Friday, May 30, 2008

COMMENT: Camden seeks help ...

Well, it seems not everyone in Camden is a redneck. Let's face it. Out of 30,000 locals, 1 in 10 lodged a submission against the Camden Muslim school. One wonders what proportion of these really were inspired less by planning and heritage concerns and more by religious and/or racial bigotry.

Now Radio Australia reports that Camden Council has contacted the Federal Government seeking its assistance to run a program promoting multiculturalism.

The immigration department's Kate Pope has told a Federal parliamentary committee, the Council contacted them recently to discuss whether a program could be established.

"To look at whether there is an opportunity for us to assist with some project of some kind in association with the New South Wales Government with the community relations commission in relation to a harmony promoting initiative that might be suitable for Camden."
Good on them. We should wish the Council well.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

HATEWATCH: Morons have hijacked the Camden school mass debate ...

Camden resident Kate McCulloch had much to say to the Sydney Morning Herald after Camden Council rejected the Muslim school proposal.

The ones that come here oppress our society, they take our welfare and they don't want to accept our way of life.

Taking a cue from a senior Victorian Liberal Party campaign director McCulloch declared:

I have many English, Irish, Greek and Italian friends. I even have a Turkish friend who opposes this.

Perhaps her Turkish friend is a greedy f*cking Muslim who wants to take Ms McCulloch’s welfare.

This entire Camden school mass-debate has been hijacked by fruitloops like Fred Nile and the Australia-First Party. These people claim to speak for a community they are not a part of.

Shakira Hussein reminded us back in December that Islam isn’t new to Camden . The Sufi Movement of Australia’s website mentions its first founder, one Baron Friedrick Elliot von Frankenberg und Ludwigsdorf and his wife Olive Taylor ...

… settled on a dairy farm called ‘Spring Hills’ at Camden , on the outskirts of Sydney . The couple built a modern house that they furnished with Persian pottery, European embroidery, Hindu and Buddhist sculpture, and an extensive library of mystical and philosophical writings … On his death, at the age of 61, he was buried in the Camden cemetery.
If you click here you can see a photo of the Baron’s final resting place.

One wonders if the Baron or indeed any other Camden Muslims ever spoke in a secret code language called “Islamic”. Certainly this was on the mind of one Camden resident who told Radio National:

My kids can't read Islamic, how are they going to go to that school?
If he’s right, and if the school limits enrolment to students able to fluently converse in “Islamic”, I doubt it will attract students of any faith. The project will be a complete waste of time and money.

Speaking of waste, which imbecile has been advising the thick-sheiks at the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils? AFIC spokesman Ikebal Patel told the Sydney Morning Herald today that the closure of Camden school could push Islamic religious education underground and lead to kids coming under the influence of extremists. Let these dudes build a school or Muslim youth will become suicide bombers. Yep, that’ll remove all the hysteria.

AFIC, of course, really represents young Muslims. Over 50% of Aussie Muslims are under 40, Australian-born and speak English as their first language. Over 50% of Aussie Muslims are female. Yet none of these majority blocs is represented on the AFIC executive. Meanwhile, the organisation continues to squander precious resources on internecine battles in the Supreme Court.

All sides of this debate have been represented by unrepresentative people. When the sensible majority aren’t heard, it means the extremists have already won.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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HATEWATCH: Michelle Malkin spews all over Rachel Ray's Dunkin' kafiyyeh ...

Thanks to Crikey for pointing out how far-Right morons like Michelle Malkin continue to exercise control over News Corporation (which, as we all know, is at least 7% Saudi-owned).

Crikey linked to a report from the Boston Globe which reports of American donut giant Dunkin' Donuts which ...

... has abruptly canceled an ad in which the domestic diva wears a scarf that looks like a keffiyeh, a traditional headdress worn by Arab men.
This came after pressure from FoxNews commentator and blogger Michelle Malkin made this interesting anthropological observation ...

The keffiyeh, for the clueless, is the traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad ... Popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant and not-so-ignorant fashion designers, celebrities, and left-wing icons.
Malkin is right. Anyone who accepts her version of Arab culture is clueless.

For the benefit of this minority of clueless far-Right fruitloops, Dunkin' has removed the advertisement. In her typically hysterical fashion, Malkin made this observation on her hate-blog ...

