Monday, January 29, 2007

Howard the social democrat?

Andrew Norton, editor of the journal Policy published by the Centre for Independent Studies, has a very thoughtful article in the Courier-Mail on how the Howard government has effectively embraced the values of social democracy. Similar pieces have also been published in The Oz by CIS Executive Director Greg Lindsay.

Both authors have very long memories and a rather solid understanding of how governments should operate in a liberal democracy (at least in theory). The whole idea of big government is an anathema for both liberals and conservatives.

What makes Norton’s analysis particularly interesting is that he combines a strong theoretical understanding of small government liberalism with genuine political experience as a former adviser to the Howard government.

Norton recognises the appeal which Kevin Rudd’s recent attacks on Howard will have in certain parts of the electorate.

Most Australian voters aren't attuned to the nuances of Liberal history or ideology. But Rudd's broader attack could resonate in the electorate. A poll conducted to mark Howard's decade as Prime Minister revealed that more of us think that Australia has become "meaner" during his term than believe ordinary people have been given a chance to improve their lives. Three-quarters believe that the gap between rich and poor is growing.

Perceptions and reality frequently don’t match. The Fin Review has, over the past few weeks, run numerous articles on how the size of the Commonwealth Public Service has dramatically increased in size in the 11 years of Howard’s Prime Ministership. Certainly this would be the case even if one took account of the dramatic rise in Canberra property prices and the current accommodation crisis in Canberra which has even affected the student market.

Norton continues:

Over recent years Howard has increased per capita spending in all these areas at a faster rate than did his Labor predecessor Paul Keating … Howard talks like a social democrat too, focusing on the needs of low and middle-income families and linking egalitarianism with social cohesion. … Ironically, though, Howard's departures from social democratic orthodoxy are likely to have entrenched the social democratic state. He has extended welfare dependence far into the election-deciding middle class, while easing concerns that those wholly reliant on income support are doing nothing at the expense of hard-working taxpayers.

Well worth reading.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Blair lampoons Islamic (and Jewish) dietary laws

David Hicks was a young Australian who grew up in Adelaide. He converted to Islam some years back, and allegedly adopted the name of Mohammed Dawuood. He fought in a number of war zones including for the very secular Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Somehow he ended up also fighting in Afghanistan.

According to evidence of a military prosecutor, Hicks was closely linked to al-Qaida. He continues to languish in Guantanamo Bay, and his plight has become a national concern and a national disgrace for the Howard government.

According to all available sources, Hicks has abandoned his adopted religious faith. Even former British Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg acknowledges that Hicks is, at best, a nominal Muslim. He certainly was never referred to as Mohammed Dawood in custody.

There is, however, a tiny core of far-Right types who will never forgive Hicks for joining a religion and community they love to hate. Certainly, blogger and Daily Telegraph Opinion Editor Tim Blair plays to this fringe crowd, if he himself doesn’t belong to them.

In a recent column, Blair adopts his typical style of lampooning Muslim religious rules. Ironically, among the rules he denigrates is one which Islam shares with Judaism.

As gestures go, this is probably as offensive as it gets; Hicks (or Mohammed Dawood, to use his preferred title) converted to Islam seven years ago and his new religion regards pigs as unclean.

Blair’s lampooning of this Jewish and Islamic dietary requirement raises the question of whether his obvious Islamophobia is also coupled with some kind of latent anti-Semitism.

The prohibition against pig meat was an issue which those responsible for the Spanish Inquisition made much of. Jews and Muslims forcibly converted to Catholicism were forced to hang pork outside the front of their houses. Consumption of ham and pork became a litmus test to separate a true converso from a false one.

I encourage Mr Blair to openly express his true sentiments on the prohibition of pig meat as a religious requirement. Perhaps he could address an audience of Jews and Muslims in Sydney and tell them what he really thinks of their religious heritage.

And if Blair doesn’t regard such prohibitions as matters to be lampooned, he might explain to his readers why he poked fun at this Islamic (and Jewish) teaching in the first place.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Tim's pre-Christmas Tirade

I’ve been pondering over the past couple of months on whether to go public on this. But after reading so much drama-queen nonsense from some newspaper editors, I thought I might as well.

I’ve only been involved in writing op-eds for mainstream media outlets since April 2005. On that occasion, I had a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald criticising a Sydney sheik who made imbecilic comments about women’s dress and rape.

The week after that article appeared, I received a call from the opinion editor of the Daily Telegraph inviting me to contribute. Over the next year or so, I submitted a few pieces here and there. I found that opinion editor to be most professional and courteous.

One Monday afternoon in late-December, I received an interesting phone call from the newly-appointed opinion editor of the Daily Telegraph. Tim Blair’s message was quite simple. As I had criticised him on my blog, accusing him of defaming me and of using hate-speech, he would no longer run my pieces on the Daily Telegraph’s opinion page. Here’s an excerpt from his tirade:

I spent much of the weekend going through your blog. I mean, f#cking hell. Put yourself in my f*cking shoes, mate. Why the f+ck should I run your stuff? Why should I do you any favours when you write that f^cking bullsh!t on your blog?

Him? Doing me favours? I’ve now had stuff appearing in 12 papers on either side of the Tasman, not to mention a gig in Virtually all of these are paid writing gigs. The Tele, however, generally doesn’t pay. It's all gratis stuff, and writing for the Tele is an exercise that benefits both me and the newspaper.

After hearing this barrage of abuse from Blair, I checked my blog and found that the last time I had mentioned him was in August 2006, well before he had joined the Tele. I also checked Tim’s blog and found that on at least one occasion he had in fact defamed me by referring to me as an “egomaniac”.

Well, that’s life. Blair and I are both ideological warriors who fight our battles using the blogosphere. Things can get rather Middle Eastern out there in cyberspace. But Blair’s performance in his official capacity of opinion editor is grossly unprofessional and reflects poorly on his paper.

Allegedly conservative columnists from both News Limited and Fairfax often accuse Muslims of adopting a victim mentality. Yet my experiences in recent days have shown that some editors at News Limited are prepared to adopt the same posture of victimhood when facing even the slightest criticism.

