Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

OPINION: Suharto no angel, but still mourned ...

During the late 1990s, I worked for a lawyer who spent his spare time making documentaries. A decade earlier, he produced a documentary about East Timor. He interviewed an Indonesian general who, as a young man, had taken part in the purge of presumed communists during the mid-1960s. When asked how he recognised complete strangers as communists, the general responded: "I can tell by the share of white in their eyes".

Hundreds of thousands of Indonesians, many having no communist links, were murdered during these purges. Many Western leaders knew but kept silent in much the same manner as they are silent today about atrocities and human rights abuses committed by dictatorships across the nominally Islamic world against anyone deemed extremist.

The man who orchestrated these massacres was another Indonesian general who is (to be fair, quite rightly) praised for leading his nation through a period of industrialisation and economic development.

The front page story of The Jakarta Post yesterday speaks of Suharto

"[v]enerated for much of his 32-year tenure as the liberator he appeared to be after more than two decades of authoritarian rule under his predecessor Sukarno, and vilified near its end for his authoritarian rule and for the corruption he appeared to condone in his later years in office."
It went on to describe Suharto's period of leadership as one which saw political and economic stability at the expense of freedom and human rights. Such words could never have been written in a major Indonesian newspaper before Suharto's 1998 resignation. At least this is what I was told by an Indonesian postgraduate student when I visited the country in 2006.

Within three months of my arrival in January, a popular Indonesian tabloid, Rakyat Merdeka, (perhaps the closest thing to an Islamist Daily Telegraph) published an article critical of Australia's involvement in West Papua. This wasn't unusual but what was new was a cartoon (which would have offended the paper's devout Muslim readers) showing one dingo with the head of former prime minister John Howard from behind another dingo with the head of former foreign minister Alexander Downer.

The cartoon was deemed too risque even for a certain former shadow foreign minister named Kevin Rudd, who described it as
... not passing any standard of taste anywhere in the world ...

and even hinting at the Indonesian Government using any
... powers it had over Indonesian newspapers in terms of decency standards.
Suharto will be given a state funeral in his home town of Surakarta. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has declared a week of mourning. Suharto's coffin was draped in the Indonesian flag when turned over by his family to the military. Tens of thousands lined the streets from the Suharto family's Jakarta residence to an air force base as the coffin was driven to be transported for the funeral.

The man whose New Order regime dominated Indonesian public life for over three decades ironically had humble beginnings. He was born in June 1921. At age 19, he entered a military school in Gambong. During the Japanese occupation, he spent some time in the Japanese-sponsored police force in Yogyakarta.

Following independence in 1945 and until his accession to the presidency in 1968, Suharto went through the ranks of the Indonesian armed forces. That period saw an ongoing struggle against the Indonesian Communist Party.

Suharto's presidency was characterised by strong economic development and he was proclaimed the Father of Development. At the same time, he brutally suppressed dissent. In January 1978, he ordered the closure of a number of influential newspapers and sent Indonesian troops on to university campuses.

Yet it was the 1975 invasion and subsequent occupation of East Timor, believed to be a hotbed of communist activism under Fretilin, for which many Australians will remember him. Today, independent East Timor is a tiny nation at war with itself. No doubt in his last days, Suharto and many Indonesians who supported his intervention would have been whispering under their breaths, "We told you so".

Islamic theology teaches that if God intended to make men perfect, he would have created them as angels. The man who ruled over the world's largest Islamic nation for over 30 years certainly was not perfect. But today Indonesians enjoy freedoms which their co-religionists in other parts of the nominally Islamic world yearn for. Had Suharto not led his nation to relative prosperity, one wonders if its present democracy could thrive as it does.

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer and associate editor of A version of this article was first published in the Canberra Times on 29 January 2008.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

Sunday, January 27, 2008

BOOKS: Disorganised thoughts on Geraldine Brooks and the Sarajevo Haggadah

So Islam doesn’t belong in Judeo-Christian Europe. So Muslims are inherently anti-Semitic. And so if you don’t believe all this, you are either an “Islamo-fascist” or a poor non-Muslim suffering from “dhimmitude”.

