Wednesday, October 31, 2007

UPDATE: Recently published shite ...

 I've had a few things appear here and there of late.

The Age ran something about unfair dismissal laws.

The death of John Mustafa Ilhan touched many Australians. My own humble reflections were published in the Canberra Times here and on ABC Unleashed here.

ABC's new Opinion page also ran a piece here on Christian and Muslim thick-Sheiks stuffing up on matters political.

Finally, the good folk at New Matilda ran my recollections on Lyenko Urbanchich and the 2001 Federal Election here.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

ELECTION: Ian Crossland on (gay) blokes and (Liberal) chicks ...

According to The Age on October 25, National Party candidate for Leichhardt Ian Crossland is determined to "kick arse" in Parliament, even if it means crossing the floor in the interests of his constituents. Too bad his kicking won't be on behalf of some of his less heterosexual constituents ...

Mr Crossland, 57, who is battling to replace gay rights champion and retiring Liberal MP Warren Entsch in the northern Queensland seat of Leichhardt, does not see removing discrimination against same-sex couples as a priority.

He said yesterday that he was firmly against gay marriages.
Asked whether — like Mr Entsch — he supported removing laws that discriminated against same-sex couples on issues such as superannuation, Mr Crossland said: "I think there's more money to be given to the pensioners and aged care and stuff like that, without worrying about that side of grants or whatever."

Crossland used to sell used cars in Cairns. He revels in political incorrectness. Nothing wrong with that. But plenty wrong with some of his attitudes toward less ... er ... masculine Australians. Including his Liberal Party opponent Charlie McKillop.

And it seems Crossland isn't alone. The Courier Mail reports on October 18 ...

Crossland's error was to speak what many Nationals have been whispering in far north Queensland. Two senior party figures have confided to this column they didn't think voters on the Cape would take to a woman.
Mark Vaile wasn't too thrilled. Mal Brough didn't seem to mind, reminding listeners on ABC radio:

She used to actually work on a prawn trawler. She'd take most blokes and sit them on their backsides. I'd be a bit wary if I was the Nationals candidate.
She sounds like she could easily kick Ian Crossland's arse anyday.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

RACISM: Tim Blair's buddies pay tribute to John Ilhan ...

I've received some rather nasty and racist comments about the late John Ilhan, all of which focus on his ethnicity and religion. I've had to reject all of them.

In true Daily Telegraph style, opinion editor Tim Blair has allowed a few on his blog. Such as this ...

A sad day, we have lost the only sensible Muslim in Australia.
Posted by
Bill Calvin on
2007 10 23 at 01:04 AM •
I guess Bill Calvin doesn't rate Mrs Ilhan all that highly. And then there is this ...

Don’t it figure? I guy like this buys the farm at 42, yet oxygen theives such as Keysar Trad continue to thrive. Cruel joke.Posted by Texas Bob on 2007
10 23 at 04:34 AM •
Still, on balance, the comments on Blair's blog have been surprisingly positive.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

RACISM: From killing Muslims to perfecting Jews ...

Ann Coulter is neo-Conservative America’s thick-Sheik extraordinairre. She suffers from chronic foot-in-mouth disease, repeatedly and deliberately saying things to offend. Yet she also has a loyal cheersquad ready to defend her at all costs.

On October 8, Coulter appeared on CNBC’s Big Ideas program and suggested that American Jews needed to be converted to Christianity en masse so as to become “perfected”. Charming.

Still, it’s not as bad as what she wrote the day after September 11. On that occasion, Coulter had this foreign policy suggestion: “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity”. She also called for mass deportation of immigrants.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Coulter then wrote in her 2005 book Godless: The Church of Liberalism that September 11 widows were ...
... self-obsessed women ... These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them ... I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much.
Coulter was also caught out using a speech to the 34th Conservative Political Action Conference to describe Democratic Party presidential candidate John Edwards as a “faggot”. Mr & Mrs Edwards soon got their revenge, raising $100,000 in “Coulter cash” for his campaign.

But getting back to her “perfected Jews” theory, Coulter has actually been defended by some neo-Con Jewish commentators. These include Dick Prager who says Coulter’s evangelical Christian supporters are Israel’s best friends.

Many Israelis beg to differ. Writing under the headline "Ann Coulter's dream of a Jew-free America", Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston wites ...

This month, Coulter waded into the mess first made by Republican White House hopeful John McCain, when he referred to America as a nation founded on the principles of Christianity, indicating that he would prefer to see a fellow Christian in the White House.

Barely a week after McCain's comments, Coulter told an exasperated Jewish talk-show host that in her dreams, heaven - for that matter, America - is a place where everyone is Christian.

Where would the Jews have gone? She went on to explain that that Jews needed to convert to Christians in order to be "perfected," noting that Christians have a "fast track" to God.
Burston recognises the parallel existence of Coulter's anti-Semitism and Muslim-phobia ...
Until recently, I failed to take Ann Coulter seriously. I was wrong.

I was wrong to write off as mere stand-up racism her advice after the September 11 attacks ["We should require passports to fly domestically. Passports can be forged, but they can also be checked with the home country in case of any suspicious-looking swarthy males."]

I was wrong to write off as scattershot shtick her comments against women's right to vote, her suggestion that John Edwards was a "faggot" who should have been assassinated by terrorists, her depiction of Islam as a religion whose whose tenets are "along the lines of 'kill everyone who doesn't smell bad and doesn't answer to the name Mohammed.'"

