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