Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Hot Crescent Buns?

A reader told me this morning that she was driving through the Queensland countryside on Friday morning when she switched on her radio and started tuning. She came across a familiar voice and discovered the Alan Jones Breakfast Show was being broadcast on a local station.

The reader told me she almost drove her car off the road laughing when she heard Jones going off at the fact that some retailers were selling hot cross buns earlier than usual this year. According to Jones, this was because of all the foreigners coming into the country. I’m not sure if Jones specified Muslims.

If this report is true, there’s no doubt that Alan should consult a doctor as soon as possible!


OK, I admit it. I made a boo-boo. In fact, Alan Jones was talking about EASTER EGGS!!

To access, click here and then listen to the thought for the day dated Friday 23 February 2007.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Friday, February 23, 2007

Why Israeli is wrong

The controversy surrounding Professor Israeli continues. Part of it is driven by the fact that the man seems incapable of giving a consistent account, preferring to provide a different argument depending on who his audience is.

Israeli’s words have sparked a furious debate within the Jewish community, as evidenced by the last two editions of the Australian Jewish News. Certainly much of this debate arises due to intra-communal leadership debates, and I’d rather not discuss these. I think it’s only fair to allow Jewish communities to sort these matters out internally just as they have allowed Muslims to sort out the Hilaly issue internally.

AJN copped plenty of flack for running the story, accused of misquoting Israeli. They have now released the transcript of his interview concerning Muslim migration. The most favourable reading of this transcript shows that Israeli is not just targeting certain kinds of Muslims. Rather, he is targeting all Muslims.

It is easy to turn around and say Israeli is being racist and xenophobic or to argue he is using the language used by Nazis against Jews during the 1930’s and ‘40’s. This is all true, but its constant repetition achieves nothing.

Politically correct use of the “R” word won’t work. Instead, we need to address the root of the arguments of Israeli and prove why these are weak. I wish I could do this in one installment but time won’t permit this. It is an ongoing exercise that requires the efforts of many people across a range of disciplines.

Waleed Aly addressed part of Israeli’s argument in his elegant rebuttal in the Melbourne Age. Just to recap, here is what Aly said about Rwanda …

RWANDAN Muslims were once held in low esteem. They were traders in a land where farmers held prestige. Moreover they were socially and politically negligible, constituting roughly 5 per cent of the population, and largely confined to the unspectacular neighbourhood of Kigali. Then came the genocide of 1994 in which tribal violence between Hutus and Tutsis claimed 800,000 lives.

Churches became slaughterhouses. Some brave priests and nuns lost their lives trying to resist the genocide. Many others were complicit. Hutu Catholic pastors offered refuge to Tutsis, only to surrender them to Hutu death squads who massacred them in the pews, and even at the altar.

Meanwhile, Kigali was a sanctuary. Muslims, both Hutu and Tutsi, resolved that they would stand against the genocide. When Hutu militias surrounded the neighbourhood, Hutu Muslims refused to co-operate. They hid Tutsis — Muslim and Christian — in their homes and in their mosques. Now, Islam in Rwanda is booming. Masses of Christians, incapable of returning to the churches in which their families were slaughtered, sickened at the thought of praying next to those who massacred them and listening to priests who sanctioned it, have converted to Islam. Today, Muslims constitute around 15 per cent of the population.

As Aly shows, Islam manifests itself in different ways in different parts of the world. There is no doubt that there have been places where Islam was spread at the point of the sword. But has that been the experience in Australia or in our region?

Forced conversion into or away from Islam is unheard of in Australia. Certainly Muslims aren’t known to engage in the kinds of activities attributed to some (allegedly) Christian sects such as the Exclusive Brethren. Indeed, the only case I am aware of reported as an “honour killing” could well turn out to be anything but that.

Israeli illustrated his argument in an interesting and revealing interview with Stephen Crittenden on Radio National’s The Religion Report.

(The nature of the questions fed to Israeli by Crittenden during the interview actually also says a lot about Crittenden’s own prejudices. But I’ll leave that for another day.)

One claim Israeli makes is about his own expertise. In addressing this, I don’t wish to make personal attacks or cast aspersions on Israeli. I will, however, address his claims to specialist expertise on the subject of European Islam.

Look, I did some work on Islamic fundamentalism in general, particularly in the Middle East, and lately I just completed a book on Islam in Europe. I call it, 'The third Islamic Invasion of Europe,' taking into account the two previous invasions in the 8th century to Spain and Portugal, and southern France, and the 15th, 16th century by the Ottoman Empire from the East. And now the third invasion is taking place via this penetration of massive immigration of Muslims from all over the world.

Israeli’s research work on Islam has focused on Chinese Muslims. His PhD was in fact on the subject of Muslims in mainland China. The thesis was also published as a book by Curzon Press in 1980. It is interesting that, although he claims expertise on this topic, he has never actually traveled to China.

Further, Israeli has no recent peer-reviewed academic articles on Muslims in Europe. The bulk of his articles published in academic journals have been on Muslims in China or Muslims in the Middle East, the latter largely in the context of Arab-Israeli relations.

Israeli has one article published in the journal Current History in April 1980 entitled Muslim minorities under non-Muslim rule. I have tried to access the article online but it is no longer available. From the title of the paper, it is hard to know if it provides a historical or contemporary review on the subject or whether it concerns Europe or Asia.

Israeli also published an article entitled From Bosnia to Kosovo: the Reislamisation of the Balkans. However, this was published by a far-Right Israeli think tank, not a peer-reviewed academic journal.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Monday, February 19, 2007

Raphael’s only friend …

Well, at least Raphael Israeli has one friend in Australia.

Rupert Murdoch’s star columnist Andrew Bolt has made not one, not two but three defences of Dr Israeli’s views calling for Australia to implement discriminatory immigration policies and to ensure Muslim migrants are marginalised.

It seems Bolt regards religious bigotry and prejudice as acceptable forms of discourse. Personally, I think this runs counter to his proclaimed Christian beliefs. It seems his Christian ethics and morals fall out the door when it comes to another group of people who believe in Christ.

Should Andrew’s views surprise anyone? Nowhere in his blog posts has he suggested that Israeli might be exaggerating. Nowhere is there recognition that perhaps not all Muslims are the same, that perhaps some Muslims are making positive ontributions to Australia. Bolt accepts the literal meaning of Israeli's words and endorses them.

Further, he does not refute or even comment on some of th most virulent comments posted by his supporters.

Since Andrew is speculating about the motives of 360,000 Muslim Aussies, I might ponder over the motivrs of 1 or 2 Dutch Aussies. I wonder: Is Andrew part of a long line of political activists of the far-Right Dutch variety?

(I'm sure he will accuse me of being a racist now.)

During the Second World War, the Dutch Right were active in assisting the Nazis. Hardly any German soldiers set foot on Dutch soil. Yet there were no shortage of Dutch Jews sent to the Nazis to die in concentration camps.

How did these Jews end up in death camps? Simple. Members of the Dutch Right, apparently Andrew Bolt’s ideological ancestors, ensured that German troops weren’t needed to implement the Final Solution.

Recent letters of Otto Frank (father of Anne) show that he desperately tried to get his family to the United States. Thanks to restrictive immigration policies (of the type Dr Israeli calls for and Bolt supports), Anne Frank and her siblings could not get to safety. They died in the death camps.

Of course, the far-Right in the Netherlands still hates Jews. Theo van Gogh was a notorious anti-Semite and a known Holocaust denier. That doesn’t stop Andrew Bolt, Janet Albrechtsen and others from defending him.

It also doesn’t stop Andrew from applying the same hatred to Muslims which his ideological ancestors applied to Jews.

Bigotry is bigotry. It doesn’t take bionic vision to see that so many allegedly conservative columnists in Australia are using rhetoric about Muslims that their European equivalents during the 1930’s and 40’s used about Jews. Holocausts and genocides don’t happen overnight.

What makes Andrew Bolt different is that he has the courage to come out and openly declare his hatred of Muslims. For that, he at least deserves some credit.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Sunday, February 18, 2007

COMMENT: Hate without end …

I must say that I do feel sorry for David Knoll, President of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. In yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Knoll argued that the words of Professor Raphael Israeli “properly understood” did not make any suggestion that all Muslim migrants are evil.

Yet now, in a letter published on the far-Right JihadWatch website, Dr Israeli goes further and attributes violence not just to Muslim migrants but to all Muslims.

… I blamed the violence of Muslims in the world (and by implication here) for the troubles they are having …

Making matters worse, Dr Israeli attributes such sentiments to all Jews, claiming that their denials are pretence to hide what they really think. In essence, he accuses Australian Jewry and their leaders of being hypocritical and two-faced, giving into “the Muslim thugs” for the sake of

... political correctness which does not allow those things to be said, though privately everyone supports what I said.
Further, Dr Israeli claims that John Howard and Peter Costello have said worse things about Australian Muslims, especially following what Dr Israeli describes as the “Muslim riots” at Cronulla.

Then, as if to rub salt into the wounds, Dr Israeli insults Australia by referring to “the provinciality of the place”.

So not only does Dr Israeli say what David Knoll claims he didn’t say. Dr Israeli is also accusing David Knoll, Colin Rubenstein, Vic Alhadeff and a host of other Jewish leaders of subscribing to the following notions:

* That Muslim migration needs to be capped;

* That Australia should abandon any form of multiculturalism.

* That Muslims are thugs.

* That the Cronulla riots were really riots by Muslims.

* That this kind of teaching of Islam needs to be spread far and wide, especially amongst “the Jewish audiences who need the education for which I was brought here”.

This sort of hatred needs to be exposed. The Jewish communities, through their newspapers and community leaders, have done well to distance themselves from such disgraceful language and sentiments. I am sure David Knoll won’t be defending the sentiments of Dr Israeli for much longer.

Now let’s see if Dr Israeli cops the sort of flack from certain columnists, shock jocks and politicians which Sydney thick-Sheiks cop. Let’s see if questions are asked about Judaism and its ability to conform to Australian values. Let’s see if Jews are held collectively responsible for the words of a man invited to Australia to educate them about another Abrahamic faith.

Let’s see if the Stones and Albrechtsens and Akermans and Bolts and Devines (father and daughter) and Sheehans and McIlveens and Blairs and Bones and Windschuttles and Donnelly’s of this world will show some consistency.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Excuses, excuses?

I almost fell off my chair reading David Knoll’s letter to the Sydney Morning Herald today. Was Mr Knoll’s letter meant to be an op-ed submission? I’d hate to see Mr Knoll compared to Keysar Trad, who is often accused of trying to excuse or explain away the offensive xenophobic words of a minority of thick-Sheiks. It seems Mr Knoll might be trying to excuse or explain away the agenda of Raphael Israeli.

Let’s run through, piece by piece, what David Knoll says on behalf of the Jewish Board of Deputies, the peak Jewish community body in New South Wales. I’m not sure how representative his letter is of the Board’s position, especially given the eminently sensible response yesterday from Board CEO Vic Alhadeff.

David Knoll writes …

[01] We unreservedly oppose any suggestion that Australia should include or exclude immigrants simply on the basis of their religion.

The comments attributed to Professor Raphael Israeli in the Herald (February 16), properly understood, do not express a contrary view in respect of Australian Muslims.

Yes, Mr Knoll. And according to some, Sheik Hilaly’s comments, "properly understood", did not suggest women dressed a certain way should be raped. Seriously, how else are we to interpret these words? How are we to reach proper understanding? Was there an error in translation? Does Professor Israeli have problems with communicating in the English language?

In order not to get there, limit the immigration and therefore you keep them a marginal minority, which will be a nuisance, but cannot pose a threat to the demographic and security aspects of a country … when they get to the rate of the 10 per cent like in France, then you will see life will become untenable.

Mr Knoll, who is this “they” that Raphael Israeli speaks of? Is it the Jews? The Buddhists? The Callithumpians?

Once you accept that Israeli was talking about Muslims, let me ask you this question. In what way has Israeli limited the scope of his remarks to a certain sector of Muslims? Or a certain kind of Muslim? Was he suggesting that it is only radical or extremist Muslims that make up 10% of France’s population?

[02] … the idea that Australia should exclude persons engaged in undermining the Australian way of life, and those who incite racial hatred (which contravenes the Australian ethos of a fair go for all), which was the gravamen of the comments attributed to Professor Israeli …
Mr Knoll, with all due respect, who are you trying to kid here? Haven’t you read the Shalom Institute’s brochure and its description of the course “Understanding Islam”? Are you suggesting Israeli is not trying to incite racial and religious hatred when his entire approach to the subject is to introduce students to an Islam that “has bequeathed to generations of believers a culture of jihad and violence which has led to the wave of terrorism in the modern world”?

Israeli tried to clarify his comments to Fairfax newspapers. Yet his clarification spoke even more volumes. He said that countries whose Muslim populations reached a “critical mass” would “have problems”, and that this was “the general rule, so if it applies everywhere, it applies in Australia.”

This is a general rule. When Muslim populations reach a critical mass, their host countries have problems. Did he say what kind of Muslims? Were his comments limited to Sunnis? Or Shias? Or Wahhabis? Was he talking about members or sympathisers of Islamist political groups? Was he talking about Muslims from a particular region of the world?

[03] Regrettably, there are radical Muslim community leaders, both religious and secular, who have encouraged violent behaviour against non-Muslims.

The influence of radical Islam in Australia is undeniable, and undermines our social harmony. The need for effective monitoring and redressing the teaching by such radical imams, well identified in the Australian media, has become urgent as well as important.

Regrettably they do exist. But how is their message in any way different to the hate-filled message of Professor Israeli? Yes, it is true that Israeli is not calling for Australia to implement a policy of genocide against Muslims. That’s the sort of policy he prefers to see implemented in the former Yugoslavia. It is true that he hasn’t said that Islam is completely inconsistent with Western values. That’s something he argued during a debate in November 2006 at the University College of Cork in Ireland.

[04] Any suggestion that adopting a broad-brush approach of limiting immigration to Australia on the basis of a person's commitment to Islam is something which the NSW people, and indeed the Australian Jewish community, strongly opposes.

I’m sure Jewish and Muslim and every other Australian opposes such an approach. Yet Professor Israeli doesn’t. he made his position clear in November last year when he argued in a public form that Islam is incompatible with Western values. What, then, does that mean for followers of Islam? What does it mean for those from Muslim background or heritage?

My suggestion to Mr Knoll is that he should take a cue from Waleed Aly, Professor Abdullah Saeed, Dr Mohammad Abdulla and other Muslim leaders who rushed to condemn Sheik Hilaly’s offensive remarks. Instead of making excuses, Mr Knoll should call a spade a spade. He should follow the example of AIJAC and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO and unreservedly condemn these offensive remarks.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

COMMENT: On Israeli Prejudice

A British bank recently sought nominations for Britain’s top 100.

No, this wasn’t a pop chart. The Islamic Bank of Britain invited nominations from members of the public to determine Britain’s best-known and most influential Muslims.

The result was a who’s who of British society. The final list included journalists Yvonne Ridley and Rageh Omaar. Also on the list were some 8 MP’s (including 4 Peers of the House of Lords), the chairman of a football club, a senior naval officer and the partner of the London office of an international accounting firm.

I somehow doubt I’d make a similar Australian list, though there are plenty of well-known Australians who tick the “Muslim” box on their census forms.

Israel, too, has its influential Muslims. Among them is Ghaleb Majadele, the first Muslim to be elected to an Israeli cabinet. It seems that having people from minority Muslim communities in sensitive roles won’t lead to the sky falling down.

I’m sure similar and more impressive lists could be drawn up about Jews in Britain and Australia. Each year, BRW’s Top 100 list contains a large number of Jewish Australians who, through hard work and enterprise, have contributed to their own personal wealth and the economic health of the nation.

Yet for one visiting Israeli history professor, the world’s nations must shudder at the thought of reaching a “critical mass” of Muslims. In many respects, his views resemble those of anti-Semitic propagandists who warned of the dire consequences of Jews infiltrating the economic and political structures of Western nations.

