Wednesday, April 30, 2008

UPDATE: Stuff published elsewhere ...

I was busy leading upto and on ANZAC Day, having stuff published in the NZ Herald, The Press of Christchurch, ABC Unleashed and the Canberra Times.

I reviewed a wonderful and very short book by American-Algerian writer Dr Zighen Aym here. And readers were provided with a conversation with the wacky guys from the Fear Of A Brown Planet comedy duo.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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CRIKEY: They should hang their heads over the Hicks farce ...

Even after David Hicks was released from Guantanamo Bay in a hasty fashion, allegedly conservative cultural warriors like Gerard Henderson and Andrew Bolt kept telling us: Don't have sympathy for this man. He's pleaded guilty so he must be a nasty terrorist!

Now, they should hang their heads in shame. All daily broadsheets are reporting former Guantanamo chief prosecutor US Air Force Colonel Mo Davis' claims that the entire military tribunal process has been a farce. According to Davis, evidence was obtained through prisoner abuse (i.e. torture), and the trials were subject to direct political influence.

Indeed, The Oz reports Davis as saying

... politicians had forced him to prosecute Hicks ... if it had been his choice, Hicks would not have been charged because the case against him was not serious enough.
In other words, Hicks should have been released without having to enter any plea.

Yet former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer kept insisting to us that Hicks would be afforded a fair trial. Indeed, the Howard government were pushing for the Hicks trial to be brought forward.

Essentially, they were pushing for an Australian citizen to be pushed through a kangaroo court system subject to political influence and where evidence was obtained using torture. Clearly the former government didn't regard the fate of an Australian citizen to be of any great importance.

Luckily for the Commonwealth, Hicks continues to instruct his legal team that he doesn't wish to litigate and just wants to get on with his life. Hicks' father says that Hicks is "not ready for anything yet". We can only hope that Hicks will reveal to us the true horror of the Guantanamo experience in a future book.

But just because there aren't any more Aussies at Guantanamo doesn't mean that we should stop making a fuss. Crikey has already reported the tragic case of an al-Jazeera journalist who continues to languish there. Canadian Omar Khadr, a child soldier when taken into US custody in Afghanistan, continues to be ignored by Canada's conservative government.

And the Alex Gibney film Taxi To The Dark Side which tells the story of an Afghan taxi driver beaten to death in US custody, asks some tough questions about the use of torture in the war against terrorism.

As more Australians lose their lives in this war, our government also needs to start asking some tough questions. If Western nations like Australia don't speak out about human rights abuses of our allies, what moral basis will we have to criticise other countries (such as China and Saudi Arabia) for their human rights abuses?

The time has come for the United States to close its Guantanamo Bay prisons and to end extraordinary rendition. Australia is among America's closest allies. We are perfectly positioned to impress upon our ally the self-defeating nature of fighting terror with torture.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Friday, April 25, 2008

ANZAC Day reflections ...

Earlier this year, I joined a friend on a ceremonial visit to a Brisbane cemetery. Part of my friend's Sufi practice involves reminding himself of his mortality by visiting a cemetery every Friday.

As we walked through the Muslim section, we noticed some well-preserved graves of young men, most of whom did not make it to their 25th year. The gravestones were decorated with the calligraphy of verses from the Koran.

Among the deceased was one 24-year-old named Allah Ditta (a name which literally means Gift from God), a member of the 14th Punjab Regiment.

Ditta was one of any number of Indian soldiers who fought the Japanese at Malaya and Singapore during World War II. Following the fall of Singapore, many of these Indian troops were taken to the notorious POW camp in Changi. These soldiers were fighting as part of an army defending possessions, then current and former, of a colonial power.

Indians and Australians fought the Japanese side by side, trying desperately to keep the Japanese away from the Australian mainland. Indians of all creeds paid a heavy price in property and lives to prop up the Raj, the British Crown's most prized possession.

Indians didn't just fight the British in their epic independence struggle. As a means of obtaining independence, many Indians followed Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi's instructions and fought with the British. Often forgotten are the sacrifices these Indian troops made to defend British colonial possessions in South-East Asia against Japanese invaders in World War II.