It's refreshing to see an American company show sensitivity to the concerns of Americans opposed to Islamic jihad and its apologists.
Yep. No doubt Rupert Murdoch will now ban members of the Saudi royal family from buying any further shares in his all-American company!

By the way, Michelle, judging by your facial features, my guess is that many FoxNews viewers might doubt that you are a true-blue American. Then again, their ideological equivalent in Australia often get confused by my ethnic background as well.

For those who want to learn more about Malkin, her book In Defence of Internment has now been remaindered and can be purchased for under $5 at Basement Books in central Sydney. But don't buy it yet. Wait until they start giving it out.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

COMMENT: Reading list ...

The folks at are serving up an intellectual feast of profiles and interviews from the Sydney Writers' Festival.

For those who think conservatives are, by definition, people without principle and a bunch of war-mongers (and for the rest of the world), I recommend reading Richard Broinowski's profile of American Professor of International Relations and Vietnam veteran Dr Andrew Bacevich. Here's a taste ...

Now Professor of International Relations at Boston University, Bacevich is a West Point graduate, a principled man on the conservative side of politics who considered it wrong for wealthy citizens to leave the fighting of America's wars to the poor and disadvantaged. He fought with the US Infantry in the southern highlands of Vietnam, and his son, a newly commissioned second lieutenant in the United States Army, volunteered for duty in Iraq ...
Bacevich is the author of The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War, one of the most trenchant accounts I have read about contemporary American military culture. It should give any thinking Australian pause about the growing influence of American doctrine, strategy, training, equipment and choice of weapons over the Australian Defence Force.

He asserts that modern American militarism began in the late 1960s as a reaction to the humiliating defeat in Vietnam. It was driven by military officers intent on rehabilitating their profession, intellectuals fearing that the loss of confidence at home was paving the way for the triumph of totalitarianism abroad, religious leaders dismayed by the collapse of moral values, strategists stung by the worthlessness of their war schemes, politicians on the make, and purveyors of pop culture looking for a buck.

NewMatilda boss Rod McGuinness talks food with the guru of food Michael Pollan. Try spreading these paragraphs with your hommus ...

Pollan acknowledges that the cheapest calories are soy and corn based ones - both heavily subsidised in the US. These are rife in popular food products such as bread, soft drink and TV dinners, found in formats such as soy lecithin, corn starches and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCP). When asked how we can be expected to eat better when the cheapest and most accessible food is largely unhealthy, Pollan says he sees the growth of farmers markets as critical. Although he doesn't suggest subsidising the production of perishable foods such as carrots and broccoli, he does believe policymakers should subsidise their cost to consumers.

Another strategy is learning to cook. Regardless of social class, studies indicate that people who cook their own food are healthier than those who don't. Education on better eating is important but what about education about the (less healthy) foods we currently eat?
Meanwhile, resident village-idiot Irfan Yusuf (no doubt genuine village idiots like Tim Blair and that dude from the Herald-Sun will quote me on that) celebrates a session of political mud-wrestling between Robert Manne and Tony Abbott ...

Most explosive of all was Abbott's call for a constitutional change to extend Commonwealth legislative powers. He might be right, but I somehow think we'll have to become a republic first. States-rights conservatives beware.

Abbott tried to paint himself as the underdog, recognising Tom Switzer, Christopher Pearson and Peter Coleman as the only conservatives in the audience. I'm not sure if many in the audience even recognised these names. This certainly didn't stop them from agreeing with Abbott's declaration that Kevin Rudd positioning himself as an economic conservative meant that we were now all conservatives.

Sadly, Abbott lost many of these sympathetic punters when he compared Nelson to "Australia's most successful conservative leader" - apprarently Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

Robert Manne didn't have it all his own way either. When an audience member asked Abbott and Manne whether they were aware of the concept of peak oil, Abbott may have looked silly for admitting he didn't know the precise meaning of the term, but at least he was honest. Manne attempted a vague explanation, which lead to a wave of frowns through the audience.

You guessed it. This SWF session was free!

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

CRIKEY: Who knew what (and when) about Habib's torture?

ASIO head honcho Paul O'Sullivan told a Senate Hearing that Australia expressed its opposition to Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib being sent by the US to Egypt after he was arrested in Pakistan in 2001 - The Age and The Australian report the story today.

