Tuesday, September 30, 2008

LETTERS: Some tendentious feedback ...

A reader named Jim and located in Japan sent this e-mail to the wonderful folk at that magnificent website Online Opinion, who then kindly forwarded it to me ...
I can't find (being mostly computer illiterate) how to directly contact the blog sites.

Brilliant, funny, very human - an amazing talent that makes me happy to be able to think of myself as Australian - even though I'd prefer to think I am a citizen of our world. Nevertheless it is my Australian Passport which permits me to travel to the world! I am concerned that there is too much us and them in the world and I think that Irfan's huge talent is to make us smile at the absurdities of bigotry and prejudice - to know how very human we all are despite cultural (including religious) upbringings! Bravo, mate!

I was born in Sydney - ancestry is from England and Scotland - but uncles, aunts and cousins to the nth degree bring in most parts of the known world and a wide range of complexions and perspectives - including those I find difficult to understand. It pleases me that I have German, Chinese, Thai, French, Indigenmous Australian, NZ Maori, Japanese, et al links - but it may not necessarily please all of them... that seems to be the way of it all. I've lived nearly half of my adult life outside of Australia and can truly state that I have been treated with amazing kindness and generosity. My mother, who has never been outside of eastern Australia could tell you the same thing but of her neighbours - from the Philippines, from the Netherlands, of Indigenous and English and Scottish and Chinese ethnicities as well as Catholic and Protestant and agnostic backgrounds...

It is a great world - and Irfan helps us see that - while pricking the pomposities of those ethno-centric souls who wish to look down upon others.

A hero of mine from mid-19th century Japan, YOSHIDA Shoin (1830-1859) believed in equality of peoples, was opposed to the rigid class system of the time, advocated education for women, took up the cudgels, as it were, on behalf of the untouchables of that time - stressed co-operative learning arrangements, encouraged his students by writing private letters, gave no tests, in fact, in his school! Yet his students went on to lead the modernisation of the country - some a little too much influenced by their foreign mentors I might contend - nevertheless two became Prime inisters, one the first Foreign Minister, another the father of Japan Rail, another the father of Japanese technical education, leading diplomats and bureaucrats! Go abroad. Learn about the world and come back were the kinds of things he advocated.

It seems Irfan is playing something of a similar role for Australia! Again, Bravo, I say!
My response? Jim, mate, thank you for your kind words. And the cheque's in the mail!

UPDATE I: Some anonymous comment seems to suggest that I defended the role of Japan in the Second World War. S/he obviously hasn't read what I've written here or here or even here.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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BLOG: How tendentious can you get?

The Sydney Morning Herald today ran my reflections on heavy metal music, moderating blog remarks and Soviet-style Camden folk who wish to dictate to the Anglican church to whom it can and cannot sell its property. On that note, readers are now urged to stop reading and start rocking ...

Check out this Bollywood-style mimer ...

... and here's the real thing ...

UPDATE I: Poor Tim Blair is most upset with my tribute to his blog-moderating patterns. After mentioning Daniel Pipes' futile call to for all "respectable" newspapers to cease publishing my "tendatious" writings, Blair gets to the heart of the issue, avoiding any personal and ad hominem attacks. For Blair, the real issue isn't my being allegedly "two-faced, five-chinned" or being "Mesopotamia Fats". The real issue is that I am a "very bitter person". And Blair's ultimate evidence for this is the words of a failed (and extremly bitter) Greens Local Government Candidate. Blair also complains about my light moderating workload. Funny that. For someone who has his blog hosted by a newspaper claiming to be Sydney's top-selling paper and owned by one of the world's largest media organisations, Blair only managed 9 comments as at 3:30pm. Still, at least Blair has News Limited staff to assist him.

UPDATE II: Jeremy has some fun with Bolt & Blair here. Sounds like a possible name for a movie ...

UPDATE III: As at 11:15pm, Mr Blair's blogpost has 13 comments. That's an almost 50% increase! Anyway, I'd better get back to watching that SBS documentary on the operation of Israel's rabbinical courts ...

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

COMMENT/MEDIA: The Times of London recycles Kerbaj?

Richard Kerbaj, formerly of The Australian and author of numerous articles displaying his Lebanese-and-Arabic-speaking skills, has now moved to London to take up a post at The Times. Both The Australian and The Times are owned by Rupert "Muslims-marry-their-cousins" Murdoch.

You can check out Kerbaj's skills at reporting on radical thick-Sheiks by clicking here. Also interesting is correspondence sent by ABC's Media Watch here. You can also read Imam Sheik Ayatollah Hujjat al-Islam Khoury Sayyid Michael Stutchbury's response clarifying Kerbaj's Arabic-language skills here.