I was wrong to see her as some highly intelligent, well-educated, perversely gifted panderer to the lower common denominator. I was wrong to see her as some overqualified infotainment shock jock. I should have taken her seriously.

Ann Coulter is my enemy. Ann Coulter is the kind of patriotic, persuasive, powerful American who is precisely what is wrong with America.

I'll never underestimate her again. Ann Coulter has a plan for the Jews. She has one for Muslims as well. And it's her people who are exactly the kind of Americans who could find the way to try to carry it out. (emphasis mine)
They question whether Coulter’s support for Israel should be enough for American Jews to ignore the anti-Semitic undertones of her remarks. Others recognise that far-Right Zionists who make alliances with Muslim-phobic evangelical Christians are harming Judaism and Zionism in the long run. As Ellen Horowitz writes ...
Coulter has always worn her cross on her sleeve (when she wears sleeves), but Jews never seem to notice these things until the crucifix is dangling within an inch of our eyes. In response to 9/11 she wrote, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity". But "them" wasn't us, and so we let it pass.

At a lecture at Northwestern University a few years back she declared: "This is a religious war, not against Islam but for Christianity, for a Christian nation ... The concept of equality, especially when it comes to gender equality, was not invented by Gloria Steinem. It was invented by Jesus Christ. As long as people look long enough, they will always come to Christianity." Good thing we weren't looking.

But Jews in the Diaspora are always shocked when they are finally reminded of who they are, and recent declarations of Christian nationalism by John McCain and Ann Coulter have stirred Lady Liberty's simmering melting pot and sensitivities. American Jews are feeling the heat.

Things are getting sticky for us Jews in Israel too. What was supposed to be a practical marriage of convenience to improve and strengthen our economic, political, and security standing in Israel, has been converted into a full blown love affair of biblical proportions. And our evangelical partners are pushing for a Judeo-Christian consummation -- a spiritual bonding -- of our relationship. Maybe we should have had a pre-nup drawn up before embarking on this precarious interfaith venture ...

Knowing what we now know about Coulter and company, do we really want to pursue theologically-based bonds with Christians who are so passionate about their beliefs? And if we do opt to continue our relationship, how far do we take it?

Should the Jewish people attempt to form a union with another faith whose members can't keep their mouths shut about what they perceive to be the sacred truth -- but which to us is utter and explosive blasphemy?

With headlines from major Christian Zionist and Jewish Messianic publications boasting that "Jews Beg Christians to Save the Temple Mount", it appears that we have been handed the short end of the grafted Judeo-Christian stick. (emphasis mine)
Many US-based Jewish organisations such as the Anti-Defamation League have also condemned Coulter.

But the folks at Rupert Murdoch’s FoxNews don’t seem to mind Coulter’s thinly-veiled anti-Semitism. Coulter continues to appear regularly on Fox. On her most recent appearance, Bill O’Reilly defended Coulter and said he didn’t really care about the comments. And the silence among Aussie News Limited media has been deafening. Go to the search feature of, type in “ann coulter” and you’ll see what I mean.

And as expected, Coulter’s supporters are using the classic thick-Sheik defence – that seen in their “proper” context, her remarks were not anti-Semitic or otherwise offensive. If Coulter spoke as much Arabic and as little English as many thick-Sheiks, I just might be tempted to believe them.

REFLECTION: Vale John Ilhan

John Ilhan died today of a suspected heart attack.
Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un.
(From God we come, to God we return.)

He was just 41 years old.

Here are a few of his statements ...
Loyalty first and foremost to Australia should also be remembered by some religious leaders, including some radical Muslim leaders in Australia, who pretend to speak for the faith, but instead promote intolerance and hatred.

My Muslim faith qualifies me to strongly denounce any racist and inflammatory comments made by any Muslim leaders because they perpetuate a stereotype that is unhelpful and dangerous ...

I love Australia for what it stands for. It embraces opportunity, inclusion and, most important of all, mateship. What Australia has taught me is that if you give something - like the hand of friendship or provide a service that fulfils a need - you will be repaid many times over. They say that America is the 'land of opportunity', but I say Australia is. I'm a good example - a working-class boy made good.
Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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Friday, October 19, 2007

CRIKEY: Why bagging The Chaser is bad policy

While the pollies and the tabloids have been going nuts over the ABC Chaser team’s celebrity obituary song, it seems the voters (or at least the viewers) couldn’t give a dead rat’s Channel-10-newsreader’s-husband.

When I last checked, some 74% of voters surveyed by News Limited didn’t find the song offensive. Now I know these polls are notoriously inaccurate, but they do illustrate that even tabloid readers are capable of seeing through a beat-up. And good on News Limited for reporting this fact.

What young voters might find offensive is politicians bagging one of their main election resources. On SBS's Insight recently, Jenny Brockie found a large number of young people get their information on politics from shows like The Chaser. Here’s an excerpt:

JENNY BROCKIE: … And I'm interested in how some of you are getting your information in the run-up to this election. Mitch Gray, you're 18, you're voting for the first time. Tell me how you found out about APEC?

MITCH GRAY: 'Chaser'. I subscribe to it by iTunes. I didn't know anything about it until I watched 'Chaser' and for me all you hear about it was in the news, in the papers, how they shut off the whole Sydney CBD centre and you watched 'Chaser' jump out of the cars, chuck a couple of Canadian flags in, got all the way in, thought, "Well, we can't keep going," turned around, and you think about that, security-wise, it just, it's sort of a bit disheartening.