Here's an excerpt from Natalie O'Brien's report of the story in The Oz:

The current head of ASIO, Paul O'Sullivan, revealed during a Senate estimates hearing yesterday that his predecessor, Mr Richardson, was personally involved in discussions with the US State Department and the intelligence community about the "hypothetical" possibility of Mr Habib being taken to Egypt.

"The director-general of ASIO informed the US authorities that it was not the Australian government policy position to engage in practices of rendition," Mr O'Sullivan said.

Documents tabled in federal parliament last week revealed the rendition was discussed at a meeting in Canberra on October 23, 2001, between senior officials from the Prime Minister's office, ASIO, the Australian Federal Police, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Attorney-General's Department, and they agreed "that the Australian government could not agree to the transfer of Mr Habib to Egypt".

Mr O'Sullivan said yesterday it was Mr Richardson, who is now the Australian ambassador in Washington, who conveyed that message to the US Government.
Habib is of Egyptian origin. He speaks fluent Arabic. Why would Australia object to a short holiday in the home country? Because the Howard government knew that Habib was going to be tortured.

They also knew about the Bush administration' s practice of extraordinary rendition - the outsourcing of torture to another country which lacks the strict laws against torture that would (at least in theory) enable a detainee to bring action under US law.

Habib's torture is mentioned by former British Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg in his memoir Enemy Combatant. He tells of a detainee who had been kidnapped by Indonesian security services and sent to Egypt where he was ...

... held in a tiny room and interrogated brutally for three months before being handed over to the Americans.

That detainee told Begg of ...

... the screams of another man [Habib] from a room nearby.

Begg himself recalls Habib as ...

... a man who was often made to stand but kept fainting and dropping to the floor.

Back in November 2005, hardly 10 months after Habib was finally released from Guantanamo, the Washington Post reported at great length of ...

... a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe.
The report is lengthy and well worth reading in full. Here's more from the report.

The hidden global internment network is a central element in the CIA's unconventional war on terrorism. It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, and on keeping even basic information about the system secret from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA's covert actions.

The existence and locations of the facilities -- referred to as "black sites" in classified White House, CIA, Justice Department and congressional documents -- are known to only a handful of officials in the United States and, usually, only to the president and a few top intelligence officers in each host country.

The CIA and the White House, citing national security concerns and the value of the program, have dissuaded Congress from demanding that the agency answer questions in open testimony about the conditions under which captives are held. Virtually nothing is known about who is kept in the facilities, what interrogation methods are employed with them, or how decisions are made about whether they should be detained or for how long.

While the Defense Department has produced volumes of public reports and testimony about its detention practices and rules after the abuse scandals at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and at Guantanamo Bay, the CIA has not even acknowledged the existence of its black sites. To do so, say officials familiar with the program, could open the U.S. government to legal challenges, particularly in foreign courts, and increase the risk of political condemnation at home and abroad.

But the revelations of widespread prisoner abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq by the U.S. military -- which operates under published rules and transparent oversight of Congress -- have increased concern among lawmakers, foreign governments and human rights groups about the opaque CIA system. Those concerns escalated last month, when Vice President Cheney and CIA Director Porter J. Goss asked Congress to exempt CIA employees from legislation already endorsed by 90 senators that would bar cruel and degrading treatment of any prisoner in U.S. custody.

Although the CIA will not acknowledge details of its system, intelligence officials defend the agency's approach, arguing that the successful defense of the country requires that the agency be empowered to hold and interrogate suspected terrorists for as long as necessary and without restrictions imposed by the U.S. legal system or even by the military tribunals established for prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.

Even the Washington Post admits it engaged in self-censorship over the issue.

The Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior U.S. officials. They argued that the disclosure might disrupt counterterrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere and could make them targets of possible terrorist retaliation.
But it isn't just foreign governments helping the CIA by providing venues for its gulags. In their 2006 book Torture Taxi: On The Trail Of The CIA's Rendition Flights, AC Thompson and Trevor Paglen mention that even commercial airliners are contracted to transport suspects to and between CIA prisons.

The Oz reports:

The Prime Minister's Department told estimates last night it had no record of whether then prime minister John Howard was advised of the situation.
If ASIO knew but Howard didn't, on what basis would ASIO communicate Canberra's displeasure to the United States over Habib being the subject of extraordinary rendition?