This was not a war to defend India as such. Many Indians would have initially warmed to the idea of their colonial masters being humiliated by an Asian power.

Melbourne author Neelam Maharaj's 2007 historical novel Surviving Heroes tells the stories of Indian soldiers and their families who fought the Japanese in Malaya and Singapore. This historical novel is woven around the life of Ramesh Kapur, an Indian officer in the British army.

Ramesh and his fellow Indian soldiers were encouraged by Mahatma Gandhi to join the British war effort. Yet Indian troops were subjected to racial discrimination and humiliation by their British commanders. The Japanese knew this, and they sponsored the highly respected Indian National Congress dissident Subhash Chandra Bose to raise the Indian National Army from among Indian POWs.

Of course, patriotism combined with war can make scoundrels of even the most loyal. Gandhi strictly forbade Indians from using violence to fight the British. Hence, Indian POWs joining the INA to fight the British with Japanese help knew they would be regarded as traitors to Gandhi's non-violent struggle.

At the same time, the POWs witnessed firsthand Japanese brutality against British, Chinese and Malay soldiers, and civilians slaughtered in cold blood. For Ramesh and his colleagues, joining the victors against the enemy at home must have been tempting. At the very least, it would have been seen as the fastest route to joining their loved ones back home.

Some of Ramesh's closest friends joined the INA's march through Burma. But when the tide turned, the army was abandoned by fleeing Japanese forces and charged with treason by the British. Its leader, Bose, died mysteriously in a plane crash during the dying days of the war.

Of course, the Indians weren't the only soldiers subjected to racial discrimination and humiliation. Thousands of indigenous Australians, some as young as 16, fought for their country in every overseas military operation.

Among them was Reginald Walter Saunders, the first Aboriginal to be promoted to a commissioned rank. Reg Saunders’ father and uncle had both served in World War I. When World War II came along, Reg and his brother Harry also joined in
the war effort.

Reg served in such far away places as Libya, Crete, Palestine and New Guinea. Reg's brother lost his life while fighting on the infamous Kokoda Track.

Indigenous servicemen and women have often been ignored in Anzac Day celebrations, often relegated to the back of the Anzac Day marches organised by the RSL. As the National Indigenous Times editorialised on Anzac Day 2005:

“The truth about our black Anzacs is that thousands fought in overseas wars, hundreds died, but very few were ever formally recognised, or rewarded. When black soldiers returned home, they were not permitted to access returned servicemen land grants. They were denied war pensions and they were refused membership of (and entry to) RSL clubs all over the nation. Most who died after their return were buried in unmarked graves.

So blackfellas were good enough to fight alongside white Australia, but that’s where the newfound equality ended. How could this happen in a nation that defines itself by the noble digger?”

No doubt those who espouse the white armband view of history will be offended at my bringing up these issues on an occasion such as this. After all, we have all benefited from the sacrifices of our past generations who gave their lives so that we might be free.

But what sort of free nation believes that the only way to improve the lot of its oldest inhabitants is to breach racial discrimination laws?

So today, at the going down of the sun, make sure you remember Geoff Shaw. He served six years in the army, seeing active combat in Borneo and Vietnam. If he can make it to a march in a major metropolitan city, chances are the RSL won't now relegate him to the back of the procession as happened in past years with other indigenous diggers.

But then, he probably can't afford the airfare given that half his veteran's special pension will be quarantined.

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer and writer. First published in the Canberra Times on ANZAC Day, Friday 25 April 2008.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

MEDIA: Kerbaj's GIRU witch-hunt Mark IV

What is wrong with Dicky Kerbaj? Doesn’t he do any research before writing his articles? Or does he just make a few phone calls, send out a few e-mails and cobble something together?

Kerbaj is supposed to be a journalist. His job is to report. His job is not to engage in a crusade or a jihad. Yet his stories concerning Griffith University and its Islamic Research Unit (GIRU) are generally little more than the presentation of one side of a debate. Clearly Kerbaj is taking sides.

Those who have followed Kerbaj’s reporting on these issues will note that he has never quoted from myself on any of these issues. I’m saying this not to big-note myself. However, it is the case that, since April 2005, I have had some involvement in public discussion on these topics. Yet I refuse to go on the record when asked to do so by Richard Kerbaj. I simply have no confidence in his ability to understand or even accurately report what I tell him. That I must say this about the reporter of our national broadsheet is quite disturbing.

Kerbaj must understand that his role is to report. It isn’t to take sides. If he wishes to write opinion pieces, his opinion editor is just a phone call or an e-mail (or perhaps even a few desks) away.

The strangest thing about so much of Kerbaj’s reporting is that he claims to have some kind of expertise in Muslim affairs. He presents himself as an expert due to his untested Arabic language skills. But when asked about where he studied Arabic or what degree of proficiency he has, Kerbaj is rather coy.

I have no objections to Kerbaj reporting what he sees or heard or reads. Whether it is embarrassing to Muslims or Arabs or Lebanese or Sudanese or anyone else is really immaterial to his role. But when he begins to enter the realm of opinion, often citing anonymous sources in the same manner as his cousins at FoxNews, Kerbaj opens himself up for criticism.

Kerbaj’s repeated errors on even the most basic Islamic theological matters show that so many of the sectarian, ethnic, linguistic and other nuances are way out of Kerbaj’s league. The results can often be embarrassing.

For instance, in his report yesterday, Kerbaj claimed that Dr Mohamad Abdalla, the convenor of GIRU, is a follower of the Tabligh Jamaat (TJ). At the same time, Kerbaj has been attempting to show that a measly $100,000 donation from the Saudi embassy shows that Saudis will expect the promotion of Saudi-style wahhabism. Yet if that was the Saudi’s goal, why would they make their donation to a man whom (as Kerbaj suggests) is associated with a group that Saudi religious authorities regard as deviated and even promoters of idolatry?

In today’s piece, Kerbaj again displays his ignorance of religious doctrine, this time of Christian doctrine. He cites Stephen Crittenden as suggesting that, by using the term “Unitarianism” as a translation of Tawheed, the Vice Chancellor of Griffith was associating Wahhabism with the Unitarian movement that arose in England and the United States.

Professor O'Connor faced further criticism yesterday from a trio of long-time ABC religion journalists and commentators - Rachael Kohn, John Cleary and Stephen Crittenden - who said he had confused the Christian doctrine of Unitarianism with the Islamic sects of Wahhabism and Salafism in an opinion article published in The Australian. Professor O'Connor wrote: "Unitarianism is also known by its critics as Salafism or Wahhabism, after an 18th-century Islamic scholar Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab."

The ABC commentators responded by saying: "Ian O'Connor's equation of Wahhabism and Salafism with Unitarianism is utter nonsense.

"Unitarianism emerged as a liberal Christian movement and gained ground in the early years of
American democracy."

Had Kerbaj any basic knowledge of comparative theology, he would have seen the absurdity of this alleged claim by Crittenden. Kerbaj also attributes this claim to another ABC religion presenter, Rachel Kohn. I find it impossible to believe that Dr Kohn would subscribe to such nonsense.

Indeed, to even describe Unitarianism as a Christian doctrine is sheer madness. Orthodox Christianity (and by that term, I don’t just mean Eastern Orthodox, but include Catholic and Protestant churches) is a strictly Trinitarian affair. The Unitarianism of the medieval theologian Arius or of latter day Unitarians such as Isaac Newton or Joseph Priestley bears little resemblance to the Athanasian Creed.

Tawheed is a basic Islamic doctrine which argues that God is One. Wahhabi/Salafi doctrine takes this concept further in some respects than mainstream Sunni and Shia doctrine. Yet essentially Tawheed is a doctrine replicated in Judaism and in Unitarian forms of Christian belief which mainstream Christianity regards as heresy.

All this should be obvious to anyone with even elementary knowledge of the doctrines of the Abrahamic faiths. I doubt religious affairs reporters like Linda Morris or Barney Zwartz would make mistakes on this kind of stuff, even if it involves quoting a Radio National presenter. I think what has happened is the Kerbaj has tried to make a mountain out of a mole hill of split hairs. He has more than likely misunderstood something he’s been told by Crittenden et al and has reported his misunderstanding in an attempt to find something contradicting the Griffith VC’s op-ed.