JENNY BROCKIE: Alright, so that became a major source of information for you, a satire program.

MITCH GRAY: Yeah, you always hear them paying out Rudd, Howard, you know, channel companies, because their policies are wrong or they're bad and they test-drive and things like that. That's where I get all my political information from.

JENNY BROCKIE: Do people get their information from comedy? Yeah, how many of you? Yeah, Doug.

DOUG GAUL: Basically from the 'Chaser' as well and whatever I catch. I watch a little bit of news and, um, basically I just think that youth's exposure to politics is very minimal as you grow up. I think a lot of it has to do with the way that you grow up at home. There's not a lot at school so basically it's what you take on yourself and what your parents show you.

These results aren't surprising. In the US, a number of studies have shown that young news consumers get much of their info from The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. Howard and Rudd should remember that before they lash out on The Chaser as they did yesterday -- and this morning.

First published in the Crikey daily alert on 19 October 2007.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

COMMENT: So much for civil rights ...

A letter from Manny Waks, Executive Officer of the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation Commission, has been published on the Commision's website. The full letter can fe read here.

I found it interesting that Mr Waks uses his letter to justify the vilification of those deemed Muslim. I found it disturbing that such justification could be published on the website of an organisation that claims to fight for civil rights and to oppose racism and prejudice.

Particularly disturbing were these provocative references ...

... the anti-Muslim rhetoric is much more complex. For example, most, if not all, current terrorist attacks are being perpetrated by Muslims in the name of Islam.

Is Mr Waks seriously suggesting that "most, if not all current terrorist attacks are being perpetrated by Muslims in the name of Islam"? How, then, does he explain the fact that the vast majority of victims of terrorist attacks are Muslims? Does Islam teach its followers to kill each other? Does it teach its followers to kill themselves?

If a group of lunatics decides they wish to blow themselves up or fly jet airplanes into skyscrapers in the name of Islam, are we to accept thart their suicidal and homicidal tendencies represent orthodox or mainstream theology? Do we take for granted that the perpetrators of such violence represent genuine mainstream Islam?

And does Mr Waks suggest, since most terrorist attacks are carried out in the name of Islam, that therefore innocent people deemed Muslim and with no relationship to the attacks should just accept and live with anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions? What kind of civil rights does Mr Waks and his organisation advocate?

Mr Waks then efectively includes himself among those "serious commentators" who engage in anti-Muslim rhetoric.

... serious commentators do not simply poke fun at Muslim dietary laws or cite verses from the Koran. Many of us have genuine concerns regarding Islamic terrorism and the level of support this generates among ordinary Muslims.

Many of "us". Who is "us"? Does Mr Waks include himself in this "us"? Does he include his organisation? Does he include Jews in general?

And what evidence does he have to suggest that a large proportion of ordinary Muslims in Australia or indeed elsewhere support "Islamic terrorism"? And what is it about the terrorism that makes it "Islamic"? is it the fact that the overwhelming majority of victims are themselves Muslim? If this is the case, why would Muslims wish to support such violence?

Mr Waks really need to consider whether making such provocative pronouncements really furthers the cause of Jewish-Muslim dialogue. Either that, or he should reconsider whether he really is committed to fighting prejudice or whether his commitment is only selective.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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POLITICS: Riding the Brethren Express ...

Last year, Greens Senator Bob Brown called for a Senate inquiry into the political funding and other activities of the tiny Exclusive Brethren sect. During a passionate debate, Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz issued this warning to fellow Senators in mid-August 2006:
When the leader of a political party ... starts scapegoating religious minorities, the alarm bells of history should be ringing loud and clear.
Presumably Abetz was referring to Adolf Hitler and Jews. Or was that Billy Hughes and Catholics? Or John Howard and Muslims? Or Kevin Andrews and Sudanese Seventh Day Adventists? Who knows.

Last night, Four Corners wasn’t so much about persecuting religious minorities. Rather, it reported on how a small secretive sect with a membership of hardly 14,000 are able to gain access to government ministers and secure the kinds of legislative and policy exemptions other minorities (and indeed the majority of us) can only dream of – from special amendments in Work Choices regulations through to exemptions from teaching computing in schools.

What made last night’s episode so different was that current Brethren members spoke on camera. Their body language was even less convincing than their words. At the same time, the emphasis on the Brethren’s views on sexual morality deflected from their special treatment by conservative governments and their ‘brown paper bag’ political funding methods.

The program showed some of the campaign methos used by the Brethren, some of them potentially in breach of Australian, New Zealand and US electoral laws. The main Australian beneficiary of Brethren generosity was the very government happy to provide the Brethren with exemptions and concessions.

It was also interesting to note that senior Brethren leaders have long been admirers of John Howard, going back to his era as treasurer in the Fraser government:
The Brethren see John Howard basically as their hero. I mean he's, I know John Hales backed him from the 1970s when he was treasurer he was seen as the ideal candidate for prime ministership long before he was even prime minister.
One can only wonder how many Bennelong Liberal Party campaigns have received funding from the Brethren Express.

New Zealand journalist Nicky Hager blew the whistle on Brethren involvement in the 2005 New Zealand election. Yet in Australia, Brethren involvement in Liberal Party campaigns went back at the very latest to John Hewson’s 1993 Fightback! campaign. Not to mention the Brethren taking out a full-page advertisement in the New Yok Times in support of a Republican candidate.