At the very least, one can say that the Howard government's insistence on blindly supporting the Bush administration' s foreign policy agenda was often at the expense of Australian citizens.

Mamdouh Habib, an Australian citizen, spent years being abused and tortured in Pakistan, Egypt, Afghanistan and then Guantanamo. After all that, he was released without charge. Whether the Australian government was complicit in all this remains to be seen. But the fact remains that someone in Canberra knew in advance what would happen to Habib.

An edited version of this story was first published in the Crikey daily alert for 27 May 2008.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

BOOKS: David Davidar on religion, state and fundamentalism

The following are some notes I took during a session at the Sydney Writers’ Festival with David Davidar, author of the novel The Solitude of Emperors. A review of this book can be found here.

[01] India is arguably the oldest multiracial and multi-religious society on earth. Indians have had thousands of years of practice getting used to living together.

[02] Davidar discussed the phenomenon of Hindutva as a political and social movement. He spoke of tens of millions of youths from Hindu families who were hypnotised by Hindu extremists using all kinds of rhetorical tools. Many youths were unemployed and were told by the evangelists of Hindu extremism that they were victims of allegedly foreign faiths. Many were told: “Join us and we will solve your economic problems”.

[03] The main character of the novel is Vijay, a young man from a country town in South India who scores a job in a Bombay magazine (called the Indian Secularist and owned/edited by one Mr Sorabjee) and moves to the big city. Vijay at first has no exposure and no real opinions on racial issues or communal politics. Like most people, he is happy to remain a bystander until it racial ugliness forces itself upon him in dramatic circumstances.

[04] Many faiths came to India in their earlist stages. They include Muslims who arrived within the first century after the passing of the Prophet. They included members of a lost tribe of Israel whose descendants kept Judaism alive in South Asia. They even include one of the church fathers.

[05] India can always bounce back from Hindutva. However, it should never have happened. Indians owe it to themselves to explore its causes and its consequences.

[06] One of the major themes of the novel is to explore how people can feel powerless to do something to stop a force that we know is malignant and capable of destroying us all.

[07] Europeans think of secularism as separating church from state with a view to protecting either from the other. Indians, on the other hand, see no problem with religions taking a public role so long as the state maintains neutrality in religion. Indians have a different notion of secularism.

[08] In nations such as India, the only way to keep religious fanaticism in check is by having strong leaders prepared to perform this task. The textbook within the novel is Mr Sorabjee’s attempt to show how three great Indian leaders (Ashoka, Akbar and Gandhi) successfully ensured that religious neutrality was enforced as much as circumstances would allow.

[09] Sorabjee describes rioters as the children of unholy gods who prefer to kill in old-fashioned and brutal ways using fire, stoning and machetes. Their acts of murder are in essence acts of ritual worship of the unholy gods/

[10] Fundamentalism is religion gone mad. It is the worship of destructive gods.

[11] Ashoka was an ancient Indian king who adopted Buddhism. He established the world’s first welfare state. He became a peace-maker at a time when emperors were expected to make war.

[12] It is hard for Westerners to imagine engaging with people for whom religion is everything, the centre of their lives. In India, such people form the majority. Arguably, they also form the majority of humanity. The best way to deal with such people if to bring out and emphasise the best aspects of their religion. The way to fight the theology of hate is to emphasise real faith. Davidar insists that all the followers of all religions can find within their faiths the building blocks of a religiously neutral society. In this respect, he departs from the views of evangelical atheists such as Christopher Hitchens.

[13] At no point in history have East and West been so interdependent. Manufacturing is in the West, and it cannot take place without the resources and raw materials in the East. What will save us all is this economic interdependence and the instinct for self-preservation. Basically we have no option ut to learn to get on with each other.

[14] Arguably, globalisation is a force for good. It reinforces our interdependence. At no time before have more people on our planet had as much of the world at their doorstep or even at their fingertips than now.

[15] Economic prosperity in India has brought with it a dilution of caste lines. However, there are areas where caste is still an important factor. We should also remember that caste divisions for centuries provided some social structure and stability.

[16] We must never presume that the perversion of faith into violent fundamentalism is a monopoly of any one faith, whether Hinduism or Islam.

[17] The foot soldiers of fundamentalism tend to be blameless. The real perverters of faith are those who mastermind perversion, and they do this almost always with the intention of making themselves more powerful. Fundamentalism is caused by powerful men wishing to become even more powerful. And they are almost always men.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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MEDIA: The op-ed – a diminishing art? cont ...

Here’s some more stuff about the art and science of writing op-eds. It’s based on notes I took from a recent session at the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

[09] It will be an enormous tragedy when op-ed writers are regarded as traitors because of their criticism of governments. Criticism, if not downright cynicism, is necessary if newspaper writers (both reporters and columnists) are to perform their role properly. There is nothing unpatriotic about expressing a critical view on government policy, including a wartime policy.

[10] David Reiff claimed that the American media after 9/11 were no less uncritical than they were during previous wars.

[11] It’s a fact that the New York Times once hired a reporter who was a friend of the Bush administration. That decision turned out to be a disaster for both parties.

[12] John Gray answered Dave Reiff’s claim about wartime comment. He said that censorship during all previous wars was institutional in that newspapers were required by law to be censored. However, the difference in the post-9/11 environment was that newspapers engaged in self-censorship.

[13] Irony and satire presuppose common historical memories. It is much harder to do satire when the common memory is segmented as it is now.

[14] Some would argue that cynicism is a toxic form of self-censorship. Is this really the case? Or is credulity the real enemy? Or is it allowing one’s self to be too influenced by a feel-good factor?

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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MEDIA: The op-ed – a diminishing art?

Yesterday arvo, I attended a session at the Sydney Writers’ Festival during which three op-ed writers spoke about the role and influence of op-ed writing. Among them was John Gray.

No, not the American John Gray who wrote about dudes being from one planet and sheilas from another. I mean John Gray the liberal-thinking Pom who has quite usefully lashed out against Christopher Hitchens and other evangelical atheists.

The session was chaired and moderated by a dude who runs what sounds like a really cool place called the Centre for Independent Journalism at UTS. The chair reminded us all that the very first newspapers were just opinion pamphlets. He also said that the first Australian newspapers appearing in the 19th century had no shortage of libel and slander and would, if published today, be a defamation lawyer’s feast.

There were two other guys there whose names I can’t remember. One of them may have been David Reiff, who writes for the NYT and a few other papers. I was flat-out trying to write down what they were all saying and didn’t have time to write down their names.

Anyway, here are some gems from the session:

[01] We are living in a world today where there is much less consensus than during the Cold War era, especially in the US which is now far more evenly and bitterly divided.

[02] The web has become a knowledge-distorting opinion-making machine. Writing opinions has now become the intellectual equivalent to fast food.

[03] Broadcast and print media still have some influence over governments and policy-makers. Op-ed pieces don’t have as much influence.

[04] After 9/11, opinion-writers and columnists almost lost their critical faculties and became more like cheerleaders.

[05] For many columnists, writing an op-ed piece is more of a personal adventure. One’s goal is to be insightful and well as provocative. But one knows that the influence of an op-ed piece in the 24 hour news cycle won’t be very great.

[06] The post-9/11 American foreign policy has become the American Inquisition, in many ways like the Spanish Inquisition. It is a time when Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, torture, rendition etc have become normalised. Op-ed writers wishing to oppose this can do little more than snipe from the sidelines. They can’t hope to directly influence policy makers.

[07] Among the roles of the op-ed writer is to throw some light and bring out some history on an issue. That means showing how history might be repeated or repeating itself in present events. This means keeping alive historical memory.

[08] An op-ed might also play a useful role in recognising and questioning consensus where it exists.

More on this later.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

BLOG: Tim Blair's Saturday morning rant ...

Far-Right blogger Tim Blair has now been given space on the Daily Telegraph website. At 4:59am on Saturday 17 May 2008, Blair expressed his displeasure with an article yours truly wrote for The Age.

I'm not exactly sure why anyone would wake up at 4:59am to express one's support for torture, kangaroo courts and politically motivated prosecutions. No, I'm not talking about Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria or any other tin-pot Middle Eastern regime. I'm talking about Guantanamo Bay.

Blair, of course, supports Guantanamo Bay-style punishments. He probably also supports the US policy of extraordinary rendition. Blair is quite happy to see anyone suspected of criminal offences being beaten senseless, having dogs attack their testicles and other similar forms of punishment. Throw out the Magna Carta. Throw out the Geneva Convention. Throw out the Rule of Law. The only law that counts is Blair's Law.