So what is the real issue? Is it whether the Griffith VC understands the difference between Wahhabism and a form of nominally Christian belief that virtually all Christians regard as heresy? Is it whether Dr Abdalla is associated with an Indian Sufi missionary movement? Is whether human rights in Riyadh will form part of the curriculum?

Let’s put this in perspective. We are talking about $100,000. Compare this to the amount invested by the Australian government in the Centre for Excellence in Islamic Studies, of which GIRU forms a part.

At the end of the day, we are talking about a postgraduate research unit. It is a place where people go to pursue their doctorates. They already have a particular topic in mind which is somehow linked to Islam or Muslims. GIRU provides them with an environment where they can pursue their research interest.

Until Kerbaj is able to show examples of students being hampered whilst pursuing ...

*topics critical of the Saudi government; or
*topics critical of wahhabism

... his continued pursuit of this issue will be deemed little more than another witch-hunt.

Perhaps a good note to end off this piece would be with a letter to the editor published in today's Australian which addresses the heart of the issue.

YOUR front-page reports attacking Griffith University over partial funding of an Islamic Research Unit smacks of McCarthyism. Open-ended funding of research positions is not a form of payola: how many chairs are endowed by businesses without strings attached? It’s more than possible for a diplomatic arm of a nation with which we and the US have strategic and diplomatic ties to give such funding.

Saudi Arabia, for all its flaws, just happens to be home to the key spiritual sites of Sunni Islam. Will your newspaper condemn the ethics of academics working in Catholic universities, as if they were answerable only to the Vatican? Will you support full, independent public funding of research, or will you continue to encourage universities to rely on private funding but foment scandal when the funding comes from politically incorrect sources?

Graeme Orr
Associate professor,
TC Beirne School of Law
University of Queensland

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

CRIKEY: Ignorance of Kerbajian proportions exposed ...

Dicky Kerbaj makes it a hat-trick, today managing to extract his third article on Griffith University’s Islamic Research Unit (GIRU).

This time his article in The Australian cites various people from Griffith Uni (including its Vice Chancellor) who have defended the measley $100,000 donated by one of the wealthiest royal families on the planet.

The university authorities also refer to similar arrangements Saudi royalty have made with universities as controversial as Harvard, Oxford and Georgetown (a private Catholic university in Washington).

I’d love to see His Honour Judge Wall (again quoted today by Kerbaj) suggest the Catholic Church established educational institutions akin to extremist Pakistani madressas.

Kerbaj finally shows his own lack of expertise on what he describes as "the secretive Muslim group Tablighi Jamaat". In doing so, he shoots his own argument in the foot even more.

The TJ’s operations are extremely limited in the Saudi kingdom. TJ textbooks are banned from the country as they allegedly contain "deviant" Sufi teachings. Hard-line Saudi Wahhabi religious authorities have severely criticised TJ’s methodology and teachings.

Anyone with even a kindergarten understanding of Muslim sectarianism knows of the fatwa issued by the former Mufti of Saudi Arabia attacking the TJ and forbidding Wahhabis from spending time with them unless it is for the purpose of correcting them.

Kerbaj’s silly attack on GIRU head Dr Mohamad Abdalla reflects more on Kerbaj’s poor research skills than on Dr Abdalla.

To its credit, The Oz did run an opinion piece today by Griffith University Vice Chancellor Ian O’Connor. Professor O’Connor reveals that the university had received 10 times the amount of the Saudi donation from a Singaporean Buddhist elder. He also gave Crikey a plug. Grouse.

(First published in the Crikey daily alert for Thursday 24 April 2008.)

UPDATE I: Check out the unedited version of the Griffith Uni VC's article published by the marvellous folk at ABC Unleashed here.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

MEDIA/SATIRE: It's time to expose the extremists at Griffith University ...

The Australian continues with its witchhunt of the Griffith Islamic Research Unit (GIRU), this time with both an article and editorial claiming GIRU will actively promote Wahhabism after receiving a measley $100,000. This time The Oz has pulled out its biggest expert gun yet - a Queensland District Court Judge.

His Honour Judge Clive Wall QC has found GIRU guilty of acting as ...
... an agent to promote their [i.e. Saudi] bigoted brand of Islam.

Really? Where is Wahhabi bigotry to be found in the seven criteria listed here?

*To encourage research between Griffith University and the wider Australian Muslim community.

*To promote scholarly co-operation between Muslim and other religious scholars on issues high on the agenda.

*To provide commentary on issues related to Islam and Muslims in Australia.

*To conduct research, organise seminars, lectures, conferences and meetings on Islamic issues, with emphasis on issues that pertain to Australian Muslims as a minority group.

*To organise, participate and assist in educational activities that seek to bridge the gap between Islam and the West.

*To publish on issues pertaining to Islam and the Muslims in Australia.

*To provide scholarships for research aimed at examining the condition of Islam and Muslims in Australia; research that strives for understanding in order to bring positive and lasting change in our communities.
A brief perusal of GIRU’s website shows its real role: to provide a venue where postgraduate students can conduct academic research toward their PhD’s. The last time I checked, most Aussie PhD students prefer to seek approval for their topic from their university faculty, not from the embassy of an overseas country.

But let’s take for granted The Oz’s claims. Let’s look at one al-Qaeda sympathiser resident at GIRU - Dr George Saliba, formerly of that notorious Wahhabi institution known as Columbia University. Pictued below are some of the radical Taliban fanatics who attend this den of anti-Western hatred ...

Clearly these non-integrated youth are ready to strap bombs to themselves. They have been brainwashed by Saliba's teachings on such radical subjects as the history of science and medieval Arab astronomy.

But it gets worse. One rather nasty anti-democratic fundamentalist doing his PhD at GIRU is Anwar Ibrahim, a former Distinguished Visiting Professor at that nasty Saudi-funded madressa known as Georgetown University. Georgetown is part of an international network of Islamic extremists led by this man.

I trust our immigration authorities act quickly before this man is allowed anywhere near our country.

Returning to Anwar, this fellow is conducting highly dangerous anti-Western research on the “Asian renaissance”. No doubt this research will increase the rate of suicide bombings in downtown Lakemba and Coburg .

Anwar, of course, is busy promoting extremism and radicalism in our region through his role as Malaysia ’s de facto opposition leader. In the past, he has lectured on such favourite topics of Usama bin Ladin as the works of William Shakespeare and Muslim democracy. His friends include radical cleric Ayatollah Greg Sheridan and terrorist financier Mufti Paul Wolfowitz.

Radical wahhabi cleric, Ayatollah Greg Sheridan, sporting a sharia-compliant beard.

Terrorist financier, Mufti Paul Wolfowitz, removing his shoes before entering a radical maddressah.

Some readers may also recall Anwar was also jailed for opposing an extremely moderate Muslim leader. He was certainly given the sort of royal treatment usually reserved for opponents of the Royal Family in Saudi prisons.

Without doubt, we must take heed of warnings given by The Oz on this nefarious research unit and its den of Wahhabist extremists. I just wish someone in Mr Rudd’s office listened and not have invited GIRU head, Dr Mohammad Abdalla, to the 2020 Summit.

Either that, or Mr Rudd prefers not to take his cue from American newspapers ...

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

CRIKEY: Islam and democracy: six speakers, four brains

Tonight, a coalition of various media, local government and not-for-profit groups (including the prestigious St James Ethics Centre) are hosting the first Australian Intelligence Squared debate. The formula is fairly straight forward - three speakers in favour of the proposition and three against. It's the winning format that has made the IQ2 such a huge success in the US and UK.

Tonight's sell-out debate topic is "Islam is incompatible with Democracy". A reasonable enough topic. I'm sure one could find numerous Muslims who would argue the affirmative, and at least as many non-Muslims who would argue the negative. However, it seems that at least two speakers have given the organisers reason to be extremely perturbed.

Former connoisseur of magic cancer cures Paul Sheehan wrote a column yesterday referring to ...
... Tongan morons ...
... and claiming Goulburn jail ...
... is dominated by Aborigines, Pacific Islanders and Lebanese Muslims.
Shakira Hussein mentions Sheehan’s past work includes the outlandish claim (made in 1995) that racially-motivated crime by African-Americans against whites had led to some 25 million white Americans victims over a 30 year period. And you thought the Nazis were nasty to the Jews. As if things couldn't get worse for the organisers and sponsors.

DD McNichol writes in The Oz today that St James Ethics Centre Executive Director Simon Longstaff became extremely perturbed to learn that the keynote international speaker, Daniel Pipes, had delivered a speech to the rather geriatric crowd at Quadrant. The Oz's opinion editor invited Pipes to submit the article for publication, and it also appears in today's Oz.

Read the piece and understand why Longstaff has good reason to be extremely concerned. Daniel Pipes combines just about every ugly stereotype about Muslim migrants you could imagine: They breed like rabbits; They refuse to integrate; They incite "indigenous European Christians" to violence and even genocide; They aren’t content to become European but would prefer to dominate, turning Europe into "Eurabia". If only this dude was around last November to tidy up that Lindsay pamphlet.

Pipes' claims only make sense if you presume Europeans and Muslims are mutually exclusive monolithic groups. Pipes ignores millions of indigenous European Muslims, including those making up the majority in Europe’s newest nation, Kosovo. (One wonders why Rebecca Weisser would want her page to be promoting the kind of rhetoric that hardly six-and-a-half decades ago justified some of her distant relatives to be sent to the gas chambers). Had Pipes talked in this manner about Jews, he may have been refused a visa for inciting hatred and violence toward a portion of the Australian community. And rightly so.

Among the stated goals of the IQ2 debates are ...

... rais[ing] the level of public discourse on our most challenging issues ...

... and ...
... transcend[ing] the toxically emotional and the reflexively ideological.
Saying Muslims incite European Christians to slaughter them is hardly the sort of stuff that raises the level of public discourse.

I hope for the sake of the organisers that these noble goals can be met notwithstanding utter contempt being showed for them by two out of six speakers.

Meanwhile, spare a thought for Mr Nooooo Bingo, my fellow White Ribbon Day Ambassador Tanveer Ahmed, who finds himself on the same side as Pipes! I hope Tanveer doesn't have any Bangladeshi relos in the UK...

First published (some 6 hours before the debate commenced) in the Crikey! daily alert for Tuesday 15 April 2008.

Some appropriate photos to go with Daniel Pipes' piece in The Oz

Rebecca Weisser, Opinion Editor of The Australian, commissioned Daniel Pipes to submit a speech he gave to the old men at Quadrant earlier this week. You can read the article here. Below I have reproduced some appropriate photos that I think would go well with Pipes' article. The grafitti is provided by Pipes' friends in Hebron ...

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Saturday, April 12, 2008

UPDATE: Stuff recently published ...

What does Miranda Devine know about museums? Find out here.

And click here to see how researchers are spot-on when it comes to men and their obsessions with brainy females. And in case you're curious about political developments in Malaysia, click here.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Monday, April 07, 2008

COMMENT: How the Washington Post proved Greg wrong ...

In a column dated 22 March 2008, Greg Sheridan confidently wrote that the regime of Saddam Hussein was directly linked to terrorists from groups that formed part of al-Qaida's umbrella.

Well, sort of. Here's an excerpt from his column ...

Newly published Iraqi documents reveal just how extensive Saddam's involvement with international terrorism was. The summary of these documents, published under the heading Saddam and Terrorism, has been reported across the world and read by almost no one. Its first paragraph reads:

"The Iraqi Perspectives Project review of captured Iraqi documents uncovered strong evidence that links the regime of Saddam Hussein to regional and global terrorism. Despite their incompatible long-term goals, many terrorist movements and Saddam found a common enemy in the US ...

The world was misled about this report because of the focus on one single sentence of the report, which said: "This study found no smoking gun (that is, a direct connection) between Saddam's Iraq and al-Qa'ida."

However, the report does portray a vast network of Iraqi support for terrorist organisations that includes numerous groups the report identifies as "part of al-Qa'ida". The misleading and declaratory sentence presumably refers only to Osama bin Laden and al-Qa'ida central itself. For example, the report states: "Captured documents reveal that the regime (of Saddam) was willing to co-opt or support organisations it knew to be part of al-Qa'ida, as long as that organisation's near-term goals supported Saddam's long-term vision." This included, for example, Saddam providing financial support for Egyptian Islamic Jihad, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's deputy.

Acknowledging this support, but saying there's no smoking gun directly to al-Qa'ida itself, means the report is taking an incredibly restrictive and precise view of al-Qa'ida.

But in any event this report is not claiming, as wrongly reported in the wires, that there was no link with al-Qa'ida, merely that it found no absolute smoking gun in the translated documents ...

The new report is also important in showing how much in common Saddam had with al-Qa'ida ideologically. Saddam always wanted to glorify himself as the centre of a new pan-Arab nation rather than establish a new universal caliphate glorifying Islam, as was bin Laden's ambition.

So Usama bin Ladin wanted to be a pan-Arab leader. In what sense? Was bin-Ladin an Arab nationalist in the tradition of Gamal Abdel Nasser?

But what of Sheridan's claims of strong ideological affinity? Well, believe it or not, the Washington Post has also dealt with these same documents. In a report dated March 26, 2008, the Post says ...

Media reports on the Pentagon's five-volume translation of truckloads of Saddam Hussein- era documents tended to skim the surface, picking the highlights and the obvious, such as the absence of evidence of an "operational relationship" between Hussein and al-Qaeda.

"By the middle of Volume 5" of the tome prepared for the military's Joint Forces Command, Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists tells us, "most people will have entered an altered state of consciousness." But not the eagle-eyed folks over at the federation, who sifted through the review and came up with a stunner.

It's in a 50-page analysis by Iraq's crack military intelligence crew that "disparages the austerely conservative Wahhabi school of Islam by claiming that its eighteenth century founder, Ibn 'Abd al Wahhab, had ancestors who were Jews," the FAS reported.

Talk about burying the lead! Who cares about warmed-over stuff about Saddam and Osama? Now, this is news.

The shocking Iraqi analysis says that Ibn 'Abd al Wahhab's grandfather's true name was not "Sulayman" but "Shulman." (Of course! The Saudi Shulmans! ) "Tawran," a source often cited by Iraqi intelligence in the reports as an expert, "confirms that Sulayman, the grandfather of the sheikh, is (Shulman); he is Jew from the merchants of the city of Burstah in Turkey, he had left it and settled in Damascus, grew his beard, and wore the Muslim turban, but was thrown out for being voodoo," the Iraqi document says, according to a Defense Intelligence Agency translation.
Anti-Wahhabi polemical works of both Sunni and Shia variety frequently alleged Ibn Abdul Wahhab had some Jewish ancestry, as if this is enough to discredit him. The irony is, of course, that Jewish ancestry is NOT passed through the paternal line but rather through the maternal line. In other words, Ibn Abdul Wahhab's grandfather's religious affiliation is only of some polemical interest if he was his maternal grandfather.

Now in what sense does Saddam Hussein have ideological affiliation with bin-Ladin when Hussein's official government records happily reproduce anti-Semitic insults about the ancestry of the man who founded a sect that bin-Ladin and his followers strictly adhere to?

Go figure.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

COMMENT: Allowing the neo-Cons to change their minds ...

Apparently this diagram has something to do with changing people's minds ...

Yesterday I wrote a slightly shorter version of this piece for Crikey. Today, one Crikey reader named Brefney Ruhl sent the following thoughtful response:

Re. "Greg Sheridan catches up on Hamas" (yesterday, item 20). Now, now Irfan Yusuf. The realisation that terrorist demonising attitudes and activities such as the war on terror are actually counterproductive to the cause of peace, takes an intellectual leap that few neo-cons are able or willing to take. If Greg has in fact had a revelation in relation to what Islamist terrorism is really all about, this should be nurtured not denigrated. We all need to be positive and supportive with this newly inquiring mind. One never knows, he might even influence others on that side of the fence, dare we hope ... Brendan, Philip, Janet, Chris?
I guess he has a point. Perhaps I went a little hard on Sheridan. Maybe in future I should be a little more patient with him and those of similar views. Certainly Sheridan is nowhere near as jaundiced as some of his other colleagues. And unlike most of them, Sheridan has actually travelled outside of Australia and New Zealand.

So thanks to Brefney Ruhl for giving us all something to think about!

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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