Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Taking leave ...

I am taking some leave from active blogging for as long as I can resist. The aim is to focus more on researching and writing the Iremonger book, which I hope to finish by no later than 1 October. As in 2008, not 2067. Wish me luck!

I still have one op-ed to write for a New Zealand paper which I'll post once it is published. Hopefully, no stupid Muslim spokesman won't make some stupid remark that will have me nervously writing responses to (as happened when this chap last opened his mouth).

In the meantime, I've added two blogs from Iraq to the blogroll. One is by young American journalist Leila Fadel, the other by some of her Iraqi colleagues.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Friday, July 25, 2008

UPDATE: Stuff published elsewhere ...

Eureka! A piece of mine has just been run in that wonderful Jesuit publication called Eureka Street.

A similar piece was run in NewMatilda.

But if you think all that's cool, watch this awesome example of law enforcement in action ...

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

CRIKEY: News Ltd outrage patronises ordinary Australian Catholics ...

Australian believers of all faiths, and of no faith in particular, read newspapers. However, when newspaper editorialists (and some columnists) try to read believers and their sentiments, they often miss the mark.

Certain columnists and editorialists at The Australian and other metropolitan News Ltd papers have heavily criticised the ABC and Fairfax reporting of sexual abuse allegations against Catholic priests. You can read some of these criticisms at the ABC Media Watch website here. That criticism was repeated again in today’s editorial in The Oz.
The gist has been that widespread reporting of the issue is an affront to World Youth Day pilgrims and ordinary Catholics. The goal seems to be defending the sentiments of ordinary Catholics. The effect is that the editorialists and columnists are patronising Catholic believers. It’s as if Catholics must necessarily be offended by reporting of the misdeeds of Catholic clergy.
On Saturday night, I attended a gathering of Jesuits in Melbourne. These devout Catholics had no hesitation in using the strongest language against the comments of Cardinal Pell and Bishop Fisher about sexual abuse victims. It reminded me of the colourful language many Muslims (including myself) used when Sheik Hilaly was caught out using Ramadan sermons to develop new advertising copy for the cat-food industry.
These Catholics had no hesitation in criticising their religious leaders in the presence of a non-Catholic. They said it was an issue of human rights that affected everyone regardless of faith. Indeed, the Pope himself showed far more leadership and openness on this issue than some News Ltd editorialists.
The concern shown by some News Limited editorialists and columnists for Catholic sentiments wasn’t present when these editorialists commented on another religious leader caught out making disparaging remarks about rape victims. In one edition, The Oz devoted an entire 7 pages of broadsheet copy to Hilaly’s cat-meat comments. Further, editorialists and columnists had no hesitation in casting aspersions on Australian Muslims and indeed Muslims across the world.
Indeed, when yours truly argued in Crikey that The Oz’s Hilaly overkill was only making Hilaly’s position stronger, The Oz ran a highly offensive editorial accusing me of "covering up Islamic outrages", and even suggested I was letting ...
... intolerant attitudes fester in the shadows before exploding and catching Australia unawares, as has happened in countries such as England, Denmark, Spain and The Netherlands.
As if I spent most of my time defending Hilaly.
So on the one hand, editorialists at The Oz and its sister papers think it’s ok to use the insensitive words of a Muslim "cleric" to pillory some 360,000 Australians who tick the "Muslim" box on their census forms. On the other hand, these same writers and editors think Catholics are so over-sensitive that they won’t be able to cope with reporting of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.
Both are extreme positions, patronising and offensive to believers. The presence of both extremes in the same newspapers takes media hypocrisy to new levels.

First published in the Crikey daily alert for 24 July 2008.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

OPINION: Western civilisation? What a good idea that would be ...

A journalist asked Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi what he thought of Western civilisation. Gandhi responded: "I think it would be a good idea."

This English-trained Indian barrister knew a thing or two about Western civilisation. He knew European colonial powers had claimed credit for many great ideas - religious pluralism, the rule of law and human rights.

Gandhi also knew that these ideas often weren't practised by their preachers. Before India achieved independence, Western civilisation had produced the Holocaust and the mass murder of Japanese civilians via two atomic bombs.

Gandhi also knew a thing or two about jihad. As a young lawyer practising in South Africa, Gandhi was given a copy of the Koran by a Gujarati Muslim client, as well as a first-class train ticket. After boarding the train, Gandhi was removed from the first-class carriage for being a coolie. This Hindu sat on the platform and opened up the Koran. He found verses calling on him to wage jihad, a just struggle, against oppressors.

From these verses was born the Natal Indian Congress and the anti-apartheid struggle. Prominent people of all faiths, including Muslims, supported that struggle.

Many were killed, tortured or imprisoned by the apartheid regime. One of them, Dullah Omar, was appointed by Nelson Mandela to be South Africa’s first post-Apartheid Justice Minister.

One wonders what Gandhi would think today of the abuse of the jihad verses by terrorists from groups like al Qaeda, who combine Islamic theology with the worst excesses of European nationalism to produce something resembling national socialism.

Muslim theocratic extremists abandoning terror and fighting real jihad? Now that would be a good idea.

While Bin-Ladin sits in his cave pontificating about conspiracies between "Crusaders" and "Jews" (and even "Hindus") to kill Muslim civilians, his followers are murdering innocent Muslim civilians across the world. Each week, a suicide terrorist in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq or some other Muslim country takes place, killing at least as many civilians as the 7/7 London bombings. It’s no coincidence that the first victim of the 7/7 London bombings was a devout British Muslim girl named Shahara Islam.

Of course, hypocrisy and double standards don't just exist in the Islamic world. The bin Ladens of the West, neo-conservative leaders who have the blood of Afghan and Iraqi innocents (not to mention American and allied soldiers) on their hands, are also throwing their principles out the door.