And on what basis does Blair support Guantanamo internment?

Say what you will about Gitmo, but unlike Khadr’s father the guards there aren’t known for encouraging prisoners to blast themselves to death.
So it really doesn't matter what guards do, as long as they don't teach you to become a suicide bomber. I'm so glad that the NSW Department of Corrective Services doesn't follow Blair's Law.

Blair continues ...

Rather than whining over this, Muslims would do better to end mistreatment of children by their own families.
As if it's just a Muslim thing. As if all those Australians who complained about the treatment of (arguably ex-Muslim) David Hicks at Guantanamo Bay were just a bunch of whining Muslims.

My article mentions The Age newspaper, Dick Smith and an American film maker criticising Guantanamo internment. Clearly, all these people are just whining Muslims. Maybe one of them should change his name to Dick bin Smith.

One of Blair's few sane readers, a chap named Rod Blaine, had this to say ...

Tim, I agree with you that Khadr pere is a piece of work, but Yusuf’s point about Khadr fils still stands. We’re not talking about a David Hicks or a John Walker Lindh who, in his 20s, goes and seeks out a new family amongst the jihadists on the other side of the world. “Obey your father and mother” is a principle that, all else being equal, it’d be good to drill into more teenagers (Exhibit A: Corey Worthingless); unfortunately the downside is that now and then the father is a Khadr or a John Deaves, and parental authority is abused.

I disagree with Irfan Yusuf at times, but for all that he is a moderate, largely sensible, credible Muslim (ie, won’t be written off as an apostate like Manji or Hirsi Ali) who is committed to the Western liberal democratic process. Committment to the process is the vital point of agreement: we can disagree over the policy results later. Zinging him with “gotchas” won’t answer the substance of the point he makes.
Obviously Sheik Rod is just another whining Muslim. Meanwhile, Daniel Lewis injects some logic into the debate with this beauty:

I believe Irfan Yusuf still lives with his parents.
What a devastating refutation. And true to form, Daniel's buddy ElCid is as usual promoting his own Final Solution - turning Muslims into compost.

El Cid replied to RebeccaH
Sat 17 May 08 (11:36am)

We both know it ain’t gonna happen, Lady Rebecca.

If not “mistreated”, it’s “humiliated”, if neither of the above two, it’s “Islamaphobia”.

Actually, Islamaphobia is a damn good word to describe this THING.

Frothing at the mouth and their bite, infects others.

Next article, The Compost Solution.
Yes, you read it correctly. Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, who owns at least a 7% stake in News Corporation, should be turned into compost. I hope Stephen Mayne uses the next News Limited AGM to ask Sheik Rupert bin Murdoch whether he supports such sentiments being expressed in one of his newspapers.

ElCid puts finishing touches on Muslim compost heap.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

EVENTS: Imran Ahmad at the Sydney Writers' Festival

Karachi's answer to James Bond?

Imran Ahmad is author of the rather hilarious Muslim memoir Unimagined (which I've reviewed here). He is in Sydney for the Sydney Writers' Festival and has a number of events in Sydney and Canberra. He will also be appearing on the SBS TV chatshow Salam Cafe.

This Thursday morning, check out Imran with the exceptionally funny Judith Lucy, SBS Tv newsreader Anton Enus and Canada's Ryan Knighton discussing the topic of Not Another Misery Memoir.

Thursday evening, Imran Ahmad talks with Australian novellist Randa Abdel Fattah at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta. This is a free event.

Stay tuned for more events.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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OPINION: Sectarian prejudice is clear in mainstream media ...

The way things are looking, Senator Barack Obama will most likely be the Democratic Party's nominee for the presidential elections. He will lead a fractured Democratic Party to face a united Republican front to take on Senator John McCain. Hopefully he'll have a vice-presidential running mate who can shoot straighter than Dick Cheney.

Amazing. A black man in the White House. American stand-up comic Azhar Usman tells his audience: "What hope has he got? His middle name is Saddam's surname, and his surname rhymes with Osama". Still, at least his Christian name is an Arabic word that means blessing. Stand-up comics across the world will have a field day.

