) crime that people living in the Fairfield city have known of all along. And this time, it is Peter Debnam who should be worried about possible criminal elements being used to stack branches in his party.

The Assyrian Iraqi community are mainly based in the City of Fairfield. They are active in small business and in local politics. A number of Assyrians are on the Fairfield City Council.

Some Assyrians are seeking the creation of a separate Assyrian state inside Iraq. Their cause presents an added layer of sectarian tension in a nation where, since February 22, at least 20,000 people have been killed in sectarian violence.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that every community has its rotten apples. The Lebanese Muslim communities are not alone in this regard. Indeed, Assyrian gangs play a prominent part in Sydney’s Middle Eastern crime scene.

In recent times, the Religious-Right faction led by Liberal MLC David Clarke has attempted to use Assyrian churches and community organisations as a recruiting ground for branch stacking purposes. Whether Clarke is directly involved remains to be seen. But people close to Clarke have openly expressed support for the idea of a separate Assyrian homeland independent from the rest of Iraq.

It would be wrong to suggest that Assyrian Iraqis have no role to play inside any mainstream political party just because some amongst them are engaged in criminal activity. However, the fact remains that political parties represent an attractive cover for criminal elements seeking false respectability.

Yet regardless of the stacking activities of the Religious-Right faction of the NSW Liberals, the fact remains that criminal elements from within Middle Eastern communities are not limited to Muslim Lebanese. But good luck if we hear about “Christian crime gangs”.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006