The treatment of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay is a classic example of where Western civilisation is becoming little more than abstraction. In his recently published book Torture Team: Deception, Cruelty and the Compromise of Law, international law professor Phillipe Sands, QC, exposes unethical Defence Department lawyers joining forces with neo-conservative politicians to produce the Acton Memo.

This document, signed by Donald Rumsfeld on December 2, 2002, enabled interrogators at Guantanamo Bay (and later at Abu Ghraib) to lawfully commit acts of torture in violation of Article 3 of the Geneva Convention.

The Canadian Government was recently ordered by a court to release video footage of one of its citizens, Omar Khadr, being interrogated at Guantanamo Bay. It isn't exactly pleasant viewing.

Khadr was 16 at the time the footage was filmed in 2003. He was 15 when first captured in July 2002 during a US raid in which his father was killed. After being shot in the back, he was taken to the notorious Bagram Air Base, where he was often brought to interrogation on a stretcher and denied pain medication. Canadians didn't have much sympathy for this child soldier.

The situation is complicated by the fact that Khadr's brother is currently before a Canadian court fighting US attempts to have him extradited to face terrorism charges. Stephen Harper's conservative Government is showing as much disdain for Khadr as former PM John Howard showed towards Australian detainees David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib. Khadr's lawyers hope release of the video may change all that.

Should a person accused of committing terrorism offences when a child be kept in such conditions? Some say that Khadr, whose father allegedly had strong links to al Qaeda and was a fundraiser for the terrorist network, is still dangerous. These people might like to view the video of Khadr's interrogation and watch this boy pleading for Canadian interrogators to help him.

They might also remember that he hardly had a choice in growing up in a household where his father espoused radical views, even encouraging Khadr's brother to become a suicide bomber. One can hardly expect a child to recognise his father's charities were in fact funding extremist groups.

No adult, let alone a teenager, should have to spend years in a steel mesh cage at Guantanamo Bay undergoing brutish forms of interrogation and detained without charge or trial until years have elapsed. The criminal justice systems of all civilised nations treat child defendants differently to adult ones.

When some Western countries condemn the likes of Robert Mugabe but are happy to commit human rights abuses against their own civilians, they simply confirm what Gandhi suspected all along - that Western civilisation perhaps really is just a good idea.

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer and writer. An edited version of this article was first published in the New Zealand Herald on Tuesday 22 July 2008.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Monday, July 21, 2008

UPDATE: Stuff published elsewhere ...

Cricket fans will be completely couldn't-give-a-rat's-backside to learn that this piece about my namesakes was published in NewMatilda recently.

I've started writing for Eureka Street, a fantastic online magazine published by a group of exceptionally funky Jesuits in Melbourne. Apparently the magazine got its name because of profound historical reasons. Its first office was located in a street named Eureka Street. My first submission is here.

Apart from that, I really don't have much to announce. Except that I am getting hitched soon. Who is she? Who would submit herself to a life of such creativity, excitement and over-consumption of Turkish pide?

I can't say. But I do find the following music clip extremely amusing.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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CRIKEY: Kevin Andrews' immigration crusade

Since the end of the White Australia Policy, there has been bipartisan support for a non-discriminatory immigration policy. But with the Howard government so intent on sucking up to sectarian groups, it was only a matter of time before someone discovered evidence of it trying to co-opt Fred Nile’s agenda before the last election in much the same way as it did Pauline Hanson’s before the 2001 poll.

Richard Kerbaj reported in The Weekend Australian of a proposal by former Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews to increase Christian migration from the Middle East.

FORMER immigration minister Kevin Andrews instructed his department to lift the intake of Christian refugees from the Middle East in response to what he saw as a pro-Muslim bias created by corrupt local case officers.

Mr Andrews was so concerned about the extent of corruption in Middle Eastern posts - despite the allegations being investigated and dismissed by his own department - that he wrote to then prime minister John Howard advocating a $200 million plan to replace local employees with Australian staff in 10 "sensitive" countries, including Jordan, Iran and Egypt ...

A Department of Immigration spokesman said there were no substantiated cases of anti-Christian discrimination in Australian embassies and no plans to replace "Islamic locally engaged staff" with Australian officials.

An investigation by The Weekend Australian has discovered Mr Andrews was petitioned by the Australian Christian Lobby to address alleged religious discrimination against Iraqis. Before losing office in the November 2007 election, he ordered the number of Christian Iraqi refugees to be increased by 1400 for 2007-08, almost doubling the previous year's Iraqi total of 1639.

"Put it this way, it was made very clear to the immigration department that more Christian refugees were wanted," a Howard government source said ...

In his letter to Mr Howard in August last year, Mr Andrews, a devout Catholic, proposed significant changes to the refugee selection process.

In the letter, seen by The Weekend Australian, Mr Andrews accused the case workers in Australian embassies of fraud and bribery when processing migration applications.Such posts are predominantly staffed by local workers.

He said this raised "considerable security risks".

"The other significant reason for changing the staffing composition of overseas posts is to prevent discrimination at the 'front office' of the posts," Mr Andrews wrote.

"Since becoming Minister, I have received a large number of representations from people alleging systematic and co-ordinated discrimination against particular persons based on race and religion at certain sensitive posts. In particular, this allegedly involves the active blocking and impediment of the lodgement of applications at the front office.

"At worst, potential applicants are simply being told not to lodge an application. The majority of such claims have been made in respect to posts in the Middle East and Central Asia. For these reasons, I think it would be timely to revise the staffing arrangements for immigration posts that can be classified as 'sensitive' and to staff these posts exclusively with Australian departmental

Mr Andrews names 10 countries - Pakistan, India, United Arab Emirates, China, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Kenya, Russia and Egypt - in which the posts should be staffed exclusively with Australian departmental officers ...