And so my message to Tim Blair and anyone else of this ilk (and no, I'm certainly not including the Tele's editor-in-chief David Penberthy who has made genuine attempts to reach out to as wide an audience as possible) is quite simple: If you can’t stand the heat of criticism, perhaps you should consider exiting the editorial kitchen. If the mild rebukes of a humble blogger lead to your making abusive phone calls or writing racist editorials, perhaps you might consider a change of career path.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Friday, January 26, 2007

REFLECTION: Cheers to our cultural diversity

AUSTRALIA Day is traditionally a day for the Australian patriot. Certainly we have much to be patriotic about. In a short time compared with other Western countries, we've become a wealthier and more cohesive bunch than most nations this side of the galaxy.

We also have a proud history. When many parts of Europe were burdened with collective anti-Semitism, our ancestors had little trouble appointing Sir Isaac Isaacs as the first Australian-born governor-general.

Within decades of getting walloped by the Turks at Gallipoli, we were good-natured enough to open our doors to Turkish workers. It's little wonder businessman John Ilhan, the nephew of Ottoman troops, can tell metropolitan tabloids:
I am the proud son of Turkish parents. I missed being born in Australia by a few years, but each day I thank my lucky stars that I came to this country I had relatives who fought against the Anzacs yet today, if there was another world war, I would fight for Australia without hesitation.
It hasn't always been a bed of roses. Few Muslims would disagree with Ilhan's assessment of some radical Muslim leaders in Australia, who pretend to speak for the faith, but instead promote intolerance and hatred.

During the Christmas break, my partner and I found ourselves driving through the federation town of Tenterfield, just south of the Queensland border. We visited the Tenterfield Federation Museum and saw relics of our federation fathers.

Here, on October 24, 1889, Sir Henry Parkes, then premier of NSW, made a speech said to mark the beginning of Australia's political journey towards federation. The tone was of inclusion, of ensuring that the interests of the peoples of all colonies be given appropriate measure.

The museum also displayed an uglier side to that era the racial riots directed at Chinese migrant workers. It didn't show the institutionalised disadvantage and discrimination against indigenous peoples. We saw its results at night when we found young indigenous children in varying states of inebriation on the lawns outside the town hall.

Perhaps a certain opposition leader inherited some of the anti-Chinese feeling when he said in August 1988 that it " would be in our immediate term interest and supportive of social cohesion if [Asian migration] were slowed down a little, so that the capacity of the community to absorb was greater." Why would someone say that after serving as treasurer in a conservative government that introduced a kind of muted multiculturalism a decade before?

Writing in the The Age on May 25, 2004, conservative columnist and former Howard staffer Gerard Henderson described the
... one significant blot on [Howard's] record in public life a certain lack of empathy in dealing with individuals with whom he does not identify at a personal level: for example, Asian Australians in the late 1980s and asylum-seekers in the early 21st century.
Australian multiculturalism has never been an end in itself. It's always been a means to an end, the end being the development of a uniquely Australian culture that recognises the reality that ours is a nation of migrants. Even when it wasn't a specific government policy, cultural diversity always existed on the ground as a social reality.

Decades ago, monocultural rhetoric focused on Asians (specifically Indo-Chinese). Today, it focuses on 360,000 Australians from more than 60 different countries who tick the word Muslim on their census forms.

On the eve of Australia Day, John Ilhan could write:
My Muslim faith qualifies me to strongly denounce any racist and inflammatory comments made by any Muslim leaders because they perpetuate a stereotype that is unhelpful and dangerous.
Ilhan showed a degree of self-critique common in his faith-community. Sadly, many monoculturalists could not engage in a similar degree of self-critique when it comes to the ugly actions of some people.

Allow me to inject some multimedia. Grab your laptops and go to the YouTube website. Type in "Cronulla riots" and view some of the videos appearing. You'll find ugly recordings glorifying the riots and the reprisal attacks. Some glorify the white-pride sentiments of the rioters, while others glorify the brutality of a small band of Lebanese thugs who engaged in reprisal attacks.

So who is responsible for these disgraceful anonymous videos? In the past few days, tabloid newspapers have been running hard on the trail of one set of videos linked to a Western Sydney high school. Before any firm conclusion had been reached, the Prime Minister had already made up his mind:
It's a reminder that there is undoubtedly within a section, a small section, of the Lebanese Muslim community, a group of people who are antagonistic to the values and the way of life in this country.
Why say that? Maybe the PM had information about those responsible for the video which even the NSW Police and the NSW Education Minister didn't have. Fair enough.

But why not issue similar condemnation of white supremacist and neo-Nazi websites which praised the Cronulla rioters? Then again, wasn't this the same Prime Minister who spoke of the rioters' "genuine grievances"?

One problem I have with our multiculturalism is that it's based on the myth that we are just a nation of migrants. Too often we have overlooked and ignored the history and culture of indigenous communities.

I'm no expert on New Zealand history, but I believe our cousins across the Tasman have been far more open to asylum-seekers because their nation was built on a treaty with their indigenous peoples. The historical and cultural tang of Waitangi has ensured even the most conservative New Zealand government couldn't take on monoculturalism as a long-term political strategy.

Anyway, enough pontificating. Have a wonderful Australia Day. Put a halal shrimp on the barbie. And have an extra beer on my behalf!

First published in the Canberra Times on Australia Day, Friday 26 January 2007.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Tim Blair issues fatwa on Sydney Iraqis

Good news to all those Sydney-siders of Iraqi heritage. Tim Blair, the Opinion Page Editor of the Daily Telegraph, has just announced that he doesn't regard you all as psychopathic.

The following post was made on his blog on 24 January 2007 ...

Bomb threats in Sydney:

An Arabic newspaper in Sydney says it fears its office will be blown up after a man claiming to represent al-Qaeda in Australia left a threatening telephone message ...

The caller was said to have claimed his “well structured organisation” would destroy the paper’s offices in Sydney and Melbourne and track down its reporters. “We will destroy the paper’s headquarters in Sydney very soon, God willing … you will be butchered,” the caller is alleged to have said.

