Saturday, July 28, 2007

CRIKEY: Indians everywhere worried by Howard and Downer's wedge

Our Foreign Minister has a problem with understanding the criminal law. Yesterday he said:

Every time there is somebody arrested and facing charges, there’s some sort of controversy about 'oh the poor thing, he must be innocent...'

Just imagine how that statement will be read by his counterpart in New Delhi. Imagine how the Union Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed (an Indian Muslim who himself has two children working as doctors overseas) would feel about Mr Downer’s apparent reluctance to embrace the presumption of innocence in criminal trials.

Howard weighed in as well, reminding us all of the truism that

... [t]he Federal Police are integral to the fight against terrorism in this country ...

So why doesn’t Mr Howard consider helping our Federal Police by enabling them to overcome the many cultural barriers so lucidly described by Sushi Das in The Age on 23 July 2007?

Even if we’re mad enough to believe conservative psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple that terrorism should lead us to discriminate against Muslims, our law enforcement officials should at least understand that there are huge cultural, linguistic and even theological differences between a Mohammed from India and a Muhammad from the United States.

Of course, the hysterical attacks by Downer and Howard on Labor Premiers suggest a deeper problem. The government hoped to use this issue as a cultural/security wedge issue, with terrorism fears and anti-Muslim sentiment carrying them over the electoral line.

Yet for so many Indian migrants, Haneef is being viewed as a bright young South Asian boy pilloried just because he followed traditional Indian custom of looking up relatives overseas and sending remittances back home.

It gets a little worrying when (as Das shows) law enforcement officials (and tabloid newspapers) find suspicion in behaviour common to any diaspora Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan or Nepalese (not to mention Asian, Eastern European, South American etc).

South Asians typically put language and culture before religion. The concerns raised by Indian media don’t come as a surprise to me. Nor do comments I hear almost everyday from family friends and colleagues of Indian extraction.

Just yesterday, one South Indian (nominally Christian) clerk said to me: "Irfan, the way they are treating Haneef thing is getting me worried. I send money back to my family all the time. Will I be on the front page of the Daily Telegraph?"

Still, our law enforcement officials can take heart. Even countries as experienced as India (in relation to the case of Mohammad Afroze) and the United States (in the case of Salman Hamdani) can screw up anti-terror investigations.

The lesson of all this is that we cannot allow irrational hysteria and prejudice to make us too alarmed to be alert.

First published in the Crikey daily alert on 24 July 2007. Cartoon courtesy Crikey.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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CRIKEY: Talking Turkey, democracy and EU membership

Turks have just elected an Islamist government. But we aren't talking about HAMAS here. Turkey’s Islamists combine free market economics, recognition of Israel, pro-Western foreign policy and more zeal to join the EU than any of its more allegedly secular predecessors.

Still, many conservatives (both social and economic) oppose Turkey’s entry into the EU. I saw this in action back in October 2005 at the launch of the Australian edition of In Defence of Global Capital published by the CIS.

The author is an ex-greenie ex-socialist Swede, Johan Norberg, who converted to capitalism after researching ways to fight global poverty. He now believes globalised capitalism, removing trade barriers and liberalising international labour markets is essential to solving intractable economic, social, environmental and security problems.

Paul Kelly from The Oz and James Morrow (whose Investigate magazine’s Australian edition seems to have gone underground, if not under) introduced Norberg with all smiles and praise. One even praised him for his good looks!

Norberg lapped it up before telling us to open our borders to new goods, services, people and money. He attacked the EU’s rhetoric on globalisation and its hypocrisy in placing high tariff walls to stop imports from the third world.

I noticed a slight change in tone from Kelly, Morrow and the audience when Norberg said the West should liberalise their immigration policies and acknowledge that the greatest achievements and contributions in culture, business and politics often come from migrants and refugees.

I couldn’t help myself. In question time, I asked whether Norberg supported EU membership for Turkey. To the chagrin of his conservative Sydney audience, Norberg went on to explain why arguments EU conservatives use to oppose Turkey’s entry are in fact excellent reasons to support it:

1. Turkey is too big and will make up 15% of the EU’s population. True, but size represents opportunities, especially given Turkey’s growing economy.

2. Turkey is too poor. True, but many recent entrants are poorer and will prove a greater drain. Plus poor Europeans often do the jobs that rich Europeans refuse to do.

3. Turkey is too Muslim. Norberg said that not all Muslims are the same. Some of Europe’s more troublesome Muslim migrants are victims of overly generous welfare policies and inflexible and overly regulated labour markets. A fresh injection of Westernised Turkish Muslims will help the process of economic and social integration for (often less integrated) South Asian and North African ethnic Muslim groups.

Further, if the EU strings Turkey along with all these promises of membership if Turkey reforms its economy and polity, then dumps Turkey just for some historical and religious prejudice, it will damage the EU more than Turkey.

Norberg wasn’t exactly the most popular person in the room after all that. My notes show Paddy McGuinness almost choking on his wine, then arguing profusely about the hordes of German and French Muslims rioting, and Norberg responding by saying it was more complex than just culture and sect.

It seemed my Turkey-EU question let the kebab out of the bag. It was hilarious to see this allegedly conservative crowd push their free market economics out the window to make way for their pet sectarian prejudices.

First published in the Crikey daily alert on 25 July 2007.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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Quiet times ahead ...

Things have been quiet on this blog for some time now, mainly because I've started a new contract and have been flat out working on it.

Things probably will be quiet for another 2-3 weeks. I'll try to post stuff from time to time. But don't be surprised if you don't read much here.