There is no provision within Australian immigration laws to select refugees on the basis of religion. A former Howard government source said Mr Andrews wanted to save Christian Iraqis from persecution by Shia and Sunni Muslims throughout the Middle East.

"With the intake from the Middle East the department was told that we want to focus on Iraqi Christians," the source said. "The department basically said they couldn't do that because that would be discriminating on race and religion."

The official explanation given last August by Mr Andrews for boosting Iraqi refugees numbers was that the altered intake was in response to an international conference run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees four months earlier seeking to help Iraqis forced out of their country.

The Howard government was at the forefront of extending humanitarian support for African (mostly Christian) refugees. But in response to the senseless murder of 18-year-old Sudanese man Liep Gony, Kevin Andrews declared Africans were just not integrating and committing too much crime.

But if The Oz report is correct, Muslims working in the immigration sections of some Australian embassies are behaving corruptly, giving Muslim applicants special treatment. Andrews was lobbied by the Australian Christian Lobby about discrimination against Christians in Iraq. The Oz doesn’t mention whether the ACL representatives' claims alleging nasty pro-Muslim conspirators were responsible for reducing the number of refugee places awarded to Iraqi Christians.

DIAC-heads had already investigated and dismissed these allegations, but Andrews still wrote to Howard suggesting $200 million of taxpayers’ funds be used to send Aussies to our overseas posts to make sure discrimination against Christian applicants is replaced by discrimination against Muslim ones. Or something like that.

There’s no doubt Iraqi Christians face a perilous situation in Iraq. Many are considered too close to Saddam’s aggressively secular regime. Chaldean Christians are particularly vulnerable given Saddam’s number 2, Tariq Aziz, was Chaldean Catholic. It hasn’t helped that Baghdad’s Chaldean Christian Patriarch called for Aziz’s release from prison last Christmas. The Patriarch's remarks were clearly designed not to inflame sectarian agendas but rather as a humanitarian gesture, though many of Saddam's victims will not see it that way.

Saddam was the master of sectarian wedge politics, playing one congregation off against another. His murderous legacy continues even after his death, with angry Sunni Arab community members attacking Shias and Kurds while angry Shias and Kurds attack Arab Sunnis and Chaldean Christians. Entire groups are being held responsible for the actions of powerful individual group members like Aziz.

However, Middle Eastern Christian migrants shouldn’t take Andrews’ support for granted. If any of their sons are fatally bashed during the term of a future Coalition government, there’s some chance the Immigration Minister will claim it’s their fault for not integrating properly.

A version of this piece was first published in the Crikey daily alert for Monday 21 July 2008.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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MEDIA: Spiked?

Well, it was bound to happen at some stage.

The editor-in-chief of a newspaper in Australia has, at the last minute, decided not to run with an op-ed submission I provided on the topic of rape victims and violence against women. I'm not sure if it constituted a spike or if it was just a case of competing stories.

The article argued that certain media outlets and virtually all politicians have shown that they really aren't concerned about rape victims. Why?

Because they rightly condemned Sheik Hilaly on his catmeat remarks. However, they (especially the politicians) have been silent on the remarks of Bishop Fisher.

Effectively, it means that violence against women is being used as a sectarian wedge by monoculturalists, and this is now seeping into the mainstream. When that happens, it brings the attitudes of the entire community into question.

If we condemn some clerics who insult rape victims but not others, it clearly means we are being selective of which sexual assaults we deem offensive and which we do not.

On issues like violence against women, society must draw a line in the sand. Whenever someone crosses the line, the chorus of condemnation must be heard loud and clear. Both Hilaly and Fisher crossed that line. Both should be equally condemned. If we are loud on one but silent on the other, we clearly have little regard for all rape victims.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Comment policy ...

Some time ago, I changed the postings on this blog to only allow comments I had moderated to appear. I've now decided to remove the moderation situation and will allow all comments in. However, I will reserve the right to remove any comments that I deem offensive, abusive or that contain threats of violence or are in some other way undesirable.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Friday, July 18, 2008

OPINION: Risk of marginalisation in Western talk of the universal ...

It takes a lot of guts for a non-Catholic to comment on World Youth Day, especially one like me who has an enormous soft spot for Catholics.

It all started in the mid-1970s, when I was the only brown-skinned boy at Ryde East Infants School in north-western Sydney. Having lots of female friends (it was more pity than attraction) wasn't the main reason I was bullied. Rather, it was that I looked like an Aboriginal, something a teacher advised me to take as a compliment as it made me more authentically Australian. Plus, my mum (in her exotic, gorgeous saris which made many a hippy mum extremely jealous) dressed differently.

As if that wasn't bad enough, some bullies used to accompany me home, demanding protection money in return for protecting me from even meaner bullies. It was schoolyard mafia at its worst.

Then, one day while walking home from school, I noticed a blond-haired, blue-eyed kid who wore a slightly different school uniform to me. He wore a blue shirt that had a small yellow cross embroidered onto it, and his school bag was emblazoned with the words Spiritus Sanctus.

I couldn't understand exactly why he was being teased and bullied. After all, he looked just like the bullies. This anomaly in playground mafia discrimination policies really confused me, and one day I confronted one of the bullies.

''Why are you teasing him? He looks just like you. I'll bet his mum doesn't wear a sari.''

''He's not like us at all. He's a f---ing Catholic!''

I ran home overjoyed by this news, which I excitedly shared with Mum. Her response was to befriend every Catholic in the street. Suddenly, I didn't just have South Asian aunties, I also had Maltese and Italian and Irish and even Aussie aunties as well. I became a culturally liberated six-year-old. For Mum, it was a case of showing solidarity with the fellow oppressed.

Many years later, during a divinity class at a low-church Sydney Anglican boys school, my very conservative chaplain (he was a huge fan of Fred Nile) joined the Ryde East playground mafia in indoctrinating me against Catholics. He was rather less ecumenical than my mum, and even claimed that the beast labelled 666 in the Book of Revelation referred to the Pope.