[UK readers will be amused by Kerbaj's colleagues at the Melbourne Herald-Sun confusing Abu Hamza with Abu Hamza.]

Kerbaj's latest piece in The Times actually isn't so bad. He discusses plans to purge "Muslim spiritual leaders" who turn a blind eye to violence against women. In theory, it might well be a good idea. Lay persons shouldn't get away with turning a blind eye to violence against women. Why should religious leaders?

[Though given Kerbaj's past performance with labelling, one wonders whether in this particular article, by the term "spiritual leader", he means an imam. Or does he mean a pir? Or a murshid? Or how about a hoca? Or a maulana? Or even a molvi? Or how about a sidi? And why has he stopped using the term "Muslim cleric" as he often did in Australia?]

I'm not sure if Kerbaj will focuss much of his time at The Times focussing on UK Muslim issues. But just how qualified is he for this task? Does Kerbaj have any clue who leads the liturgy and educational needs of Britain's various Muslim sects and cultural groups? Can Kerbaj identify one maslaq from another? Does he understand the differences between various shades of Deobandi, Barelwi and Ahl-i-Hadith? Does Kerbaj speak Urdu or Bangla?

These questions are pertinent. After all, in Australia so much of Kerbaj's information came from various Lebanese groups whose political nuances he had little understanding of, despite his own Lebanese heritage.

Much of Kerbaj's information on Aussie Muslim management issues came from followers of Abdullah Hareri and the al-Ahbash sect. One wonders whether in London, Kerbaj's sources come from the equal and opposite of al-Ahbash i.e. the followers of Nazim al-Qubrussi (attacked on an al-Ahbash website here) and and his student Hisham Kabbani?

One of Kerbaj's main sources in his recent story is Irfan al-Alawi from the UK branch of the Centre for Islamic Pluralism. Al-Alawi claims to be a follower of a Yemeni Sufi master who has close associations with Imam Hamza Yusuf Hanson of the Zaytuna Institute.

[The Executive Director of that Centre's head office in the United States, Mr Stephen Suleyman Schwartz, whose profile you can read on that wonderful blog Jewcy where you'll also find a fascinating post on why he sees Islam as "Judaism for the Whole World". Amir Butler claims here that Schwartz is a follower of Hisham Kabbani, though Schwartz doesn't mention Kabbani at all in this interview with National Review Online. Schwartz claims to be a proponent of traditional Islam and Sufism, though his repeated personal attacks on Imam Hamza Yusuf Hanson (a prominent proponent of traditional Islam) borders on obsessive.]

Australian readers will be familiar with Kerbaj's usual mantra that Wahhabi Islam is virtually a unitary phenomenon espoused by Usama bin Ladin. He repeats this mantra for the consumption of UK readers in his latest piece ...

During its investigation the organisation - the British arm of a longestablished US think-tank - received a number of complaints about imams who had turned a blind eye to cases of domestic violence, many of whom are followers of Wahabbism, a puritanical interpretation of the Koran espoused by Osama bin Laden.

Some readers may wonder why a White Ribbon Day Ambassador like me should object to a report the publication of which is clearly in the public interest. Surely religious leaders of any congregation turning a blind eye to domestic violence must be exposed and shamed. Why should Muslims be any exception?
Muslim spiritual leaders could be denounced publicly by their own community as part of a campaign to expose imams whose silence on domestic abuse is leading to women being burnt, lashed and raped in the name of Islam.

Muslim scholars are to present the Government with the names of imams who are alleged by members of their own communities to have refused to help abused women. Imams are also accused of refusing to speak out against domestic abuse in their sermons because they fear losing their clerical salaries and being sacked for broaching a “taboo” subject.

Some of Britain's most prominent moderate imams and female Muslim leaders have backed the campaign, urging the Home Office to vet more carefully Islamic spiritual leaders coming to Britain to weed out hardliners. A four-month inquiry by the Centre for Islamic Pluralism into domestic abuse has uncovered harrowing tales of women being raped, burnt by cigarettes and lashed with belts by their husbands, who believe it is their religious right to mistreat them.

At least 40 female Muslim victims and many social workers from northern England - including Bradford, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham - were interviewed as part of the inquiry, which is expected to be published next month.
And why should someone like yours truly, who has a history of criticising a young Sydney imam and a former Australian Mufti for their ignorant and dangerous comments on sexual assault victims, have a problem with Kerbaj doing the same?