"Every Iraqi Kurd and Shiite in Australia will be butchered."

Similar threats have previously been made against non-psychopathic Sydney Iraqis.

Blair effectively implies that Iraqis are, by definition, psychopathic.

Gee, that's so nice of you to say that, Mr Blair. I'm sure our troops serving in Iraq will be so grateful to you for expressing your sentiments on Iraqis. I'm sure they will feel more secure in the knowledge that a senior editor of a major Sydney newspaper has described Iraqis (or at least those in Sydney) as psychopathic.

This is the sort of responsible journalism and blogging that will no doubt go a long way toward winning the war of hearts and minds in Iraq.

John Howard and Alexander Downer may be hoping that the civil war in Iraq is ended and that peace and democracy are restored. Perhaps they are being giving Iraqis too much credit. Perhaps Downer should get advice on the true disposition of Iraqis from a senior DT editor.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Making news out of YouTube

It must have been a slow news day at the tabloid stable when Luke McIlveen has to trawl the video portal to come up with a story about race relations. Still, he had the decency to tell us:

The Daily Telegraph has chosen not to publish links to the offensive

But that’s not all the DT hasn’t published. It also hasn’t explained why it makes an issue of videos that have been online since November 2006.

Further, it hasn’t made any issue of racist videos linked to the and other White Pride website (examples of which can be found here and here), nor was the use of church music as background mentioned. Also not mentioned were comments linked to this website, including this beauty:

I vote we declare Islam Rabies = Muslims – RABID DOGS – THERE IS NO MODERATE

Sounds like the sort of comment that would appear on the personal blog of the DT’s opinion page editor Tim Blair. Or the kind of opinions left by anonymous fruitcakes on this blog.

Although the DT broke the story, the Fairfax websites also covered the story as well as the responses from various politicians.

NSW Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt expressed concern that one video mentioned Granville Boys High School. Fair enough, even if she acknowledged she hadn’t seen the video.

But surely the award for tabloid responses must go to the PM, who claimed that the video serves as

a reminder that there is undoubtedly within a section, a small section, of
the Lebanese Muslim community a group of people who are antagonistic to the
values and the way of life in this country.

Which begs the question – in what sense did the video show traces of being specifically the work of Lebanese Muslims?

I had a chance to watch the video in full before it was taken down. Here’s what I saw and heard:

# Rap music in the background.
# Images of stereotypical young Lebanese boys with bad haircuts and hotted-up cars.
# Prominent and repeated images of the green and red cedar symbol of the Lebanese flag.

The credits section at the end of the video showed the names Amer, Adel and Aleh. Thanks were also given to Lebanese from the following suburbs: Lakemba, Punchbowl, Greenacre, Bankstown, Auburn, Arncliffe, Belmore and Fairfield.

Now let’s consider some cultural facts. Amer, Adel and Aleh are not peculiarly Muslim names in Lebanon or other parts of the Arab world. I know plenty of Maronite, Coptic and Greek Orthodox people of Arab background with these names.

The suburbs mentioned aren’t peculiarly Lebanese Muslim. Punchbowl is home to St Charbels Maronite Cathedral, and Greenacre is home to a Malekite and Syrian Orthodox Churches.

All the suburbs mentioned do have substantial Arabic-speaking Christian communities. In fact, the majority of Australians from Arabic-speaking backgrounds are in fact Christian. Furthermore, Auburn has a large Turkish and Afghan community. Iraqis of all denominations can be found in big numbers in Fairfield.

The cedar tree of the Lebanese flag is known to be a distinctly Christian symbol in Lebanon. The symbol is used more prominently by Christian organisations than by Muslim ones (such as the predominantly Shia al-Zahra Muslim Association in Arncliffe or the predominantly Sunni Lebanese Moslems Association in Lakemba).

And I never knew that Lebanese Muslims had a monopoly on rap music. Either that, or Eminem must have changed both his ethnicity and his religion.

Further, in what sense do images of hotted-up cars and pop music show hostility to Australian values and lifestyle? Growing up in the heart of Howard’s electorate, I remember plenty of young Anglo thugs driving down Kellaway Street East Ryde during the 1970’s in hotted-up Monaros and panel vans. Many of them had bad disco music (you know, like the Bee Gees) blurting out from their cassette players.

But that doesn’t stop the PM from turning this into a religious issue. Yet again, John Howard has shown how quick he is to attack non-Christians allegedly responsible for spreading hatred, whilst supporting fringe Christian and/or White Pride groups who do the same. One wonders how the PM must have known it was in fact people of Muslim heritage who produced and uploaded the offending material onto the YouTube website.

Perhaps the most reasoned response was provided by a current student of Granville Boys High School who said:

I went to 'Cronulla riots' on YouTube and there's all these videos of Anglos
saying 'We are proud of what we did'. So there's already other race hate videos
out there. Why are they only targeting one [community]?

Perhaps that question should be asked of Daily Telegraph editor David Penberthy. And of the PM who found some way of linking the video to Lebanese Muslims without any conclusive evidence before him.

They say that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Sadly, the antics of a few school boys and the selective anti-racism of a tabloid journalist ensure that once again scoundrels are drowning out the voices of reason.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Monday, January 22, 2007

Hilaly’s endorsement is a poisoned chalice for any candidate

I joined the Young Libs in mid-1993. In 1995, my branch president Luke and I volunteered to help Lakemba Liberal candidate (and Lebanese Muslim) Michael (his real name, though Lebanese people called him “Mahmoud”) Hawatt.

Michael was very close to an accountant named Rafat Hilaly (who, as it happened, was the younger brother of Sheik Hilaly). I found out later that Rafat was also a member of the Lakemba Liberal branch over which Michael presided. The state Labor MP for Lakemba had retired.

Tony Stewart was the ALP’s preselected candidate, and his campaign manager was barrister John Hatzistergos. John Fahey was facing an uphill battle in the coming State Election.

The Libs didn’t take Lakemba too seriously until Sheik Hilaly’s surprise announcement that he would be endorsing their man Hawatt. The Sheik offered to provide manpower for the booths, and encouraged his congregation to place Hawatt posters in their front yards. Many defied Hilaly, having Stewart posters in their front yard.