In fact, the chaplain always referred to them as Roman Catholics, to emphasise they weren't real Catholics. It was at that time that I learned the actual meaning of the word catholic universal. Surely the Sydney diocese of the Church of England had a greater claim to being universal.

Muslim Australians love to whinge and complain about discrimination. But what we've gone through at the hands of pseudo-conservative governments (often in response to the pseudo-sensible remarks of imbecilic thick-Sheiks) is only a fraction of what Australian Catholics have had to put up with for more than a century.

So it's with great joy that I watch members of my mum's coalition-of-the-bullied celebrate World Youth Day in Sydney. I'm really glad that Catholics have come this far, from the days when kids from Catholic schools in my street used to get bashed up, to now openly celebrating their faith in the presence of the Pope.

But based on my experience with so many official (and allegedly universal) Muslim gatherings, I have some reservations.

Both Islam and Catholicism are universal faiths. Islam, like Catholicism, has historically been fairly culturally neutral, taking on the indigenous cultural symbols of places it has settled in. Yet some Arabs always try to dominate so much of the Muslim agenda.

The largest Catholic country on earth isn't in Europe. It is situated in the largest Catholic continent on earth South America. I was happy to see images of Brazilian pilgrims playing traditional drums and swaying their hips. If only allegedly orthodox Muslims made more room for pulsating Indian qawwali songs and Indonesian wayang shadow-puppet shows. However, I wasn't terribly happy to hear Cardinal George Pell talking about declining birth rates in the West.

No doubt, I too am concerned about Albanian Muslims and Portuguese Jews reproducing less than their ancestors, just as I'm peeved about the offspring of European (and indeed Western) Muslim migrants engaging in cultural integration by having as few kids as their Christian fellow citizens.

However, I really can't see the need for Catholic clergy or Muslim media commentators to take on the role of Western demographers. What do European birthrates have to do with Catholics from Goa or Bolivia?

World Youth Day cannot be allowed to become a huge spectacle of Western Catholicism, and hence potentially unrepresentative of international Catholicism.

So much of the prejudice that underpins those claiming to speak on behalf of our Judeo-Christian heritage is the same prejudice that led Aussie bigots of yesteryear to despise Jews and Catholics. It is built upon transforming universal religious and cultural symbols into racial and sectarian weapons of mass exclusion.

I don't believe Cardinal Pell was playing with weapons of mass exclusion in his comments about population decline in the West. However, I must wonder at the wisdom of such remarks, given the presence of so many non-Western pilgrims who regard themselves as equally Catholic as my mum's old European Catholic friends.

Why reinforce the mistaken notion that the terms Christian and Western are synonymous?

When a truly universal sense of Christianity sinks into our nation's collective psyche, the chances of bigoted politicians and media personalities successfully using our Christian heritage as a cover for their un-Christian attitudes will diminish.

Perhaps then Australians who look different (including those resembling Jesus and his mum) won't feel like foreigners and outsiders. Amen to that.

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer and writer. This article was first published in The Canberra Times on Friday 18 July 2008.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Thursday, July 17, 2008

COMMENT: Good for the goose ...

Back in January 2007, Gerard Henderson wrote the following words in the Sydney Morning Herald in relation to the Hilaly situation and Muslim responses ...

During the controversy of late last year Waleed Aly, a director of the Islamic Council of Victoria, wrote an article which at best rationalised Hilaly's comments and at worst went close to defending them. At the time Aly said there was "plenty of supporting evidence for those who wish to believe it" that "journalists are paid to defame the Muslim community with the goal of keeping us divided and weak". In other words, blame the media for the public's hostility to Hilaly's extreme language.

The other day, Henderson did some media-bashing of his own. I agree with many of his observations on the "sneering secularists". But he can hardly blame the ABC and other media outlets for reporting stories on child sexual abuse anymore than Muslims can blame the media for reporting stories on Hilaly's rants on the causes of sexual assault.

Last week Lateline began a campaign against Pell concerning his handling of a complaint of Anthony Jones who, at the age of 29, was sexually assaulted by a Catholic priest, Terence Goodall.

Henderson then asks this question ...

... Lateline interviewed a Canberra lawyer, Jason Parkinson, and the American journalist Robert Blair Kaiser. Both were critical of Pell. The former Catholic priest Paul Collins was also heard on Lateline that night. So was the academic Mark Findlay. They were also critical of the cardinal. Apparently Lateline could not find anyone who would put an alternative view.

Alternative view? That some influential people in the Church hierarchy have handled the matter fabulously? That victims don't deserve compensation? That Bishop Fisher deserves a Nobel Peace Prize?

If Henderson is suggesting Catholics and/or WYD pilgrims shouldn't be held accountable for the foibles of the Church hierarchy, I agree with him. But if he is suggesting the media should not report this story, I think he is as deluded as those claiming the Hilaly fiasco shouldn't have been reported.

In reality, the media has been relatively generous to the Church over this issue. Perhaps the enthusiasm and good cheer of the pilgrims that has captured journalists' imaginations.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

More on political erectness …

An old friend from my Young Liberal days recently asked me why I write so much for left-of-centre publications (he used the example of “Have you become a leftie, Irf?” he asked.

(No doubt he’ll be shocked to learn that I’ve also commenced writing for the allegedly left-of-centre Jesuit ezine Eureka Street.)

My own views haven’t changed all that much. I’m still basically a supporter of the free market, even if I believe that it doesn’t always produce the most beneficial outcomes.

My problem is that I find so many Western conservatives have adopted a number of rather strange ideological habits. One of them is political erectness, a trait which I have identified here.

So what is real conservatism? I think real conservatism is a way of thinking which frowns upon revolutionary change. Conservatives realise human beings are human beings, and that any agenda for change has to be gradual and based on a thorough understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the status quo. If it ain't broke, fix it cautiously.

Much conservative policy-making these days treats human beings as pieces of computer hardware that merely require the right (or should that be Right?) ideological, policy and/or legislative software. With the proviso, of course, that the human beings involved are free of alien racial, ethnic, cultural or religious viruses.

Unfortunately most conservative politicians (and ideologues, editors and columnists) these days think that the only way to prove you’re really conservative is to reach positions on all issues that are completely opposite to what the Left has come up with. (And why should this surprise anyone? After all, so many of today's so-called conservatives are just ex-Lefties trying to get somewhere in the world.)

Anyone who defines themselves by what they don't stand for (as opposed to what they do stand for) is intellectually weak and deficient. When a conservative columnist attacks something just because it is expressed in a manner or has an outcome that someone on the Left might support, you can tell they aren't a real conservative.

Now if the Left happen to come up with an idea or policy which can also be reached using conservative reasoning, why should conservatives necessarily oppose it? They will only do so if they believe in political erectness.

Another weird thing about much modern conservatism is that it has forgotten the reality of human beings as multi-dimensional creatures. What I mean by this is that human beings have numerous layers of identity – culture, language, religion (or lack thereof) etc. Today many conservatives treat certain people as belonging to some group just because one layer of their identity is regarded as unpalatable (often for politically erect reasons).

This propensity to pigeon-hole people is a dangerous trend. Just because a person shares one layer of their identity with mass-murderers or terrorists, it doesn’t make that person a mass-murderer or a terrorist. Old-style conservatism looks at people as individuals. The new style of allegedly conservative political erectness allows its practitioners to impose negative characteristics on large numbers of individuals, often with absurd results.

Hence, some UK-based conservatives seem to think that virtually all peoples associated with Islam should be deemed terrorists. With Muslims, terrorism becomes the rule unless the Muslim can prove that they are sufficiently “moderate” (something that is often only provable when the Muslim becomes an ex-Muslim). Muslims who show signs of open devoutness are deemed especially suspect.

The irony of this thinking is that the first victim of the July 7 London bombings to be buried was a 21 year old devout Muslim bank clerk of Bangladeshi origin whose surname was … you guessed it … Islam. Indeed, at least 10% of the victims of this bombing had some religious, cultural and/or ancestral link to Islam.

In Australia, prior to the last election, similar reasoning was used by conservatives to demonise African migrants and indigenous Australians. Some conservative commentators even suggested that indigenous Australian cultures regard sexual assault of minors as normal. Some of these same commentators are today attacking those who are using WYD to highlight the plight of victims of sexual assault by clergy.

Political erectness isn’t about solving problems or coming up with sound policy. Rather, it now seems to be more about ghettoising individuals into groups and then imposing negative characteristics on them. Ironically, these individuals are then blamed for being part of ghettoes that exist only in the minds of their pseudo-conservative politically erect accusers.

If conservatives don’t watch out, they might find themselves going down the same disastrous road as German and Dutch right wing parties in the decades leading upto the Second World War.
Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

COMMENT: UK neo-Con mass debaters withdraw from debate

As this is a family-friendly blog, I will refrain from using too much sexual innuendo.

A number of allegedly conservative Englishmen have been invited by organisers of the IslamExpo (IE) being held in London.

Among them is Douglas Murray, a writer for the CentreRight blog. Murray reproduces an open letter to the organisers of the IE explaining his withdrawal symptoms, which you can read here.

His reasons? Apparently one of the directors of IE has commenced defamation proceedings against another conservative blogger who produces the Harry's Place blog.

The result?

I will not come on a platform hosted by people carrying out legal action against a deeply admirable and informed proponent of free speech.

What a bunch of sooks these so-called conservatives are. They refuse to partake in a debate at a forum attended by at least 50,000 people. Then they wonder why people don't take them seriously.

In the past 6 months, I've had numerous phone calls from journalists and in-house lawyers working for a certain media organisation. They've threatened me with defamation action because of material I've written on this and other blogs. Yet if that same media organisation provides me with a venue to share my views and participate in debate, why should I refuse?

After all, just because one or two individuals within an organisation enjoy providing humble bloggers like myself with an enormous ego boost, it doesn't mean the entire organisation reads (let alone objects to) the contents of this blog.

Of course, the real reason these so-called conservatives don't wish to participate is that they don't wish their own views to be subjected to intelligent scrutiny. Murray and his co-horts are happy to label IE as part of a giant jihadist conspiracy to take over the Western world. They are happy to lead us to believe some directors of IE have links to groups often associated with theocratic Islam. Or groups or individuals who allegedly support groups or individuals associated with theocratic Islam. Or groups or individuals who allegedly support groups or individuals who allegedly support groups or individuals associated with theocratic Islam (the lattermost being people who, according to writers like Ed Husain, are just waiting for the right moment to blow up a bus or two).

But they won't be too happy if someone mentions their associations with political extremists such as the Israeli Likud Party which is opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state. They won't be happy for their support for the disastrous Iraq war or their own links to theocratic Christianity (and its allies in the neo-C0nservative movement) to be discussed.

They don't like engaging in debate because they prefer to engage in another exercise. One that rhymes with the words "mass debate".

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

VIDEO: Interesting tourism advertisement ...

Is it time for the annual pilgrimage to New Zealand? Perhaps ...

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Thursday, July 10, 2008

UPDATE: Stuff published elsewhere …

The New Zealand Herald today published some observations on World Youth Day. NZ Herald columnist Garth George was, for some reason, mistakenly mentioned on the website as co-author of the piece. As if George would be caught dead writing such trash!

Following up on a piece about polygamy, the wonderful folk at New Matilda have run a piece on WYD.

Meanwhile, the folk at ABC Unleashed have published my latest observations about thick Sheiks. The highlight isn’t the piece but the vibrant mass debate that follows beneath it.

And now that Alexander Downer has announced his resignation, let’s check out what he was telling (well, sort of) comedian Aamer Rahman when Aamer interviewed (well, sort of) Downer some years back.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

MUSIC: A tribute to North America's Kiwis ...

Us Aussies love taking the piss out of the Kiwis. But what do the Yanks think of their northern neighbours? Click on the video to get an idea ...

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

EVENT: CIS Acton Lecture - Fr Robert Sirico

Readers of this blog (all 3 of you) will by now have realised that I take some interest in issues of religion and its relationship with politics. So you can bet your backsided dollar that I'll be investing $22 plus transport costs in going to this event hosted by the Centre for Independent Studies. It's to be held on Monday 21 July 2008 in Sydney.

The topic is "Must Religion be a Threat to Liberty?". It should be an interesting event.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Monday, July 07, 2008

UPDATE: Reading list ...

Aussie lawyer and freelancer Mustafa Qadri puts NewMatilda cyberspace to good use, providing some important background (and his own experiences on the ground) on what goes on inside one of the hottest conflict zones in the Middle East ...
Aid agencies have always had to coordinate their activities in Gaza with the Israeli army and that remains the case. The dirty little open secret is that Israeli army commanders routinely coordinate day-to-day affairs, such as the entry and exit of fuel convoys, with their Hamas counterparts.

The Gaza Strip is presently experiencing a serious humanitarian crisis due to an Israeli blockade that has been in force since the Hamas takeover. Around 80 per cent of the population
lives below the poverty line. Access to energy and water has been heavily reduced while food prices have soared.

"I am unable to meet my family's needs," a man in Gaza told me two weeks ago. "Whenever I go to the market, I cannot find what I want, and if I find it, I cannot offer the prices."

He then asks this interesting question ...
If Israel can work with Hamas, why can't Australian charities?
Meanwhile, President and Founder of the Islamic Friendship Association of Lakem ... woops ... Australia (or as one of my Aussie Muslim mates described it to me, the "Trad Family Singers") Keysar Trad braves abuse from NewMatilda readers as he argues the case for polygamy for blokes. He then has some interesting things to say about yours truly ...
Over the past week or so, all that I experienced from the opponents of my views are attempts at censorship through public derision and unrelated questions that offer nothing to the debate. In, Irfan Yusuf commented on my "large belly and hips" and on my representative capacity, as if this somehow refutes or deals directly with any aspect of my argument.

Was I the author of these comments concerning Keysar's physique? Let's have a read at the relevant paragraphs ...
As this is a family-friendly website, I won't be typing what else the daughters will probably be saying. I'm sure they will be far less polite than Virginia Haussegger was in Saturday's Canberra Times who writes of Keysar's "large belly and hips thrust confidently forward".

And as I grab the White Pages and look up Jenny Craig's number ...

Seriously, it isn't nice to quote people out of context. It's preferable to allow people space and room to say what they really feel, in their own words. Here's Keysar again, this time in another part of cyberspace ...

In my younger days, I wrote a 20-page thesis on love, attraction and emotions that is so complex (or so they tell me) that many readers drop with emotional exhaustion after the first few pages. It was an expression of my thought processes at that time in my life which neither defines me or my faith, even if that experience compelled me to purchase Professor Milad Doueihi’s well presented and researched A perverse history of the human heart which, despite being a very good book, is still waiting for me finish reading.

Personally, I think in all these debates Keysar means well. He should just keep out of them. Or even better, he should just stop generating them.

Anna Rose issues her fatwa on Professor Garnaut's draft climate change report (I guess she'd probably refer to it as a daft climate change report). She refers to energy companies and other participants in what Dr Guy Pearse would describe as "the Greenhouse Mafia" as the "polluter lobby". Take this, you nasty polluters ...
For Kevin Rudd to delay - or decrease the effectiveness of - the ETS because of pressure from the polluting industries is a slap in the face for the millions of ordinary Australians who elected him on a promise of effective climate action. Australians know that reducing greenhouse pollution will change our economy; but they're ready for those changes and they want leadership, not short-term populism.

The polluter lobby must not set the terms of the debate around climate solutions. Climate change is too important and the costs of inaction will affect every aspect of our economy and our lives.

Rose is honest enough to acknowedge her criticisms have been made before she's read the 600-page draft report. Then again, who has?

And I couldn't be bothered explaining why I basically agree with Donald Brook's argument on art and child porn. Although I might change my mind once I've actually read all of it!!

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

COMMENT: Interesting logic on the relationship between immigration and racism ...

Recently I was listening to an old episode of Counterpoint, a program broadvast on Radio National. The episode was from 4 March 2006 (or is that 3 April? It's hard to tell with old iPods). The host Michael Duffy (an author, former publisher and columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald) was interviewing Andrew Norton, editor of the journal Policy published by the Centre for Independent Studies.

Norton had published an article in Policy addressing the issue of whether Australia was a racist country. I haven't read the article, though I think this is where you can find it.

During the interview, Norton and Duffy discussed the relationship between racism and immigration. They both seemed to agree that opposition to immigration during the latter half of the twentieth century in Australia wasn't necessarily to do with racism but was more an issue of the fear among Australian workers of migrants taking jobs. So a person's opposition to immigration shouldn't be necessarily treated as racism.. Fair enough.

Later in the conversation, Norton Duffy state that immigration increased under the Howard government. This, they alleged, meant that the Howard government (and presumably John Howard) were therefore not racist.

So if you support the pursuit of policies that lead to an increase in immigration, you simply cannot be racist. But if you oppose immigration, you aren't necessarily racist. Go figure.

One interesting thing raised in the discussion was a poll which showed that, within 2 years of the Holocaust ending, over 50% of Australians opposed Jewish immigration. And they tell us we have a dominant Judeo-Christian heritage. G-d help them.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

OPINION: No regrets? Downer did it his way, sadly ...

Some years ago, I went to a ''Big Ideas'' forum hosted by the Centre for Independent Studies. The session was moderated by ABC board member Janet Albrechtsen who related a conversation she had had with our then foreign minister Alexander Downer, who described his after- hours schedule to her. Let's play some of the tape:

... after he had a particularly bad day on the political hustings, he slinks home and he sits on the sofa with a glass of whisky turn[ing] on the television to watch FoxNews just to remind himself that there is some sanity left in the world.
Sanity? In FoxNews?

In recent times, Albrechtsen has again found reason to relate to her fans her conversations with Downer, who as you all know is thankfully no longer our foreign minister. In fact, he soon will no longer be the Federal Member for Mayo.

In The Australian on Tuesday, Downer tells Albrechtsen that he has no regrets about his 25 years or so in Parliament. No regrets? Sounds a bit like Opposition Leader Dr Brendan Nelson claiming he has no regrets about that time in 1993 when as AMA president he screamed over a megaphone, "I have never voted Liberal in my life."

Let's survey Downer's history and see if he has reason to have no regrets. Some years after Nelson said those immortal words, the parliamentary Liberal Party decided to give Dr John Hewson the flick and disappoint many media pundits who predicted Bronwyn Bishop (yes, her!) would lead the charge against the Labor Party. Aren't we all glad political journalists don't get to vote in internal Liberal ballots.

Instead, the party opted for an allegedly new generation of leaders with Downer as leader and Peter Costello as his deputy. Downer was 43 at the time. It was a tough time for the Opposition. The Coalition had just lost the seemingly unlosable election in 1993 after trying to sell a GST (a key feature of then opposition leader John Hewson's Fightback! package) to the electorate.

Downer issued a rather strange set of motherhood statements posing as policies called The Things That Matter. Downer's quaint summary of his policy platform makes, er, interesting reading: '
When we release our domestic violence policy, the things that batter. Our marginal seat strategy, the swings that matter. And our family policy, look this is a reflection of our own home I suppose, the flings that matter.
In one verbal swoop, he managed to get a certain 51 per cent minority in the electorate rather offended. Downer later explained it away as a joke. His party colleagues weren't laughing, and made sure he didn't last in the job beyond a few days over eight months, making his the shortest period of Opposition leadership in Liberal Party history. You'd think he'd at least have regrets about that.

Strangely enough, Downer now criticises Nelson for not being able to provide a ''broader narrative'' to compete with Labor. I mean, give the guy a break. For a start, he now actually does vote Liberal.

Downer agreed to hand John Howard leadership in January 1996 in a deal that saw Downer become foreign minister (Australia's 38th) in the Howard government.

No doubt Albrechtsen will dispute my claim that Downer should find lots to regret about his term as foreign minister. He involved us in a disastrous war in Iraq which has cost God-knows how many Iraqi lives (not to mention troops and contractors). The only people who seem to have benefited from this war, as ABC-TV's Four Corners exposed the other night, were companies such as Halliburton.

Downer should also regret the role he made our country play in the so-called war on terror, often at the expense of Australian citizens. In this respect, Albrechtsen might wish to read reports in her newspaper about ASIO's prior knowledge that Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib would be sent to Egypt as part of the American practice of extraordinary rendition. Given that ASIO knew about this (and probably about what would likely happen to Habib), I find it difficult to believe that Downer knew nothing.

And if Albrechtsen doesn't believe this story, she might like to read her colleague Caroline Overington's book Kickback: Inside the Australian Wheat Board Scandal and ask why Overington isn't alone in wondering why Howard didn't sack Downer once the full extent of AWB corruption became known. When questioned in the subsequent Cole inquiry in April 2006, Downer took a cue from Ronald Reagan and confidently declared, "I don't recall" some four times.

But perhaps Downer's greatest moment was when, in response to then Opposition leader Kevin Rudd's speech in Mandarin at the APEC meeting in Sydney, Downer declared he could speak fluent French.

Still, it would be unfair to characterise "Lord" Downer's political tenure in such negative terms. I mean, what about declaring victory in Iraq? Whoops, we haven't won. What about the Free Trade Agreements? Er, that was the minister for trade. Seriously, surely Downer must have had some successes.

Um, er, I don't recall.

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer and writer. A version of this article was first published in The Canberra Times on Saturday 5 July 2008.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Friday, July 04, 2008

CRIKEY: Tabloid journalists and the presumption of innocence

Tabloid journalists and lawyers have a strange relationship. Tabloid journos often have little regard for the legal rights, privacy, presumption of innocence or reputation of (especially accused) persons they report on. So I found it quite ironic when a tabloid journo threatened me some years back with a defamation suit. S/he was unhappy with my description of his/her/its ridiculous reporting of a chap s/he claimed was a terrorist.
The chap was actually accused of keeping bomb-making materials in his house. The police had already ruled out terrorism-related charges. But for the journo reporting the incident, the accused was a Muslim who had framed Arabic calligraphy on his walls and a Koran and some religious books in his bookshelf.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that some journos are quick to see accused deprived of their rights, without realising that their hysterical reporting threatens the rights of all of us. Journos included.
Rights that people have fought and died to defend over the centuries. Like the presumption of innocence, and the right to refuse to be interviewed by police. These rights form a key plank in our criminal justice system. In a liberal democracy, these rights form an important element of "The Rule of Law".
So when Ben Fordham accosted Belinda Neal and asked questions like "What have you got to hide?", he effectively suggested Neal’s exercise of a basic legal right was illegitimate. He basically said she must talk, if not to the police then to viewers of A Current Affair.
Now let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Let’s say Fordham or one of his camera crew were the subject of a police investigation for potentially assaulting Neal (as I hope they are), what would Fordham say if Neal suggested that he and/or his crew must submit to a police interview?
My guess is Fordham would cry foul and self-righteously claim political interference in the criminal justice system. Fordham might even instruct his lawyers to express their disgust at this political interference, both before the magistrate and the cameras.
Populist journos and politicians are crying foul over one Queensland judge’s decision to release convicted pedophile Dennis Ferguson after finding that media saturation had made it impossible for a jury to deal with the facts of Ferguson’s impending charges in a "dispassionate" manner, despite the weakness of the Crown’s case.
Instead of blasting the judge, tabloid journos and shock jocks need to consider how their own conduct is compromising our criminal justice system. These same shock jocks should ask themselves what would happen if they were accused of pedophilia or some other criminal offence. They should understand that even accused persons deserve human rights. After all, until they are convicted, they are innocent.
Tabloid media needs to understand the meaning of innocence. And before anyone accuses me of sounding like a typical criminal defence lawyer, allow me to disclose that my area of practice is employment and workplace relations law.
UPDATE I: A reader named "Michael" posted this comment on the Crikey website ...
Irfan-the only quibble I have with your piece is that you didn't name the silly cow who threatened you.
UPDATE II: Another reader named "Dave Liberts" posted this remark on the Crikey website ...
I pretty much agree with the article. I certainly agree that tabloid hysteria can be extremely counterproductive when it comes to preventing child abuse (either, as in this case, driving paedophiles underground or alternatively, as in the recent Henson case, taking attention away from actual paedophilia and focussing it on perceived abuse). In respect of Neal, I agree that she had the legal right to not be interviewed, but where I differ from Irfan is that Neal can't pretend she hasn't spent the last two years telling anyone who'll listen that she is the best person to represent the region in Federal Parliament. She's pleaded with voters to put their trust in her, and promised the Parliament that she'll fully cooperate, and the more she tries to deal with this situation legalistically the more it looks like she has to rely on legal protections rather than the facts of the matter. As it stands, the media today are suggesting that her preselection is gone anyway, so she may as well go back to her legalistic approach and tell the Ben Fordhams of this world to f-ck off.
UPDATE III: The comments keep coming on Crikey. Here's what "stevce martin" had to say ...
I always enjoy reding Irfan Yusuf's articles in Crickey, always clear thinking, and always telling it as it is - or should be.
Gee thanks, dude.
UPDATE IV: OK, this is the final comment, I think, from Michael ...

Dave Liberts-if the law doesn't apply equally to Belinda Neal-a QLD pedophile or a jaywalker it isn't worth the paper it's written on. That is the point and for the PM and premier to pressure Neal & Della Bosca to forgoe their rights because of continual media harping debases all of us and IS an
abuse of process. It's highly probable that the disgusting media trashing of this couple and the pressure placed upon them to deny their rights is a far greater sin than a stupid dispute aboout table seating.

And when Neal was elected to represent the people of Robertson she doesn't automatically lose her rights and quite frankly, I'd be happy for her to represent me in Parliament-she seems to have more guts than the tossers in the media and certain MPs who cave in when the media goes beserk.

I wouldn't write off this couple too soon-2 years is a long time and this matter will be history within weeks. And speaking of Robertson-not one of the yapping political pundits who claim to report on
politics has taken the time to travel to Gosford and actually investigate how this matter is perceived amongst the voters. By ignoring them with -they insult them.

Although of course the trashy tabloid TV show that Fordham appears on presented an anti-Neal protest from the area-oddly enough, lead by the defeated Liberal candidate.

Fair enough.

First published in the Crikey daily alert on Friday 4 July 2008.
Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Thursday, July 03, 2008

CRIKEY: Athletic ACA crew savage Belinda Neal ...

I’ve criticised Della Bosca and Neal over Iguanagate. But seriously, last night Channel Nine’s tabloid A Current Affair showed they aren’t much better, reaching new lows in trailer-trash reporting when Ben Fordham followed Federal MP Belinda Neal in her car as she drove to her electorate office. Fordham, with a two person camera crew ready, accosted Neal as she was entering what appeared to be a secured rear door (which perhaps can only be opened by an Allen key) to a building which also houses a branch of the Commonwealth Bank.

You can watch the video here. At first, Fordham and the camera were standing behind Neal. After she entered the narrow doorway, Neal tried to close the door so as not to allow Fordham and his crew in. Viewers next see Fordham running behind Neal. We see Neal from the front. Mysteriously, the two-person camera crew has manoeuvred in front of Neal.

Both the doorway and the staircase Neal was walking down were narrow spaces. How did a two-person crew start out behind Neal outside and end up in front of her inside such a confined space? Either:

1. The camera crew jumped over Neal’s head just as she entered the door, in which case Channel Nine must hire some extremely skinny camera operators who should be heading for Beijing to compete in the highjump; or

2. Neal and/or the camera crew were ghosts, the crew moving through Neal and getting in front of her; or

3. The camera crew consisted of very skinny ductile pygmies and/or midgets with wings; or

4. Neal had a change of heart, opened the door and said: "You can come in now"; or

5. Fordham and the crew forced the door open, the cameraperson slipping in front of her.

Neal contacted police and has released a statement alleging the Channel Nine crew assaulted her. They deny it, and host Tracey Grimshaw insists Channel Nine handed footage to the police. I trust it is the unedited footage showing exactly how the cameraperson managed to miraculously make his/her way in front of Neal without using force.

In the event police do launch an investigation into a possible assault of Neal by Fordham and crew, I trust they will make themselves available for police interview. After all, what’s good for the political gander should be good for journalistic geese.

At one stage, Fordham asked Neal: "Do you know who I am, Belinda?"

Yep, the same words Ms Neal allegedly used to staff at the Iguana Club.

Excerpt from training manual for A Current Affair reporters.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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