Thursday, May 31, 2007

Why do allegedly conservative commentarors ignore Theo Van Gogh's racism?

Andrew Bolt and Janet Albrechtsen both seem to share an admiration for Theo Van Gogh and his colleague, former Dutch far-Right MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Bolt is particularly lavish in his praise for Van Gogh, despite the fact that the latter was openly anti-Semitic and spoke disparagingly of European Jews who suffered immensely during the Holocaust. Van Gogh was also grossly sexist and homophobic, as well as being a supporter of far-Right parties.

One wonders whether Bolt agrees with Van Gogh’s description of Muslims as

... goat f#ckers.

Or his articles in which he spoke of his fantasies about

... copulating yellow stars in the gas chamber.

Would Bolt agree with the language Van Gogh used in an article in the Amsterdam university magazine Folia in the early 1980’s when he had Jewish writer Leon de Winter perform the “Treblinka love game” with “a piece of barbed wire” around his “dick”?

I wonder if Albrechtsen would share a Van Gogh joke at dinner parties. How about something like

... I suspect that [Jewish] Ms Gans gets wet dreams about being f*cked by Dr Mengele.

I also wonder if Janet Albrechtsen would laugh at Van Gogh’s other examples of Holocaust humour. Perhaps she might use this one in one of her columns:

Hey, it smells like caramel today - well then, they must be burning the diabetic Jews.

Bolt and Albrechtsen were at the forefront of attacking Sheik Hilaly for his catmeat comments. Yet will they equally condemn Van Gogh for his 1981 debut movie Luger? In the movie, Van Gogh has showed a gangster pushing his pistol into a woman’s vagina. He was later quoted as saying:

Most women I consider little speaking c*nts. Women do not think with their heads, but with their c*nt.

I apologise to readers offended by the disgusting nature of the language quoted here. I wonder if Bolt and Albrechtsen will apologise to their readers for promoting Van Gogh as a champion of free speech and enlightenment. If gross and despicable anti-Semitism, homophobia, Islamophobia and promotion of sexual violence represent their idea of enlightenment, I’d prefer to stay in the dark.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Sectarianism and citizenship in Australia

I HAVE some terrible news for anyone contemplating Australian citizenship. The Australian government has decided to introduce a special multiple choice test which all prospective citizens must pass. And believe it or not, the answers to some test questions are so obscure that even Australian-born citizens are getting the answers wrong.

The Melbourne Herald-Sun newspaper recently released a list of sample questions that are meant to test prospective citizens on Australian culture, institutions and values. One of these questions has caused particular consternation.

Question 15 asks:

Australia's values are based on the ...
a. Teachings of the Quran
b. The Judaeo-Christian tradition
c. Catholicism
d. Secularism

Believe it or not, the correct answer, according to the Australian government's Department of Immigration & Citizenship (DIAC) is option b. How so?

You'd expect option b's correctness would be obvious after even the most cursory reading of Australian history. Surely the Jewish and Anglican theology and culture of English settlers played a central role in building our colonial institutions.

Australia's first settlers were the indigenous peoples - Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders - who were known to have some interaction with Malay fishermen. Australia also appeared on some early Arab maps dating back as early as the 14th century.

In 1788, English settlers landed with shiploads of convicts in what was known as "the First Fleet". Australia's first few fleets had convicts of various faiths - Jews, Catholics, Muslims and a smattering of perhaps reluctant followers of the Church of England.

The so-called Judaeo-Christian culture wasn't exactly alive and well in England. Both colonists and convicts on the First Fleet would have been aware of the passing of the Jew Bill through the English Parliament in 1753, allowing Jews to be naturalised by a special application to Parliament. The current Australian government's ideological ancestors, the English Tories, opposed the Bill, claiming it involved an "abandonment of Christianity". Conservative protesters burnt effigies of Jews and carried placards reading "No Jews, no wooden shoes."

Jews were forbidden from attending university and practising law in England until the mid 19th century. One can only imagine the prejudice the 750-odd First Fleet Jewish convicts faced from English jailors brought up in such an anti-Semitic environment.

I'd like to see DIAC representatives telling Jewish historians about the "Judaeo-Christian tradition". The whole notion of Judaism playing a key role in the development of Western European culture seems strange considering it's only in the last 60 years, following the horrors of the Holocaust, that Western Christendom has finally faced up to the reality of anti-Semitism. If anything, the role of the "Judaeo" has tended to be that of cultural and political punching bag of the "Christian".

Life for their Muslim spiritual cousins in early Australia wasn't much better. Most were free men working as sailors, though quite a few were convicts. The crew on board The Endeavour, which left Port Jackson in 1795, included a large number of Muslim sailors. Meanwhile, at least eight convicts of Arab descent arrived in Australia.

Australian Muslim historian Bilal Cleland acknowledges in his definitive history of Muslims in Australia:

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.

It was not until the 1820s that legislation discriminating against the followers of non-Anglican Christian sects was repealed. Sectarian prejudice prevailed in Australia, largely focused on a large group of descendants of Irish convicts whose loyalty to a bishop in Rome was often regarded of greater than to Queen and Country.

My own family lived in South Asia and then North America for some 18 months during the mid-1970s. I returned to a state school in Mr Howard's electorate in 1977, the only kid in the class who managed to combine brown skin with a strange name and a thick New Jersey accent! I was frequently teased and bullied.

Then one day walking home, I noticed the bullies were picking on a boy from a different school. Strangely, this boy had blonde hair, blue eyes and white skin. I wondered why he was being bullied by his own kind. The bullies provided a brief explanation: "He goes to Holy Spirit School!"

I went home and informed my mother of my discovery that you could get teased and bullied even if you were white. She responded by befriending all the Catholics in our neighbourhood. It was her way of showing solidarity with the oppressed!

With such a rich history of sectarianism, it's little wonder the Catholic religion is excluded from our "Judaeo-Christian" heritage. And as Australian journalist Laura Tingle told the ABC Compass programme on 1 April 2007:

The polling I think on both sides of politics is showing that particularly in NSW and particularly in the outer metropolitan seats in Sydney anti-Islamic feeling is now really white hot. And there's therefore a big dilemma for both sides of politics about the extent to which they exploit that.

Sectarian feelings are being exploited by both politicians and clergy, including by clergy of faiths excluded from the list. Australian Catholic Cardinal Pell can challenge Muslims as much as he likes, but the Howard Government's proposed citizenship test clearly suggests that Catholicism and the "Judaeo-Christian heritage" are mutually exclusive categories.

And try telling Australian non-Christians that their values aren't the same as Australian values. I'd love to see John Howard telling a group of turban-wearing Aussie-Punjabi banana farmers from the NSW Central Coast town of Woolgoolga that Guru Nanak's monotheistic message has no relevance to Australian values.

Of course, all this doesn't mean spiritual values are irrelevant. After all, 160 years before the First Fleet arrived, Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandes de Queiros came across an island he presumed to be the "Great South Land", naming it La Austrialia del Espiritu Santo (Land of the Holy Spirit).

Then again, one wonders whether the views of a Portuguese Catholic would matter in 21st century Judaeo-Christian Australia!

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer and associate editor of This article was first published in the Brunei Times on 29 May 2007. Another version also appeared on the Online Opinion portal on 30 May 2007.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Devoted blog for media criticism ...

Just a brief announcement to advise readers that from now on, all criticism and comment specifically on media coverage of issues will be posted on the MediaMullah blog.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Monday, May 28, 2007

Some thoughts on Jackie Kelly's retirement ...

Jackie Kelly’s departure from the Parliament at the next election will mean more than just the loss of a genuinely decent and hard-working Western Sydney local member.

Kelly’s election and her defeat of former Hawke Minister Ross Free in the 1996 election was a surprise to everyone involved in that campaign (including no doubt Ms Kelly herself and her local branches). She then faced a by-election, managing to attract Liberal Party apparatchiks of all factions and from across the state to rally behind her.

Some friends and I stayed up all night the night before, guarding the polling booths to ensure our posters weren’t ripped down. In the end, the ALP chaps left our posters alone, though I did see a few “Australians Against Further Immigration” corflute signs lying around the road outside St Marys Primary School.

The following night, as the results came in, we cheered like nuts when the extent of increase in the swing toward her became apparent.

Ask any current or former Liberal Party member and they will agree with my assessment that Kelly was the most un-politician-like politician the Party has ever sent to Canberra. I hope it doesn’t sound too sentimental for me to say that she was one of those people who had little concern for political spin, who spoke her mind and simultaneously spoke from the heart. I think that quality of hers genuinely resonated with her electorate and with voters in general.

And it wasn’t as if she was incapable of spin. After all, before entering Parliament, ms Kelly was a highly accomplished military lawyer.

She was herself relatively conservative and a firm Howard loyalist. Yet she also was supportive of more women getting into Parliament, even if they were from the small “l” side of the party. She openly came out and supported the preselection and then election of the small “l” Gladys Berejiklian to the NSW State seat of Willoughby on Sydney’s North Shore.

Indeed, Kelly’s greatest achievement within the Liberal Party organisation was to remain aloof of all factionalism in the party. She refused to allow any of her staff to do factional work, and factional hacks who tried using a job in her office for this purpose were quickly shown the door. Kelly’s simple philosophy was that both wings were needed to fly the Liberal plane through the former Labor heartlands of Western Sydney. Many of the factional hacks I worked with were not impressed with Kelly’s blanket refusal to keep factionalism out of her office.

Parliament will soon lose a thoroughly decent individual who wasn’t interested in putting false gloss on her words. Kelly first got elected almost by "fluke". Yet by her hard work, Kelly turned a fluke into a safe Liberal seat. If it was indeed a fluke, I really do hope more electorates produce more such flukes!

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Saturday, May 26, 2007

CRIKEY: Daily Tele damns an entire religion with a (bracketed) word

The editorial thick-Sheiks at Sydney’s tabloid Daily Telegraph yesterday issued a fatwa declaring that Islamic taxi-drivers are anti-guide dog.

Yesterday’s editorial, entitled "Faith dogged by shame’s shadow", concerned a story about Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commissioner Graeme Innes’ difficulties having his guide dog ride with him in a taxi to and from work.

The actual report was entitled "Taxi drivers refusing to carry blind passengers" said the following about Commissioner Innes and Sydney cabbies ...

Human Rights Commissioner refused service Blind being told 'against religion' to carry dogs NSW Taxi Council says problem 'worse in Melbourne'

TAXI drivers regularly refuse to carry blind passengers with guide dogs - including Australia's Human Rights Commissioner - with many citing religious reasons, or other excuses like allergies.

Human Rights and Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes, who is blind and reliant on his guide dog Jordie, is a regular Sydney cab user and said he was refused service on average once a month, including twice in two days recently.

He has been told on a number of occasions that it would be against a driver's religion to allow a dog in the cab.

Mr Innes has also been refused by drivers claiming to be allergic to dogs - or afraid of them - and was even left clutching at air on busy Market St by one belligerent driver who told him he had to take the non-existent cab in front ...

Mr Innes was compelled to speak out after the Daily Telegraph last week revealed how an intellectually impaired man had been slapped with $1000 in train fare evasion fines even though he cannot understand what the offence is.

He called for better training for all front-line public transport staff in NSW in dealing with disabled passengers.

"I'm a lawyer and I know exactly what my rights are so I force the issue but my concern is for those for whom a refusal can be a damaging experience and discouraging," Mr Innes.
Notice how no specific religion has been mentioned.

Here’s what Commissioner Innes told me on the morning of Friday 25 May 2007:

If religion was used as an excuse by a cab driver, it was maybe mentioned once out of twenty times. The cab driver never mentioned any particular religion and just said it was for religious reasons. I never mentioned any specific religion and never intended to cast aspersions on any religion. I have spoken to the Telegraph editor yesterday and expressed my concerns about how the editorial focussed on a particular sector of society while I expressed frustration with taxi drivers across the board.
The Tele report cited Vision Australia’s policy and advocacy head Michael Simpson:

Mr Innes yesterday received the backing of Vision Australia (VA), which said taxi drivers refusing to carry blind passengers with guide dogs happened with "too much regularity".

VA policy and advocacy head Michael Simpson said that the problem was worse in the Sydney metropolitan area where there were more drivers unwilling to carry dogs based on Muslim objections.

"It is fair to say that the (Islamic) religion has made the problem worse in the metropolitan areas than regional areas, where I've found taxi drivers are generally excellent," he said.

Mr Simpson, who has been blind for 30 years but uses a cane instead of a guide dog, said he was refused service at the airport because his two companions had dogs.

"We asked the driver for his accreditation number and he gave us the wrong one," he said.

"It was only because an airline staff member had accompanied us that we got the right number and could properly complain about being refused."
Has Mr Simpson mentioned religion? Yes he had. But read his quotations carefully. Notice how the name of a particular religion has been inserted.

I presume there isn’t much difference between how lawyers and journalists interview witnesses. In my 12-plus years in the law, I’ve never interviewed anyone who used brackets in their speech. I’ve seen brackets appear on SBS subtitles. If Michael Simpson is a native English speaker, and if he intended to mention a specific religion, he’d have said so.

The religion’s name is in the brackets because the story’s writer or editor inserted it, enabling Mufti Penberthy or one of his junior sheiks to issue the following editorial fatwa:

IN OUR pluralist and inclusive society, we accept cultural differences, and we value diversity.

And we believe in equality of opportunity - so that every member of the community is given a fair go irrespective of their age, their sex, their religious or cultural convictions, their physical capabilities and limitations.

That's our shared ideology for an equitable and decent society.

But there are limits to what we should be expected to tolerate. Some things are intolerable.

Such as the treatment regularly meted out to Human Rights and Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes.

By a bitter irony, Mr Innes - who happens also to be a lawyer - has himself been the victim of a particularly offensive and insensitive form of discrimination.

For Mr Innes is also blind and travels with his guide dog Jordie. But as often as once a month, Mr Innes is refused service by cab drivers on the basis that Jordie is unclean and some sort of affront to their faith.

Their faith? Islam - it goes without saying.

Now today, in all likelihood, there will be a response from moderate Muslims saying that taxi drivers guilty of that disgraceful offence against common decency and humanity should have known better, that they are wrong in their extremist interpretation of Islamic lore, and that they should apologise and mend their ways.

At least, it is to be hoped that such a response might be forthcoming. And if it does, it will be no more than we have a right to expect.

The great pity is that there is a need for such a response in the first place - a pity it is possible for such a shocking and degrading misapprehension to be held in the first place.

For the people who have refused to assist Mr Innes - who was only asking, after all, that they fulfil their professional obligation - have shamed themselves, and shamed their religion.

And if any suggestion is allowed to remain that such conduct is somehow acceptable under Islam, that shame will endure.
If the whole issue was about Islam, why didn’t Messrs Innes and Simpson just say it? Maybe because they know something I also know – that Islam isn’t the only religious tradition whose ceremonial and hygiene rules generally forbid proximity to dogs. Fear of dogs is common among Middle Eastern and African cultures.

So why is the Tele pretending it’s all about Islam? Why does their editorial read like so many of the comments left on the Tele Opinion Editor’s blog?

And more importantly, why did the Tele put words into the mouth of a Human Rights Commissioner as if to suggest he shares a common sectarian agenda?

A shorter version of this was first published in the Crikey! daily alert for Friday 25 May 2007.
© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

A question to Andrew Bolt ...

Some readers will be aware that Melbourne tabloid columnist Andrew Bolt also maintains a blog. One need only visit his blog to discover some extremely vitriolic comments which he moderates and allows airing, especially when such comments involve using the extreme actions of a minority of people to attack an entire group.

Recently, in relation to this entry, I sent Andrew the following note. I'm not sure if he will post it. My previous experience has been that he tends not to post letters that challenge the underlying assumptions of his argument.

Anyway, here goes ...

Andrew, I realise that criticising religion is quite ok in this context. However, as a matter of curiosity, have you ever allowed such fervent criticism on your blogs of non-Islamic faiths? For example, have you ever used the extreme actions of a minority of Israelis to invite readers to post negative and derogatory comments about Jewish theology or Jews in general? Or is this something reserved for Islam?

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Corrective Services Boss Accuses Al-Qaeda of Promoting Lebanese Nationalism at Goulburn Super-Max!

If you believe everything you read in Sunday newspapers, we should all be grateful that David Hicks (or Muhammad Dawood, for those still deny David has left the faith)won’t be held at Goulburn Super-Max. Imagine Hicks joining forces with those nasty Aboriginal Muslim terrorists.

The Sun-Herald claims to have uncovered ...

[c]hilling evidence … that some of the state's most dangerous prisoners have become devotees of terrorism after converting to Islam.

Corrective Services knew they were onto something when they found ...

a hand-drawn gang logo was found in Hamzy's cell bearing the words ‘assassins australia FFL’ with depictions of AK-47 assault rifles. Checks by Department of Corrective Services security officers found FFL stood for ‘Freedom Fighters Lebanon’.

Ron Woodham claims this is smoking kebab evidence ...

that prison authorities were not targeting Hamzy because of his religion … Hamzy's defenders should look at this evidence closely, as he is clearly talking the rhetoric of a terrorist.

Apparently these Islamist terrorist wannabes have discovered that their Uncle Usama is a hige fan of Lebanese nationalism. Yeah, right. Try telling that to people in Tripoli, Beirut and other Lebanese cities, where the Lebanese Army are currently involved in street battles with a pro-al-Qaeda militia called Fatah Islam.

I wasn’t there at the time, but I somehow doubt the 9/11 hijackers were singing the Lebanese national anthem on their way to their demented martyrdom. In fact, I’m not sure if al-Qaeda ideology finds room for showing nationalist sentiment for a country whose legal system is based on a mixture of Ottoman, canon and French law and whose confessional parliamentary system reserves seats for persons from Lebanon’s various Christian, Shia and Druze communities. I somehow doubt any of Lebanon’s Christian presidents were known to have strong links with the al-Qaeda leadership.

Either that, or Mr Woodham has been relying too much on Stewie Griffin’s expert guide to spotting al-Qaeda terrorists.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Sunday, May 20, 2007

OPINION: Australians shrug off inflammatory racism

The phrase "only in America" is often used Downunder to scoff at the eccentricity of Americans. But sometimes American media and politicians show more good sense than eccentricity.

In one incident involving racism and sexism of a major media personality, the Yanks have certainly shown more good sense than the Aussies.

In the United States, popular talkback host Don Imus soon discovered the cost of making racist and sexist slurs. After describing the mostly black women's basketball team at Rutgers University as "nappy-headed hos", civil rights and anti-racism campaigners immediately went into action. They could tell a slur when they heard one. They knew that the term "nappy" was used to describe the tightly-curled natural hair texture of many African-Americans.

Rallies and protests were organised, one led by African-American civil rights leader Al Sharpton outside the NBC offices. Sharpton told protesters ...

None of us has the right to use the public airways in the way that Mr Imus has done.

Later, in an interview with Imus, Sharpton expressed the views of many Americans:

You have anchormen from network news, you have senators, you have presidential candidates that come on your show. Are we saying that it is acceptable in the middle of these kinds of candidates and anchormen for you to call my daughter a ho?
Major corporations withdrew millions of dollars in advertising, and big names Procter & Gamble and General Motors pulled advertisements from Imus' show.

Imus was no small-time talkback host - politicians have used his programme to announce their presidential nominations.

Imus has been dropped from radio and other programmes.

Let's compare the treatment of Imus with his Sydney equivalent, shock-jock Channel 9 Today Show editorial commentator Alan Jones.

In the lead-up to the December 2005 race riots in the southern Sydney suburb of Cronulla, Jones and his colleagues on Sydney talkback radio station 2GB made a series of broadcasts which contributed to the worst race riots experienced in Sydney.

The Cronulla riots were brought about by rumours that Middle East youths from outside the area had assaulted two lifeguards.

In the days leading up to the riots, Jones and his colleagues read out inflammatory and racist e-mails and fielded racist phone calls.

Jones didn't use his delay switch to stop the broadcast of racist slurs and threats of violence. He seemed oblivious to the racism inherent in the emails he read out, sometimes even endorsing their contents.

In one broadcast, Jones endorsed the view that ...

... biker gangs be present at Cronulla railway station when these Lebanese thugs arrive ... it would be worth the price of admission to watch these cowards scurry back on to the train for the return trip to their lairs ...
and that ...

... we don't have Anglo-Saxon kids out there raping women in western Sydney.
One letter Jones read on air said ...

These Middle Eastern people must be treated with a big stick. It's the only thing they fear. They don't fear fines and they laugh at the courts.
One of Jones' colleagues described Lebanese as being "inbred" and having low IQs.

Unlike Imus, Jones' remarks have been commented on by an official law enforcement report and an independent commercial radio watchdog. The Australian Communications and Media Authority found that Alan Jones, on the eve of the Cronulla riots, made comments "likely to encourage violence or brutality" or "vilify" people of Middle East background.

Imus was apologetic about his on-air slurs, but Jones chose to pass judgment on the authority. He made a series of deeply offensive personal on-air attacks on authority chairman Chris Chapman, saying he "had more jobs than I've had feeds". It takes a high level of hubris to do this before the authority had even issued its punishment.

But then why should Jones feel threatened? Unlike their American counterparts' responses to Imus, Australian politicians are rushing to Jones' defence.

Labor Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd said there was nothing in the authority's decision that would cause him to stop appearing on the Jones show.

And Communications Minister Helen Coonan, after praising Jones, called for commercial radio to suggest changes to the code so that it ...

... best reflects community standards.
Prime Minister John Howard suggested that Jones ...

... represents the views of a lot of people on a lot of issues.
That suggests that the Government considers that a broadcasting code should allow broadcasters to incite violence and brutality against certain undesirable ethnic groups as this reflects community standards and is in accord with what a lot of Australians think.

No major Australian companies have even threatened to withdraw advertising or sponsorship from Jones' programme or from his radio station.

Yes, yes. I can hear from my Sydney office what you are all saying in New Zealand: "Only in Australia."

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer and writer. First published in the NZ Herald on 10 May 2007.
Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Testing citizenship ...

The Herald-Sun yesterday provided a list of sample questions for the newly established citizenship test, inviting readers to

... [c]heck out how you would do on the citizenship test.

That’s exactly what I did. Question 5 asks ...

5. Australia's political system is a ...

a. Parliamentary democracy

b. Monarchy

c. Dictatorship

d. Socialist state

I doubt the good folks at Australians for Constitutional Monarchy would be happy with “monarchy” and “parliamentary democracy” being mutually exclusive options.

ACM would argue that Australia is simultaneously a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy (and so a monarchy all the same). Further, the Australian constitution doesn’t make provision for such a role.

In this respect, Question 9 might also be problematic. That question reads ...

9. Who is Australia's head of state?

a. Prime Minister John Howard

b. Queen Elizabeth II

c. Governor General Michael Jeffery

d. Premier Steve Bracks

Then again, I don't recall the Constitution mentioning the Prime Minister. And we all know he exists, though he continues to perform many roles normally reserved for the G-G by convention.

What will no doubt disturb many non-Christians (and probably many Catholics) is Question 15 which reads ...

15. Australia's values are based on the ...

a. Teachings of the Koran

b. The Judaeo-Christian tradition

c. Catholicism

d. Secularism

The categories of “Teachings of the Koran”, “The Judeo-Christian Tradition” and “Catholicism” are treated as mutually exclusive. The correct answer is likely the second option.

But try telling Jewish historians about the “Judeo-Christian tradition”. The whole notion of Judaism playing a key role in the development of Western European culture seems strange considering it's only in the last 60 years, following the horrors of the Holocaust, that Western Christendom has finally faced up to the reality of anti-Semitism. If anything, the role of the “Judeo” has tended to be that of cultural and political punching bag of the “Christian”.

In fact, it’s arguable that Judaism as faith and culture has far more in common with Islam than with Christianity. I discovered this at age 7 when my family moved to Princeton , New Jersey after spending a year in Pakistan . I’d forgotten much of my English, and found a strong cultural affinity with boys in my school who wore skull caps, who refused to eat pork and who learned how to read a book in a language that sounded a lot like Arabic and whose script was also read from right to left.

In terms of theology, both Jews and Muslims (unlike mainstream Trinitarian Christians) are strict Unitarians. In terms of religious structure, both Judaism and Islam have a sacred law. Rabbis and imams play similar role as jurists of the sacred law. Like Muslims, Jews have no priestly hierarchy or clerical class.

Further, the correct answer implies that Catholicism also falls outside the Judeo-Christian tradition. Are we going back to the days when Catholics were second class citizens? Or has Catholicism ceased to be part of Christianity?

The Judeo-Christian tradition is largely an American post-War invention. If the new citizenship test is designed to promote historically, culturally and philosophically spurious ideas, perhaps we should skip it altogether.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Monday, May 14, 2007

Another Raphael Israeli?

This Sunday, Australian Prime Minister John Howard will receive an award from the Australian branch Jewish National Fund. The JNF dinner in Melbourne will feature as its guest speaker one Brigette Gabriel.

Ms Gabriel is a member of the JNF’s speakers’ bureau. She is a journalist and author of a book entitled BECAUSE THEY HATE: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America.

The title of the book reflects Gabriel’s main thesis – that Islam and its presumed followers are a threat to the United States and the West in general. Gabriel appears to be a supporter of one of the more radical sides of the Lebanese civil war.

In the JNF’s official biography, Gabriel is described as an innocent victim of the

... war ... pitting the combined forces of militant Muslims and Palestinians against the Christian Lebanese.

Gabriel’s Lebanese upbringing is described as the

... Arabic (sic.) society, culture, and media [that] taught her that Israel and Jews were the devil.

In other words, the entire Lebanese civil war was little more than Palestinians and Lebanese Muslims attacking Christians. One doubts too many Lebanese Christians would agree with this version of events which effectively whitewashes Israel’s lengthy occupation and successive incursions that have killed tens of thousands. Further, even someone with the most elementary knowledge of Lebanese affairs will know that neither Muslims nor Christians were united against each other.

The biography describes how a

... barrage of Muslim rockets exploded in her house leaving her wounded and buried under the rubble.

I wasn’t aware that rockets actually had any religion.

Another biography of Gabriel is more telling. It describes the Lebanese civil war as

Lebanon … under Islamic attack.

Gabriel expressed her views on Islam and Muslims in an article penned for the far-Right She dismissed the diversity of the Muslim world as

... a canvas of hate decorated by different nationalities who share one common ideology of hate, bigotry and intolerance derived from one source: authentic Islam ... They slither and they hiss, and they would eat each other alive, but they will unite in a hideous mass to achieve their common goal of imposing Islam on the world.

As if to underscore her expertise in Muslim affairs, Gabriel engages in name-dropping:

Islamic radicals are instigating and perpetuating terrorist campaigns, insurgencies, civil wars, minority suppression, ethnic cleansing and/or genocide in Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Chad, Chechnya, Dagestan, Denmark, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Gambia, Great Britain, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kashmir, Kenya, Kosovo, Lebanon, Macedonia, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Netherlands, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, territories administered by the “Palestinian Authority,” Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Somalia, Spain, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, The United States of America, Yemen, and Zanzibar. The rest of the world is held hostage to fear.

Gabriel is committed to defending democratic freedoms by fighting democracy and civil liberties:

Tougher laws must be implemented that protect our right to life and liberty, and if that means a declaration of war putting other rights on hold for a while, so be it!

Gabriel’s anti-terror strategy is quite straight forward.

In my opinion here are several initiatives that I believe will protect us in the homeland.

- Close our borders
- Reform the Immigration and naturalization service (INS):
- Increase human intelligence
- Profile, Profile and Profile
- Control education of foreign students of hostile countries
- Develop alternative energy sources
- Silence any teaching of hate and intolerance against our country

According to one conservative promoter of the book, Gabriel describes the following frightful code of hatred used commonly by Muslims across the world:

The common phrase among Muslims, "First comes Saturday, then comes Sunday" - and why it bodes ill for Jews and Christians ...

I've never realised that getting the right order of days in the week was a sign of global Islamist fundamentalist terrorist extremist jihadist dhimmitudist taqiyya-ist jihadist jerka-jerkist terror. I guess I'd better not talk about the days of the week next time I find myself going through airport security.

Of course, one wonders why a prominent Jewish organization would want to invite as its guest someone who spends so much of her time attacking another Abrahamic faith. You’d think Jewish leaders would be sensitive to someone who promotes the kinds of racial and religious profiling that affect observant Jews as much as observant Muslims (not to mention Sikhs and others).

One also wonders why John Howard would want to speak at a gathering where such views are being promoted. Does Mr Howard endorse racial and religious profiling? Would Mr Howard have accepted an invitation to a function where the main speaker was calling for similar measures against Jews?

If Ms Gabriel’s animosity was limited to extremist Muslims who use religion as a cover for violence and political upheaval, I’m sure the majority of Muslims would be happy to support her. However, it’s obvious Ms Gabriel believes ordinary Muslims are the problem, and that “authentic Islam” promotes violence and hatred.

Ms Gabriel is entitled to her views. The JNF’s Australian arm is entitled to promote such views. Unfortunately, by hosting such a Muslim-hating propagandist, the JNF are disrupting the good work which other Jewish organisations are doing toward building bridges with members of the Islamic and other faiths.

Perhaps an even more vexing issue is again that of ministerial discretion, something I've discussed elsewhere. The Minister has residual discretion to refuse a visa to someone on general grounds which Mr Andrews has described here in the following terms:

It's unrelated to religion, it's related to whether there is a risk to our national security, whether there is a risk to vilification of segments of the Australian community, inciting discord, these are the sorts of criteria which are looked at under these provisions ...

One wonders, therefore, what Kevin Andrews or his predecessor was thinking when granting a visa to someone who promotes hatred toward substantial sections of the Australian community. Does it mean I can get a visa if I promote hatred toward certain kinds of Lebanese and all kinds of Muslims? If I accuse every single Muslim, whether he be a prominent banker, an AFL footballer or even a lawyer known to be capable of becoming intoxicated just by being in the presence of alcoholic fumes of being part of the grand conspiracy to have Australia conquered by the Republic of Jerkajerkistan, can I expect the Minister to exercise his or her discretion in my favour?

And on one final note, here's a terrorist we could all learn to love ...

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Saturday, May 05, 2007

And you thought Melanie Phillips was nutty ...

Some readers may recall British tabloid columnist Melanie Phillips as author of a great work of conspiratorial fiction entitled Londonistan, which I reviewed here for the Canberra Times.

Last night, Phillips was interviewed on ABC's Lateline. Phillips was upto her nutty best again, accusing British intelligence authorities of compromising security by failing to adopt her pet prejudices.

I mean we have a very, very serious problem in Britain of domestic home-grown Muslim boys who are turning to terror. There are a lot of them.

Yes, Melanie, there are lots of Muslim boys in the UK. Apparently, MI5 and other security services haven't realised just how many Muslim boys there are in the UK. Hence her comments ...

But I have to say also, I think that, you know, they're on a very steep learning curve, our security service. And I don't think that they were up to speed at that stage.

Phillips then describes a classic mistake in how officials define "moderate" Muslims ...

I mean I think there is a great problem here in that there's a tendency in the British official class to define a moderate as somebody who doesn't actually believe or support, support the blowing up of British citizens.

So Melanie, where do you draw the line? Are you suggesting that people who don't believe in or support terrorism aren't moderate enough? Phillips then goes onto cite one study that suggests ...

... roughly around a third of British Muslims wish to live under Sharia law in Britain. Now that means that they don't wish to live under the conventions and laws of Western civilisation. Now to me, that is not moderate, that is extreme.

Yes, it is extreme if your knowledge of sharia is based on tabloid columnists. Phillips' problem is that she regards sharia as little more than allegedly sacred surgery, not acknowledging that for many Muslims, recognition of certain aspects of sharia is largely limited to equal treatment for non-interest financial products and commercial arbitration clauses.

Then again, Phillips has next-to-zero understanding of the law. In her book, she claims judges are undermining the common law system. How so? By developing new precedents and understandings in the interpretation of human rights legislation. So when judges make law, it undermines a system of judge-made law.

Phillips then effectively suggests the need to consider British Muslims being deported from Britain.

We have 2 million Muslims at a conservative estimate in Britain. In absolute terms that is a horrific number of individuals in Britain, British citizens who hold views that are, in my view, are demonstrably extreme. And the terrible thing is that those kind of views of hostility to Britain, to the West, conspiracy theories that say we are under attack, that provides, that swells the sea in which terrorism swims. And that's the real problem. We haven't begun to kind of hold back the tide of that sea, to kind of drain those poisoned waters.

I'm not quite sure what Virginia Trioli made of this diatribe of hatred. She certainly didn't challenge Phillips' assertions. I guess that's a reflection of the fact that we are living in an age when you can say things about Muslims that 65 years ago Europeans could also say about Jews.

The ABC does have a policy of avoiding bias at all costs. On that basis, Lateline should consider interviewing a more balanced and nuanced voice. Perhaps someone like Karen Armstrong or Robert Pape or Kaled Abou el Fadl.

Then again, if you though Phillips was nutty, check out this lawyer and blogger from the United States. I'm surprised she doesn't have Phillips on her blogroll.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Mufti Heffernan?

The following letter was sent to the Fairfax broadsheets ...

I have a solution for voters unsatisfied with Howard's leniency toward Bill Heffernan. They should write to the Australian National Imams' Council seeking Heffernan's immediate appointment as Australia's next Mufti. I'm sure Howard will then be happy to repeatedly punish the recalcitract senator.

Friday, May 04, 2007

CRIKEY: Bill Heffernan & The NSW Right of the Liberal Party

The Oz reports today on how members of the PM’s faction, the NSW Right, have asked him to reign in the maverick Senator Bill Heffernan after his Julia Gillard comments.
THE political walls are closing in on Bill Heffernan, with his own faction, the powerful NSW Right, demanding John Howard drag the senator into line after his slur on Julia Gillard.

Senior faction members, furious over his clumsy handling of a row over the Liberal Party's NSW Senate ticket, are demanding the Prime Minister replace Senator Heffernan as his representative on the NSW state executive.

They claim his bully-boy tactics, pursued in the Prime Minister's name, are destabilising the party with a federal election imminent.

"There is a strong feeling that Bill ought to go back to the farm," a senior member of the faction said yesterday. The attacks came as Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd questioned Mr Howard's character because of his unwillingness to crack down on Senator Heffernan over his claim that Ms Gillard, the Labor deputy leader, was unfit to lead the nation because she was "deliberately barren" ...

The NSW branch also has been thrown into turmoil by Senator Heffernan's confrontational tactics and his attempts to block the party's country vice-president, Scott McDonald, from contesting for a spot on the Senate ticket. With the Right poised to challenge sitting senator Marise Payne with Mr McDonald, Senator Heffernan tried to scuttle the preselection process at state executive. The Right upped the ante against Senator Heffernan yesterday, threatening to block Senator Payne's endorsement when the 120-member preselection panel meets next month.

This must be a recent development. The NSW Right’s main number-cruncher, Nick Campbell, is a former Heffernan staffer and has been responsible for orchestrating the knifing of just about any and every Right member critical of Heffernan.

The Oz attributes the most recent anti-Heffernan push to his intervention over the preselection of the talented smal-"l" liberal Senator Marise Payne. The fact is that many in the Right still hate Payne more than they love Heffernan.

Indeed, many of us in the Right blamed Heffernan for Payne’s preselection in the first place. Payne’s main opponent in her successful 1997 preselection was conservative dentist and monarchist Abraham Constantin. Heffernan refused to back Constantin after he ran against Heffernan in an earlier preselection. On that occasion, Constantin supporters were receiving all kinds of threats from Nick Campbell over their refusal to support "Heffo".

Indeed, the anti-Constantin push was just one example of where Heffernan and his supporters have done deals with "the Left" against other members of the Right. She may have thanked him in her maiden speech, but current NSW Right Senator Connie Wells was opposed by "Heffo" in her many preselection attempts. This included her 1995 pitch for the federal seat of Lowe (where she was defeated by then-Strathfield State MP Paul Zammitt) and at least one pitch at the Senate.

"Heffo" is also believed to have been behind the rolling of popular Cook MP Stephen Mutch. In the 1996 election, Mutch scored the highest swing of any Federal MP in NSW. He later lost his preselection to now-retiring Bruce Baird.

Heffernan hasn’t had the best relationship with NSW powerbroker David Clarke, whose frequently refrain to me and others in the Right was ...
You just can’t trust that Heffernan fellow!

As the PM’s representative on State Executive, a major part of Heffernan’s role has been to rein in the Right when they look like opposing a decision of the PM which the Right will find unpalatable. If Marise Payne’s endorsement pitches Heffernan and Nick Campbell against Clarke, factional hell will break loose. Hardly what Howard needs on the eve of a federal election.

An edited version of this was first published in the Crikey daily alert for Friday 4 May 2007.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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Get Flocked

Senator Bill Hilaly? Or Mufti Tajeddine Heffernan?

I’m so bloody sick and tired of pointing out the inconsistencies and double standards of members of the Howard government and the non-Howard-haters (or should that read Howard-sycophants?) in the media. It’s all beginning to sound like a broken record.

I’m also sick and tired of typing the letters H, I, L, A, L and Y in sequence. But allow me one more time (hopefully the last!).

Bill Heffernan’s infantile and sexist outburst at Julia Gillard shows that, amongst Howard loyalists, Hilalyism is alive and well in the Liberal Party.

The difference between Hilaly and Heffo is that Hilaly (and those whom the PM deems Hilaly leads) cops both barrels of the PM’s rhetorical flourish. Heffo gets a small smack on the wrists. Heffo’s Liberal Party troglodytes who share his views get off scot-free.

Perhaps Hilaly should join the Liberal Party. Then again, they already have enough religious zealots ...

© Irfan Yusuf 2007