The problem is that Kerbaj might be accused of using domestic violence as an excuse to play a game of journalistic sectarian wedge-politics. The last thing we should be doing is believing that the only imams who justify or turn a blind eye to domestic violence are Wahhabis and the Tabligh Jamaat, whom Kerbaj claims is ... wait for it ...
... accused of radicalising young British Muslims with its orthodox teachings.
[One wonders how some of Kerbaj's sources, who claim to be more true to Islamic orthodoxy than the TJ, would respond to Kerbaj's claim that orthodox Islam radicalises young British Muslims.]

But my real objection to Kerbaj's article (at least based on my own reading of it) is the same as my objection to any attempt to focus on one group of domestic violence perpetrators whilst ignoring another group. Or my objections to scribes, pundits and politicians behaving like defenders of sexual violence victims when it suits their prejudices.

Here's an excerpt of what I wrote about this topic in the Australian Jesuit publication Eureka Street ...
This isn't just another case of inconsistency inspired by sectarian prejudice, of what's good for the Muslim goose being not good for the non-Muslim gander. The clear message is that misogynistic or insensitive remarks about sexual assault victims are only worthy of universal condemnation if those making the remarks belong to the 'wrong' religious, ethnic and/or cultural background ...

When sexual assault becomes a cultural or sectarian wedge, it demeans and insults the suffering of all victims and their families. It also opens to question our society's commitment to unconditionally ending violence against women.

On the other hand, Kerbaj might argue that he wasn't expressing any opinion. He was merely reporting the facts. However, consider these points ...

a. Is the CIP the first and/or only UK Muslim group to tackle community attitudes toward domestic violence?

b. What standing does CIP have in mainstream British Muslim circles? I'm not just talking about religious circles but also cultural (e.g. South Asian) and language (e.g. Hindi/Urdu, Punjabi and Bangla) circles.

There are other factors to consider. Perhaps Kerbaj would have factored all these points in if he'd been provided with a more generous word length. And as I've already said above, Kerbaj's article isn't as bad as his past work, some of which does little more than perpetuate a Team America take on Muslims. When it comes to identifying Islamic sectarian nuances, at times Kerbaj has tripped over even the most basic kindergarten stuff.

UK readers of this blog should keep a close eye on Kerbaj's work. At the same time, we should all remember that it often isn't easy for journalists to report on such issues.

(Thanks to PK and BC for the tip-off.)

UPDATE I: Another article (in fact a case study of one victim ignored by her local imams) by Richard Kerbaj is well worth reading. This is really disturbing stuff. We can bag reporters like Kerbaj all we like. But who is going to protect women like 'Aliya'?

UPDATE II: I've written about Kerbaj at some length in various Crikey pieces, some of which can be found here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Friday, September 26, 2008

UPDATE: More of my tendentious stuff ...

The New Zealand Herald today published a reflection on the recent terrorist attack in Islamabad. You can read it here.

Here are some interesting remarks moderated recently on Mr Pipes' blog ...

I was wondering if his salary as an "illustrious" lawyer, along with his advocacy in favor of Militant Islam, is not enough to feed his chocoholic manners. Something does not match clearly here. So he has to do like homemade workers, looking forward alternatives to sustain his living. A little bit of this, a little bit of that. What a "talented" lawyer.

Would you hire in sane mind such a to protect you? ...

Yusuf Irfan is ... a bogus lawyer "a la" those who advocate for low income criminals ...

Finally, does anybody know if Irfan Yusuf is married and has children?

It is not in his profile at 39 years of age? That's not exactly a path in the muslim community, is that?

The same character also writes this ...

That he was unattractive unsexy and ugly...it was not that he was just a jerk...Guess what: the creature does not post anymore his picture, just a stupid emblem in Arabic. How deplorable.....Actually, I e-mailed in details how disgusting he was....

Poor things, if they come to my country, they won't last one day- what a creature to be bashed. And who knows if the matter, manhood does not play a huge role in their cowardice.
Pipes' blog template has these words appearing after each comment (emphasis mine) ...

Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened for relevance, substance, and tone, and in some cases edited, before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome, but comments are rejected if scurrilous, off-topic, vulgar, ad hominem, or otherwise viewed as inappropriate ...

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

COMMENT: On the moderation of racist and bigotted comments on blogs Part I

This post was accidentally wrongly placed on this blog and has now been moved to its correct place here.

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EVENT: Stop what you're doing, siddown, shut up and read this ...

If you are in Melbourne, you must go to the Melbourne Fringe Festival and watch the new comedy show Who Is Abdul Smith? Because if you don't go, you ... um ... er ... well you simply won't know the answer to the question!

Here is what the bludgers promoting this show have to say ...


10 comedians battle it out to prove who is the most "multi-culti" on Australia's favourite TV show: Who is Abdul Smith?

It's an action-packed 90 minutes of stand-up, storytelling, spontaneity and song, featuring Melbourne's most diverse comedy talent:

- Mohammed El-leissy was part of Fringe 2007's Fear of a Brown Planet, nominated for Best Newcomer.

- Sema Kuyruk is Australia's first hijab-wearing stand-up comic, on a one-woman mission to bring hijab back!

- Trent McCarthy had a sell-out season with his 2008 Comedy Festival show Turning Sudanese, described by The Age as "a delightful experience, both broadening and funny".

- Ajak Kwai, a former Sudanese refugee, is a singer and storyteller who promises not to eat you!

- Simon Pampena, the Angry Mathematician, has just toured Australia with his Maths Olympics comedy show as part of National Science Week.

- Farah Faiq is a feisty Iraqi-born gal with a passion for fashion and a razorsharp wit.

- Scott Fraser is a frustrated stand-up with a rod in his leg and a chip on his shoulder.

- Simon Tengende recently premiered his play Discrit Zimbabwe, using humour to explore the troubled history of his homeland.

- Alev Girgin has never been so single in her life, looking for Mr Right among so many Mr Wrongs.

- Cameron Farshid McDonald is a half-Iranian, half-Scottish Aussie who doesn't know which part of him dislikes the English more.

- plus a different special guest each night!

Who will win? Who will lose? And who is Abdul Smith?

Momo El-leissy tells me that this show will so damned good, I should be travelling to Melbourne just to see it. He'd better be right or I'll demand a refund.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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UPDATE: More of my tendentious writing ...

A certain tabloid columnist recently described my writing as tendentious. According to the AskOxford website, the word "tendentious" means: "calculated to promote a particular cause or point of view" The bulk of what I write is opinion and review. So obviously I do promote a point of view. As for whether I promote a cause, I wonder what possible objection the tabloid columnist in question would have to the causes promoted here, here, here and here.

Anyway, here is some of the stuff I've written recently ...

The events in Islamabad shook all of us. The disgusting and cowardly attacks against civilians brought home yet again the fact that terrorism affects all people regardless of background, ethnicity and faith. My take on these dastardly acts appeared in The Age here, as well as on the Brisbane Times website here.
The New Zealand Herald published this piece I wrote about Western silence on the continued attacks by (pseudo-)Hindu militants against Indian Christians.

A recent piece I wrote for Crikey on the documentary Embedded With Sheikh Hilaly broadcast on SBS on 23 September 2008 appears here.

UPDATE I: In relation to The Age article, I received correspondence from Professor William Shepard, who taught religious studies at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. Professor Shepard is fluent in written and spoken Arabic (both classical and modern) and is regarded as a world authority on the work of Syed Qutb. Here is what Professor Shepard said ...

Good article, but let me point out that Ramadan is not one of the "sacred months" when there is to be no fighting. I believe they are Dhu-Qa‘da, Dhul-Hijja, Muharram and Rajab. I might add that it is not only the "post-modern left" have hijacked terrorism studies but also the neo-conservative right.

Thanks to Professor Shepard for his correction and comment.

UPDATE II: A Kiwi chap named Bill wrote this response to my NZ Herald article ...

I have just read the article by Irfan Yusuf your associate editor in the NZ Herald 22/8/08. May I congratulate him for his courage and honesty. I have never seen an article in a New Zealand paper criticizing Hindu and Muslim extremist and government actions against Christian minorities in Asia (especially those who have changed or wish to change their religion). It blew me away! Our politicians and Western media are too secular, anti-Christian and self-interested as well as being scared of the political and trade consequences. Coming from Mr Yusuf they carry great weight and are overdue.

I have often thought of contacting our government or some authorities in Asia over this long standing tragedy but have been warned off as it might put local Christians in danger from Islamic and Hindu government security police who constantly harass them or from violent religious extremists. If your protest is taken to heart it will go a long way to right a wrong and convince us that Islam's claim to be a peace loving and tolerant religion isn't just words. However I'm afraid I won't be holding my breath waiting as it has been allowed to become so ingrained and widespread.

Well done! I respect you for your stand for what is right.
Yes, tendentious writing indeed!

UPDATE III: In relation to the Crikey piece, one chap named Tony had this response on the Crikey website ...

The Hilaly 'documentary' was an exercise in opportunism which didn't work for either the sheikh or the interviewer because both were so clearly inept in the art of ingenuous communication. What positive outcome this show could possibly have delivered remains a mystery, as does the steady decline of the SBS ethos to report intelligently on our multicultural society. I can hear dopes prattle incomprehensibly any day of the week. Both these clowns should retire.
I guess all this controversy about the program will do wonders for the ratings. Once again, SBS will be laughing all the way to the bank! Given their positive nett contribution to television in Australia, good luck to them.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

CRIKEY: Vanstone's underworld ministerial discretion ...

Well, there's ministerial discretion. And then there's ministerial discretion.

Discretion was used by former Immigration Minister in the Howard government, Kevin Andrews, to cancel Dr Haneef's visa after he was granted bail in relation to terrorism charges that were eventually dropped and are now the subject of a Federal Inquiry costing millions of dollars. Almost as much as the original bungled Haneef investigation and prosecution cost.

Andrews justified his actions on national security grounds. But in the end, not even Haneef's UK SIM card was a vehicle for terrorism.

Another suspect was the subject of more generous ministerial discretion exercised by Andrews' predecessor, Amanda Vanstone. The Age reports today that Vanstone exercised her discretion to allow Francesco Madareffi into the country, arguing it was "in the interest of Australia as a humane and generous society".

Madareffi "claimed to suffer serious mental health problems and had been involuntarily admitted to a mental institution during his fight to remain in Australia". Hence Vanstone granted him a permanent spouse visa "as a discretionary and humanitarian act to an individual with a genuine ongoing need".

And a friend in need is a friend indeed. Especially if he and members of his family show financial generosity and humanity to Liberal Party coffers and have the support of at least four Liberal MPs. I mean, who cares if the guy was deported by Vanstone's predecessor in 2000 "because of his alleged involvement in serious crimes in Italy in the 1980s, and because he had overstayed his visa and was in Australia as an illegal immigrant"?

Let's be sensible about this. Surely a terror suspect not accused of any violence but merely of giving his cousin a SIM card is a greater potential threat to our security than a suspected mafioso. And a name like Francesco sounds far less threatening than Mohammed.

On the other hand, as Peter Reith pointed out on the eve of the 2001 Federal Election, those Afghan and Iraqi people on them leaky boats travelling from Indonesia might well be terrorists. The fact that they're escaping terrorism and are victims of governments our armed forces helped overthrow is irrelevant. Clearly their mental health issues weren't serious enough for the Howard government to release them.

So there we have it, folks. More double standards of the Howard government on national security exposed. Clearly what Dr Haneef should have done is change his name to Francesco, convert to Catholicism and have his wealthy father-in-law donate truckloads of cash to the Liberal Party. As should impoverished Iraqis, Afghans and others (including children) who rotted away under our policy of mandatory detention. In the Howard government, money always spoke the loudest.

First published in the Crikey daily alert for Tuesday 23 September 2008.

Monday, September 22, 2008

EVENT: Fear Of A Brown Planet goes to Brisbane ...

I've just received word that the sell-out (no, not that kind of sell-out) show Fear of a Brown Planet is going to Brisbane for one night only. Here is what Aamer Rahman from FOABP has to say ...

On October the 3rd we will be performing a special show the weekend before Lex Wotton's trial begins. All proceeds will go towards Lex's defense efforts:

Friday Oct. 3rd, Ahimsa House,
26 Horan St, West End

If you have friends or family in Brisbane who might be interested please let them know about this event.
Brisbanites, don't miss this wonderful opportunity to see one of the most awesome comedic duos Melbourne has to offer.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Saturday, September 20, 2008

UPDATE: Even more stuff published elsewhere ...

The delightful people at ABC Unleashed have run this piece on the campaign to discredit Barack Obama by focussing on his cultural and religious heritage. Apparently "Barry" (as he was known in Indonesia) Obama used to wear a sarong, and wearing a sarong is a sign that one is a Muslim. I guess that makes my mum a non-Muslim as she prefers to wear a sari.

The situation in Pakistan is becoming quite scary. I really hope the new civilian Pakistani government and the US can find a way to fight the scourge of terrorism together. However, the signs aren't terribly positive this far. Here are some of my thoughts in NewMatilda.

Less scary is the situation of the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party. You can find my take on the change in leadership here.

In case you don't read far-Right blogs, The Canberra Times and I issued an apology to Mr Daniel Pipes. Yes, I have joined the ever-growing group of illustrous and sensible people to have been threatened by Mr Pipes with some kind of action. I now hope he will answer my prayers and declare me an "Islamist" in the same manner as he has declared such learned gentlemen as Hamza Yusuf Hanson and Professor Khaled Abou el-Fadl. The original article remains on this blog, albeit in edited format. The lesson I have learned from this incident is that the best way to expose Mr Pipes is to quote exactly what he says. His own words provide his numerous critics with sufficient ammunition.

Speaking of which, watch Mr Pipes oppose a Middle East peace plan proposed by President George W Bush, accusing the President of rewarding terrorism.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Friday, September 19, 2008

EVENT: Remembering Mahmoud Darwish ...

On 9 August 2008, the Arab world lost one of its greatest contemporary writers: Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish.

Described as the laureate of all Arabs, Mahmoud Darwish published over 30 volumes of poetry and eight books of prose. His work, translated in 35 languages, won numerous awards including the prestigious Prince Claus Award in 2004.

To celebrate the life and work of this great literary figure, Cultural Media in association with the NSW Writers’ Centre is hosting a special memorial event. The event will take place on Friday 3 October 2008 (6:00pm for 6:30pm start) at the NSW Writers’ Centre, Callan Park, Balmain Road, Rozelle. The evening will include keynote speakers and live cultural performances. To RSVP, please contact Cultural Media on email: events@culturalmedia.com.au by 30 September 2008.

Cultural Media is a not for profit organisation dedicated to the promotion of Arab arts and culture in an Australian context. Cultural Media’s mission is to ultimately strengthen intercultural understanding and relations between diverse Australian communities. For more information about Cultural Media, please visit here.

The NSW Writers' Centre, established in 1991, promotes writing-based culture and the rights and interests of writers. For more information about the Writers’ Centre, please click here.

You can read an obituary of Mahmoud darwish here.

EVENT: Launch of Randa Abdel-Fattah's new book ...

Sydney-based lawyer and award-winning Australian author Randa Abdel-Fattah is launching her new book entitled Where The Streets Have A Name on Tuesday October 7 2008 at gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Road, Glebe.

This is Randa's third novel. Her first novel, Does My Head Look Big In This, has been a huge hit both in Australia and Europe. You can read a review of this book published by a UK newspaper here. Randa followed this up with Ten things i hate about me, which in 2008 was awarded the prestigious Kathleen Mitchell Award for Young Writers. Notwithstanding Randa's novels are written largely for a young female audience, I must admit I know at least one male Sydney-based lawyer who has read and thoroughly enjoyed Randa's novels.

You can read interviews with Randa here, here and here.

Apart from lawyering and writing, Randa is also a human rights activist. You can read a speech she delivered on behalf of the Palestine Human Rights Campaign here.

Here's how Randa describes her third book ...
It’s about a girl and her journey from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. It’s an illegal journey because Palestinians aren’t allowed to travel freely. She goes to get some soil from her grandmother’s home, put in it a jar and bring it back to her grandmother who is sick. It tells of the massive upheaval and devastating impact this has in her life. I always knew I wanted to write a book about Palestine so it’s been a real challenge and an amazing journey for me ...

I used a lot of my own experiences but it was far more a work of fiction than my first two books. A lot of the instances of encounters between soldiers and Palestinians were based on documented cases. I spoke to so many people that lived there, escaped from there or had been kicked out ...

I’m at the crossroads now where I have to make a decision. One of the problems that I have encountered is that people typecast you as a Muslim writer. Unfortunately, to become more mainstream you have to write using Anglo characters because as soon as you don’t it becomes a niche market, a token multiculturalism. To say that this is a specialist book totally overlooks the message. These are Australian girls and their experiences are just as Aussie as others.
For more information about the launch and to book your seat, click here. But be quick!

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Thursday, September 18, 2008

CRIKEY: How a Sufi spiritual pledge becomes an act of terrorism ...

In 1998, I decided to take the spiritual plunge. I’d been reading books and articles about Sufism, watching videos about whirling dervishes and immersing myself in the poetry of Rumi a 13th century Afghan-Tajik poet who settled in Konya (in modern Turkey) after his family fled my rather bloodthirsty Mongol ancestors including this lovely chap. Yep, rightwing politics was in my genes!

Anyway, I decided it wasn’t enough to imagine life as a Sufi so I became one. I joined a Turkish Sufi order in Auburn. That involved my pledging to my Sufi teacher that I would obey God and observe the sunna (example and teachings) of the Prophet Muhammad. I further pledged that any disobedience to God and the Prophet would represent disobedience to my teacher and therefore a breach of my pledge.

OK, I’ll admit it. I was a pretty hopeless Sufi. Imagine an overweight rightwing Young Liberal singing (or should that be miming?) like these Bollywood actors ...

or whirling like these real-life dervish dudes!

Then again, I wasn’t exactly in salubrious company. One of my fellow Sufis was a Hell’s Angel, who stood next to me at the funeral prayers for my late teacher back in 2003.

But now, according to a report in today’s Australian, my simple act of formally pledging allegiance to a Sufi order (known in Arabic as a bay’ah) has just been declared a "Muslim terrorist vow". The report sites unnamed "Australian counter-terrorism agencies" capturing a secret tape recording of the pledge made by some young me to convicted terrorist Abdel Nacer Benbrika in September 2005.

The Oz claims this discovery of the bay'ah is a "world first". I'm not sure which world they are living in. Perhaps it is a world where you describe 1.2 billion people as having genetic defects because they marry their cousins. Who knows?

The bay’ah is an ancient Arab practice dating back thousands of years. In pre-Islamic Arabia, it was given by members of a tribe to their leader as a kind of substitute to voting. In those days, when Arabia was racked by tribal and internecine wars lasting generations, such pledges were necessary to keep people on side.

Arabs regarded keeping one’s word as a mark of honour. The Prophet Muhammad adapted the practice in that he transformed it into a pledge to battle one’s inner ego by pledging to obey God. Each new convert made the pledge.

These days, few converts make bay’ah to anyone except themselves. To convert to Islam, all you need to do is recite (preferably in public) an Arabic phrase which is a summary of the more detailed bay’ah formula. In other words, The Oz report effectively suggests that our counter-terrorism agencies now regard the mere act of religious conversion to terrorism.

I guess ASIO and the Feds had better start planting secret listening devices in Turkish Sufi houses across Auburn and Broadmeadows. I just hope these devices aren’t knocked out of place by the skirts of overweight whirling dervishes.

First published in the Crikey daily alert for Thursday 18 September 2008.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

CRIKEY: Sharia compliant financing scare hits Wall Street ...

For those of you worried about their superannuation savings being fritted away thanks to the near-collapse of Freddie Mae (or should that be Fanny Mac?), their insurance premiums going up thanks to AIG going broke or their jobs being lost thanks to a general economic downturn, all this really should be the least of your worries. The biggest worry is that Osama bin Laden and his minions could be running Wall Street soon.

Writing in The Washington Times, a newspaper whose owner is completely unrelated to any form of religious fundamentalism, Frank Gaffney warns of the dangers of financial products and instruments that comply with Muslim sacred law. Soon, we could be seeing the spread of sharia for complete bankers.

Gaffney fears that the impending crisis on Wall Street could lead to...

... the infusion of vast quantities of petrodollars, primarily from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ Saudi Arabia and other Islamist nations in the Persian Gulf.
Their goal is to...

... promote Shariah-Compliant Finance and the seditious theo-political agenda it serves.
Of course, the owners of The Washington Times have never served any theo-political agenda.

Before you know it, nasty beady-eyed Saudi wahhabist ayatollahs will be taking over the US economy, perhaps in the same manner as they took over Griffith University and News Corporation.

And what is this Sharia-compliant financing all about? Basically it’s about providing credit without charging riba (an Arabic word which means usury). And does riba include interest charged by conventional financial institutions? Are Muslims religiously prohibited from taking out mortgages? Well, it depends on who you talk to.

But so-called sharia-compliant finance also influences how funds managers invest. Or rather, what kinds of companies they invest in. Hence, sharia-compliant funds won’t invest in gambling or p-rnography. This may not be your cup of tea, especially if your surname is Packer or Heffner. But seriously, how does this stuff differ with any other form of ethical investment?

In fact, sharia-compliant financing is such a huge threat to Western civilisation that mainstream banks like Citibank and HSBC are leading the crusade to stop the spread of this dangerous creature.

Gaffney heads the Centre for Security Policy, a group so committed to national security that it awarded its Keeper Of The Flame Award to such peacemakers as Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.

Yep, in the fantasy world of Rev Moon’s conservatives, interest-free finance is almost as dangerous as free s-x.

Disclosure: The writer is paying off a very sharia-uncompliant mortgage.

First published in the Crikey daily alert for 17 September 2008.

ELECTIONS/HUMOUR: The great Auburn kebab konspiracy ...

Local government elections have just been concluded across New South Wales. There have been no clear winners, with the ALP obvious losers in most areas. Minor parties and independents have also done well. This was largely an election about local and state issues.