Far-Right wackos like Raphael Israeli and Robert Spencer might have you believe this tripe. But Australian journalist and writer Geraldine Brooks’ latest novel, based on the preservation of the Sarajevo Haggadah, shows up the historical nonsensicality of the arguments so often sprouted by Muslim-hating cultural warriors.

In a previous book Nine Parts of Desire, Brooks tells of her conversion to Judaism. I’m not sure if, like all converts, she has an evangelical zeal or a desire to play a quieter form of emotional catch-up to compensate for years spent without her adopted faith.

Judaism has experienced a long period of persecution in Christian Europe. Jews were castigated as Christ-killers, as devious money-lenders and as demons who ate Christian babies. If a Jew occupied a high position in society, he was accused of being a fifth columnist and a traitor.

Today, Islamist revivalist groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) make use of the sufferings of Muslims in various parts of the world as a rhetorical tool to support the idea of an Islamic state. One may regard their use of current affairs as cynical. On the other hand, there may be an element of what one might call the “Herzl effect”.

Theodore Herzl, an Austrian journalist of Hungarian Jewish heritage, witnessed the vulnerability and persecution of his people in action when covering the disgraceful court marshal in France of Jewish army officer Alfred Dreyfus. Herzl concluded that without a Jewish state, Jewish minorities would forever remain vulnerable.

The rhetoric of HT and similar groups is similar. They point to the suffering of Muslims. They point to the suffering of Muslim minorities suffering at the hands of chauvinistic majorities. They also point to the suffering of Muslim majorities suffering under the yoke of dictatorial rule. Their solution is an Islamic state.

Some may regard this kind of thinking as dangerous. Certainly, some despicable acts have been committed in the name of establishing and/or preserving Islamist political entities. But it is difficult to deny the attraction which political solutions hold for impatient and excitable people.

Genuine spirituality and religion, on the other hand, thrives on persecution and suffering. Last Christmas, I gave an old school friend an encyclopaedia of Christianity. The introduction to this heavy tome listed a number of themes that frequently arise in Christian history and theology. High up on his list was martyrdom.

Let’s return to Ms Brooks’ novel. No religious tradition has had to fight and struggle and suffer as face persecution and death to preserve itself than Judaism. Brooks’ novel is centred round the story of a medieval Spanish edition of an ancient Jewish text which was preserved for centuries, largely by Muslims in many cases risking their lives.

The Australian Jewish News summarises the story in this article as follows:

The Sarajevo Haggadah was created in about 1350, probably as a wedding gift, but it changed hands -- and countries -- a number of times over the centuries. The full details about how and when it arrived in Sarajevo are not known, but it was sold to the Bosnian museum in 1894 by Joseph Kohen.

Legends formed about where and how it managed to survive. During World War II, just before the Germans entered the city in 1941, the director of the museum smuggled it to a Muslim professor who hid it in a mountain village, some say under the floor of a mosque.

Its whereabouts during the 1992-95 Bosnian war are a matter of rumour. The museum was bombarded and badly damaged, but the Haggadah survived unscathed, hidden for most of the time in a vault of the National Bank.

Bosnia's then-president, Alija Izetbegovic, displayed it briefly at a community seder in 1995, partly to dispel speculation that the government might have sold it to purchase weapons.

Under Ottoman rule, Sarajevo offered sanctuary to Jewish communities fleeing the Catholic Inquisitions in various parts of Europe (mainly Spain). The horrors of the Inquisition, which make the misdeeds of al-Qaeda pale into insignificance, were inspired by a murderous intolerance of all non-Catholic religion.

Among the relics of Andalusian Jewish life brought to Sarajevo, soon to be known as the Jerusalem of Europe, was a copy of the Haggadah. I am fortunate to have a copy of the Illustrated Haggadah produced by Rabbi Michael Shire and published in 1998. That edition includes a number of illustrations from the Haggadah collection of the British Library. I’m not sure if it includes the Sarajevo Haggadah, the subject of Brooks’ book.