Voting isn't compulsory in the United States. In the 2006 presidential elections, just under 44 per cent of Americans of voting age actually turned up to the polling booths. The highest voter turnout in the last decade was about 55 per cent.

It is possible to become US president with only the support of 25 per cent of the voting age population. McCain need only convince a quarter of voting age Americans that he would make a better president than Barack Obama.

It will be tempting for Republican nominee McCain to appeal to the deeper prejudices of the American electorate. Already, like their Australian counterparts, people on McCain's side of politics are happy to use race and ethno-religious identity as a political wedge.

Daniel Pipes, a frequent visitor to Australia (usually at the invitation of allegedly conservative think-tanks) , has tried to establish that Obama was (and perhaps still is) a Muslim.

In May 2006, Cold War veteran Edward Luttwak wrote in Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper that peace in Iraq could only be achieved by civil war. Two years later, under the headline of "President Apostate", Luttwak writes in The New York Times that Islamic law requires Muslims to kill Obama, and even claims that Obama's visits to Muslim countries would be complicated by the fact that any security apparatus provided would regard it as sinful to protect Obama against assassins.

I'm not sure which Muslims Luttwak is talking about. To this day, not a single American Muslim leader or imam or commentator has called for Obama's execution. Nor am I aware of any imam elsewhere (including Indonesia where he spent some years at school) making such a call.

Maybe Luttwak started his own wacky Republican Muslim sect of assassins. Either that, or Luttwak presumes that 1.3billion Muslims behave like the assassins in the first Naked Gun movie, with their leader Osama bin Laden pressing the button and the rest of them holding a gun or pillow in Washington's general direction and reciting, "I must kill President Apostate Obama."

Of course, the reality is that Obama's biggest threat comes not from the kind of terrorist who flies planes into skyscrapers, but rather the kind of terrorist who belongs to fundamentalist militias that inspired an American to blow up a federal government building in Oklahoma. For these types, the colour of Obama's skin is enough reason to vote against (if not kill) him.

The far-Right needs to be more vigilant of its own dangerous and violent elements who, thanks to the "Obama was a Muslim and may still be" propaganda, now have two reasons to attack him. As for non-Americans (Muslim or otherwise), we will judge Obama by the success of his policies.

However, it seems sectarian prejudice may have a mainstream voice. Obama has copped much flak in mainstream American media for his association with a pastor. Yet everyone seems to have ignored a pair of wacky pastors who have the ear of McCain. A tiny portion of mainstream US and international media are reporting McCain's endorsement of an American pastor who wants America to fulfil its historical mission.

And what mission is that? To spread democracy? Fight climate change? Combat political extremism? Nope. For the Reverend Rod Parsley, America's historical mission is to see Islam destroyed.

It isn't clear whether he wants all Muslims (including American congressman Keith Ellison who placed his hand on Thomas Jefferson's Koran during his swearing-in ceremony) to be killed or just forcibly converted. And no doubt Arabic-speaking Christians will be disturbed to know that, far from being a Holy Spirit, Parsley claims Allah is a demon spirit.

Far from disowning Parsley's views, McCain happily accepted Parsley's endorsement in late February, when McCain described Parsley as his moral compass and spiritual guide. But it gets better.

McCain's other wacky man of God, the Reverend John Hagee, labels the Catholic Church the great whore and claims Hurricane Katrina was God's wrath against homosexuals.

A recent University of Maryland survey says 80 per cent of Americans believe their country is run by and for big interests. How many Americans support the few bigots who want the US to lead the next crusade against Muslims, Catholics and homosexuals? How would they vote if they knew McCain says what he loves most about Hagee and Parsley are their views on the Middle East?

With so much silence and double standards among American media, I doubt most American voters will hear about the influence of this pair of prejudiced pastors. Meanwhile, the whispering campaign about Democratic presidential nominee Osa ... woops ... Obama will continue unabated.

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer. This article was first published in The Canberra Times on 20 May 2008.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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EVENT: Bethlehem - Dreams of Home ...

For those interested in all things Jesus-related, there's an excellent exhibition being put on by the Friends of Bethlehem and supported by Marrickville Council (Bethlehem's sister-city) commencing tomorrow at the Chrissie Cotter Gallery, Pidcock Street Camperdown (inner-western Sydney).

Check out the poster below and discover the art of the kids of Jesus' village. And remember these immortal words ...

Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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