Thursday, April 30, 2009

COMMENT: Extraordinary asylum stories ...

The Daily Telegraph may see fit to publish racist comments about persons of Somali heritage. However, its fellow News Limited paper The Australian has published a more nuanced feature piece on Melbournites of Somali heritage in its Weekend Magazine.

A large number of Somalis migrated to Australia as refugees. Many have witnessed horrific violence in their home country, which has been locked in a vicious civil war since 1991. I cannot even begin to imagine what impact these experiences must have on Somali migrants today. Perhaps the best way to appreciate this is to cite passages from the March 23 story, authored by Drew Warne-Smith and titled New home, new hope:

Jama came to Australia in 1996, aged 12, with his mother, four brothers and three sisters. Like so many Somalis, his family had fled the capital, Mogadishu, after the civil war erupted in 1991. He remembers sitting on the crowded roof of a truck as it drove south towards Kenya, dead bodies littering the side of the road.

They were five years in a refugee camp in Kenya, awaiting asylum; a camp where rape and theft were commonplace and school comprised 50 kids in a room with one adult. His father was killed by Kenyan soldiers near the Somali border in 1993. He doesn’t know how or why.

Landing in Australia, a place his friends at the camp had teased him was “the last place on Earth”, Jama felt disarmed. Literally. No one was holding a gun. And no one looked scared, either. People seemed free to do anything and say anything, not that he could understand them.

Less than a year later, after studying English for six months at a language centre, he was sent to high school in Brunswick, placed in Year 7 according to his age. He could barely understand the teacher, let alone learn or contribute. Embarrassed, resentful, he began wagging days.

Soon he was hanging out with other African kids doing the same. Ignoring his mother’s pleas, he dropped out altogether in Year 9, then returned to school but never got as far as Year 11. He didn’t attend the mosque either, nor say his prayers. And he began drinking alcohol, a taboo in Islamic culture.

Then came the nightclubs and the fights. Stealing. Run-ins with police. A 5cm scar over his right eyebrow tells of being glassed in a brawl at a club in Ringwood. But Jama wasn’t scared of anyone, not here in Australia. Not after what he’d seen in Africa. He had no father, no discipline, no moral compass, and not much hope either. He had cut loose from his own culture and he had little hope of embracing a new one. Within Melbourne’s Somali community, Ahmed Jama became known as one of the Lost Ones ...

Some may say that Jama is an exception. After all, don't these boys all have fathers who can teach them good manners? The answer can be found in this frightening statistic.

About a quarter of all Somalis in Victoria – about 4000 – live in a family without a father, according to research by the Somali Australian Council of Victoria.

“The fathers are dead, or fighting, or they left Australia to return to Somalia, or they work overseas. And there is a tendency for teenagers in those families to become lost,” Ibrahim says.

But that's just one story. What about all the other Somali families? Meet Abdulle Hussein, a former lieutenant-colonel in the Somali Army.

He and Shukri had three children under four years old when they fled the Baidoa region, northwest of Mogadishu, in 1991. For three days and three nights they walked without stopping, until they reached Ethiopia about 140km away. Soon after, their youngest son died from illness in the suffocating heat. They buried him and kept walking. Six months and 4000km later they wandered into a refugee camp in Kenya, where they waited two years until being accepted into Australia.

Hussein glances at his 15-year-old son Said, sitting quietly in the corner. “They have no idea what it took to come here,” he says, without any trace of sadness or bitterness. Such hardship is unremarkable among those who came here.

Another family, I’m told, lost two sons escaping Somalia. A militia group kidnapped the eldest – being old enough to carry a gun – and they never saw him again. A crocodile killed the second as they crossed a river by night. The father still draws pictures of his boys to stop the memory of what they looked like from slipping away.

Really, who can imagine such grief, let along endure it? These experiences beggar belief. Fleeing a civil war only to be eaten by a crocodile. A stolen son, probably fighting for those who tried to kill his parents, most likely dead himself. Relatives already killed by bullets and knives. Burying a baby on a roadside.

I will also learn of Hussein Mumin, a Somali turned street kid, who saw his father and brother murdered, having already lost his mum. Rejected by a devout community unable to cope with how far he had strayed, he would be killed too – stabbed to death in a domestic argument. And as Barbara Chapman, his social worker and friend, tells me – when these refugees arrive, there are no government services to screen or treat them for their trauma. Yet we act surprised when they drop out of school, or pull a knife, or clash with police, or retreat to their own culture. The surprise, she says, is that they function at all.

Who can imagine, let alone endure, such grief? And we can hear so many other stories from those desperately risking their lives to reach our safer shores. Should we resent them for their efforts? Should we demonise them?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

BOOK: Only 5 days 'till "Once Were Radicals" is published!!!

My first (and, God-willing, not last) book Once Were Radicals will be published on Monday 4 May 2009. For a short time only, you can read an excerpt from the book here.

There are a number of events happening this month to coincide with the book's publication. On Monday night, the book is being launched by the Hon Laurie Ferguson at Granville in the heart of his electorate.

Details of that launch can be found here.

There will aoso be a launch held in Canberra with ABC TV newsreader and award-winning journalist Virginia Haussegger.

That event will take place on Sunday afternoon, 31 May 2009. Details of that event can be found here.

There will also be an event at Gleebooks in Glebe on Wednesday 13 May 2009, at which I'll be in conversation with author, journalist and blogger Antony Loewenstein.

There are also two events for next month's Sydney Writers' Festival.

The first event will be at the Riverside Theatres, Cnr Church and Market Streets Parramatta when I will be in conversation with Brendan Phelan, Associate of

For more details click here.

The second event will be in Sydney on Saturday afternoon, 23 May 2009 at the Sydney Philharmonia Choir Studio, Pier 4/5, Walsh Bay. Click here for more details.

I'll be somewhat busy during the next month or so, and it's unlikely I'll be blogging much here.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

VIDEO: How do Indians become citizens ...

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

COMMENT: Border Insecurity ...

The letters section of the Daily Telegraph of Friday 24 April 2009 has two typical examples of uninformed hysteria concerning the issue of "border security" and asylum seekers. I'm in no way suggesting the Tele shouldn'y be publishing these letters. Everyone's voice should be heard, and it's useful to know just what some people are thinking about such sensitive issues.

The first letter is from one P Cummins. It starts like this ...
The reason we now have a swag of boat people trying to get into Australia is because the Rudd Government last year loosened our border security laws ...
This might possibly be true in the case of Afghan and Iraqi asylum seekers, but the fact is that the conflict in Sri Lanka has only recently escalated to the extent that many Tamil civilians are fleeing directly from Sri Lanka as opposed to via Indonesia.
They need to be tightened for the protection of the citizens of this country, an obligation the Government has to its people.
So Australian citizens need to be protected from weak malnourished asylum seekers fleeing persecution. And what will these poor people bring with them? WMD? Nuclear weapons?
One has to ask why all of these asylum seekers come down to Australia? There are dozens of Muslim countries near Iraq and Afghanistan that are wealthy and not at war, where other Muslims and their families would fit right in and be comfortable.
There are hundreds of thousands of Iraqis living in Syria, which is struggling to accommodate them. Syria is itself not a terribly wealthy nation. Hazara Afghans fleeing the Taliban would hardly want to stick around in Pakistan where elements of the same Taliban have taken over large areas of the country. And using your reasoning, I'm not sure which Muslim-majority country Tamil Sri Lankans will go to given that they're a mixture of Hindu and Christian. In any event, it isn't just about religion. People's identities are not limited to religion. If our identity was solely determined by religion, we should have seen Kevin Rudd and/or Malcolm Turnbull and not John Safran being nailed to a cross in the Philippines. After all, the Philippines is a Catholic country, and both Rudd and Turnbull are Catholic.
So why come many thousands of miles down to Australia, a basically British culture and a Christian country? These are the questions we should be asking.
In that case, I'm sure quite a few of these people would happily convert to Christianity if it meant they and their families would be safe. After all, quite a few asylum seekers such as Kashmiri Peter Qasim converted to Christianity. However, that didn't stop him from being kept in detention by the Howard government even though it drove him into severe depression. And I guess we shouldn't have any problem accepting Tamil Christian asylum seekers. As for being British, I don't think indogenous Aussies were eating with knives and forks 40,000 years ago. Then again, neither were the Poms for that matter.

But why should we be asking such questions? After all, our immigration system does not discriminate on the basis of religion. And anyway, how can we really tell what religion a person subscribes to? Or is it someone we determine based on their racial background? So we assume that an Iraqi must be Muslim because he is Iraqi and has an Arabic-sounding name, even if he could well be a Chaldean or Yazidi or Assyrian Orthodox?

Then there is a letter from one Lynne Cole whose arguments make a similar degree of (non)sense.
The recent boatload of asylum seekers were all male, presumably some of them are or were married, perhaps with children. So they left family behind to cope with the Taliban on their own.
Your point being? That these men just callously left their families behind and left without so much as a goodbye? That their families had no say in the matter? That their family members don't wish to see even one person flee to safety? Or are you saying that their families are all in Afghanistan or Pakistan and not in Indonesia? That the Taliban have made it to Jakarta?
How will the families of the five dead survive?
Are you suggesting you're really concerned about their welfare and would support their migrating to Australia?
Why aren't these brave men standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our young soldiers who are in Afghanistan trying to improve the lot of the Afghan people?
Maybe for the same reason the vast majority of young Australian men and women aren't there - they're not professional soldiers. And maybe because it isn't nice staying in a place where you could be kicked out of your property and/or be murdered at anytime and where you've already seen family members slaughtered. And from a strategic perspective, the last thing Coalition forces and the Afghan National Army needs is severely traumatised people fighting on their side.
Our young men are killed or injured while these people choose to try for an easy life in Australia.
It's so easy being away from one's family and only hearing their voices on the other end of a phone (presuming you can even contact them). It's a piece of cake surviving in a new country where you aren't allowed to work and cannot access any social security and are forced to rely on charity to make some kind of a living. And on top of that, having to deal with the trauma of having just survived life in a warzone and mourning alone over your dead relatives, presuming that you even know that they are dead.
Those we have already admitted no doubt tell those back home that what a soft touch we are.
Pfft. Are you suggesting, Lynne, that we start behaving like al-Qaeda and Taliban and LTTE and the Sri Lankan Army just so that you feel protected from nasty dark-skinned refugees? I'm glad we are a soft touch. If you want to experience a not-so-soft touch, feel free to go join our brave men and women fighting in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

VIDEO: Easter in modern Jerusalem ...

Israel's treatment of its Arab citizens has raised accusations of racism.

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are not Israeli citizens, instead Israel issues identity cards permitting them to live there.

But now authorities are threatening to retrieve dozens of IDs.

Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland reports from East Jerusalem.

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

VIDEO: Resisting eviction in Jerusalem ...

Members of a Palestinian family who have been served an eviction notice to leave their home in the Sheik Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem are taking it in turns to stay awake in case Israeli authorities come to force them out.

Rami Hannoun, one of the family members, said: "The Israelis say they own this land, that they own it since a long time ago. But we also have papers that say we own this land".

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

COMMENT: The UN and Racism ... Part 2

Let's continue with a discussion of the Durban I document, which you can read in full here.

It's hard to find a worse recorded example of violent genocidal racism over the past century than the Holocaust of European Jews by the Nazis. No doubt other genocides and forced removal of various Turkic tribes in the Soviet Union and the current genocide in Darfur can also be mentioned, though the former is perhaps not as meticulously recorded. Paragraph 58 carries a short, dignified yet powerful statement about the Holocaust.
58. We recall that the Holocaust must never be forgotten.

There is also a clear statement about growing religious and ethno-religious xenophobia.
59. We recognize with deep concern religious intolerance against certain religious communities, as well as the emergence of hostile acts and violence against such communities because of their religious beliefs and their racial or ethnic origin in various parts of the world which in particular limit their right to freely practise their belief.

60. We also recognize with deep concern the existence in various parts of the world of religious intolerance against religious communities and their members, in particular limitation of their right to practise their beliefs freely, as well as the emergence of increased negative stereotyping, hostile acts and violence against such communities because of their religious beliefs and their ethnic or so-called racial origin.

Interestingly, the Durban I declaration mentions growing anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim prejudice in the same paragraph.
61. We recognize with deep concern the increase in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in various parts of the world, as well as the emergence of racial and violent movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities.

There are good reasons for linking the two kinds of prejudice, some of which I have dealt with here. The parallels between the kinds of rhetoric used by today's Muslimphobes in Europe and India and the anti-Semites of yesteryear are striking. At the same time, anti-Semitism in Muslim countries and even some Western Muslim communities is a disturbing development.

The Durban I Declaration recognises that racism particularly affects women, children, the disabled and those affected by HIV/AIDS.

Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of Iran isn't the only world leader who should note para 83 of the Durban I Declaration which reads:
We underline the key role that political leaders and political parties can and ought to play in combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and encourage political parties to take concrete steps to promote solidarity, tolerance and respect.

But it isn't just presidents, prime ministers, kings, emirs etc that have responsibility in this regard.
We note with regret that certain media, by promoting false images and negative stereotypes of vulnerable individuals or groups of individuals, particularly of migrants and refugees, have contributed to the spread of xenophobic and racist sentiments among the public and in some cases have encouraged violence by racist individuals and groups.

It's a long document and well-worth reading. If time permits, I'll go through more of it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

COMMENT: The UN and Racism ...

Today the UN Durban Review Conference began in Geneva. There's been plenty of news and comment about a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. Various Western countries have boycotted the event, among them Australia. The original conference was held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. That conference saw the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action.

Ironically 2001 was the UN Year of Dialogue among Civilizations after the adoption of a proposal by another Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami. The purpose of that year was to underline
... tolerance and respect for diversity and the need to seek common ground among and within civilizations in order to address common challenges to humanity that threaten shared values, universal human rights and the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, through cooperation, partnership and inclusion.
So we have one Iranian president who encouraged dialogue and another Iranian president who (we are told) doesn't want dialogue.

The Durban Conference recognised that racism had to be made a priority as the world entered the third millenium.
We recognize and affirm that, at the outset of the third millennium, a global fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and all their abhorrent and evolving forms and manifestations is a matter of priority for the international community ...

The conference recognised that people in Africa were especially made victims of racism and xenophobia. Any notion of racial superiority was specifically rejected, as was anything resembling apartheid.
Any doctrine of racial superiority is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous, and must be rejected along with theories which attempt to determine the existence of separate human races.

Durban specifically recognised slavery as a crime against humanity affecting specifically people of African, Asian and indigenous descent. Colonialism was also seen as a direct cause (if not manifestation) of racism and xenophobia. Readers of certain tabloid newspapers holding inflammatory views on asylum seekers might feel disturbed by this paragraph from the Durban declaration:
We recognize that xenophobia against non-nationals, particularly migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, constitutes one of the main sources of contemporary racism and that human rights violations against members of such groups occur widely in the context of discriminatory, xenophobic and racist practices

It's only when you read and ponder over the 62-page document that you realise just how dangerous racism, racial intolerance and xenophobia are. Racism is seen as a major root cause of wars. The socio-economic development of numerous nations is hampered by racism. Further, racism is gaining a respectable face, even becoming part of the platform of major political parties and becoming part of mainstream political discourse.
... contemporary forms and manifestations of racism and xenophobia are striving to regain political, moral and even legal recognition in many ways, including through the platforms of some political parties and organizations and the dissemination through modern communication technologies of ideas based on the notion of racial superiority.

It is interesting in the context of the current asylum seeker debate that the Durban declaration specifically referred to ...
... the urgent need to prevent, combat and eliminate all forms of trafficking in persons, in particular women and children, and recognize that victims of trafficking are particularly exposed to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Andrew Bolt and his fan club, who rarely miss any opportunity to demonise African migrants to Australia, should overlook the following paragraph:
We recognize that people of African descent have for centuries been victims of racism, racial discrimination and enslavement and of the denial by history of many of their rights, and assert that they should be treated with fairness and respect for their dignity and should not suffer discrimination of any kind ... We recognize that in many parts of the world, Africans and people of African descent face barriers as a result of social biases and discrimination prevailing in public and private institutions

And the following paragraph from the Durban declaration has some relevance to legislation underpinning the Northern Territory Intervention which seeks to exempt itself from the provisions of the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act.
We emphasize that, in order for indigenous peoples freely to express their own identity and exercise their rights, they should be free from all forms of discrimination, which necessarily entails respect for their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In other words, you cannot remove indigenous disadvantage by institutionalising racism.

It seems the products of such anti-racism conferences necessarily make certain persons feel uncomfortable. Usually these individuals (and in many cases, nation states) are so quick to find any excuse to condemn these events. More to come.

Monday, April 20, 2009

COMMENT: The tortured reality that clouds Obama's message ...

President Barack Obama has many messages to deliver to that nebulous blob called “the Muslim world”. He wanted to move relations between America and 1.2 billion Muslims beyond the kind of stereotypes that dogged his own campaign.

Obama’s recent address to Turkey’s National Assembly was really an address to the governments of Muslim-majority states. He acknowledged “there have been difficulties these last few years … that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced”. He also reminded them that “America's relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot, and will not, just be based upon opposition to terrorism”.

This all sounds lovely. There’s just one problem. America’s unpopular war on terror involved kidnapping and torturing Muslim terror suspects, with few charges laid against anyone. Much of this torture was outsourced to the very governments Obama was addressing in his remarks. Police and intelligence services of countries such as Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco and Syria tortured prisoners and sold their “evidence” to the United States. Governments of these countries allowed the CIA to conduct secret “black site” prisons.

A host of kings, emirs, generals and presidents-for-life of Muslim-majority states used America’s “war on terror” as a convenient excuse to stifle dissent and to suppress their own political opponents. These same governments use religious sentiment to stir up trouble over trivial issues (e.g. the Danish cartoons) to divert attention away from government excess and incompetence. In countries where substantial Muslim minorities existed (such as China, India and the Philippines), fighting “terrorism” was used as a cover to suppress minorities. And not only Muslims suffered. Fighting terrorism has been used as an excuse by the Sri Lankan army to commit atrocities against Tamil civilians.

And now CIA Director Leon Panetta is insisting that ...

... no one who took actions based on legal guidance from the Department of Justice at the time should be investigated, let alone punished.

Then again, a full investigation might just expose the dirty role played by the despots that rule the majority of Muslim countries. It might also expose the role of US allies such as Australia.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

COMMENT: On CIA doctors and Hippocratic hypocrisy ...

There are medical practitioners. And then there are medico-legal mercenaries. I came across a few of the latter during my brief stint as a plaintiff personal injury lawyer. The amount of compensation my punters got was determined by the extent of their impairment. I’d send my clients for an assessment by anyone of my plaintiff specialists, some of whom wrote reports making whiplash look like paraplegia. The insurers would then have the punter assessed by one of their specialists, who usually wrote reports “proving” an actual paraplegic punter could outrun Cathy Freeman. It was all terribly scientific.

Faced with this competing evidence, the judge usually came up with an assessment in line with what the punter’s treating doctor had to say. After all, the treating doctor had a longer history of working with the patient and hence more able to provide a prognosis. Treating doctors generally give more than a rat’s backside for the punter. Why? Well, for starters they have this code of ethics summarised in the Hippocratic Oath. Secondly, they know breaching the oath compromises their indemnity insurance.

None of this seems to have crossed the minds of medical practitioners overseeing detainees in secret CIA “black site” prisons in 3 continents during George W Bush’s so-called “war on terror”. The Washington Post reported these doctors

... committed gross violations of medical ethics and in some cases essentially participated in torture.

A 43-page report by the International Committee of the Red Cross quoted one medical officer even telling an inmate: “I look after your body only because we need you for information”.

Another detainee told ICRC he was made to stand with his arms shackled overhead for a period of 2 to 3 months! Other forms of torture included waterboarding as well as being threatened with sodomy, HIV infection and electric shocks. Believe it or not, the CIA Director Leon Panetta is insisting that “no one who took actions based on legal guidance from the Department of Justice at the time should be investigated, let alone punished”.

Legal guidance? What lawyer would advise doctors to breach fundamental medical ethics? Perhaps the same Defence Department lawyers mentioned in the 2008 book Torture Team: Deception, Cruelty and the Compromise of Law by international lawyer and academic Philippe Sands QC. Those lawyers joined with neo-conservative politicians to produce the 2002 Acton Memo signed by Donald Rumsfeld. The Memo 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.

And so the US and its allies (including Australia) fought a war to defend our values using methods that threatened our values. Go figure.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

OPINION: An old piece on Camden xenophobes ...

Camden xenophobes don't reflect pluralist reality
How's this for road rage. You're driving down Camden Valley Way at about 80km/h after a long day's work. The sun has set. It's dark. Suddenly from the bushes, a tall Middle Eastern-looking bloke emerges, running across the road in front of you. He's wearing long robes and sports curly brown hair with a beard.

You suddenly swerve your car to avoid running him over. You stick your head out the window and scream out blasphemously, "Jesus f---ing Christ!" The man stares at you and implores, "Why are you swearing at me for? I just got run out of town by these strange white-skinned Camden people. I told them I was the Son of Man, come to establish the Kingdom of God. They told me they didn't want me there establishing some sharia state. They wanted to keep their place Christian. They told me to go back to Lakemba where my kind live."

I hope I haven't offended the religious sensibilities of Muslim and Christian readers. Despite some theological differences, both sets of believers look forward to Christ returning to establish peace and justice on Earth. The Quranic Society which wishes to develop its $1.5million parcel of Camden land for a school will hopefully not have to wait so long to see justice handed down by the NSW Land and Environment Court. The society was already expecting a fight with council even before lodging its development application. Members have mortgaged their houses to finance the development. The society's lawyer and consultant, former Sydney lord mayor Jeremy Bingham, boasts of never having lost a case like this.

In the meantime, some Camden residents can feel proud that their antics have placed their suburb on the world map. The Voice of America radio report described opposition to the school as
... as at times ... savage and graphic.
Neighbouring Campbelltown has a large Muslim community, most of whom are of South African origin. No doubt their relatives will be calling after one South African media outlet reminded readers of two pigs' heads rammed on metal stakes with an Australian flag draped between them at the site. You can imagine the reaction in South Africa when they learn of the involvement of the Australia First Party, one of whose leaders was convicted of a 1989 shotgun attack on the home of a local representative of Nelson Mandela's African National Congress.

The London Independent report carried the headline of

Suburban Sydney shows dark side as Muslim school row gets vicious.
The Macau Daily Times reports Camden and Cronulla together.

In 2005 anti-Muslim sentiment boiled over into ugly riots on the Sydney beach suburb of Cronulla, where rioters targeted people of Middle Eastern appearance. And in 2004, a severed pig's head was similarly impaled in front of a Muslim prayer centre in Sydney's north-west.

Once again, a small number of very loud morons (including people with no links to the Camden community) are ruining Australia's reputation in our region. Their incoherent rants will no doubt make Camden and Sydney a laughing stock. One fellow summed up the stupidity of much of the protest in saying,

My kids can't read Islamic, how are they going to go to that school, it's all crap.
Yes, indeed, it is crap. I can't read Islamic either. And notwithstanding the fact that my religion forbids gambling, I'd be prepared to place money on the fact that if the Prophet Muhammad were not unlettered, even he wouldn't be able to read Islamic. It's easy to laugh at all this, and to write these people off as just irrelevant nutcases, but the fact is that such sentiments are common parlance now.

Even major newspapers print all kinds of imbecilic notions. In October 2006, a national broadsheet newspaper published a story about an alleged honour killing in Brisbane. The report actually manufactured a verse from the Koran which didn't exist. And I've lost count of the number of times I have emailed journalists and columnists to ask for a reference from Islamic scriptures to martyrs receiving 72 virgins.

But whose responsibility is it to dispel such commonly held prejudice? The Rudd Government has announced that it will conduct anti-racism programs, but the real responsibility lies with Muslim religious leadership which should be spending time and resources on educating the broader community about Australia's Muslims and their heritage.

So what is Australia's peak Muslim body, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, spending its resources on? After a disputed meeting, various factions of the federation went to the NSW Supreme Court. A receiver has been appointed for at least the second time.

Still, at least my colleagues in the legal profession are getting something out of this internecine warfare. The federation, a body dominated by middle-aged men with poor English skills, doesn't reflect Muslim Australians, the largest bloc of whom are Australian-born, English-speaking and aged under 40. And the xenophobes of Camden don't reflect the reality of pluralist Australia.

With the majority locked out of discussion on the Camden school project, it's little wonder the debate has been hijacked by extremists.

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer. This article was first published in the Canberra Times on 30 May 2008.

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

LETTER: Open letter to the editor of the Daily Telegraph ...

Dear Mr Linnell,

One of your columnists, Piers Akerman, decided to publish a comment on his blog which said the following:

Reality check people.

In the pirates we are dealing with illiterate stone-age savages who come from a racial group whose average IQ is in the 60s (retarded). There is a reason why Africans did not invent the wheel, writing, or any system of government above the tribal level.

There is only one way to deal with these pirates that will make an impression on their dull minds: freaking kill them and the horse that they rode in on.

Warships should prowl the area with orders to engage and kill (notice I said kill, not capture) all pirates on sight. Armed drones should prowl the sky with the same intent.

Merchantmen should carry a contingent of marines during their passage through this area, who would have orders to kill all pirates on sight.

If or when any pirates were taken alive, interrogate (aka torture) them until they reveal their home village or town.

Then . . . use either a fuel air weapon or a daisy cutter (depending upon the size of the target) to turn that village or town and all its inhabitants into a smoking hole in the ground.
Nothing less is going to get through to these people.

Anything else will be viewed as weakness and they will continue to laugh at the foolish and weak white man . . . and they will be correct to do so.

CarlT of Gold Coast (Reply)
Mon 13 Apr 09 (07:59pm)

An excerpt from a further comment is as follows:

If they or their wives are fat in Somalia they are crooks and pirates. Hang or chop the hands off all the fat ones. Leave the Skinny’s.Sink any Somali vessel with a motor. Sails only ...

john allen of Southport Qld (Reply)
Mon 13 Apr 09 (09:13pm)

I was wondering if you could advise me how your newspaper's publication of this comment does not breach NSW and Commonwealth laws proscribing racial vilification.

If this question is too difficult for you to answer, perhaps you could refer the matter to someone from your legal division.

I Yusuf

PS: I noticed an advertisement on your website from Tourism NSW. I thought I would send this letter to their person in charge of "News and Trade Media". No doubt Tourism NSW would be most impressed to see their funds going toward the publication of racist and xenophobic commentary on your newspaper's website. I'm sure Sydney would be able to attract lots of overseas visitors would would be pleased to see a major Sydney newspaper that prints violently xenophobic material. Oh, and I also thought ABC Media Watch might be interested.

UPDATE I: Feel free to send your own e-mail of complaint to the following:

Garry Linnell -
Margaret Rayner -
Isabella Kennedy -
Danial Creech -

UPDATE II: I received the following e-mail from Mr Akerman on 15 April 2009:

Thank you for your note, you will see that I responded several days ago to another respondee. Posting remarks in no way signifies agreement with the sentiment contained.

My response to Mr Akerman of same date was as follows:

Posting such comments does signify that the moderator and the newspaper regard themselves as not being subject to State and Federal laws applying to other businesses. It also signifies that the newspaper does not really follow its own publication guidelines.

The fact that comments calling for genocide are seen as within the bounds of lawful discourse on a blog necessarily reflects on the author of the blogpost and on the newspaper.
UPDATE III: Daily Telegraph blogger and opinion editor Tim Blair frequently cites material from one Sheik Yer'Mami. The Sheik has some interesting observations to make about my correspondence with the Daily Telegraph. You can read them here. Some of Yer'Mami's commenters are as bad as Akerman's. Check this out:
kaw April 15, 2009 at 7:46 am
Having read Irfans blog, with an entry in the comment section that he has put in himself, I would say that every person should write to the editors listed, and to the state government complaining about Irfan. He found a published comment objectionable, so rather than reply to the comment, he tries to sue the newspaper for publishing it!!! ... The sooner this islamist piece of shiite is shut down the better.

And how about this?
kaw April 15, 2009 at 7:54 am
... My IQ, incidentally is rather high. I am also quite literate. I read “War and Peace” by Tolstoy when I was eight years old, and I actually have no problems in taking you on in, well, almost anything really. Now you have a nice day beating your head against the wall!

And what delightful discourse we have here.
Thomas H. April 15, 2009 at 11:32 am
... Obama is a lying, treacherous, puffed up, arrogant, ignorant, dishonest, sleazy hot-air bag, who bows deep to a mohammedan piece of excrement the ruler of both Mecca and Qaqa.

Now is it really so strange that a “man” exhibiting all these typically mohammedan traits is assumed to be a mohammedan? OK, the chance he is something else is, of course, there, but so is the chance of a lottery win. Statistics, dear dumn, statistics.

Besides, dear dumn, his middle name is Hussein and his demented daddy was a 100% muhammedan

Of course, Yer'Mami and his extremely literate friends are free to say whatever they like. The Daily Telegraph bloggers such as Blair and Akerman are also free to source information from whichever source they like. And we are free to reach whatever conclusions we wish about the integrity or otherwise of this newspaper.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

Sunday, April 12, 2009

COMMENT: Jeff Halper on Israel and the diaspora ...

In his recent op-ed for the Sydney Morning Herald, Jeff Halper raised some interesting points on how many ordinary Jews (or at least those linked to public community organisations) see their relationship with the modern state of Israel. For me as an Australian gentile of Indo-Pakistani heritage, it has always been an interesting process to watch, if for no other reason than that it has some similarity to the relationship between overseas Pakistanis and modern Pakistan.

The problem seems to be that Diaspora Jewry uses Israel as the lynchpin of its ethnic identity, mobilising around a beleaguered Israel as a way of keeping the community intact. But this does not foster a healthy relationship. Israel cannot be held up as a voyeuristic ideal by people who, though professing a commitment to Israel's survival, actually need an Israel at conflict for their own community's internal survival.

That is why I, as a critical Israeli, am so threatening. I can both conceive of an Israel very different from the "Jewish state" so dearly valued at a distance by Diaspora Jewry - and I can envision an Israel at peace. Ironically, it is precisely such a normal state living at peace with its neighbours that is so threatening to Jews abroad, because it leaves them with no external cause around which to galvanise.

But Israel cannot fulfil that role. Diaspora Jews need to revalidate Diaspora Jewish culture (that Zionism dismissed as superficial and ephemeral) and find genuine, compelling reasons why their children should remain Jewish. Blindly supporting Israel's extreme right-wing and militaristic policies is not the way to do that. Such uncritical support contradicts the very liberal values that define Diaspora Jewry, driving away the younger generation of thinking Jews.

So many Pakistani diaspora elders I see feel compelled to defend their idealised vision of Pakistan as they left it during the 1950's or '60's. They cannot tolerate even the midlest criticism of Pakistan, to the extent of even defending the indefensible.

(Then again, they at least grew up in Pakistan. I'm not sure how many Australian Jews have spent significant amounts of time growing up in Israel.)

Indeed, perhaps the healthiest trend I see among the local Pakistanis here is a greater exposure to Pakistani media. If General Pervez Musharraf did one thing right, it was to allow a freeing up of the Pakistani media. A variety of cable news channels such as GeoTV and Aaj are now challenging the idealised version of Pakistan previously held dear by so many of my "unklez" and "aunteez". Halper doesn't seem to believe a similar process is in place among Australian supporters of Israel.
The uproar caused by the prospect of my speaking to the Jewish community in Australia is truly startling to an Israeli. After all, opinions similar to mine are readily available in the mainstream Israeli media. Indeed, I write frequently for the Israeli press and appear regularly on Israeli TV and radio.

The level of healthy debate and indeed criticism of various political and social trends among both diasporas is almost inevitable. Resistance to such criticism may be understandable but certainly isn't healthy in the long run.

Friday, April 10, 2009

HATEWATCH: Tim Blair's buddies inadvertently accuse Jews of belonging to an "intolerant faith" ...

I've said and written this many a time. The prejudicial rhetoric used against certain minority groups today is merely a repetition of the prejudicial rhetoric used against other minority groups in times gone past. In the years leading upto the Holocaust, the European and Western far-Right imposed their uncontrolled and unmedicated hate toward anyone they deemed Jewish. Today they do the same against anyone deemed Muslim.

The regular band of nutbags that surround Daily Telegraph opinion editor Tim Blair are typical examples of this phenomenon. Even before his blog was hosted by the Tele, Blair allowed a host of racist commentary onto his site, including this classic about Rupert Murdoch's daughter.

Being hosted by a major newspaper appears not to have lifted the standards of comment at Planetim. Blair couldn't help but comment on the Royal North Shore Hospital beat-up, claiming that the hospital chapel had been "de-Jesused".

Aiming to avoid conflict and anger, the Royal North Shore Hospital has instead increased it.

But anger among who? It seems the only angry people are some of Tim Blair's cyber-nazis. Here are some of their rants:

kae replied to kae
Thu 09 Apr 09 (06:45pm)

We want a separate place.
We want you to abide by our rules.
We need to have special concessions because of our religion.
We need special food.
Why don’t you treat us the same as everyone else?
Before anyone bags out Jews and Jewish food requirements, just remember that Jews have never expected KFC, Maccas, et al, you and me, to change to suit them.

Aiming to avoid conflict and anger, the Royal North Shore Hospital has instead increased it.
It’s worse than that.
Why would a person of one faith be offended by seeing the religious symbols of another faith?
The only reason could be that their own faith is intolerant of others.
So, the question is: What is the hospital doing, validating and encouraging intolerant faiths?
Brett_McS of Newcastle (Reply)
Thu 09 Apr 09 (12:30pm)

John E replied to Brett_McS
Thu 09 Apr 09 (02:39pm)

Indeed, Brett.
It actually highlights the deep-rooted insecurity of these other, intolerant faiths.
For if their followers are so secure in their beliefs, they would surely not feel threatened or offended by the religious symbols of other faiths.

Hey, Tim.
On the evening news tonight no mention was made of who might be offended by crosses and bibles. In fact the news reader talked about the move without once mentioning Muslims.
kae (Reply)
Thu 09 Apr 09 (06:39pm)

OK, you know you have screwed up when the Muslims appear more tolerant.
pgrossjr (Reply)
Fri 10 Apr 09 (03:45am)
Yes, these intolerant people who want to support religious separatism, who impose their intolerant religion on us. Who are these nasty devious ugly despicable people with their intolerant religion? Why kind of foreign Middle Eastern force is at work here? What kind of people would support a hospital chapel being "de-Jesused"?

Well, you'd have to have read the hard-copy version of Sydney's Daily Telegraph on Thursday 9 April to know the answer. On page 2, health reporter Kate Sikora writes:

The Australian/Jewish Affairs Council [sic.] supported the hospital, saying more people would be likely to use the chapel.

Bren Carlill, a policy analyst, said some from other religions might be offended.

"The fact that they are willing to go to such lengths to encourage religious communities to worship is great," he said. "There are people from lots of different groups who almost like getting offended - and then there are the other people who don't get offended."
So which nasty evil foreign intolerant separatist group supports such actions and has earned the ire of Tim Blair's buddies for having a hospital chapel "de-Jesused"?

But don't dare describe Tim Blair as a racist. He doesn't need to be. His commenters to it all for him. Tim just moderates it all.

UPDATE I: In case it matters, Bren Carlill happens not to be Jewish.

UPDATE II: As if to confirm the above, Tim Blair doesn't hesitate to source a story from neo-Nazi Sheik Yer'mami. It's not the first time Blair has used the "Yer'mami News Network".

And what kind of material does Yer'mami publish? Well, his website currently carries this poll:

Are you convinced now that Obama is a Marxist Muslim?

°No way!

°More Marxist than Muslim

°More Muslim than Marxist

°Muslim ueber alles!
Thus far, out of 50 votes, 17 persons have voted Obama is more Marxist than Muslim while another 17 have voted him more Muslim than Marxist. 12 have voted he is Muslim ueber alles. It would be interesting to know which way Tim Blair voted.

And read this extraordinary gushing tribute to Austrian neo-Nazi politician Joerg Haider from Yer'mami. Here's what Ha'aretz has to say about Haider:

He commended the Third Reich's employment policy, called SS members "decent people," compared the Jews' deportation during the war to the expulsion of the German Sudetens and described the extermination camps as "punishment camps."

... he said that "every foreigner, even if he's a criminal, receives more government support than an Austrian pensioner," or "it makes no difference whether it's a Romanian pickpocket or a Socialist finance minister who's taking the money out of your pocket." Or, "did you know that under Socialist rule, a black African with a fashionable suit and a state-of-the art cell phone can sell drugs unhindered?"
What delightful sources the opinion editor of the Daily Telegraph has.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

VIDEO: US conservatives still talking Turkey over the "Judeo-Christian" nation ...

Some alleged conservatives in the United States are getting their nickers in a knot (or should that be knickers in a not?) over President Obama's remarks at a joint press conference with his counterpart in Turkey. It seems some are still peddling this myth that there is such a thing as a Judeo-Christian tradition.

In Australia, conservatives have also been peddling this myth of our country being founded on "Judeo-Christian values". Peter Costello has made such claims from time to time. Including during a speech he made to a crowd of Pentecostal Christians at Scots Church in Melbourne in 2004.

If the Arab traders that brought Islam to Australia, had … settled or spread their faith among the Indigenous population, our country today would be vastly different. Our laws, our institutions, our economy would be vastly different.

But that did not happen. Our society was founded by British colonists. And the single most decisive feature that determined the way it developed was the Judeo-Christian-Western tradition. As a society, we are who we are because of that tradition … one founded on that faith and one that draws on the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Indeed he's right. Arab traders didn't bring Islam to Australia. Indonesian fisherman did. But they didn't come here to preach and conquer but rather to trade with local indigenous people in the Northern Territory. And these Indonesian fishermen kept trading up until the early part of the twentieth century when their centuries-old trade was stopped by legislators in Adelaide behaving in an allegedly Judeo-Christian manner.

But what of this whole idea of Judeo-Christian values? When did they come about? And what role, if any, did the "Judeo" bit play in the 18th century? At this point it might be appropriate to plagiarise myself:

Costello’s 2004 speech suggests only the traditions of British colonists mattered. Australia’s first few fleets consisted of a handful of English free settlers accompanying shiploads of convicts of various faiths - Jews, Catholics, Muslims and a smattering of perhaps reluctant followers of the Church of England.

Costello’s much touted Judeo-Christian culture wasn’t exactly alive and well in England. Both colonists and convicts would have been aware of the passing of the Jew Bill through the English Parliament in 1753, allowing Jews to be naturalised by application to Parliament. Mr Costello’s ideological ancestors, the Tories, opposed the Bill, claiming it involved an “abandonment of Christianity”. Conservative protesters burnt effigies of Jews and carried placards reading “No Jews, no wooden shoes”.

Jews were forbidden from attending university and practising law in England until the mid 19th century. One can only imagine the prejudice the 750-odd First Fleet Jewish convicts faced from English jailors brought up in such an anti-Semitic environment.
These considerations would apply even more in the United States, where the Founding Fathers deliberately avoided any mention of a religious qualification for public office.

Anyway, watch a Republican chap try and resurrect the Judeo-Christian myth in the context of Obama's recent comments in Turkey.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

Friday, April 03, 2009

EVENT: Freebie!!!!!

Many years ago, the legendary Chrissie Amphlet sang about touching herself. It wasn't exactly the most religious song on the planet.

And Once Were Radicals isn't exactly the most religious book on the planet. Still, I won't be touching myself at the upcoming Sydney Writers Festival. If this photo is anything to go by ...

... I prefer punching myself.

Anyway, click here for some details about a lunchtime freebie. Or if you're too friggin lazy, here ae the details, along with some editorial adjustments.
Irfan Yusuf in Conversation
Event 238

What do you get when you mix Indian ancestry, Pakistani birth, Urdu language and culture, Muslim religion and a fair dinkum strayn accent? [Ed: certainly not Andrew Bolt!!] How does a middle-class kid from John Howard’s electorate became convinced he should die for the Muslim cause? [Ed: probably by reading Piers Akerman columns which are enough to make anyone slightly suicidal.] Who knew being a teenage Islamo-fascist could be so funny?

Irfan Yusuf shares his hilarious journey into and then out of political Islam.

Saturday, May 23 2009
13:00 - 14:00

Sydney Philharmonia Choir Studio
Pier 4/5, Hickson Road
Walsh Bay


So shuddup and turn up!!

PS: Enjoy ...