Robert Dessaix reviews Geraldine Brooks’ recently released novel People Of The Book in the Sydney Morning Herald on January 26-27 2008. Here are some excerpts:

In 1992, while Serb forces were shelling the National Museum Library in Sarajevo and the very air in the streets was clogged with ash from hundreds of thousands of burnt books and documents, a Muslim librarian risked his life to rescue one small Jewish book from the conflagration.

Half a century earlier another Muslim scholar in Sarajevo had risked execution to save the same book from being seized by a Nazi commander. And further back it had survived a botched restoration in Vienna, the Inquisition in Venice, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and God alone knows what other threats to its preservation, from perilous sea voyages to anti-Semitic madness …

The redemptive symbolism of the Sarajevo Haggadah is obvious: a Jewish religious text, illustrated according to the Christian model of a Book of Hours, saved by Muslims in a city almost destroyed by ethnic hatreds.

Dessaix says a few other things about this book which I’d prefer not to reproduce. Those interested can go out and buy the book and reach their own conclusions.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

CRIKEY: Liberals losing the plot?

I joined Bankstown Young Liberals back in May or June 1993. Dr John Hewson had just snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the March 1993 federal election. I was attending meetings in which Party members and execs were blaming Dr Hewson for talking too much about dry economics, for trying to sell a new tax from opposition etc etc. In short, it was all Hewson’s fault.

Now, 15 years on, it’s great to see the Libs have progressed somewhat. This time around, they aren’t blaming Dr Hewson. Marvellous.

It seems that just about every election loss leads this supposedly individualistic party to always blame its leadership.

These days, Libs are placing John Howard and his ministers under the microscope, searching for that single political virus that made the Party look so sick last November.

What they seem to forget is that their own democratic structures enabled the Libs to get the leaders they wanted. And that they deserved. So as usual, they are looking for the answers outside themselves.

So don’t blame far-Right branch stackers. It’s got nothing to do with the Party’s sudden embrace of religious nutbags. And whatever you do, make sure you don’t blame the kind of political rhetoric that saw the Libs trying to destroy Pauline Hanson by looking and sounding like her.

Just point one finger at your former leaders and ignore the three fingers pointing back at yourselves.

With that kind of soul-searching, it’s obvious the Libs really have lost their soul.

(First published in the Crikey daily alert on 22 January 2008.)

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

Friday, January 18, 2008

UPDATE: Stuff recently published ...

You can find out about my mixed feelings toward the Camden Muslim school development by clicking onto the ABC's magnificent Unleashed website here. And here I take a short trip down memory lane through the warzone that was once (and in some ways still is) my birthplace of Karachi.

Jason Burke's superb On The Road To Kandahar has been recently reviewed in the Canberra Times, and it has been reproduced in full here.

I have a few things to say about Mormons, alleged apostates and other American presidential undesirables in here. Gee the new-look website is looking magnificent.

That's about it.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

Thursday, January 17, 2008

COMMENT: Damnit! Janet spoils her sound analysis ...

OK, this isn’t going to be easy, so bear with me as I explain why I agree with the substance of what cultural jihadist Janet Albrechtsen has written today.

Her column in today's The Australian, written from somewhere north of the US, waxes lyrical about how left-wing multiculturalism is threatening human rights in Canada.

I never knew you had to be left wing to support cultural pluralism. I do know you should support the status quo to be conservative. Multiculturalism is the status quo in both Canada and Australia. Janet doesn’t support multiculturalism. Clearly Janet is more monocultural revolutionary than conservative.

But it’s true. Multiculturalism has in some cases been morphed into some silly notion that nothing resembling offence to minorities can be said without legal sanction. The result is the freedom of speech is thrown out the window.

Janet mentions some chap from Canada’s “Islamic Supreme Council” proceeding (now settled) against a conservative blog in Alberta’s Human Rights Commission for publishing the Danish cartoons. You’d think that after all the violent stupidity of the last cartoon protests, Western Muslims will want to steer clear of looking like cartoon characters.