But according to one candidate for the Greens, this election was also about the leadership of his local mosque flouting secular traditions and allowing one candidate to address its congregation after Friday prayers.

Kuranda Seyfi Seyit, chair of an organisation calling itself the “Forum of Australia’s Islamic Relations”, has spat the dummy after he was out-polled by community independent Izzet Anmak in the elections for one of two wards in Auburn Council. Seyit has approached ABC and claimed that Anmak was endorsed by the executive committee of the Auburn Gallipoli Mosque to run as their candidate, allowing him the opportunity to speak at the mosque on the Friday before the elections.

Mr Seyit is quoted by ABC as alleging that Australian Turks have a proud secular tradition, the obvious implication being that the mosque and/or Anmak were part of a plot to introduce political Islam into local government.

This is a serious charge to make against a mainstream religious institution that has in the past allowed candidates of all major parties to visit the mosque and address parishioners during local, state and federal elections. Past speakers and visitors have included former Mayor Le Lam and State ALP Member Barbara Perry.

Mr Seyit was endorsed by the Greens, a party whose leaders have spoken out against stereotyping of Muslims and other racial and religious minorities. The Greens have supported the cause of asylum seekers and have opposed anti-terrorism laws on the basis that these have been passed in an environment of hysteria.

Now, one of their candidates is generating hysteria, accusing a Turkish religious institution of attempting to influence a council election.

The imbecilic nature of Mr Seyit’s allegations is obvious. On the one hand, he states that Australian Turks are proud of their secular nature. Turkish secularism places strong emphasis on separating mosque from state. If Aussie Turks shared this passion, surely one would have expected any attempt by the Gallipoli Mosque executive to support a candidate to backfire. Surely any attempt by the mosque to support Mr Anmak would have worked against him.

Mr Seyit’s outburst isn’t without its unintended humour. In a recent e-mail sent out to a Muslim yahoogroup, Mr Seyit stated the real reasons for his anger at the mosque executive.
Politics in the mosque should not be tolerated. Not because I am secular … The mosque cannot take sides. when the Mosque allowed Izzet to make a speech to the congregation it really hurt me as that mosque is something that my father worked towards building. My father was sent to Turkey in 1982 by the mosque building committee to raise funds. My father used to teach Quran courses there and we were all a part of the mosque's history. In fact my father was the first Turkish man in Australia to lead the Eid prayer in a small house in Redfern in 1970.
By his own admission, Mr Seyit is no great lover of secularism. His main concern is to benefit from mosque resources he believes he is entitled to because of his father’s efforts.

In the same e-mail, Mr Seyit makes this extraordinary claim:
Now we await the result and although prior to running I had done the calculations I knew that I would get in without difficulty. Instead, as it stands many of my votes went to Izzet and there is a very high chance that both of us will miss out. I was invited to run by former councillors and that is why I ran, I was assured of their support and knew that I would get the majority of the "Muslim" vote in ward one.
Yes, Mr Seyit clearly would have been Auburn Council’s answer to Saladdin, liberating Ward 1 from the nasty crusaders and leading the mythical Muslim voting bloc to political glory. Mr Seyit saw himself as becoming perhaps Auburn’s first Caliph.

Mr Seyit also argues in his e-mail that there was a kebab konspiracy involved, with kebab manufacturers plotting against him:
The owwner of the Ozlem Kebabs told me that they wanted to run their own man … and that is why they did not endorse me. They used the every trick in the book to get votes from the Turkish community, with a bottomless pit of money, they placed pressure on most of the kebab shops to vote for their man, they convinced the ALL the Turkish Newspapers to promote their man (because Ozlem and the kebabs are all big advertisers) , they ran large ads every week, and they worked on each every Turkish organisation and soccer club, first and foremost they had the support of the Gallipoli Mosque and the president campaigned hard for their man.
Clearly this was a foul-smelling kebab konspiracy, filled with extra garlic sauce. Both Mr Seyit’s ego and his political career seem to have died with a felafel in his hand.

UPDATE I: Writing to the same yahoogroup referred to above, a certain Gazza, who admits to being an ALP member and addict of non-alcoholic beer, has made the following important observations ...
I have read the to and fro of messages about Seyfi’s unfortunate loss in the Auburn council elections and am disappointed in the sniping and backbiting that has resulted. All this serves to demonstrate just how nasty politics can get ...

Lets all take a Valium and go to sleep till the next election.

My response to Gazza is this - I'll be happy to bring the Bavaria if you supply the valiums!

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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