Thursday, March 22, 2007

Operatic knickers …

Kiwi blokes may be so laid back, they’re almost horizontal. Indeed, a recent report showed a record number are happy to go … er … under the knife.

But Kiwi opera singers take matters below-the-belt very seriously. Indeed, Kiwistani diva Dame Kiri Te Kanawa’s refusal to have the knickers of John Farnham’s adoring female fans was vindicated yesterday by a NSW Supreme Court judge.

The decision can be read here. Her Honour Justice Bergin details e-mail exchanges between the parties, meetings (including one in Auckland where Dame Kiri was to meet Farnham but which he did a no-show), Dame Kiri’s busy itinerary, her travel requirements, etc. It makes riveting reading even for somewhat reluctant lawyers like myself.

Para 73 of the judgment cites Dame Kiri allegedly remarking:

I’m very concerned. I’ve watched the DVDs of John Farnham. They’re absolutely horrendous. Undies were being thrown at him. He talks endlessly and it’s not even funny.

Dame Kiri, her company, her former agent and her former agent’s company were all sued by Leading Edge Events Australia Pty Ltd for breach of contract and for engaging in “misleading and deceptive conduct in trade and commerce” under Section 52 of the Commonwealth Trade Practises Act and the equivalent provision of the NSW Fair Trading Act.

Apparently, Dame Kiri was meant to perform with Farnham in a Sydney concert and 2 Melbourne concerts in February 2005. Leading Edge went ahead and made all sorts of expensive arrangements, including booking venues and selling tickets. A draft contract was sent to Dame Kiri. But Her Honour found that the parties “had not concluded a binding agreement”. Leading Edge failed on all other counts.

Despite seeking $2 million compensation, the most Leading Edge could recover was $128,061.21 for various costs including the costs of hiring a helicopter to transport Dame Kiri from Auckland to her Bay of Islands home. I’m not sure whether this will cover the costs of a 6 day hearing that involved 3 law firms, a silk and 3 “junior” (as in non-silk) barristers.

I’m sure the lawyers will be happy that it took the parties and the Court so many billable units to impose The Age of Reason in this particular litigation. Sorry, that was lame.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

BOOK REVIEWS: Of ignorance and hubris

I STUDIED law at Macquarie University in the early 1990s when the dominant teaching methodology was critical legal studies. The "Crits" encouraged us to approach the law in a critical manner, and to critique both the policy and process of formulating legislation.

Not all lecturers were Crits. My commercial law lecturer was a socially conservative professor who regarded the Crits with disdain.

"How can students with no background in law be expected to criticise it? Surely you must learn the law before criticising it?" he would rhetorically ask.

Australian law is a complex beast. Hence, this characteristically conservative warning against critical hubris was difficult to ignore. Now, we find many alleged conservatives ignoring my lecturer's advice when they critique the complexity of religious cultures of more than one-fifth of the world's population who describe themselves as Muslim.

The three books reviewed give some idea of what happens when the critique of Islamic theologies and Muslim cultures is based on minimum understanding and maximum hubris.

Hanifa Deen sits on the cultural fence. A descendant of Pakistani-Muslim hawkers who arrived in Australia at the beginning of the 20th century, Deen grew up in Australia. She has written extensively on Muslims in both Australia and the Indian subcontinent.

Her previous book, Broken Bangles, dealt with the lives of women in Pakistan and Bangladesh. After that book, Deen became curious about the plight of Dr Taslima Nasreen, a Bangladeshi medical doctor and writer whose 1993 novel, Lajja (“Shame”), caused controversy across the subcontinent. After being charged with the offence of “injuring religious sentiment” and threatened with violence, Nasreen went underground before escaping to Sweden.

Nasreen's case happened barely a year after the fatwa issued by Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini against Salman Rushdie for the allegedly blasphemous Satanic Verses. For many free-speech campaigners, Nasreen was seen as a Bangladeshi Rushdie. But as Deen's book illustrates, Nasreen started out as the heroine: not of Western free-speech campaigners but of a certain faction of Indian politics interested less in freedom and more in perpetrating violence against Indian minorities.

Nasreen's plight was manipulated by far-right Hindu extremists associated with the group responsible for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. The media mythology around Nasreen's flight from Bangladesh relied heavily on Indian sources as fanatical as the Bangladeshi mullahs who threatened her life.

A frequent theme of Nasreen's work is the oppression of women in Bengali-speaking cultures. Yet Bengali women's groups view her abrasive man-hating style as counterproductive. Feminists working under difficult conditions tell Deen of being suddenly forced two steps back by Nasreen's work after their years of struggle to take a step forward.

Eventually, Nasreen's abrasive style led to her falling out with her European sponsors. Deen has travelled across the Indian subcontinent and Europe, interviewing Nasreen, her family, her supporters and detractors. Deen's book provides important background on how the Taslima Nasreen myth was made and unmade.

This is a book that should have been published at least five years ago, when those intoxicated by the Nasreen myth were beginning their collective hangover.

Unfortunately, Deen's book suffers from detail overkill. At times, she provides less detail on what her informants told her and more on what was on their dinner menu.

Superfluous detail of menus and travel itineraries also feature in Peter Manning's otherwise well-intentioned and enlightening book. Manning is no stranger to the Australian media, having worked in print, radio, TV and online. His book represents the discovery of his own (and no doubt so many other media practitioners’) tendency to treat anything related to Muslims and the Middle East as a giant incoherent blob known as "them". This entity is necessarily hostile to another confused and confusing entity known as "us", which can include any combination of Australia, the United States, other Western countries and Israel.

Manning explores this simplistic bipolar paradigm that, he argues, is the source of so much blatantly biased and ignorant reporting. What Manning describes as "the basics" of journalism – "accuracy, fairness and comprehensiveness" - have been absent from the reporting of “them”. This absence was even more noticeable after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Apart from analysing news stories and working with Arab and Muslim media activists, Manning travels to the Middle East to discover the reality behind “them”. He soon discovers the gulf between “us” and “them” to be more a figment of the imaginations of both sides.

Bethlehem, the subject of classroom Christmas carols, shocks him into recognising that the basis of the Christian “us” is inherently Middle Eastern. He also discovers that the most vocal critics of Israel are frequently Israelis themselves.

At times, Manning's analysis and choice of words seems clumsy, if not simplistic. Perhaps this is deliberate, enabling his message to be accessible to the widest possible readership.

Notwithstanding, this is hardly the work of a blindly pro-Muslim sycophant. At the height of the Hilaly affair late last year, Manning defended media reporting of the saga.

Manning's wide travels and broad exposure to many different Muslim cultures is apparent in his book. It’s certainly absent from Melanie Phillips’s confused and confusing polemic, which she describes as "an attempt to piece together" a "complex jigsaw puzzle, and to show how the deadly fusion of an aggressive ideology, and a society that has lost its way has led to the emergence of Londonistan".

Phillips claims her book "is not drawing any conclusions about whether or not Islam is intrinsically a religion of violent conquest". She acknowledges that "hundreds of thousands of Muslims have no truck whatsoever with terrorism". Strangely, she also places Britain's Muslim population at about two million. If hundreds of thousands of Muslims have no time for terrorism, simple arithmetic says at least one million do.

Phillips suggests that if radical Islamists are to be defeated, Britain and the West need to turn back the clock and return to their Judeo-Christian heritage. The whole idea of a "Judeo-Christian" culture in the West seems strange, given that a distinguishing feature of pre-1945 European Christendom was anti-Semitism of varying degrees of virulence. It seems the only role the Judeo could play was second-class citizen to the Christian. As it happens, Phillips describes anti-Semitism as "the oldest hatred, a hatred that is global and doesn't ever go away".

Her chapter entitled "The Human Rights Jihad" blasts the EU for imposing a human rights treaty on asylum-seekers containing provisions that don't sit comfortably with Britain's common law tradition. She then condemns judges for establishing and following precedents when dealing with asylum cases.

Perhaps at this point, it would be useful to reintroduce my old commercial law tutor, who would probably recognise Phillips's complete lack of understanding of how the common law works.

Phillips’s book is saturated with inaccuracies and wild claims. Perhaps her stand-out point is where she describes radical Islamism as "the dominant strain" in the Muslim world. Yet only three out of 50-plus Muslim-majority states are known to be theocracies Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. Few British Muslims migrated from these countries.

It’s unfortunate that as crucial a topic as the spread of political Islamist ideology in Western Muslim communities has been handled so shabbily. We know there are people seeking to blast their way into a demented form of martyrdom and take many of us with them. It's clear Melanie Phillips has little chance of finding them.

Irfan Yusuf is associate editor of This review was first published in the Canberra Times on 17 March 2007.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

On Hilaly, Trad, Attard & Vindication

On 30 June 2005, I wrote the following words which were published in the Daily Telegraph …

Yet every time something happens concerning Muslims, I see a scruffy-looking man on TV saying things I find embarrassing.

Am I talking about the man they call Mufti? No. In his efforts to free Douglas Wood, Sheik Taj el-Dene Elhilaly has earned the respect of mainstream Australia.

And of his many Muslim critics.

What worries me, however, is his alleged spokesman and adviser.

The first time I heard of Keysar Trad was in a magazine called Nidaul Islam.
Mr Trad used to translate speeches and interviews from Arabic to English.

I am not sure about his Arabic skills, but his English was atrocious.

So who is Mr Trad? Who appointed him as spokesman? We are told that he is the Sheik's interpreter.

But does Mr Trad have interpreting and translating qualifications and accreditation? It seems not.

What experience does Mr Trad have in advising peak religious figures? None.

Archbishops Pell and Jensen have a secretariat, assistants, researchers and a full staff.

The Mufti of Australia gets an unpaid unaccredited translator. Is it any wonder Sheik Elhilaly gets such bad press?

I was baffled when Mr Trad made defamatory remarks about Stephen Hopper, former lawyer for Mamdouh Habib.

Mr Trad took credit for setting Habib up with his good mate Adam Houda, claiming Habib would now receive proper legal representation. Mr Trad has no legal training and is not in a position to question the credentials of either Hopper or Houda. Now neither Hopper nor Houda act for Habib.

I was equally baffled when Mr Trad once described the role of Mufti as akin to arch-bishop and governor-general of Muslims.

Sorry, Mr Trad. I like Sheik Taj. But my Governor-General is Michael Jeffery.

So why do the media keep going to Mr Trad? Simple. No one else is prepared or has the time to speak. Muslims are too busy being mainstream Australians.

That leaves plenty of time for redundant public servants with plenty of time on their hands to speak on behalf of one of the most educated and upwardly-mobile faith communities in the country.

So what is the solution? Simple. Australian Muslims (or Aussie Mossies as they often call themselves) have to speak out. If we don't have the time, we have to make it.

I received plenty of flack from certain Muslims of Arabic-speaking backgrounds for writing this article. Among them was a senior journalist, who requested me, and I quote:

Irfan, for the sake of the Muslim community, please refrain from writing for any newspaper again.

Now, it seems Monica Attard has discovered exactly what I wrote about. That Keysar Trad has been deliberately been watering down and sugar-coating the divisive messages of the man he claims to be Mufti of Australia.

At one stage, Attard says …

No, no. Can you give me a literal translation Keysar because he started out saying, "of course".

Later, Attard has this to say …

At this point in the interview we became uncomfortable with the translation being provided by Keysar Trad and so we had it independently translated.

Keysar Trad later told us he'd refused to translate the following comments because he didn't believe the Mufti knew the specifics of the Bilal Skaf gang rapes of 2000. And, for accuracy's sake, we have included the literal translation of what the Sheikh said.

This is Monica Attard. It isn’t Janet Albrechtsen. It isn’t Andrew Bolt, Tim Blair, Piers Ackerman or some other commentator inspired less by accuracy and more on prejudice.

Attard has no history of hatred and jaundice toward Muslims or other Semitic faiths. She presents Media Watch, not exactly a program known for its gross bias toward Muslims.

I now feel vindicated. I hope the senior Fairfax journalist is reading this. Perhaps that person might apologise next time I see them.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Saturday, March 10, 2007

OPINION: On averting another European Holocaust ...

OVER the weekend, 360 Australians of all ages and faiths from across the country gathered at Old Parliament House for a deliberative poll on relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in Australia. They heard from a panel of speakers, including Cardinal George Pell, columnist Janet Albrechtsen, lawyer Waleed Aly and journalist Nadia Jamal.

Twenty years ago, such a conference would have been unthinkable. Muslims weren't regarded then as a monolithic entity. Today's dangerous jihadists were bankrolled by the US to fight communism. Saddam Hussein was provided with WMD, including chemical and biological weapons, by the West to use on Iran.

Now, Muslims are no longer regarded a complex phenomenon but a giant blob of monolithic cancer ready to engulf the planet.

The weekend's deliberative poll saw Australia First Party representative Denis McCormack cast aspersions on the Jewish heritage of another speaker, claiming she was part of a multiculturalist cabal. He was rightly condemned by the audience.

The same audience was almost silent when Pastor Daniel Scott told delegates that all Muslims represented a threat to Australia and that Muslim spokespeople were deliberately sugar-coating their message to hide the violent reality of their intentions.

This kind of conspiratorial thinking can also be found in the latest book of British tabloid columnist Melanie Phillips entitled Londonistan: How Britain is Creating a Terror State Within. Phillips recently concluded a short Australian tour to promote the book she describes as

an attempt to piece together this complex jigsaw puzzle, the deadly fusion of an aggressive ideology and a society that has lost its way.

Phillips argues the British elite have wrongfully abandoned the dominant Judeo-Christian monocultural heritage in favour of a rampant multiculturalism that bends over backwards for ethnic, religious and even sexual minorities. This has allowed jihadi Islamism and Muslim “clerical fascism” to infiltrate British society, manifesting itself in the London bombings of July 7, 2005.

Phillips suggests jihadi Islamism has become today the “dominant strain” within the Muslim world, as well as in Western Muslim communities. This absurd claim contrasts with the enormous variety of religion practised by nominal Muslims across the planet. Hence, Javanese Muslims have culturally and linguistically more in common with Balinese Hindus than with Bosnian Muslims, who have more in common with Serbian Orthodox or Croatian Catholics.

Indeed, Phillips' insistence of “minorities accepting the terms on which minorities must relate to the majority culture in a liberal democracy” would have little application in the new European states, many of which are comprised completely of minorities.

In 1992, the people of the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina voted in favour of independence. Bosnia was to be a multi-ethnic and multireligious state consisting of a number of religious minorities, including Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Catholics and Jews.

Within months of independence, the country was plunged into a war characterised by genocide, concentration camps, ethnic cleansing and mass rape. Some 100,000 Bosnians (mainly Muslims) were killed and more than a million were displaced. The International Court of Justice recently ruled that genocide occurred in Bosnia.

Today, Canberra plays host to two senior religious figures who witnessed much of the carnage. Dr Mustafa Ceric is Reis al-Ulama (chairman of the Council of Religious Scholars) for Bosnia- Herzegovina. He is also mufti of Croatia, Slovenia and the Sanjak region bordering Serbia and Montenegro. Ceric is accompanied by the mufti of the Bosnian city of Mostar.

Ceric also sees a crisis of values engulfing Europe. He warns Europeans not to become complacent about sectarian hatred. He told BBC at the weekend that Europe promised “never again” after the Holocaust, only to sit back and watch as genocide was perpetrated against Muslims in his nation.

I wish that Islamaphobia that is now [in place] in Europe and in the West will not result in a Muslim Holocaust. Europe must start speaking with Muslims and hear what they have to say and help them to make their place in society that is responsible, respectable and future- looking.

Ceric says Muslims in Europe also have a role to play, that Muslim migrants must stop behaving like tribal entities and adopt European values like democracy and pluralism.

If the Muslims do not accept the fact that they have to learn about democracy not only within the larger context of the European community but within their own community... then I think the Muslims will be in a position to fear what will happen in their future.

Ceric singles out the United States and Australia for praise as nations more accepting of migrants than Europe. Ceric speaks from experience, having completed his PhD and acted as imam of a major Chicago mosque.

Ceric personifies indigenous European Islam whose culture and values have sat comfortably (apart from the occasional externally imposed genocide) within Europe for centuries. Melanie Phillips, on the other hand, personifies the type of sectarian paranoia and hysteria that for centuries poisoned relations between European Christians and Jews and now threatens to use the pretext of cultic jihadi extremism to poison relations between the West and the rest.

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer and writer. This article was first published in the Canberra Times on 7 March 2007.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Get Flocked

Monday, March 05, 2007

European Mufti touring Australia ...

I spent the weekend in Canberra observing an extraordinary process. Some 329 Australians of all faiths got together to hear all sides of the “Muslim question” at Old Parliament House. The weekend ended with Bob Hawke singing Waltzing Matilda, flanked by three women wearing headscarves.

Australians will get to hear more on Western Islam as one of Europe’s most senior religious figures arrives in Australia this afternoon.

Dr Mustafa Ceric holds the position of Reis al-Ulama (Chair of the Board of Religious Scholars) in the Republic of Bosnia Herzegovina, one of Europe ’s youngest nations. Basically, Ceric is the equivalent of the Mufti of Bosnia, though his position was created during the 19th century when the former Ottoman territories of Bosnia were under Austro-Hungarian control.

Unlike Australia ’s Mufti, Ceric isn’t known for making ill-considered, insensitive and anti-Semitic statements. In fact, one Bosnian columnist criticised Ceric for expressing solidarity with both Lebanese and Israeli civilians during the recent conflict between the two countries.

Ceric studied in traditional seminaries in Sarajevo and Egypt . He then completed a PhD at the University of Chicago under Professor Fazlur Rahman, an American liberal theologian whose other students include former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid.

Ceric speaks fluent Arabic, English and Bosnian. He served as an imam in the United States and Croatia before his appointment to the senior Reis post in 1993 at the height of the Bosnian war that was recently declared by the International Court of Justice as an act of genocide. Although the ICJ did not find Serbia guilty of genocide, it did find that the war was in fact genocide and not civil war as often described.

In 2003, he was awarded a UNESCO peace prize, previous recipients of which include Nelson Mandela and Xanana Gusmao. Ceric is also involved in the Clinton Global Initiative.

No doubt Phillip Ruddock, with whom Ceric will meet later this week in Canberra , will approve of his message to European Muslims of the imperative of integration and embrace of European culture and institutions. Ceric’s Bosnian audience in Australia will include both refugees from the 1990’s war as well as older migrants from the post-war era.

Ceric will visit Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Friday, March 02, 2007

Howard, Hicks, Blair, Obama, Osama & all that jazz ...

Two weeks ago, Australia 's Prime Minister John Howard entered the fray of domestic US politics. Howard lambasted US Democratic Party Presidential nominee Barack Obama. Earlier, Obama had pledged to withdraw troops from Iraq by March 2008. In response, Howard claimed Obama, would be giving Osama something to celebrate about.

If I was running al-Qaida in Iraq , I would put a circle around March 2008, and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats.

It was as if Mr Howard was suggesting that there really was only one letter's difference between Obama and Osama. As for leading al-Qaida, Howard's critics would argue that this may not be such a bad idea for world peace if his management of US-Australia relations under the ANZUS Treaty is anything to go by.

Australia 's Labor opposition leader Kevin Rudd has suggested that going to war against Iraq was the single biggest failure of Australian foreign policy since the Vietnam war. He wants Mr Howard to set a timetable for withdrawal in the same manner as British MP Tony Blair.

Britain pulling troops out of Iraq? The United States' biggest partner in the Iraq debacle cutting and running? Isn't this the sort of stuff that pleases Osama bin Ladin. Strangely, Mr Howard has been comparatively less critical of Mr Blair.

John Howard likes to think he's a big fish in the US pond. The reality is that the most influential Australian in Washington gave up his Australian citizenship years ago. Rupert Murdoch has far more influence on US foreign policy than the man George W Bush once mistakenly described as "John Major".

Yet Howard's approach to relations with the United States has achieved little for ordinary Australians when it really mattered. For years, Mr Howard was happy to sit on his hands and look the other way when the family and supporters of Australian Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks were knocking on his door. As far as Howard was concerned, Hicks was as guilty as sin. Why? Because the Americans said so.

Howard's friends in the tabloid press were happy to join him, using up column space to malign Hicks even before a single charge had been laid against him. Some columnists were even prepared to use sectarian cheap shots, always referring to Hicks as "Mohammad Dawood", a name he allegedly adopted before adopting Islam.

Former inmates at the Guantanamo Bay facility who met Hicks state that he no longer regards himself as a Muslim. In his 2006 book Enemy Combatant: A British Muslim's Journey to Guantanamo And Back, former British detainee Moazzam Begg notes that during the fasting month of Ramadan, Hicks openly ate in front of other inmates who were fasting.

Begg also gave details of the appalling conditions in which detainees were kept at the facility. He writes about their being caged up like animals in tiny cells, with bright lights on 24 hours a day, with little or no natural sunlight and frequent interrogations. Begg also mentions the intimidation and torture of detainees, confirming reports of other released detainees such as Australian Mamdouh Habib.

Now that influential and powerful forces have gathered behind Hicks and a federal election is coming up, Mr Howard has suddenly converted to the Hicks cause. But after spending years aligning Australia unquestionably to US foreign policy, one wonders how seriously Cheney will take Mr Howard when he finally makes a request.

Earlier in the week thousands of Sydney-siders turned out to welcome the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth luxury cruise liners. I doubt they'll be turning up to wave to Dick Cheney when he visits Sydney this week.

(Crude Aussies like me would say Sydney-siders seem more interested in a pair of huge English queens than America 's Vice Presidential Dick.)

It's unlikely Mr Howard will have much to differ with Cheney about. No doubt they'll be gloating about the success of the Iraq war. And what a huge success it has been. Those blasted weapons of mass destruction have been found and destroyed. Peace and freedom have been restored. All the terrorists are dead or locked up in Guantanamo in the same cell as the young Aussie David Hicks. As Australia 's Foreign Minister declared triumphantly some years back, the war in Iraq has been won.

Naturally there are still a few small steps before full victory is secured. Remember that bombing in London on 7 July 2005? I think around 50 people died in that single incident. According to one American report cited by Virginia Haussegger in the Melbourne Age on Saturday, ten times that number of people who die in Iraq .

That's 500 Iraqi civilians. Dying. Each day.

And when they aren't boasting about Iraq, Mr Howard will make sure the cameras are present as he tells Cheney how upset Aussies are over Hicks. Yeah, right. As if Cheney will care. Hicks would probably be better served having Howard requesting not-so-straight-shooting Cheney to be the sole member of any proposed Guantanamo firing squad.

So there you have it, my Kiwi cousins. John Howard has ensured Australia 's relations with the US are as favourable to Australia as our cricketing relations with New Zealand.

An edited version of this piece was first published in the Wellington Dominion-Post on Monday 26 February 2007.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

OPINION: Bigots shield behind conservative facade

Liberty and xenophobia don't make comfortable bedfellows. In a community consumed by grossly irrational hatred - including racism and sectarianism - economic and political freedom will never flourish.

This simple fact was taken for granted 140 years ago by American anti-slavery activist Wendell Phillips, who spoke the famous words that are now part of political folklore of Western liberal democracies:
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.
Even after the abolition of slavery in the United States and much of Western Europe, paranoid xenophobia has reared its ugly head at times.

Seventy years ago, mainstream newspapers in parts of Europe sought to make Europe's small Jewish minority responsible for economic and political woes.

By 1945, Hitler's regime had massacred millions on the basis of ethnic and religious identity.

Today, irrational hatred is again endangering our fragile liberal democracies. The paranoid rants of Osama bin Laden and his ilk against the Crusader West and against Jews and Hindus, have led to horrific atrocities such as Americans saw on September 11 and that Iraqis see every day.

Since September 11, Wendell Phillips' historic sentiments are fast being abandoned by some so-called conservative Americans who pride themselves as being guardians of liberty. Instead of distancing themselves from the sectarian paranoia of al Qaeda, they mimic the hatred and direct it towards anyone they consider to be associated with Islamist terrorists. Two examples in US politics illustrate the growing environment of American xenophobia. At the last congressional elections, the voters of Minnesota sent America's first Muslim to Washington. Criminal defence lawyer Keith Ellison easily beat his Republican opponent, academic Alan Fine.

Minnesota is a Democratic Party stronghold and Fine had little chance of winning. This didn't stop Fine from playing the religion card. Before polling day, he said:

I'm extremely concerned about Keith Ellison, Keith Hakim, Keith X Ellison, Keith Ellison Muhammad ... I'm personally offended, as a Jew, that we have a candidate like this running for Congress.
Ironically, Fine was condemned by his own brother, who defended Ellison. Things didn't end there for Ellison, who made public his wish to place his hand on the Koran at a swearing-in ceremony. A neo-conservative talkback host from Philadelphia posed this offensive question to Ellison on CNN:

Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.
Writing on the conservative commentary website, Dick Prager lamented that Ellison would not take his oath of office on the Bible, but on the bible of Islam, the Koran. According to Prager, this act undermines American civilisation.

Ellison did swear on the Koran , his critics silenced when it was revealed that Ellison borrowed from the Library of Congress the Koran that belonged to Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States.

Another example concerns Barack Obama, the Democratic Party senator from Chicago who hopes to be the first African-American to occupy the White House. If his allegedly conservative opponents have their way, Obama's mother's matrimonial choices may be used against him. Obama regards himself as a Christian. He shares his Christian name with millions of Muslims.

His father was a Kenyan of Muslim heritage and nominally of the Muslim religion.

Obama's middle name is Hussein, but he rarely uses that name in public. This doesn't stop the journalistic imbeciles at Fox News from repeating the views of far-right magazines claiming that Obama is, in effect, a Muslim posing as a Christian.

The tabloid TV network cited a story from Insight Magazine claiming that for four years Obama was educated at a madrassah terrorist training school in Indonesia, funded by Saudi Arabia and preaching Islamic fundamentalist Wahabi doctrine.

Anyone familiar with Indonesian Islam knows that most Indonesian Muslim religious schools (known as pesantran, not madrassah) are managed by small communities under the auspices of large religious foundations such as Nahdhatul Ulama, who are very hostile to Wahabi doctrine. Few receive funds from the Indonesian Government, let alone the Saudis.

Later, CNN and Associated Press did some digging and discovered that Obama never attended a pesantran. He attended a state-run school in Jakarta, where most students were Muslim - as you would expect in the world's largest Muslim-majority state.

With Keith Ellison, it was a case of having the wrong religion. But with Barack Obama it was a case of having a mother who twice married men of Muslim heritage.

Yet, as the Washington Post says:

A President with an understanding of Islam and the developing world would be welcomed by those who too often feel misunderstood and slighted by the United States.
Thankfully, the xenophobia of Muslim-haters can only have so much influence in the Land of the Free. However, the fact that sectarian and racist rhetoric continue to be effective political tools is cause for continuing concern. Effective vigilance must remain eternal if liberty is to be protected.
First published in the New Zealand Herald on 28 February 2007.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Piers shows off his knowledge of Arabic names

I was looking at the Daily Telegraph website just now and thought I’d reqard myself with some comic relief. So I clicked onto Piers Akerman’s column.

Seriously, anyone with even an elementary knowledge of Arabic would have laughed at Piers’ attempts to manufacture fake Arabic names for David Hicks. Akerman has obviously set out to generate hatred toward Hicks by playing the sectarian card. Instead, Akerman has again made a complete fool of himself and his newspaper.

This is seriously funny stuff. According to Piers, David Hicks adopted any number of the following names:

#Abu Muslim Australia
#Abu Muslim Astrailii
#Abu Muslim Philippine
#Muhammad Dawood

Why on earth would an Anglo-Aussie from Adelaide declare himself to be a Filipino?

Piers, I think the time has come for you to consider retirement.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007