The complainant is one of a number of fringe sects trying to project themselves as most legitimately representing Islamic orthodoxy and/or Muslim sentiment (as if both must necessarily be the same). The only way they feel they can achieve this is to make the rest of us look just as stupid.

Janet also mentions the case of her neo-Con jihadist colleague Mark Steyn. A hysterically conspiratorial excerpt from his book was published in some Canadian magazine that sounds like a brand of toothpaste. What Albrechtson doesn’t mention is that the applicants are merely seeking orders that the toothpa ... woops ... magazine allow them room to respond. They aren’t suing Steyn, nor are they seeking compensation of any kind. But surely they’d have been better off to allow readers to have forgotten the Steyn piece and/or submit their own stuff.

Unfortunately Janet goes overboard, attacking a 2000 Administrative Decisions Tribunal decision made pursuant to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act. Janet surely must understand that racism hurts not just minorities. It is inherently irrational to incite hatred against people for something beyond their control – their colour, where they or their parents were born etc. Anti-racism legislation is backed up by at least 3 decades of bipartisan political consensus. In defending racism, Janet undermines the credibility of an otherwise sound argument.

Yes, free speech is a crucial element o democracy. So is the Rule of Law. You’d think a conservative would understand that.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

Thursday, January 10, 2008

CRIKEY: How to stop a cricket civil war ...

Well, it seems international cricket is about to have its first world war. It started with at least one Indian bastard being found guilty of poking fun at the appearance of an Aussie monkey. Then a heap of other Aussie monkeys retaliated by calling the bastards bastards (presumably to keep them honest, of course!).

Now it seems one monkey’s parents are receiving abusive phone calls, while the Windies are peeved that umpire Steve Bucknor has been dropped despite not having called anyone a monkey or a bastard.

And in a move sure to encourage Billy Birmingham back into the recording studio, the bastards are accusing Ian Chappell and other Channel 9 TV commentators of adding fuel to the fire by their constant replay of controversial decisions accompanied by acidic commentary. In all fairness, I think it’s a bit rich to blame Aussie TV commentators, who are never known to be engaged in controversies over racial slurs. (OK, let’s all cough the following words in unison: “bullsh*t, bullsh*t” in honour of Dean Jones.)

And I imagine Ponting (the poor bastard) is still licking his wounds after being told by Peter Roebuck and other influential cricket pundits to go get sacked.

And all this was caused by the International Cricket Council caving in to the demands of the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI, not to be confused with the BCCI, the allegedly corrupt and now-defunct Bank of Credit & Commerce International). Yet even the extraordinary backflip by the ICC may not stop the BCCI from suspending the tour and calling the bastards back home.

I’m not sure what the solution to all this is. Maybe the Pope needs to step in and inject some blessing into the game so that it reflects the same “values of honesty, solidarity and fraternity, especially among younger generations” as soccer.

Actually, the best precedent for resolving this has already been set by Dean Jones and South African all-rounder Hashim Amla. Basically Dean Jones apologised for calling Amla a terrorist, and Amla accepted the apology. Perhaps the bastards should apologise to the monkeys and vice versa. Then they can forgive each other and get on with it while the rest of us dust off our old Billy Birmingham CDs.

First published in the Crikey Daily Alert for 10 January 2007.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

UPDATE I: Some responses from Crikey readers ...

Greg Ellis
Thursday, 10 January 2008 2:37:26 PM
Multiple abuser of teenagers Peter Roebuck deserves to have his name connected to a URL too. The fullest account is at:

Thursday, 10 January 2008 2:45:00 PM
I hope Yusuf isn's seriously suggesting it is appropriate to refer to a person of African descent as a "monkey", or that it is somehow equivalent to calling someone a bastard. Pathetic article.