Professor Raphael Israeli teaches Islamic and Chinese history at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. He has also taught at universities across the world, including stints at ANU and the University of Melbourne. Professor Israeli is currently visiting our shores again, this time as a Scholar-in-Residence at the Shalom Institute, an institution that prides itself in providing “Engaging, Inclusive, Pluralistic Jewish Education”.

The Australian Jewish News on Thursday 15 February 2007 reported comments of Professor Israeli which provided some hints of his approach to pluralistic inclusive interfaith relations. He gave some advice on how the “war of words” was insufficient to oppose what he described as “this threat of Islam”.

You have to adopt some kind of preventative policy. In order not to get there, limit the immigration and therefore you keep them a marginal minority, which will be a nuisance, but cannot pose a threat to the demographic and security aspects of a country … And one of the big possibilities is Australia, so they will continue to come legally, or illegally, and settle here, and when they get to the rate of the 10 per cent like in France, then you will see life will become untenable.

At one point, Professor Israeli takes a cue from The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, claiming:

Then they control whole sections of the economy, there are areas in France where you cannot be elected to Parliament without the support of the Muslims and so on. And therefore, by increasing their numbers they start to have an impact on the social, economic, political and cultural nature of the country.

Professor Israeli concludes his conspiracy theory as follows:
Muslim populations, which are very often minorities, very often abuse that hospitality and use democracy, openness and tolerance to their benefit, to spread their faith and to intimidate their hosts, and very often, to impose their standards and values upon them.

Israeli told Fairfax newspapers that he had been misunderstood and misinterpreted. In fact, all he had suggested was that countries whose Muslim populations reached a “critical mass” would “have problems”, and that this was ...
... the general rule, so if it applies everywhere, it applies in Australia.
Professor Israeli will be participating in a course entitled “Understanding Islam”. The Shalom Institute’s 2007 brochure of Courses, Events and Programs describes Professor Israeli’s sessions as introducing students to an Islam that ...
... has bequeathed to generations of believers a culture of jihad and violence which has led to the wave of terrorism in the modern world.
The course book is Professor Israeli’s own book about suicide terrorism.

So a pluralistic and inclusive approach to Islamic studies is one that insists Islam has bequeathed little more to the world than violence and terrorism. Its instructor publicly states Muslims must be marginalised and that Australia should implement discriminatory immigration policies.

So nothing about Islamic art or architecture, nor about how Jewish religion and culture flourished under Spanish and Ottoman Muslim rule. Nothing about how Maimonides, the Jewish scholar and physician known as the “second Moses”, wrote virtually all his work in Arabic before being selected as personal physician and senior adviser to the Kurdish general Saladdin who fought the crusaders.

Professor Israeli was born in Morocco. I doubt his course will mention the work of fellow Moroccan Andre Azoulay, Senior Advisor to the Moroccan King. Azoulay is a board member of the Alliance of Civilisations Project established by the United Nations to build bridges between Muslim-majority states and the nominally Christian West. He also happens to be Jewish.

In a 2004 article entitled Islam’s Sway Over Turkey, Israeli castigated the
... inexplicable Western policy of appeasement towards Islam ...

which he claimed was
... predicated upon the false assumption ...

... that there was such a thing as moderate or pragmatic Islam. Israeli went onto castigate US and Western opposition to the genocide of Bosnian and Albanian Muslims in the Balkans.

I’m not sure whether Israeli expressed his views at the height of the Bosnian conflict. Certainly his words would have troubled Bosnia’s Ambassador to the United States, Sven Alkalaj, handpicked by Bosnia’s then-President and devoutly Muslim lawyer Alija Izatbegovic. Alkalaj’s Jewish heritage was of little consequence to Izetbegovic’s decision.

I believe that the views of Professor Israeli do not represent mainstream Israeli and Jewish opinion. I’d like to think that the views of people like Israeli, Daniel Pipes, Sharon Lapkin, Melanie Phillips, Mark Steyn (who, by the way, regards himself as a Christian) and others of this far-Right ilk, are not reflective of what most Western Jews think of Muslims.

I hope I’m not wrong.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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Friday, February 16, 2007

COMMENT: On Raphael Israeli

Professor Raphael Israeli, a visiting Middle Eastern academic, makes public remarks about the inherently violent nature of Muslim migrants. He claims countries with Muslim minorities making up more than 10% of their total population are riddled with upheaval. He later claimed he was misrepresented, but clarified his remarks with the even more outrageous claim that countries whose Muslim populations reached a “critical mass” would “have problems”, and that this was ...
... the general rule, so if it applies everywhere, it applies in Australia.
Professor Israeli’s message was simple. Muslims are inherently violent. They disrupt their host societies. Countries with more than 10% of their population as Muslim are always in strife.

Israeli’s claims only make sense if we accept the notion that, at heart, all Muslims are the same. We must also accept that all Muslims, regardless of their ethnic or linguistic or sectarian nuance, are determined to manufacture trouble with a view to taking control.

On the same day his comments are reported, one of his sponsoring organisations (the Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council) issues a press release rejecting his comments. They further state that they “will not be co-hosting any of his further appearances in Australia”.

The CEO of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Vic Alhadeff, said Professor Israeli’s comments
... do not reflect the position of the Jewish community and are unhelpful in the extreme.
He reminded us of the Jewish community’s
... strong record in fighting racism and condemn[ing] all expressions of bigotry.
Yet should such comments come as a surprise? Professor Israeli has a history of making inflammatory statements about Muslims. He has frequently spoken and written in support of the most outlandish positions. In November last year, he participated in a debate at the University College Cork in Ireland, where he argued that Islam as a faith was completely incompatible with Western values.

Some 10% of victims of the London bombings on July 7 2005 had Muslim heritage. They included Shahara Islam, a British bank clerk in her early 20’s. This fact didn’t stop Professor Israeli from attributing terrorism and violence to this victim’s family name and faith. In a letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Israeli insisted British officials recognise what he described as “the myth of peaceful Islam”.

Israeli has written and contributed to numerous books, including one collection entitled “Muhammad’s Monsters”. In 2000, he published a paper on “Arab and Islamic Anti-Semitism” in which he sought to expose

... the conventional derogatory attitudes that had taken root in Arab and Islamic thinking vis-à-vis the Jews.
How ironic that he is happy to use the auspices of the Shalom Institute to spread his own version of Jewish Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

In June 2004, Israeli penned an article on “Islam’s Sway Over Turkey” in which he castigated the ...

... inexplicable Western policy of appeasement towards Islam ...

... which he claimed was ...

... predicated upon the false assumption ...

... that there was such a thing as moderate or pragmatic Islam. Israeli went onto castigate US and Western opposition to the genocide of Bosnian and Albanian Muslims in the Balkans.

To describe Israeli’s hatred of Muslims as pathological would be an understatement. This isn’t surprising given that he represents some of the most far-Right opinions in Israel, and has written against various Arab-Israeli peace initiatives.

Israeli wrote a scathing attack in June 2004 of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan of unilaterally dismantling settlements of Jewish fundamentalists in Gaza. It seems Professor Israeli’s venom for religious extremism doesn’t extend to Israelis.

Professor Israeli’s latest book, entitled The Third Islamic Invasion of Europe, continues with his theme of a grand Islamic conspiracy to take over Europe. Curiously, he believes attempts by secular Turkey to join the EU form an integral part of this plot to manufacture “Eurabia”, notwithstanding Turkey’s frequently strained relations with Syria and other Arab countries.

Indeed, in endorsing Professor Israeli’s claims, the New York-based Israel Hasbarah Committee wrote on its website on 23 January 2007 that

... since its very onset in 2001 [it] has been the “canary in the coal mine,” warning the world of Islam’s ambitious, well organized, and might we add “vicious” intent to dominate the globe. Who can deny it coming to pass?
Now this raises some interesting questions. What is a Jewish educational institute doing sponsoring the propagation of such jaundiced and divisive views in Australia? Were they unaware that Professor Israeli actively propagated such views? Was AIJAC aware of Professor Israeli’s expressed views?

Further, why is there an eerie silence amongst those sections of the Australian media active in condemning Sheik Hilaly? Will The Oz ensure that 7 pages of its newspaper are spent investigating Professor Israeli and the organisations sponsoring him? Will op-ed editors of major newspapers commission articles questionining and berating Professor Israeli and his expressed views? Will we see Janet Albrechtsen, Miranda Devine, Piers Akerman and others condemning these remarks?

All credit to the Australian Jewish News for breaking this story. Perhaps it is a good indication of mainstream Jewish opinion that AJN carried an anonymous letter to the editor which read …

THIS week I rang to book my place at the course “Understanding Islam”with a top scholar from Israel to be held at Masada College on Tuesday nights.

You can imagine my shock when I found out that it was possible that the course might not run because of insufficient enrolments.
Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Brendan's Brethren

Back in May 1995, I was one of 200-odd Liberals sitting on what was without a doubt the preselection of the year. Former AMA President Dr Brendan Nelson took on the Opposition’s spokesman on superannuation and retirement incomes, David Connelly, in the federal seat of Bradfield, a seat Connelly had held for years.

Some weeks before the preselection, Nelson had kept me on the phone for an hour, providing me with all sorts of reasons to vote for him. He must have made certain presumptions from my name, and proceeded to slam Israel for its ongoing occupation of the West Bank. He also slammed what he saw as a far-Right cabal within the Liberal Party who seemed to be opposing his chances at winning.

What someone had forgotten to tell Nelson was that I was at that time part of the same cabal! Indeed, I was one of the people busily spreading the fatwa issued by Sheik David Clarke (now MLC) that Nelson was way too wet for good "mainstream" conservatives to support.

Today, of course, Nelson has jumped into bed with that same cabal. He recites all their mantras about Australian values.

In August 2005, as Education Minister responsible for the funding of independent schools, he blew his dog whistle hard, publcly lecturing Muslim independent schools to teach Australian values or "clear off".

Nelson’s suggestion? During a doorstop interview in August 2005, Nelson reminded these schools to display the

... National Framework for Values Education, superimposed over which is a silhouette of Simpson and his Donkey, which is at the heart of our sense of national emerging identity.

Some months prior to this, it was revealed that Nelson had specifically written to Muslim independent schools reminding them of the need not to teach extremism (as if they needed reminding).

Now we know from today's The Age that hardly 12 months earlier, Nelson was providing schools run by the Exclusive Brethren with exemptions from testing computer literacy for Year 6 and Year 10 students, despite this being made a condition of Federal Government independent school funding.

Once again, a Howard Government Minister has been caught doing dirty deals with the Exclusive Brethren and bending law and government policy to assist them with non-integration. Nelson obviously thinks it’s OK to provide $6.6 million in funding to schools that teach their students that computers are instruments of the devil.

Here's how The Age reported the matter ...

The Education Department has confirmed that, during 2004, Dr Nelson had representations from the Brethren, and agreed to give them an exemption from testing the computer literacy of year 6 and year 10 students.

That year, computer literacy was made a condition of Federal Government funding of private schools, but at the time the Brethren shunned computers, believing them to be instruments of the devil.

I challenge Nelson and his staff to find one Muslim school which forbids teaching of computing. I also challenge Nelson to find one Muslim school which stops its pupils from mixing with children outside their denomination. Nelson has clearly shown blatant hypocrisy. He has one rule for Muslims and another for fringe Christian groups.

Then again, given Nelson's rather simplistic view of Austrlan values, his admirers from this non-integrated sect might have a point. After all, Simpson and his donkey never used computers.

An edited version of this appeared in the Crikey! daily alert on 15 February 2007.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Friday, February 02, 2007

Dame's perfect match

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa's refusal to perform with John Farnham raises questions about which Australian artist would be a good match for her, writes IRFAN YUSUF.

Some 13 years ago, I was sitting in a practical legal skills class struggling to keep awake after a night of rather, er, unprofessional conduct. My lecturer was using what little wit he had left on how we, as future solicitors, should dress when entering one of Her Majesty's courts.

"When seeking audience of the court, legal practitioners are expected to dress appropriately. For male solicitors, dark suits and modest ties. For their female colleagues, dark suits possibly incorporating longish skirts and dark stockings. Barristers, frequently the main actors in courtroom drama, are often robed and wigged."

The way he described it, we may as well have been going to the opera. Except in this opera, the performers were blokes (and the odd sheila) in horsehair wigs and black gowns.

Still, most barristers I know have terrible singing voices. Certainly nothing like New Zealand's soprano sensation Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. I'm sure the good Dame would insist her audience conform to courtly dress.

Which makes me wonder what was going through the minds of barristers, solicitors and judge involved in the rather nasty dispute concerning Dame Kiri's refusal to perform on stage together with ageing Aussie heart-throb John Farnham while women's underwear was being tossed in her general direction.

All this week, the Supreme Court of New South Wales has had to deal with the dispute, in which Leading Edge Events, an Australian concert promotions company, is suing Dame Kiri Te Kanawa for breach of contract and misleading conduct. Also being sued are Dame Kiri's company, her former agent Nick Grace and his company.

Apparently, the parties signed a deal whereby Dame Kiri was to sing with Farnham in three concerts being promoted as "Two Great Voices".

The Leading Edge wants compensation of $600,000 plus 25 per cent of the show's potential profits. That adds up to a cool $2 million. They claim to have spent $380,000 just promoting the show. Sydney's Daily Telegraph reported tickets "were selling strongly with corporations, who rushed to buy tables at the concerts for $9500 each".

So why would New Zealand's most prized voice not want to join the stage with the man us West Islanders call "Farnsey"?

The case may still be before the courts but it is already making international headlines. Dame Kiri's woes with Mr Whispering Jack have made the pages of such august publications as the International Herald Tribune ("underwear tossing was the deal breaker"), the New York Times ("underwear tossing roils soprano") and the West Australian ("Farnham-Kiri shows `would've sold out'").

Now, I must confess I'm not in any position to comment on Dame Kiri's decision. For one thing, I haven't had any recent experiences with women throwing underwear in my general direction – well, apart from some years back when mum was in a somewhat excited mood after seeing the state of my bedroom. Still, that was my own underwear.

And I'm not sure if I'd like Farnsey's female fans throwing their knickers in my direction. Farnham is now in his late 50s. Chances are that the undies I'd be dealing with would be of women my mother's age. No thanks, Farnsey. You can have 'em, mate.

Now, I can accept that perhaps John Farnham may not be quite Dame Kiri's cup of tea. He might be good enough for Melbourne's Commonwealth Games closing ceremony, but he's hardly the sort of stuff Prince Charles's weddings are made of. So is there any Aussie male vocalist Dame Kiri would be happy to join (provided, of course, no underwear changed hands)?

I used to work for a really cool solicitor whose name I'd pronounce as "Chrus" (he was originally from Dunedin). One day Chrus was reminiscing about seeing the first Midnight Oil concert as a student at Otago. From memory, the following noises reached my uncultured Aussie ears:

"Irf, I till yoh woot. Thet Petah Gerrut hez un amayzung style ov densung!"

Sadly for Chrus, Peter Garret is no longer kicking beer glasses at campus bars while pretending to get electrocuted. And anyway, I don't think Power and the Passion is the stuff operas are made of.

Or how about Jimmy Barnes? I can just see Dame Kiri doing the repeat-bowing dance with old Jim and screeching Working Class Man. And if that doesn't work out, she can always sing with real Australian singers. You know the type. Real Aussies. Like Neil Finn. I think It's Only Natural the re-formed Crowded House have their own soprano.

But seriously, my dear Kiwistani cousins. Who wouldn't pay $9500 to see Dame Kiri and Johnny Farnham usher in the Age of Reason? I mean, as if us Aussies could produce a singer of the Dame's talent. Well, apart from Dame Edna. I think I'll stop there.

* Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney writer with no musical ability whatsoever. First published in The Press (Christchurch, NZ) on 2 February 2007.