Hilaly even pre-recorded a message (to be played on loudspeakers on election day) explaining to Arabic-speaking voters how to lodge a valid vote for Hawatt. He also mentioned the elections and his support for Hawatt at Friday prayers.

I remember attending campaign meetings at Lakemba Library. Also in attendance were senior Fahey ministers like Michael Photios and John Hannaford. Both were rubbing shoulders with Hilaly, and endorsing his support for the Hawatt campaign. Photios later informed me that Liberal Party head office now regarded Lakemba as a “winnable” (if not marginal) seat.

Hawatt’s polling day performance was abysmal. Hilaly’s voice was broadcast on a loudspeaker at the back of a campaign worker’s ute. It had the opposite effect, especially among the large community of Lebanese Christian voters in Punchbowl and Greenacre booths. The Liberals actually recorded a swing against them.

Sheik Hilaly openly opposed my candidature in the 2001 election for the Federal seat of Reid. Apparently his opposition arose not from any concern for refugees but from his perception that I had acted as lawyer in a number of matters on behalf of opponents of his from within the Lebanese Muslim sector. Again, his influence proved ephemeral. I achieved a 5.1% swing on a two-party preferred basis.

ANU sociologist Shakira Hussein is spot-on, describing Hilaly as being less inspired by broader Muslim interests and more by his own personal aspirations to remain Mufti and stave off any internal challenge. Here's part of what she says ...

The sheik's electoral influence is limited. His support base is
confined to Sydney and to Muslims of Lebanese background. Despite his highly
contested title of Mufti of Australia, he is of little relevance to Muslims of
Turkish, Indian or Bosnian extraction. And there is scant evidence to suggest
that even in his Lakemba heartland many people will look to him for guidance as
to how to vote.

Yet his intervention is still damaging, adding to perceptions that
Muslim participation in Australian politics is about pursuing a Muslim agenda
rather than about contributing to Australian society as a whole ...

Hilali may claim that he would seek "a sincere, honest, candidate whose
loyalty is totally to Australia". But voters would be entitled to query whether
candidates handpicked by a sheik because of their Muslim identity really intend
to place the needs of all constituents on an equal footing. This suspicion could
then spill over into a fear of all political participation by Muslims, so that
any Muslim candidate, however low-key their religious affiliation, would be seen
as representing Muslims first and foremost. Muslims with serious political
ambitions will not thank the sheik for this.

By talking of running Muslim candidates, as though being Muslim defines
a particular political agenda that is somehow different to that of non-Muslims,
Hilali and his spokesman Kayser Trad are not furthering the interests of
Australian Muslims. Rather, they are consigning them to the wilderness

It is right and proper that Muslims should be among those Australians
who stand for political office. But they cannot afford to be seen as
exclusivist, as placing their religious identity above all else.

That does not mean that they must lay aside that identity
altogether. Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott are guided by their Christian identity,
but it has led them in radically different political directions. There is at
least as great a diversity of political opinion among Muslims, despite a shared
interest in certain issues.

Those issues need to be debated among Australians of all political
and religious affiliations, not corralled into a campaign for candidates of one
religious identity.

Hilaly’s endorsement is a poisoned chalice for any candidate.

A version of this was first published in the Crikey! daily alert for 22 January 2007.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The futility of Muslim anti-Semitism

The young woman approached her husband as he was sitting with his companions. She was most distressed.

"Oh Messenger of God! Your other wife teases me for being the daughter of a Jew."

Her husband then turned to the other wife and exclaimed: "Have fear of God!"

He then turned to the young upset woman and said: "People have no reason to be scornful toward you. After all, you are the descendant of Prophets and you are now married to a Prophet."

The young woman subjected to the slight concerning her heritage was Safiyya, one of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad. His response to a jibe at her Jewish heritage was disgust at the other wife making the jibe. He also honoured Safiyya’s heritage, praising her as the descendant of Prophets of God.

Believers in the Prophet Muhammad are expected to honour all his wives. When mentioning them by name, Muslims are meant to use the prefix Umm al-Mu’mineen (literally “Mother of the Believers”). Safiyya’s Jewish heritage does not exempt her from this honour.

And why should it? Let’s face facts. It’s hard to find a pair of faiths with so much in common as Islam and Judaism. Both emerged from the Middle East. Both have scriptures revealed in Semitic languages. Both contain a sacred law and a rich tradition of jurisprudence. Both also have a rich mystical and spiritual tradition (known in Judaism as kabbalah and in Islam as tasawwuf or irfan).

Believers of both faiths are encouraged to learn to read their scriptures in their original language. Both have strict dietary laws. Both have special feast days as well as weekly congregational services.

Jewish traditions date back millennia before Islam, which appeared on the scene in the 7th century. At times, followers of the two faiths have clashed. However, such clashes have been the exception and not the rule.

It disgusts and disturbs me when Muslims use offensive language toward persons of Jewish faith and/or heritage. Often such prejudice is triggered by understandable concern for the welfare of the Palestinians and disgust at Israeli military assaults on neighbouring countries.

To support Lebanese territorial sovereignty and Palestinian human rights is one thing. To despise Jewish cultures and peoples is something else. Anti-Semitism goes against our faith and our heritage. By hating Jews, we are essentially hating ourselves.

The anti-Semitism of certain leaders of Muslim countries is often hard to fathom. What is the point of organising a cartoon contest or an international conference dedicated to questioning the Holocaust?

In November 2005, I wrote in the New Zealand Herald about Iranian President Ahmedinejad and his calls to "wipe Israel off the map". I’ll continue writing on this topic later, and will end off at this stage with some paragraphs from that article.

Many Muslim voices seeking the destruction of Israel use historical figures such as the Kurdish general Salahuddin Ayyubi (known in Europe as Saladdin) who defeated the Crusaders and liberated Jerusalem.

Yet even Saladdin recognised the Crusader kingdoms and sent emissaries and ambassadors to them. Perhaps if Saladdin were alive today, he would have recognised Israel even if engaged in military conflict with the Jewish state.

The brilliance of Saladdin’s campaign against the Crusaders lay not just in his military tactics. Saladdin was an excellent negotiator with moderate views who sought to avoid war at all costs.

Saladdin made regular overtures to his enemies, and insisted his troops obey the rules as outlined in the customary international law of the region at that time …

Before attacking the Crusader kingdoms, Saladdin single-handedly destroyed the Fatimid Empire in Egypt.

The Fatimids were the most powerful Shia empire of the time, and were accused by Saladdin of providing assistance and intelligence to the Crusader kingdoms.

Saladdin did not see the task of liberating Jerusalem in purely Muslim terms. It was not a battle against all Jews or all Christians. Indeed, Saladdin appointed the prominent Spanish Jewish physician and rabbinical scholar Shaykh Musa bin Maymun al-Qurtubi (Moses Maimonides) as the chief medical officer of his army.

Saladdin’s good sense and moderation yielded results. He was able to liberate Jerusalem within his lifetime, and showed magnanimity to his defeated opponents.

Christian and Muslim historians have recorded that when the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem, they entered the main Mosque and Synagogue with civilian blood up to their knees. When Saladdin achieved victory, there were few civilian casualties.

The Iranian President’s comments are more reminiscent of Crusader barbarism and ignorance than the moderation and tolerance of the great Saladdin.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Tim Blair's friends promote love and tenderness ...

If you thought Sheik Feiz Mohamed's rants inspired love and affection, have a look at moderated comments the Daily Telegraph's Opinion Editor allows onto his blog.

I've allowed some real idiotic anonymous fools to comment on here. But then, I'm not employed as a senior editor of a major newspaper.

Further, in order to comment on Mr Blair's blog, one is required to register. That process must involve provision of at least some details. At least an e-mail address. The IP address of the computer used by the commenting person must also be available to Mr Blair and his blog administrator.

In other words, chances are that Blair knows exactly who is saying what on his blog.

" ... Often I’d gaze across the street from the coffee shop and think about throwing a brick through the window"
Posted by aussiemagpie on 2007 01 17 at 09:56 AM

" ... This is why their women should be considered nothing more than breeders of weapons and their children as weapons.

There is no “innocent civilian” in the islamist world. All us infidel are considered legitimate targets by them and all their men, women and children are weapons to use against us.

They are, and have been, waging a genocidal war against us, and we’re imprisoning our own Soldiers for being rude or impolite to their murder/death cultists."

Posted by Grimmy on 2007 01 17 at 06:42 PM

"I’d like to take these guys round the back of their context and “educate” them."
Posted by Wimpy Canadian on 2007 01 17 at 07:54 PM

"Actually, mareeS, apart from oil, the only useful thing Arabs have given us are thoroughbred horses.

Legend has it, that the reason Arabian horses are so fast is because they’ve seen what happens to the goats."

Posted by Infidel Tiger on 2007 01 17 at 09:17 PM

"... there are only two types of Muslim: inpatient and outpatient."
Posted by Dminor on 2007 01 17 at 11:17 PM

Friday, January 12, 2007

Sheik Hilaly update ...

A media insider called me at 5:30pm yesterday and said this:

Watch the tabloid TV shows after the 6pm news for another big Hilaly scoop.

The insider was right. As one prominent Muslim e-mailed me last night:

I think HT owe Sheik Taj a big bouquet of flowers.

Within 2 hours, I’d received a call from the producer of a TV breakfast program. The conversation went something like this:

SHE: Irfan, I guess you know why I’m calling. What do you make of Hilaly’s latest?

ME: Well funny you should mention that because ... [I then told her pretty much what I have written here]

SHE: That’s fine, Irfan. Unfortunately what we are looking for is someone who agrees with Hilaly. You don’t happen to know anyone, do you?

Later last night, I spoke to one of Hilaly’s die-hard supporters (no prizes for guessing who). He provided me with a few things to chew on …

* The Hilaly interview lasted some 30 minutes and largely concerned the recent furore over his cat-meat remarks.

* The interview, shown on a program called “Cairo Morning”, could be viewed on satellite TV and was seen in Australia .

* One of those interviewing Hilaly was himself a qualified Islamic religious scholar.

* Much of what Hilaly said was light-hearted and in a chatty manner and to an Arabic-speaking audience.

* At least one of Hilaly’s interviewers couldn’t understand what all the furore was about concerning the link between women’s dress and sexual assault.

That all may be true. But how do we explain the claim that a gang of thugs found guilty of rape engaged in consensual sex with their victims? What about statements calling Europeans liars?

The debate on the Muslim Village and Aussie Muslims forums has been heated, with Hilaly copping plenty of flack. Ironically, many of those supporting him (or claiming he is again victim of some conspiracy) are known to be HT activists or supporters.

As for the jibe at our convict heritage, I agree with the PM. All of us (Muslim or otherwise) should wear our convict past with pride.

And to those still wishing to make an uproar, I trust they will also be screaming the next time a columnist, shock jock or politician bags our indigenous cultural heritage.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

COMMENT: Hilaly & Australia's Muslim convict heritage

With all this controversy over Sheik Hilaly’s views on Australia’s convict heritage, I felt it would be appropriate to share with readers some passages from what must be the first and most authoritative work on the history of Muslims in Australia.

Bilal Cleland served as Secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria for many years. Himself a descendant of Irish and English convicts and settlers from the 1st and 3rd Fleets, Cleland has for years been an ardent critic of Hilaly.

Here is Cleland’s research, taken from the chapter entitled “White Christian Settlement to the East”. Footnotes have been excluded. The emphases are mine.

This book was first published in the 1980's, and a summary and annotated version forms the first chapter of the book Muslim Communities In Australia edited by Abdullah Saeed & Shahram Akbarzadeh.

Words © 2006 Irfan Yusuf

British shipping companies were already making good use of the vast supply of labour British imperial expansion had delivered to them. Muslim sailors were apparently frequently employed and in January 1796 Norfolk Island acquired several of them at one time. They were classed as Lascars (Indians and Ceylonese) by the Norfolk Island Victualling Book, the record of all those receiving government food assistance. They were abandoned there due to a misfortune related to the shoddy quality of colonial shipbuilding at that time and of course to the racist attitudes of their officers.

In September 1795 the colonial-built ship Endeavour left Port Jackson with a companion ship Fancy, intending to touch at New Zealand and Norfolk Island before sailing to India. The Endeavour, with its Muslim sailors and with convicts destined to expand the labour supply on Norfolk Island, began leaking and it was feared it might break-up. It had to run aground at Dusky Bay New Zealand. The sailors found a partly assembled ship on the beach, built by the carpenter of The Britannia while at Dusky Bay in 1793. The crew finished the ship, named it Providence and with Fancy, sailed on to Norfolk Island. Some forty of the convicts from the Endeavour were returned to Norfolk Island and completed their sentences. The excess sailors were dumped with them.

Little was recorded of these exotic arrivals but it is apparent that they were not provided with passage home. Some fifteen years later, according to the Victualling Book, John Hassan a sailor from the Endeavour was on the Island working as a labourer. He was relocated to Port Dalrymple in Tasmania with the remaining settlers in 1813 when this settlement was closed.

Another Muslim from Endeavour was Sua (or Saib) Sultan. He had an eleven and a half acre block of land on the island. He and his unnamed wife were transferred from Norfolk Island on the Lady Nelson as third class passengers on 9 November 1809. He was given the name of Jacob on the 1818 stores list for Hobart Town and by then he had a much larger block of land. He was given a 27 acre grant in his new location on the Derwent River near the village of New Norfolk. He apparently did well as The Land and Stock Muster of Van Diemen's Land for 1819 notes that “Saib Sulton (sic) possessed 28 acres of pasture and two acres of wheat”.

Mahomet Cassan is also listed as coming free on the Endeavour 1795. An alternative spelling of his name is also given on this list as "Cassom". Another name which crops up on the Stores Lists is that of number 615, Mahomet Cassem. Probably the same as "Cassan" and "Cassom" he appears on the “General Muster of Free Men, Women and Children off and on Stores in His Majesty's Settlement of Hobart Town 2 October 1818” as "came free", from Norfolk Island and off the stores. Number 514 on the list is a Memerich Cossam. It is possible that some semi-literate clerk confused by the foreign name mixed up the lists but this may be another individual.

These names disappear from the records, they left no Muslim families, no institutions, no mosques. Perhaps they changed their names, like Saib Sultan, assimilated into the Christian community or returned home after earning sufficient for their passage. It is certain that they would have suffered from considerable religious intolerance.

As Muslims and a subject people, despised for their race, they would have lived on the edge of society. Even Christians suffered persecution at that time if they were from the wrong sect. The British Test and Corporation Acts were not repealed until 1828. These Acts, passed under King Charles II, required that any person who wished to hold a position under the Crown or even in a town corporation, had to take Church of England communion. Protestant sects which differed in doctrine from the Established Church were thus humiliated. Roman Catholics were excluded from public office until the Catholic Relief Act of 1829. Even so, until this day, no Catholic can become King or Queen or Regent of Britain.

The men who 'came free' might have been despised, but they were not subjected to the horrors of the penal system which the convicts experienced. The system of transportation of convicts was cruel enough, separating them from all they knew for years, perhaps forever. It was however relatively humane compared to the system which followed the Bigge Report of 1823. The administration of NSW was accused of excessive leniency, contributing to the failure of transportation as a deterrent to crime whereas Bigge "wanted to tighten up the transportation system and make punishment more of a deterrent." Zimran Wriam, an Indian Muslim convict who arrived in Atlantic on the Third Fleet in 1791, missed this most oppressive time.

Born in Hyderabad, Zimran was sent to Norfolk Island and in 1813 was removed to Port Dalrymple in Van Diemen's Land as a third class passenger on the Lady Nelson with John Hassan. He was given a 40 acre land grant to permit him to be economically independent. Unfortunately he did not live long to enjoy it as two currency lads (locally born men) beat him to death.

Other Muslim convicts who arrived in this relatively humane period included a convict from Oman, Nowardin, who said he was born in Muscat. A sailor on a ship visiting London, he had been convicted of a minor offense and in 1815 was sentenced to seven years transportation. He arrived in Sydney on the Fanny on 18 January 1816. Another Muslim, one John Johannes of Bengal, in London on 6 December 1815, was also sentenced to transportation for seven years. He arrived in Sydney on the Almorah on 3 August 1817. A relatively minor offence committed in the Port of London could have disastrous consequences.

In total there were at least eight convicts who arrived in Australia after 1813 who may have been Arab or part Arab. Five came from Oman, one from Bussarah (Iraq), one from Mauritius and one from South Africa. All of these people were Muslims.

Siedy Abdullah, like Nowardin, was also from Muscat, Oman. Looking for employment no doubt, he had migrated to Mauritius and worked as footman or groom. He was one of several sentenced to ten years transportation in February 1837 for the crime of mutiny. Under the conditions of that time this meant disobedience of an employer or refusal to work. He arrived in Sydney on 26 May 1838 where he subsequently disappeared. On the 26 April another footman and groom, also convicted of mutiny in Mauritius, arrived in Sydney to serve a life sentence. He was Hassan Sheikh of Bombay and he arrived on the Moffat via Hobart. Siedy Maccors Mahomed originally from Bussarah, was another of those sentenced for mutiny in Mauritius and he arrived at the same time as Siedy Abdullah. He completed his ten years and was granted a Certificate of Freedom in 1847.

Mauritius must have offered a hazardous work environment for three years before, in 1834, Bargatta Lascar, also known as Sheikh Burkhit, had been sentenced in that place to fourteen years transportation. He was born in Calcutta in 1798. He arrived in Sydney in July 1834 and was later assigned to work for a Mr J. Philips on his property near Port Macquarie.

Capetown, a key supply port on the British route to the East, and now included within the British Empire, also supplied its convicts to New South Wales. Two men described as 'of the Malay faith' arrived in Sydney on the Eden on 11 January 1837. Ajoup, a groom, had been sentenced to fourteen years transportation in Capetown and another named Matthys was sentenced to seven years. Both men were born in 1815. They appear but briefly in records and like those who 'came free' to Norfolk Island, disappear without trace.

There may have been a much larger Muslim population of Australia from this early period had a scheme advanced by some NSW pastoralists come to fruition. To help solve the labour shortage they intended to import labourers from India. Evidence was given before an Immigration Committee in 1838 that over a hundred settlers had organised for 1203 Indian labourers to be brought in and between 1837 and 1844 about 500 did arrive. The Colonial Office prohibited this traffic in 1839.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Happy Happy Hizbo's?

As I’ve said before, reporting on Islam in Australia isn’t easy. The latest coverage on Hizb ut-Tahrir is further proof of this.

Translated as “Party of Liberation”, they’re also known in Muslim circles as HT, Hizbo’s, even Islamic Zionists.

Because there’s no better way to insult a follower of political Islam than to describe them as Zionist. But the word also raises other issues which help us to understand why this movement has proved so ineffectual in recruiting young Muslims in Australia and other Western countries.

HT describes itself as a Muslim political party. Yet it refuses to register itself under Australian law. It also refuses to run for elections, and its theology forbids Muslims from voting, standing for office or even joining a political party. Why?

Because HT insists that Islam has its own political ideology and system which is far superior to the ideology and system of Australia. HT is implacably opposed to democracy, secularism and all the other buzzwords that rule our political roost.

On Planet Hizbo, it isn’t just people who have religions. So do states and systems. Hence, Islam has its own economic system which forbids Muslims from being involved in the non-Muslim (or “kaafir”) capitalist system.

So when I joined the Liberal Party and ran as a Liberal candidate in the seat of Reid in 2001, a handful of the 20 or so people that made up HT’s core membership in Australia were busy telling anyone who would listen that I had become an apostate.

Irfan has joined a kaafir political party and is running in a kaafir election. Irfan has become a kaafir.

Gee thanks, fellas. Not even apartheid-era South African National Party officials called me that!

It was The Age’s religious reporter who first broke the story of HT’s proposed February Caliphate conference. Barney Zwartz must be one of the most able, balanced and knowledgeable reporters on matters pertaining to Islam in Australia.

Yet even Barney wasn’t aware (until I told him) that HT are implacable opponents of that other sectarian source of militancy – the Saudi-based Salafi/Wahhabi sect. Usama bin Ladin and his Salafist buddies might like what HT are foing in the Ferghana Valley in Central Asia. But I doubt they’d be joining a Hizbo jihad in a hurry.

Anyway, here's an edited version of a piece that appeared in the Melbourne Age ...


They regard participation in democracy and secular government as against God’s law. They discourage their members from participating in public life. They are regarded by more mainstream co-religionists as fringe and extreme.

We could be describing the Exclusive Brethren, a fringe Christian congregation. Or we could be describing Hizb ut-Tahrir, a fringe Muslim political movement. But there’s no point comparing apples with oranges. HT leaders aren’t accused of subverting Australian court processes or of covering up sexual offences against minors. And the Brethren aren’t suspected of using violence to impose an alien political order in Australia or elsewhere.

Yet a small number of Muslim elders are concerned about the apparent growth in HT’s activities. Yesterday’s Age cited Chair of the now-defunct Prime Minister’s Muslim Reference Group, Dr Ameer Ali, as calling for government help in combating HT.

“We need resources to counter it, and we have none … The Government should encourage moderates to promote themselves as an alternative, and allocate resources for this.”

In recent years, Dr Ali has been President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC), Australia’s peak Muslim body. That body is now under court-appointed administration.

During Dr Ali’s term in office, AFIC showed its commitment to understanding the needs of young people by appointing an imam in his sixties with poor English language skills to advise it on youth affairs.

It’s true. AFIC’s adviser on Muslim youth was none other than Sheik Tajeddine Hilaly.

But criticising AFIC doesn’t address the apparent problem of HT campaigning among young Australian Muslims to re-establish the Islamic Caliphate abolished by Kemal Ataturk in 1924.

HT are banned in a number of nominally Muslim countries. The Christian Science Monitor reported in September 2005 of government attempts in Kyrgystan to suppress HT after it was accused of inciting rebellion in Central Asia’s Ferghana Valley. The rebellion’s apparent goal was to replace the governments of Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan with one rump Caliphate.

In the UK, HT has not yet been banned. However, its presence on many campuses has been curtailed after it distributed material that was grossly anti-Semitic (and not merely critical of the Israeli government). UK’s umbrella Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) has supported calls to remove HT from campus student activities.

Late last year, British PM Tony Blair tried to ban HT. His major opposition came from law enforcement officials and legal advisers. The Observer reported Mr Blair “had been warned that banning the group, which campaigns for Britain to become a caliphate … would serve only as a recruiting agent if the group appealed against the move.”

Dr Ali claims that there is a possibility young Muslims here “will fall into Hizb ut-Tahrir's trap, so we have to be careful”. Yes, there is a possibility. But let’s keep thinks in perspective.

HT’s agenda is limited to political events overseas. It’s true that many young Muslims are upset by events in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and other parts of the world where Muslims are suffering. But what really upsets Muslims here is that their community leadership seems powerless to effect change in Australia’s foreign policy. Further, Muslims are also fed up with being marginalised by potshots from allegedly conservative politicians and media commentators.

In what manner can HT empower young Australian Muslims to change the situation? HT teaches that active involvement in democratic politics represents a fundamental breach of the sacred law. Democracy and secularism are declared un-Islamic, voting is forbidden and membership of secular political parties regarded as virtual apostasy. HT insists Muslims work outside the system and re-invent a more “Islamic” wheel, an approach seen by the well-integrated majority of Muslims as an exercise in futility.

Although HT’s goal is the re-establishment of the Caliphate, they have no clear plan of action. At this stage, HT does little more than distribute pamphlets, hold conferences and answer the barrage of criticism and cynicism for their utopian agenda on the internet forums of and similar websites.

Locally and internationally, one would expect HT efforts to receive support from other militant groups. Yet it seems even bin Ladin isn’t prepared to offer HT more than limited lip service. The vast majority of militant groups find their inspiration in the Salafi/Wahhabii sect. Wahhabi authorities are agreed in rejecting HT beliefs and methodology as grossly heterodox.

HT’s core membership in Australia is limited to a few extended families, and they have little presence outside Western Sydney. Their events are lucky to attract significant numbers. The Sydney Morning Herald reported in November 2002 one HT event attracting hardly 350 people to the Auburn Town Hall, despite being advertised for at least 4 weeks.

In the same suburb each Friday, some 5,000 people attend the Friday prayer service at the Auburn Gallipoli Mosque without the event being advertised. The smallest Friday congregation in any of Auburn’s 5 or so mosques would be at least double that of the HT conference.

We can be relieved that security and law enforcement agencies continue to monitor the activities of groups like HT. Banning the group might lead to HT gaining more attention and sympathy than it deserves. The government needs to be alert. At this stage, there’s no need for ordinary Australians to be alarmed.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Saturday, January 06, 2007

REFLECTION: Martyring Saddam?

In the make-believe world occupied by neo-Conservative commentators, the execution of former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein was a victory for freedom and democracy, a time to rejoice at yet another diversion away from the continuous human suffering of Iraqi and American families who continue to mourn their dead as Iraq spirals into an even greater orgy of violence.

An editorial in The Australian triumphantly declared that

Saddam's death sends a powerful message to the dictators of the world that worse fates can befall them than a cushy exile.
(Ironically, the same paper commissioned an opinion piece praising the late Chilean dictator Pinochet.)

Of course, many of these dictators continue to rule the roost in various Middle Eastern capitals thanks to support from the West. A number of Arab regimes are ruled by dictators who have become most efficient at torturing political opponents. Today, their jails also house suspects in the “War on Terror” so that information can be extracted without Washington having to get its hands dirty.

Indeed, Saddam Hussein himself was a dictator propped up by the West. The United States looked the other way as Saddam used the years following his accession to power in 1979 to purge the Iraqi Ba’ath Party of any possible rivals. Within 12 months, the US and its European and Arab allies were openly supporting Hussein’s invasion of Iran , hoping it would undermine the revolutionary Shia Islamist government founded by Ayatollah Khomeini.

It was only when Hussein invaded and occupied Kuwait that Western powers decided he had gone too far. Then US President George Bush Snr led a large Coalition of nations against a former ally now referred to as “Saddam Hussein, that evil dictator”.

Following the 1st Gulf War, the fear of Saddam Hussein’s chemical and biological weapons was used as the basis for imposing sanctions that strengthened Hussein and turned the Arab world’s wealthiest nation into a country with among the highest infant mortality rates in the world. No one seemed to mind when these same feared weapons were being used against Iranian soldiers and civilians.

No doubt Saddam was an evil dictator who used deadly weapons against his own people. So who, then, could express any concern over his execution some days back? For allegedly conservative commentator Gerard Henderson, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald ...

[f]or the most part, with the obvious exception of the Vatican, opposition to Saddam's hanging in the West came from the civil liberties lobby and the left.
So anyone who opposes Saddam’s execution must be a Vatican cleric, a civil libertarian lawyer obsessed with process or a left-wing activist.

The neo-Con scribes may cheer on Saddam’s hanging from their comfortable armchairs. But the fact remains that the public hanging of Saddam Hussein was poorly-timed and executed (no pun intended). And it will be military and political decision-makers of the United States and its coalition partners (including Australia ) who must now deal with the fallout, knowing Saddam will cast a shadow on their efforts to return peace to the country.

The New York Times reported on 1 January of ...

... the intrigue and confusion that preceded the decision late on Friday to rush Mr. Hussein to the gallows.
American officials were dismayed with the manner in which the execution was conducted, with those present shouting sectarian slogans despite the pleas of the presiding judge Munir Haddad who exclaimed:
Please, no! The man is about to die.
Among those chanting were supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shia religious scholar whose private militia has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of opponents of all sectarian persuasions. The recent report of the Iraq Study Group described al-Sadr’s Mahdi Brigade as posing a greater danger to Iraqi security than even groups linked to al-Qaida.

The execution was a sectarian spectacle, designed to inflame tensions between shia and sunni Muslims. It took place in a manner contrary to Iraqi law, which stated that executions could not take place until at least 30 days had expired since the decision of the appeals court.

It is believed that Kurdish leaders weren’t happy with the decision. Hussein was still to be tried for massacres against Kurdish communities, including the notorious attacks that involved the use of chemical weapons. For many Iraqi Kurds, important questions about their past suffering will remain suspended.

The timing of the execution – the holiest day in the Islamic calendar – will inflame sectarian tensions even more than the chants of al-Sadr supporters. Sunni Arabs (as opposed to their mainly-sunni Kurdish co-religionists) tended to be treated favourably by Hussein, himself from an influential sunni tribe. Iraq ’s sunni leaders have openly expressed their suspicions that they will become second class citizens under a government dominated by shia Muslims.

Of course, Saddam had many opponents from within all sectarian, tribal and ethnic sectors of Iraqi society. Handled properly and in accordance with the law, his execution could have been a source of national healing. Instead, Saddam Hussein will be regarded as a martyr by far more people than necessary.

Words © 2006 Irfan Yusuf

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Friday, January 05, 2007

On opinionated opinion editors

Since April 2005, I’ve had op-eds published in over 10 newspapers in Australia and New Zealand. I’ve appeared in major newspapers of both Fairfax and News Limited empires. It’s been a roller-coaster ride, and I’ve met some interesting characters along the way.

Most opinion editors are polite and professional. They are also extremely busy and frequently unable to respond to e-mails and submissions.

But some opinion editors deliberately insist on only allowing a certain line to be run on certain issues. Others are prone to using foul and disgusting language over the phone to contributors.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be exploring and exposing some of my experiences with these editors. I won’t be naming any names or exposing specific newspapers. I can tell you they are all based in Australia, though not in Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane, Hobart, Geelong, Perth or Adelaide.

Watch this space.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006