Lisa Crago
Thursday, 10 January 2008 4:05:37 PM
THANKYOU Irfan,after all the tension, this comic simplification is a welcome relief from all the dangerous inflamatory commentary we have read from both sides.bring in the pope,lol, sport&politics&religion,hardly cricket fun, plus no mexican wave :(

Thursday, 10 January 2008 5:20:47 PM
Lisa is right.Irfans article shows how ludicrously the whole situation has been inflamed.Nneither countries or ICC come out of the situation with much credibility.Hopefully the tour will continue and all concerned will learn to"play the game" as in past

Thursday, 10 January 2008 5:20:50 PM
What a pleasure to read something so witty. Crikey needs more of this. Mostly your correspondents take themselves so seriously. And they're righteous. Oh so righteous. Will I subscribe again? Too predictable and angry. And righteous!

Dave Liberts
Friday, 11 January 2008 9:05:27 AM
Check out Kevin Smith's film Clerks 2 for a top debate about whether the term 'porch monkey' is racist. Irfan isn't being racist in this article, Chris Ellis, he's just 'taking it back' (if you don't get this, see the movie).

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

CRIKEY/SPORT: Remember Dean Jones and Hashim Amla?

Has this cricketing terrorist suddenly become a monkey?

I wrote this in Crikey back in August 2006. If this matter (which involved a more politically sensitive racial slur) can be resolved, you must wonder why the Aussies and Indians can't resolve the "monkey/bastard" controversy.


During a test between Sri Lanka and South Africa in Colombo, Jones uttered the words “the terrorist has got another wicket” when South African cricketer and devout Muslim Hashim Amla took a catch to dismiss Kumar Sangakkara. Amla sports a beard for religious reasons, and doesn't wear sponsoring brewery logos on his uniform.

So why should viewers jam the phone lines of TV stations in Sri Lanka and South Africa? Well, that's a bit like asking why Americans should be so shocked at Mel Gibson's drunken tirades against Jews?

I hate talking up the existence of powerful lobbies. It makes things sound oh-so conspiratorial. But just as there is a perceived powerful Jewish lobby in the US, Sri Lanka and South Africa also have powerful Muslim lobbies. Around 15% of Sri Lanka's population is Muslim, and they are active in all areas of Sri Lankan life – politics, media, the judiciary and business.

South Africa's Muslims include descendants of the powerful “Memon” merchant clans who migrated from Bombay. (The ones still in Bombay have a major stake in various businesses including Bollywood, IT companies and even smuggling!) South Africa also has a powerful community descended from Malays. These “Cape Coloured” Muslims have intermarried with other nationalities – it's not unusual to meet a Cape Town dude named Muhammad who is part-Malay, part-Dutch, part-Indian with surname “Mathews”.

You don't mess with the South African Muslim lobby. Even during the Apartheid years, the lobby was a formidable force. South Africa was the first country to ban Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses.

Muslims played a prominent role in the anti-Apartheid movement. Nelson Mandela's Muslim lawyer became South Africa's first Justice Minister. And if Pru Goward thinks she's the discrimination guru, she should meet Sheik Farid Esack, a Muslim cleric appointed South Africa's first Commissioner for Gender Equality.

Still, it is good to see the Muslim cricketer involved taking it in good spirits. Back to Mel Gibson, let your sides split as you watch Jackie Mason's interview on FoxNews in which he defends Gibson and lampoons certain lobbyists …

© Irfan Yusuf 2008

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

SPORT/OPINION: Racism makes monkey of 'gentleman's game'

Last year, India marked its 60th independence anniversary. There was much fanfare, lots of boring speeches, and prayers in temples and churches and mosques across the country. But did India come to a standstill? Is the Pope Brahman?

The only thing that shuts down this powerhouse economy is a good old-fashioned religious riot. And this time, we poor West Islanders are in the thick of it.

Over the past week or so, Aussies have learned an important lesson in Indian religion. Forget Yoga, Kama Sutra, palmistry and that other new-wave stuff. India's biggest religion isn't celebrated with incense sticks and mantras, but rather with 15 boofy blokes on a large paddock playing with a pair of polished willow planks and a small hard round thing held together by stitches. And preferably not too much sledging.