The thing that really makes me pusstorf (as I’d say if I was a Kiwi) is that the Howard government is quite happy to demonise less resourced and organised minorities, accusing them of failure to integrate and adopt Australian values. Clearly what Sudanese refugees need to do is start breaching electoral laws and hand money to the Liberal Party. Preferably in paper bags.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

Monday, October 15, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Dirty politics across the ditch ...

The Hollow Men: A study in the politics of deception
Nicky Hager
Craig Potton Publishing, 352pp


Believe it or not, politics can get pretty interesting across the Tasman. Our Kiwistani cousins in Wellington have certainly mastered all those finer Machiavellian arts Canberrans are used to reading about in this newspaper.

And the issues fought over in Wellington ’s “beehive” (the affectionate name given by Kiwis to their parliament house – even the official government website address is are much the same. Last year, Peter Costello delivered some modest tax cuts. Within 2 months, New Zealand ’s ruling Labour-led coalition government delivered a budget with even smaller tax cuts.

It was a high point for opposition National Party leader Dr Don Brash, who used his budget reply speech to talk about Labour’s “Bondi budget”. To thundering applause and laughter from the Opposition benches, Brash declared:
Helen Clark and [NZ Treasurer] Michael Cullen clearly believe there is a place for tax cuts - it's called Australia.
That was June 2006. By November the National Party leader wasn’t sounding so … er … brash. The book that played a key role in his demise is the subject of this review.

The Hollow Men is the work of Nicky Hager, said to be one of New Zealand ’s most celebrated investigative journalists. This is Hager’s third book.

The controversy surrounding the book is perhaps more exciting than the book itself. Set for release on Tuesday 21 November 2006, crucial contents of the book were the subject of an injunction made on the previous Friday in the Wellington High Court banning its publication. The legal proceedings brought by none other than Dr Brash himself. The injunction barred publication of certain e-mail correspondence between Dr Brash and other parties (presumably advisers, constituents and Party colleagues). These leaked e-mails were crucial source material used by Hager in his book.

Two days after the scheduled publication date, Brash withdraw the injunction application and announced his resignation from the National Party leadership. The book hit New Zealand bookshelves the following day. Brash left the beehive for good in February 2007.

The book is largely about the rise of Don Brash to the leadership of the National Party, and what almost became the coming to power of a Brash government in the September 2005 elections. Many of the themes Brash used – indigenous and racial wedge politics, policy making in the financial interests of donors, adoption of far-Right policy positions – will be familiar to close observers of the 11 years of Howard rule. Brash no doubt tried to model himself on John Howard.

This book has promise, but the author tends to ramble on and becomes lost in superfluous detail arising from the e-mail exchanges he uses. Sadly, much of the alleged “exposure” of National Party policy processes borders on polemical rant. It’s one thing to accuse the Kiwi-Nats of telling lies over their dealings with Crosby Textor and the Exclusive Brethren. It’s another to pass off one’s criticisms of certain National policies as fact.

Peter Costello recently described Howard as a lacklustre treasurer and economic reformer. I doubt Costello would say the same about Dr Brash, who worked for the World Bank before serving for 14 years as Governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. His tenure coincided with the free market reforms of former Labour Finance Minister Sir Roger Douglas. Later Douglas went onto establish the free market fundamentalist ACT Party.

However, this book isn’t just a political biography of the former National Party leader. The book exposes the secretive political campaign tactics used by the fringe fundamentalist Christian sect known as the Exclusive Brethren. Although officially the Brethren bars its members from voting and regards worldly politics as evil, key members of the Brethren have been involved in a number of campaigns supporting conservative candidates in the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

The Brethren campaign was especially active in the September 2005 elections. Large advertisements were published in major newspapers calling on Kiwi voters to “change the government”. National MP’s denied any knowledge of the Brethren campaign. Yet sources inside the National Party provided Hager with e-mail correspondence which showed that Brash and other National MP’s held meetings with Brethren officials and were aware of Brethren political advertising.

The book also contains a very interesting chapter on the role Australian pollsters Crosby Textor (C/T) played in the Brash campaign. Like much of the book, the contents of the book’s C/T chapter (titled “The Manipulators”) border on the conspiratorial. The chapter starts to get interesting when it talks about C/T focus groups in late 2004.

Hager’s primary source document is dated 10 December 2004 and entitled “Strategic Memorandum on National party Qualitative Benchmark”. Two other reports dated April 2005 are also cited. Here is Hager’s reading of the reports and events:
You might imagine that focus groups are designed to find out what groups of people think and want … the Crosby/Textor groups had a completely different purpose and revealed a deeper level off political manipulation.

… The intention is to ‘uncover’ perceptions and feelings of which the people concerned may be consciously aware – or even just potential perceptions and feelings – and find ways to use these ‘persuasive creative leads’ to influence target groups of voters.
Hager then goes onto show how C/T used ‘prompted concerns’ to help the Nats develop and frame policy. He continues …
In this way they strategise the possibility of moving voters from, for instance, thinking that tax cuts ‘miss the point’ to the ‘prompted perception’ that tax cuts are necessary in response to uncertainty about the growth of the economy. The [C/T] word for this is
leveraging … Such perceptions may have little to do with how people feel and the leveraging messages may not even be true, but they may still provide ‘strategic
opportunities’ …
Much C/T work with the Kiwi-Nats focussed on developing dog-whistle messages about immigrants and indigenous people. Simplistic messages containing thinly-veiled racism were almost enough to get Brash over the line.

The balance of the book is somewhat tedious, especially for readers with little interest in provincial New Zealand politics. Hager seems to get carried away with the novelty of having a year’s e-mail exchanges between National MP’s, their staff and their supporters in business, conservative think tanks, pollsters and fringe fundamentalist churches. A more interesting version of the book probably would have been half its current length.

First published in The Canberra Times on 13 October 2007.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

BOOK REVIEW: Believing the worst ...

The Solitude of Emperors
By David Davidar
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 246pp, $32.95

During a recent interfaith conference of the Abrahamic faiths, the representative of a conservative Catholic thinktank spoke critically of what he referred to as an increasingly encroaching secularism that often did away with shared religious and ethical values. His critique on secularism drew a rather angry response from a number of Jewish members of the audience, many of whom interpreted his speech as a call to bring back the kind of theocracy that led to such excesses as the Spanish Inquisition.

Speaking of which, in November 2005, former National Party Senator John Stone used the Opinion Page of The Australian to invite people to join his “Queen Isabella Society”. Though on that occasion, the desired inquisitorial targets were not Jews but Muslims.

In modern Australia , sectarianism rarely goes beyond the occasional provocative op-ed piece. But in the world’s largest democracy, ancient religious hatreds are frequently used as modern political tools to deadly effect.

This year marks 60 years of Indian independence, as well as the birth of the modern and nominally Muslim state of Pakistan . The founders of both states envisaged two modern secular states living side by side and maintaining good relations based on their shared cultural heritage.

Yet in the weeks and months around Partition, over 1 million people lost their lives in religious riots in northern India ’s Punjab and Bengal wings. In the cities of Lahore and Amritsar , on either side of what was then India ’s boundary with West Pakistan , it wasn’t unknown for silent trains to enter their destination, their carriages turned into communal coffins.

How can modern secularism overcome such ancient hatred? After all, we in the West regard secularism as involving keeping religion away from politics wherever possible. Our understanding is based on the presumption that religion can only play a destructive, not cohesive, role when allowed to dominate the public square.

David Davidar’s latest work The Solitude of Emperors is a reminder that secularism can take other forms. Vijay, a young South Indian journalist and one of the primary characters in the novel, narrates his escape from a suffocating rural home to work as a journalist in Mumbai. His employer is Rustom Sorabjee, a wealthy member of the ancient Parsi community, descendants of the Zoroastrians of Iran who fled the armies of the Muslim Caliph Omar in the 7th century AD.

Sorabjee is publisher and editor of The Indian Secularist, a magazine with a small but elite readership of Indians opposed to the growing influence of Hindutva (Hindu chauvinism). The novel is set during the aftermath of the destruction of the ancient Babri Masjid, an old mosque built by the Mughals in the North Indian town of Ayodhya , regarded by Hindus as the birthplace of Lord Rama. The destruction of the mosque on 6 December 1992 saw the beginning of the rise of far-Right Hindu chauvinism that led to the election of the neo-fascist BJP government.

The sectarian riots reach Mumbai, and Vijay finds himself witnessing a mob of crazed fanatics hacking at the remains of Muslim civilians. The mob demand proof from Vijay that he is not Muslim, even insisting he expose the absence of traditional Muslim circumcision. One of the mob notices Vijay wears the sacred threads showing he is of the Brahmin Hindu caste, but bashes a metal bar on Vijay’s head for good measure.

The incident leaves Vijay disturbed and suffering post-traumatic stress. His employer suggests Vijay take time off in a small village in the Nilgiris mountains in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

This novel is not as much about politics as about religion and history. Mr Sorabjee gives his employee two tasks. First, Vijay is to report on the struggle to protect The Tower of God, a Christian shrine at the top of a mountain revered by followers of all faiths. Hindutva activists believe the shrine is built on the ruins of an ancient Hindu temple and are agitating to destroy it.

Vijay’s reporting is to occur within the context of his second task – reviewing Mr Sorabjee’s book The Solitude of Emperors: Why Ashoka, Akbar and Gandhi Matter to Us Today, excerpts of which appear in different parts of the novel.

Though Sorabjee’s work is a defence of secularism, Western readers will find its approach somewhat novel. Far from insisting religion (and religious people) remain aloof from government, Sorabjee champions the idea that religious citizens of modern India change their attitude toward both their own faith and the faiths of their fellow Indians.

This book within the book attempts to define secularism as a messianic force which will eventually lead to the creation of an India which maintains its religiosity without compromising its pluralism. The promised secular Messiah would be a leader who combined the best qualities of Ashoka (the warrior-king who left war behind to sprad the message of Buddha), Akbar (the Mughal Muslim king who developed a hybrid religion containing elements of all faiths) and Gandhi (who developed the Hindu doctrine of ahimsa into a modern form of non-violent activism).

Sorabjee sees the common thread of these three Indian leaders as their willingness to occasionally embrace solitude, to remove themselves from the hysteria of their communities and rise above commonly held prejudices.

So much of our own modern politics is driven by advice from spin doctors encouraging their clients to make statements and develop policy based upon little more than popularly held prejudice. Davidar’s novel provides a believable Indian scenario of where such politics might lead in the long term. It also opens our eyes to uglier sides of Indian cultures which will surprise Western readers enamoured by all things Indian but which Indians take for granted.

Irfan Yusuf is associate editor of His parents were born in Delhi. This is an expanded version of a review first published in The Australian on 13 October 2007.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Friday, October 12, 2007

COMMENT: More on Howard's alleged disdain for symbols ...

If you believe what John Howard told the Sydney Institute last night, you’d think John Howard is allergic to the use of symbols. Yeah, right.

The citizenship booklet says that Australia has three official flags. There’s the one Howard is quite happy to see used as a symbol of race riots at Cronulla. He refused to condemn anyone using this flag, even if it involved getting pissed and stoned and screaming “F#ck the Lebs! F#ck the wogs!!”

But what would Howard think of people sing the other two official flags – those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians respectively – being used for such a purpose? Was Howard a happy camper when Cathy Freeman donned the Aboriginal flag after winning her race at the 1994 Commonwealth Games?

Howard has been quite happy to use his favourite cultural symbols as political wedges to divide Australians. He’s quite happy to marginalise one group for not integrating and not abiding by his nebulous “Australian values”. Yet his government is quite happy to provide special favours to other (often white Anglo) groups whose ongoing record in integration is much worse.

Yet Howard’s use of symbols has been repeatedly shown in Crikey to be based on historical mythology and ignorance. Remember his response to the artist who portrayed the Virgin Mary wearing a face-veil?

I spent much of last weekend watching Melbourne’s newest funny-man Aamer Rahman and his colleagues perform Fear Of A Brown Planet at the Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Much of Rahman’s act involved using ‘reverse’ racism. Here's a taste ...
I ask you white people this question – what’s your problem? Always complaining about others. Muslims trying to kill me. Refugees taking my job. And I love this one. Aboriginals have a drinking problem. Yeah, right. Any nation that can turn a beach barbecue into a neo-Nazi rally in a few hours has no right to complain about other people’s drinking!

Sometimes comedy can be used to express uncomfortable truths …

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

Howard's Claytons Reconciliation ...

Has John Howard decided to wear the dreaded black armband? Has he overcome his alleged reluctance to adopt symbols? Has he finally realised that community sentiment no longer favours a hardline approach to racial and cultural issues?

To suggest that Howard never paid much attention to symbols is a nonsense. John Howard has spent the best years of his political life defending the symbols that represent the alleged cultural dominance of white Anglo-Australia - the flag, the monarchy, our so-called 'Judeo-Christian values', etc. Howard has had little time for the cultural symbols that set non-Anglo-Australians apart from the rest of the community. That includes Aboriginal Australians.

Howard's new reconciliation is built upon the notion that "individual rights and national sovereignty prevail over group rights". What the ...? What about an individual's right to belong to a group and take on the identity and cultural symbols of that group? And in what sense is "national sovereignty" any different to "group rights"? Or is what we are really seeing just an attempt by white fellas to impose their own group rights over the oldest Australians in the name of national sovereignty?

Howard's idea of reconciliation isn't really reconciliation. It isn't about two equal groups formerly in a state of non-alignment coming together on equal terms. It isn't about recognising past injustices and making some kind of amends.

Howard isn't interested in recognising "the shame and guilt of non-indigenous Australians". He blames the current state of Aboriginal disadvantage not on past European excesses (such as the removal of Aboriginal children from their parents - the "Stolen Generation") but rather on "a rights agenda that led ultimately and inexorably towards welfare dependency and on a philosophy of separateness rather than shared destiny".

Presumably that means that before this agenda came into place, indigenous Australians were living in a state of bliss. That they were regarded as equals in their own country, with all the economic and other opportunities available to non-indigenous Australians. Presumably, then, stolen wages were just a myth. Perhaps Mistake Creek was just an historical mistake.

Howard continues to insist that "a collective national apology for past injustice fails to provide the necessary basis to move forward". Perhaps this may be true of an apology on its own. But surely any notion of reconciliation without recognition of past injustices and some kind of remorse would do no harm. As my mum often tells me: "You don't become a smaller person by saying sorry. If anything, it makes you a greater person".

The tang of Waitangi is absent from Howard's formula. Rather, what we are seeing is an attempt to enshrine in the constitution a half-baked reconciliation which has little to do with indigenous sentiment and more to do with Howard's attempts to impose his own kine of radical monocultural revolution.

One of Howard's former staffers, Gerard Henderson, wrote in The Age on May 25, 2004 of

... the one significant blot on [Howard’s] record
in public life … a certain lack of empathy in dealing with individuals with whom
he does not identify at a personal level: for example, Asian Australians in the
late 1980s and asylum seekers in the early 21st century.

After Howard's performance at the Sydney Institute last night, it will be interesting to see if Henderson adds indigenous Australians to this list.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Thursday, October 04, 2007

MEDIA: Telegraphic hypocrisy?

The Daily Telegraph recently reported on a stoush between shock jock Ray Hadley and ABC Media Watch host Monica Attard.

MEDIA Watch host Monica Attard has had the tables turned on her after being exposed for initially refusing to pay a tradesperson - then hiding behind legal threats through ABC lawyers.

The "self-appointed guru of what's right and wrong" copped a serve of her own yesterday after 2GB broadcaster Ray Hadley read on air an email complaint from a listener referring to Attard as "the rudest person I think I've ever spoken to".

I'm not sure when Monica declared herself a guru of anything, let alone so difficult a subject as ethics. However, it is a bit rich for the Telegraph to be accusing Ms Attard of using ABC's in-house lawyers.

Why do I say this? Because some years ago, I myself was threatened with defamation proceedings by a Tele journo for a posting I made on a closed internet discussion group which at the time had less than 100 subscribers.

The letter I received (which I still have a copy of) was written by ... you guessed it ... an internal News Limited lawyer! I refer to that incident in this article ...

Some years ago, in the immediate aftermath of the first Bali bombing, a former client of mine was charged with possessing possible explosives. One journalist reported that this fellow had Arabic books in his house and had recently started attending religious classes at the local

The police involved in the investigation had already ruled out the possibility of terrorism. Yet the journalist involved wanted to use the pages of his Sydney newspaper to spread hysteria about the
possibility of terrorism by making reference to a recent religious conversion on the road to Damascus (or in my former client’s case, Mecca).

Ironically, the journalist involved had a distinctly Arabic-sounding surname. His* own background suggested that a visit to his own home might reveal Arabic books and possible visits to the institutions of religious denominations at the heart of Middle Eastern conflict. I raised these points on an e-mail group, with a view to levelling the playing field and exposing what I felt was the journalist’s hypocrisy.

Some four months later, I received a letter from an in-house lawyer of the media organisation for which that journalist worked. That letter corrected some erroneous assumptions I had made concerning the journalist’s ethno-religious background (I got his Middle Eastern denomination wrong in my e-mail).

More importantly, the letter threatened me with defamation proceedings for daring to question the journalist’s integrity on a private subscriber-only e-mail list. Perhaps the journalist should have
realised that sometimes threatening a litigation lawyer with legal proceedings is as effective as threatening a surgeon with a penicillin injection.

To make matters worse, the journalist did not even bother to spend his own money to brief a lawyer, preferring to use the resources of the company’s legal department to fight a personal legal

(*Not the journalist's real gender.)
So what's good for a tabloid scribe isn't good for an ABC journalist. Then again, this is the same newspaper that complains about a TV Soap that "leads kids astray" while showing pole dancing, yet makes hundreds of thousands of dollars advertising strippers, massage parlours, brothels and other "adult services" in its classifieds section.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

Yet another case of non-integration?

Under the headline “Police in Denial over hangs: Andrews", Oz reporter Dick Kerbaj clutches at straws to overcome compelling evidence from Victorian Police Commissioner Christine Nixon that Sudanese refugees are no more represented in crime figures than any other group. Yet all he can find (apart from some allegedly confidential Cabinet material) is the claims of one anonymous police officer.

Andrews claims Nixon and her colleagues are trying to paint a rosy picture "in the interest of creating "a perception of community harmony"". Naturally, if Nixon turns out to be correct, we can conclude that Andrews himself is distorting the evidence to undermine community harmony.

Yesterday Andrews told Neil Mitchell of “problems” with Sudanese and other African refugees. He claimed “settlement wasn’t occurring at the rate that occurred with other refugee and other migrant groups in Australia .”

Sounds familiar? Hardly 18 months ago, the PM made virtually identical claims about “a small minority” of Muslim migrants who posed greater challenges to Australia ’s social cohesion than any other migrant group. Since then, he has used every available opportunity to ram that message home.

We should recall the words of Gerard Henderson in The Age about his old boss having

... the one significant blot on his record in
public life … a certain lack of empathy in dealing with individuals with whom he
does not identify at a personal level: for example, Asian Australians in the
late 1980s and asylum seekers in the early 21st century.

On all such occasions, Howard has complained that the most recent undesirable group has failed to integrate as well as previous groups. Meanwhile, some of his government’s close allies show their excessive integration by calling for the Christian Right take over Australian politics, while others belong to extremist sects that make Sudanese look like the HR Nicholls Society.

Today’s Herald-Sun editorial suggests African refugees are being curtailed to allow for refugees from the Burma and Iraq . But should a Burmese mother mourn her son’s violent death in the suburbs of Melbourne or Sydney on the eve of an election, will we be seeing another reference to integration? Will Burmese refugees be told their numbers are being cut back (as Howard said in 1988) "to ensure the maintenance of social harmony and cohesion”?

And how can we be certain that future Iraqis aren’t just treated by wedge-seeking politicians as just another undesirable group “of Middle Eastern appearance”?

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

COMMENT: An Anglican who despises Bethlehem?

Reverend Dr Mark Durie is a linguist with expertise in the languages of the people of the Aceh region of Indonesia. He has appeared as an expert witness in the Catch The Fire Ministries case, though the trial judge wasn't exactly impressed with Dr Durie's alleged expertise or his supposed independence in the proceedings.

In a letter to the Australian Jewish News on 7 September, Dr Durie has this to say about the visiting Mayor of Bethlehem, Dr Victor Batarseh ...


DR Victor Batarseh, mayor of Bethlehem (AJN 31/8), is a typical example of what Bat Ye’or has called the “dhimmi syndrome”: non-Muslims who negate themselves in serving the cause of the Islamic Umma.

Dr Batarseh’s mimetic instinct will bring nothing but grief for Palestinian Christians. Dr Batarseh, along with many others like him, is damaging his own people’s interests. While Islamisation is overwhelming and transforming once-Christian Bethlehem, its pro-jihadist mayor goes on an overseas trip to perform to the anti-Israel lobby.

His legacy to his people will be accelerated Islamisation and dechristianisation of the birthplace of Christ.

The best antidote to such duplicity is to educate Australians in the effects of dhimmitude, so that Dr Batarseh and others like him can be clearly seen for what they are.

Reverend Dr Mark Durie
Vicar of Caulfield, Vic

Dr Durie frequently drops Arabic words such as "dhimmi", "ummah" and "taqiyya" in some unusual contexts, all of which expose his complete lack of even basic understanding of the Arabic language. Still, it does provide comic relief to those of us with some background in the issues. I guess that's what happens when your knowledge of Islamic cultures is based on the nonsense at such websites as JihadWatch.

It's interesting that Dr Durie feigns concern for the people of Bethlehem only when he presumes they are under attack from Muslims. He doesn't mention a word about the apartheid wall, a structure he no doubt applauds.

Dr Durie can take pride in being one of the few Christians who supports the ongoing Israeli military and settlement program in Bethlehem. Instead of supporting the Christians of Bethlehem, Dr Durie prefers to attack the city's leaders, amongst them the parish priest Father Amjad.

With friends like Dr Durie, the people of the city of Jesus Christ don't need enemies.

One wonders whether Durie has even been to Bethlehem. A letter appearing immediately after his, authored by someone who has actually spent time in the city, shows just how shallow Durie's grossly anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab polemics are ...


HAVING personally visited Bethlehem early this year and witnessed from the Palestinian perspective how the concrete wall of the separation barrier has literally cut through private property and separated loved ones from each other, I was dismayed to read that Jewish community leaders accused the mayor of Bethlehem of politicising his trip to Australia for mentioning such basic facts (AJN 31/8).

Wherever one stands on the justification of the wall for security reasons, the harmful effects of the wall for the residents of Bethlehem cannot be denied. If we don’t, as a community, open our hearts and minds wide enough to encompass the legitimacy of claims like those of the mayor of Bethlehem – that can coexist with concerns for security – we will be forced to continually distort the truth and also look like buffoons at the same time.

Melanie Landau
Caulfield, Vic

How embarrasing for the Anglican Church that it has individuals like Dr Durie speaking on its behalf on such sensitive matters.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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COMMENT: Jewish students join racist group?

The following letter appeared in the Letters page of the September 7 edition off the Australian Jewish News ...

I'm sure that all readers of this paper were angered by the recent race bashing on Carlisle Street. According to the victims, the thugs shouted racist slogans such as “Aussie Pride”.

For all to see on their website, the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) is advertising a rally to be held by a group called SIOOz (Stop Islamisation of Oz). The group is holding a rally on the steps of the state library to protest the apparent threat of Islam and shari’a law to all Australians. SIOOz encourages people to bring banners with slogans such as “Help Muslims escape Islam”. The advertisement goes to great lengths to point out “(SIOOz) is not against Muslims, who are also prisoners of this racist, oppressive ideology. This is a battle against an evil ideology. We [SIOOZ] are Islamophobic, not Muslimphobic.”

Last year, a number of Jewish organisations, as well as some members of AUJS, took part in the Embracing Youth Project, a valuable cross-cultural program held with Muslim and Jewish youth.

A number of friendships were forged and it was a learning experience for all. Has AUJS changed its position since last year? Is AUJS serious in thinking that advertising this clearly racist rally is acceptable?

Hopefully, the only AUJS involvement in the SIOOz rally is its foolish support rather than an active role in the organisation.

Jesse Osowicki
Elsternwick, Vic
This is a very disturbing development. AUJS is the peak body of Jewish tertiary students. It purports to represent the interests of all Jewish tertiary students on campuses across Australia.

For such a senior body within the Jewish community to be actively promoting an organisation which describes itself as "islamophobic" is a worrying development. The leadership of AUJS needs to explain its involvement in "Aussie Pride" groups such as SIOOz.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

LETTERS: Prejudicial responses ...

Yesterday's The Age carried this article from yours truly.

Alan Freedman responds in today's Letters ...
... unlike radical Islamists, Jews have never perpetrated violence in an attempt to advance a political ideology based on their religion.
I guess the Stern Gang was all a figment of our imagination. I guess the King David Hotel self-detonated, as did the village of Deir Yassin. And those nasty Sikh separatists were obviously the ones who laid siege to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Alan then volunteers this advive ...
If Muslimphobia is an emerging trend, perhaps Muslims should review the behaviour of those extremists in their own communities in an attempt to define its cause.
And how do you propose we do that? Do we set up our own intelligence and law enforcement network? How will we know who the extremists are? Are we all linked up to some huge international Islamic intranet moderated by Usama bin Ladin?

What control can we exercise over who speaks for us? Or more to the point, who journos and politicians claim speak for us?

Why should 300,000-odd people who tick the 'Muslim' box on their census forms be held responsible for the actions of a handful of people they have never met in their life?

David Goldberg writes ...
Yusuf undermines his argument by making an unsubstantiated statement that many prominent Jewish voices are haters of Islam.
Obviously Raphael Israeli, Melanie Phillips, Daniel Pipes etc all have Brahmin Hindu heritage. But I do acknowledge that many people of different faiths (including Judaism) have been at the forefront of exposing Muslimphobes. In this regard, The Jewish News played a prominent role in exposing the hatred of Raphael Israeli.

Goldberg then repeats the mantras of allegedly conservative politicians ...
Perhaps Yusuf should start looking to his fellow Muslims to become prominent in promoting the Australian way of life.
Perhaps Goldberg should tell this to this chap. And then to him. And then to her. And let's not forget this bloke.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf