Thursday, December 07, 2006

Self-styled Australian paper lynches Pakistani advocate?

How sweet it is to be loved by you.
(James Taylor)

Well, it certainly is sweet to have one’s name mentioned in the editorial of Australia’s only national broadsheet. Even if it be in vain!

The Australian editorial for 7 December 2006 covered Kevin Rudd and his impact upon the ALP. It then went onto speak of the importance of not “covering up Islamic outrages”. I’m not exactly sure how any outrage can be deemed “Islamic” or indeed supported by any other faith. But the editorial made clear that certain behaviour by Muslims was just unacceptable and should be exposed.

In particular, the editorial spoke of the outrageous behaviour of former students from a Melbourne independent Muslim school who were found to have behaved in a despicable manner toward the Bible. The Oz’s Cameron Stewart had reported the story in a most balanced manner, and he certainly cannot be held responsible for the hysterical headlines or front page prominence given to his reasonable analyses.

The editorial went onto speak about its reporting of the Hilaly rape/adultery/catfood comments.

But the reporting on Sheik Hilali also flushed out a number of people who were horrified by The Australian's coverage, and who wished the whole story would go away. Chief among them was self-styled Muslim advocate Irfan Yusuf, a young lawyer of Pakistani extraction, who accused this newspaper of committing an “editorial lynching” of the sheik in its news and opinion pages.
(emphasis mine)

I’m not sure who actually wrote this editorial. I’m not sure if this person knows me or is familiar with my readings. More importantly, I’m not sure if the author has any literacy skills at all, given what I am about to "reveal" about myself.

The writer accuses me of being a “self-styled Muslim advocate”. What does this mean? Well, it could mean a number of things:

• that I describe myself as an advocate of Muslim people and/or issues and/or groups.
• that I describe myself as an advocate and lawyer when I really am not.

If the second interpretation is intended, the author should seriously consider obtaining urgent legal advice. To suggest that I am falsely holding myself out as a legal practitioner is extremely defamatory. The fact is that I am a legal practitioner and hold a NSW practising certificate. I am also a member of the NSW Law Society.

I am perfectly within my rights to commence proceedings immediately against the editor, deputy editor and opinion editor and proprietor of The Oz. Further, because the defamation occurred online, I am within my rights to commence these proceedings in any jurisdiction. I’m not sure what assets Messrs Mitchell, Switzer et al have, but I would suggest they carefully consider their legal position.

If the editorial writer suggests that I have ever claimed to speak on behalf of all Muslims, they are again speaking lies. At various times, I have made the following claims in my writings:

• Sydney lawyer.
• Columnist for
• Occasional lecturer in politics and international relations at Macquarie University.
• Former president of the Islamic Youth Association of NSW (IYA).
• Industrial and workplace relations lawyer.
• Human rights lawyer.
• Lawyer who has acted for Muslim peak bodies and independent schools.
• Freelance writer.
• Blogger.
• Columnist whose writings have appeared in various newspapers in Australia and New Zealand.
• Commentator.

In none of these descriptions do I claim any current leadership capacity. I was president of the IYA in 1990-91, hardly a current position.

The editorial then refers to me as being "of Pakistani extraction". Now it is true that I was born in Karachi. It’s also true that I stayed there for some 6 weeks until my parents boarded with me onto a cruise liner headed for Sydney harbour.

It’s also true that my mother grew up in Aligarh, a university town in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. I’m not sure exactly how far Aligarh is from the Pakistan border, but I’m sure it isn’t exactly walking distance.

So my mother is Indian. My father was born in Delhi and stayed there until he was 7 years old. I left my birthplace at age 6 weeks. I’ve never held any passport other than an Australian passport. Yet I am described as being “of Pakistani extraction”.

And even if I was of Pakistani extraction, what does this prove? How is my alleged ethnicity relevant to the issue of an Egyptian-Australian Sheik’s comments? Are Pakistanis ineligible to discuss public issues? Does being Pakistani reduce one’s credibility?

The editorial also claims that I wanted the media to brush the story under the carpet, that I wanted it to go away. Really? How, then, does the editor explain the fact that criticisms and analysis of the Hilaly comments were published under my name in the following publications …

• The Daily Telegraph (not once but twice!).
• The Canberra Times.
• The New Zealand Herald.
• The Wellington Dominion-Post.
• The Christchurch Press.

In the Daily Telegraph, I openly states that Sheik Hilaly is wrong and that his comments were grossly offensive. In a later piece, I wrote that Hilaly is irrelevant. The Daily Telegraph’s offices are in the same building as those of The Oz. They belong to the same media organisation.

Further, anyone who googles my name will find the first item popping up is a list of articles I have published on the Online Opinion website. The first of these articles is a critique of Sheik Hilaly.

Far from wanting the Hilaly comments to be swept under the carpet, I have actively participated in the condemnation of Hilaly. I’ve spoken on the issue on Radio National breakfast and two regional ABC breakfast radio shows.

What I did criticise The Oz for was the enormous amount of space given to the story (on one day, some 8 pages). I made these criticisms at the White Ribbon Day launch. Indeed, my criticisms of Hilaly are part of my work as a White Ribbon Day ambassador, campaigning to eliminate all forms of violence against women.

The point I made at the WRD launch was that, in focussing on the words of one religious leader and on the excesses (actual and apparent) of one religious group, we are effectively ignoring the perpetrators of other cultural groups. We are therefore avoiding the victims. I further argued that the real scandal isn’t so much Hilaly’s comments as the fact that, according to recent research carried out by Dr Michael Flood and others, Hilaly’s expressed attitudes are commonly held by men and women in mainstream Australia.

In what sense do these comments exhibit an insistence that the issue be swept under the carpet?

Further, anyone familiar with my writing will know that most of what I write involves criticising Muslims for various things. I’ve criticised Muslims (individually and collectively) in the following contexts:

• Comments of Sheik Feiz about rape.
• Comments of Abdurraheem Greene on women.
• Distribution of anti-Semitic texts at Muslim camps organised by AFIC.
• Dominance of Muslim organisations by first generation migrants with irrelevant cultural attitudes.
• Imams who cannot speak English.
• Muslim bookshops promoting hate literature.
• Muslim responses to the Danish cartoons.
• Muslim responses to the Pope’s recent speech.
• Critique of terrorist groups in the Middle East, Indonesia and Afghanistan.
• Critique of Mumbai terror attacks.
• Calling upon London Muslims to condemn the London bombings.
• Criticising Muslim attitudes to mental illness.

In what sense do these criticisms exhibit an unwillingness to see such issues discussed openly in media circles?

Perhaps what the editor is really concerned about is an exchange between opinion editor Tom Switzer and I on the pages of Crikey. Yet in what way is a healthy exchange of views problematic? Why should the editorial team at The Oz respond in such an immature and childish manner when criticised? If they can’t stand the heat, what are they doing in the public discourse kitchen?

In any event, I’d like to thank The Oz for mentioning me in their editorial. Having The Oz criticise me adds so much to my credibility in the sane media. Further, it puts The Oz in the same league as the Muslim Village forum participants who criticise me for attacking Hilaly.

So there you have it. I am attacked by ghetto Muslims for attacking Hilaly. And then I am attacked by ghetto neo-Cons for trying to brush the issue under the carpet. Both sets of critics display a hysterical and narrow-minded attitude toward the issues at hand.

In conclusion, might I make a simple suggestion to the editors of The Oz. Ahmed Kilani, a good buddy of mine and one of the owners of the Muslim Village forums is looking for moderators/editors to man the forums. Perhaps The Oz editorial authors could offer their services. I’m sure they’ll be in good company.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006