Now we Aussies aren't the most religious bunch on the planet. The last Aussie Prime Minister to flirt with ultra-religious groups lost not only the election but also his own seat. He also fitted into that diminishing minority of Australians who show any interest in cricket.

And why shouldn't we be bored with cricket? I mean, we just keep winning match after match. Watching the sports news on TV has become so monotonous - "and in sports news tonight, the Wallabies get thumped by the Auckland High School Under-16s. And in cricket, the Aussies defeat Pakistan by an innings and 1098 runs".

Aussie cricket authorities and their patient sponsors have tried everything to increase interest. All in vain. Twenty20 has been a flop. Winter cricket under cover went down like a lead balloon. Most Aussies couldn't give a toss even about who wins the toss. Because we already know who'll win the match.

The Border/Gavaskar Trophy Series wasn't an exception. As usual, our cricketers were winning while the rest of us were busy joining the ever-present army of semi-clad Kiwi backpackers down at Bondi Beach.

But now something exciting has happened. And it doesn't involve Shane Warne, a cellphone and a pair of Kiwi babes.

The first stone was allegedly cast when Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh allegedly called Andrew Symonds a monkey. My God! How dare Singh insult Aussie Creationists with such Darwinian blasphemy!

Apparently Symonds' colleagues interpreted the remark as an attempt to poke fun at his mixed English-West Indian heritage. In fact, Indian crowds allegedly taunted Symonds by wearing monkey masks and making monkey sounds during the last Aussie tour of India.

The Indians have complaints of their own, blaming poor umpiring for their recent loss. The Aussies have been accused of triumphalism and arrogance.

Huh? Aussies being arrogant? Perish the thought. During the post-match press conference, one Indian journalist asked Aussie captain Ricky Ponting about a questionable catch he took. Ponting, showing all the humility and modesty our cricketers are famous for, responded:

If you are actually questioning my integrity in the game then you shouldn't be standing here.
Harbhajan Singh was found guilty of making a racist slur after a hearing by the match referee held in accordance with cricket rules. He was suspended for three games, but can play pending the outcome of his appeal. The Indians are furious and their peak cricketing body had suspended the tour.

Meanwhile, Ponting has been found guilty in a trial-by-media. Prominent cricket writers like the Melbourne Age's Peter Roebuck called for Ponting to be sacked for his arrogant and abrasive conduct.

Still, the Indians aren't exactly cleanskins. One Australian Indian organisation in Sydney has scored a century for community relations by releasing this statement:

Considering that the Monkey God is one of the revered idols of Hindu mythology and worshipped by millions, it is surprising it was considered a racist term.

Yes, how terribly insensitive of cricket referees not to factor in the intricacies of ancient Indian religious symbols. Next time, if Harbhajan Singh describes Shane Warne as an elephant, we should all presume Singh is referring to the Hindu god Ganesh.

And why stop at Hinduism? My Indian Parsee friends regard fire as sacred. So let's not get offended by Mumbai demonstrators burning effigies of Aussie players and umpires. And apparently in Pakistan, babies are regarded as cute and cuddly. Well take that into account when interpreting former Pakistan captain Wasim Akram telling the Hindustan Times that Australian cricketers are "cry babies".

Jokes aside, racism is serious stuff. Poking fun at someone's appearance is childish and offensive and brings into disrepute what is supposed to be a gentleman's game.

No player should have to tolerate racial slurs, whether from another player, a crowd or even a commentator.

Even if Harbhajan Singh's appeal is unsuccessful, both he and the Aussies should take a leaf out of the book of South African all-rounder and devout Muslim Hashim Amla, who is said to sport the most impressive beard in the game.

When former Aussie test cricketer and commentator Dean Jones was caught out saying on air that Amla was a terrorist, Jones humbly apologised and Amla graciously forgave. The same should happen now. Then millions of Indian devotees can return to cricket worship, while the rest of us head for Bondi Beach.

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer whose highest batting score was 16 while playing for the St Andrews Under-14s. This article was first published in the New Zealand Herald on Thursday 10 January, 2008.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Bookmark this on Delicious
Digg! Get Flocked

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

OPINION: Sidelining the loud-mouthed cultural warriors ...

I spent Christmas Eve sitting with my Jewish friend singing carols and enjoying world-class church music at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney. We were surrounded by Catholics of all nationalities. Could this spectacle happen only in Australia? Who knows.

Around the same time, halfway across the world (and a virtual universe away from where most people sit in cyberspace), editors of the far-right blog were busy uploading the latest polemic from American cultural jihadist Daniel Pipes. And what was the topic of Pipes's pre-Christmas message? Peace on earth and goodwill to all men and women? Something to bring Jews, Christians and Muslims together?

Nope. It was a partisan and sectarian rant answering the question: "Was Barack Obama a Muslim?"

Article VI, Clause 3 of the US Constitution clearly states the intention of the Founding Fathers that

... no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
But Pipes and others from America's lunar-right have been suggesting that Obama's nominally Muslim heritage will make him unelectable. Pipes spends his entire article exploring whether Obama was a Muslim who apostatised, even claiming that mainstream American Muslims would be angry at Obama for his alleged apostasy.

I'd love to have the luxury of sitting back and scoffing: only in America. The sad reality is that this kind of nonsensical analysis is being used more frequently and to greater effect.

But do cultural warriors and war-mongers only exist in that allegedly uniform sector of humanity we call the West? This question has been authoritatively answered by British journalist and author Jason Burke. Few people have travelled through as many trouble spots in the nominally Islamic world over the past 15 years as this senior reporter for The Observer.

In his most recent book On The Road To Kandahar: Travels Through Conflict In The Islamic World, Burke sees a lot in common between the likes of al- Qaeda and America's allegedly conservative cultural jihadists.

In the West, newspaper columnists talk about the Islamic world as a monolith. Muslim conservatives make similar statements about the American-led West. There is talk of the Arab or the Islamic mindset on one side, Western, Christian or Jewish mind on the other. American senators talk of bombing Mecca as a reprisal for attacks on the United States, while in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere radicals talk of bombing America as a reprisal for attacks in Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Burke further remarks that the Pipes and bin Ladens on both sides believe they belong to

... a discrete religiously defined group and that they are engaged in a last-ditch, no- holds-barred battle against a fanatical and irrational enemy that is aggressive, belligerent and intent on expansion until all alternative cultures, societies and belief systems are eradicated.
He concludes that the rhetoric of cultural (and, indeed, military) jihad on both sides deploys

... spurious historical and cultural references to justify what are fundamentally prejudiced and ignorant views, and all twist actuality to fit their ideas.
As time goes by, the loudest voices from both camps are the most extreme. Caught in the middle are the vast majority of people, who just want to get on with their lives and who are quite happy to live with people who don't share their culture or religion.

Still, the neocons did get one thing right: the Western policy of sponsoring allegedly moderate despots to rule Muslim-majority states will backfire as it has in the past. What they got wrong was the idea that the only way to convince Muslims to adopt Western-style liberal democracy was to bomb them into the Stone Age.

When one looks at the Muslim regimes and leaders deemed acceptable to Western interests, one can immediately recognise why so many in the Muslim world are resentful. The tsunami of often absurd eulogies that followed the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto is a case in point.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Bernard Henri-Levy speaks of

... a beautiful woman. A visible, indeed a conspicuously, spectacularly visible woman ... with her face uncovered, unveiled.
Is Levy for real? Does he seriously believe that the most suitable woman to rule a Muslim- majority state is one who makes his imagination run wild? Would he write such words about a female Western leader, say Margaret Thatcher?

And now the largest political party in Pakistan is led by a 19-year-old who doesn't speak a single Pakistani dialect and who seems to be more popular among female Facebook fans than Pakistani voters.

During a recent visit to France to sign a nuclear energy agreement, recently rehabilitated Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi was quoted as making this request of his hosts:

I want my tent to be erected near Elysee Palace. I want to meet 200 attractive French women there.
If this is the calibre of secular leadership the West expects the citizens of Muslim-majority states to put up with, is it any wonder so many are prepared to do the unthinkable and give religious parties a try?

If the West can do anything constructive, it is to encourage those Muslim communities tempted to flirt with Islamist politics to choose the kind of Islamists chosen by Turkish voters. They aren't really Islamists at all, but rather cultural conservatives who want their nation to return to its Muslim heritage in the same manner that Western conservatives speak of their own societies' Judeo- Christian heritage.

And what sensible people from all sides can do is marginalise the loud- mouthed cultural warriors whose conspiratorial world view is conspiring to destroy us all.

Irfan Yusuf is associate editor of and received the 2007 Allen & Unwin Iremonger award for writing on public issues. This article was first published in the Canberra Times on 8 January 2008.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

Monday, January 07, 2008

COMMENT: Come clean, Keysar ...

You've got to hand it to Keysar Trad. He's always ready to face the difficult questions from journos and shock jocks, even if it means he is grossly defamed (such as on Sydney talkback radio station 2GB).

For many Australians, Keysar has become a household name. Much of his credibility stemmed from the fact that he was President of the Lebanese Moslems Association (LMA) as well as adviser and translator to Sheik Hilaly.

Indeed, many readers will remember Sheik Hilaly as the man who, whilst claiming the mantle of "Mufti of Australia, New Zealand & the South Pacific", repeatedly made grossly offensive remarks which embarrassed Muslims across the country.

And each time Hilaly had his foot in his mouth, Keysar Trad was always there, faithfully making excuses and explaining away the Sheik's gaffes. So often did we hear Keysar claim the Sheik was misinterpreted or misunderstood or quoted out of context. So often did we cough the words "bullsh#t, bullsh#t".

However, Keysar is no longer on the executive of the LMA, an organisation which only allows full membership to adult males eligible to hold a Lebanese passport. Indeed, even back then Keysar could only, at best, have represented LMA members.

Further, Sheik Hilaly is no longer Mufti of Australia, New Zealand & the South Pacific. It's arguable that few people in this huge chunk of the planet had even heard of him, let alone recognise his title. As such, Keysar Trad can no longer ride of Sheik Hilaly's coat tails.

But it isn't just sheik Hilaly's gaffes that are stunning. Keysar has had a few stunning gaffes of his own. He was quoted in an article in yesterday's The Australian of suggesting that taking out an Apprehended Violence Order against an imam is appropriate should the imam have "made a major breach of religious teachings or the law".

Thus far, Trad has not suggested he has been misquoted. Indeed, in a letter published on various Muslim e-mail lists (see Update III here), Trad says senior reporter Natalie O'Brien interviewed him.

We should not underestimate the sheer embarassment Trad has caused to all those Australian muslims he claims to represent. The remedy of Apprehended Violence Orders (AVO) is designed to pretect past, current and potential victims of violence, harassment etc. Trad is suggesting AVO's can be legitimately used by mosque congregations to enforce orthodoxy in their imams.

So on what basis can Keysar claim to appear in the media as a Muslim leader holding some representative capacity?

There are many nominally Muslim people commenting publicly on community issues and ccontroversies. I'm one of them. But I don't claim any representative capacity. I haven't manufactured some front organisation which has conveniently chosen me as spokesman.

Keysar continues to pass himself off as President of an entity called the "Islamic Friendship Society". But what is the IFS? What kind of entity is it? Is it a company or cooperative or an incorporated association? Does it have members? Who are its members? Is there any gender, ethnic or sectarian restriction on membership? When does it hold meetings? Does it have premises or a registered office?

Or is the IFS a sham organisation run out of Keysar Trad's lounge room?

Keysar owes it to the 300,000-odd ordinary Aussies who tick the "Muslim" box on their census forms to be honest about the IFS. If he wants to continue speaking on their behalf using the IFS banner, they have a right to know what representative authority or capacity IFS has to give him.

Keysar must come clean.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked