Saturday, October 31, 2009

COMMENT: A miracle from Greg ...

People who don't believe in miracles should consider this.

Greg Sheridan has just had a column published in The Australian which:

a. acknowledges that Donald Rumsfeld did something wrong; and

b. does not cite some conversation Sheridan claims to have had with some world leader or unnamed overseas and allegedly influential source.

He's returning to earth! It's a miracle!!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

FILM: Amreeka


This film looks like a real gem. Hopefully it will be coming to cinemas down under also.

And here are some interviews with Cherien Dabis, the director of the film. Also included are profiles of some of the cast.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

CRIKEY: The difference between a terrorist and a terrorist ...

What’s the difference between a terrorist and a terrorist? And when is a terrorist deemed a genuine refugee who doesn’t pose any threat to Australia?

Victor Rajakulendran, secretary of the Australian Federation of Tamil Associations, provides some clues. He acknowledges that there are members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam aboard the Australian Customs vessel Oceanic Viking, landing in Indonesia with its cargo of 78 asylum seekers.

Rajakulendan was quoted in The Australian as saying:

The ex-combatants are in danger in Sri Lanka so they will have to flee somewhere. They have to be rehabilitated. They are not going to be fighters here. They were fighting for a cause, even if some of the tactics are unacceptable, they were fighting for a cause. They are not going to fight for a cause here. They are not like Islamic terrorists.

Did you spot the difference? You can be an ex-combatant who may be fighting for a legitimate cause. You may have used tactics that could be described as unacceptable. For instance, you may have been part of an organisation that has undertaken more suicide terrorist attacks than any organisation on the planet. You may have been part of an organisation that taught groups such as Hamas and Taliban how to use the suicide vest. Your victims may have included a large number of heads of state, politicians, etc.

But as long as you are not an Islamic terrorist, you pose absolutely no risk to the country. You may have fought for an organisation that taught Islamic terrorists just about everything they needed to know about how effective suicide terrorism is. But so long as you aren’t deemed to belong to the wrong religion, you’re fine in Dr Rajakulendran’s books.

Indeed, Rajakulendran doesn’t regard the LTTE as a terrorist organisation at all. Instead, he describes it as being “involved in a bloody armed struggle for more than two decades to liberate the Tamil-speaking people living in the north-east of the island from the oppressive Sri Lankan Singhalese-dominated governments”.

Crikey spoke to Rajakulendran this morning. He confirmed he didn’t regard the LTTE as terrorists and claimed most Tamils agreed with him. He said he didn’t believe senior LTTE leaders would be on the boat but rather youths. He also said that the LTTE were different to “Islamic terrorists” because the LTTE had established a state and showed the ability to govern in the interests of Tamils.

I put to him that some “Islamic terrorists” (e.g. Hamas, Hezbollah and Taliban) made similar claims. He said that these groups were in this respect similar to the LTTE though some had “gone too far” and “lost their way”. I asked what he proposed should happen to young Afghan asylum seekers who were found to be Taliban fighters at some stage.
It depends. If the local Afghan community can work with the government to rehabilitate these people, why not let them in?

It’s true that many former LTTE fighters may not have been terrorists. They may have been forcibly recruited or press-ganged into military service. The Taliban did the same thing in Afghanistan and continues to do it on both sides of what has become known as the “AfPak” border. Even armies carrying the legitimacy of a democratic state can force young men to fight. Sometimes these men are forced to use terror against persons they are told are terrorists. That’s the nature of war.

Anyone who can flee from this kind of madness and has the guts to jump on a boat and risk their lives crossing the ocean deserves to go through the usual refugee application processes. Whether they’re Tamil or Islamic or Callithumpian is irrelevant. But if they pose a threat to Australian citizens, they’re best not settled here. Again, whether they’re Tamil or Islamic or Callithumpian should be irrelevant.

Dr Rajakulendran admitted that his selectivity in ethnically and religiously identifying terrorists may offend some. Sadly, at a time when all asylum seekers need a fair hearing, his comments make him sound like Andrew Bolt, but without bringing Bolt’s ilk on side and perhaps providing them with additional ammunition.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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Friday, October 23, 2009

CRIKEY: Give us a break, the fake sheik’s not worth the effort ...

You’ve heard of tabloid media going after thick sheiks. Now some are even using fake sheiks.

At about 2pm yesterday my office received a message to call someone from Radio 2GB, home to such leading lights of quality journalism as Alan Jones. I called back and spoke to a female who worked with Jason Morrison. She wondered if I knew much about a certain Sheik Haron who had apparently been charged by Federal Police after sending abusive letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan. She wanted to know if I’d be prepared to speak to Morrison on his afternoon Drive Show. I agreed.

Silly me. Morrison seemed less interested in Haron and more interested in why a group of people he described as “Moozlems” didn’t step forward to condemn the man. He wanted to know why he was having so much difficulty getting “Moozlems” to condemn this man on his program (I did remind him that many don’t listen to 2GB). Still he pressed the point about the alleged Muslim conspiracy of silence over Haron.

I said Haron hadn’t been given a huge amount of airplay or coverage (and I wasn’t just talking about the allegedly left-wing trendy “multi-culty”, the Fairfax press and ABC either). Maybe your average Aussie who ticked the Muslim box on his or her census form didn’t see the need to comment on some sheik who, by all accounts (including those of Richard Kerbaj in The Australian in January last year), was little more than a fake.

Here's an excerpt from Kerbaj's report ...

FEDERAL agents have been urged by the nation's senior Shia leader, Kamal Mousselmani, to investigate an Iranian man purporting to be a prominent Islamic

Sheik Mousselmani told The Australian yesterday the mystery cleric - who has been identified as Ayatollah Manteghi Boroujerdi on his website after appearing under the name Sheik Haron - was not a genuine Shia spiritual leader.

He said there were no ayatollahs - supreme Shia scholars - in Australia and none of his fellow spiritual leaders knew who Ayatollah Boroujerdi or Sheik Haron was.

"We don't know him and we have got nothing to do with him," Sheik Mousselmani said. "The federal police should investigate who he is. It should be their responsibility."

Sheik Haron, who insulted the family of an Australian soldier killed in Afghanistan in November, was accused by Muslim leaders of being a fake cleric deliberately stirring anti-Islamic sentiment.

Sheik Mousselmani, head of the Supreme Islamic Shia Council of Australia, which represents the nation's 30,000 Shi'ites, said Sheik Haron's website - Sheik Haron Web - gave him away as an amateur who knew little about Shia Islam.

"From the way he writes his (fatwas or religious edicts), I don't think he is Shia Muslim," Sheik Mousselmani said. "And there are no ayatollahs in Australia.

"We don't follow, we don't support and we don't stand with anyone we don't know. He's not one of us" ...

The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils president Ikebal Patel said yesterday the body's investigation into the cleric last month could not find any information on who Sheik Haron is.

"I know the community very well, and this just doesn't make sense," he said. "We couldn't find anything on the man."

Even Jeremy Jones, of the Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), was quoted in one Jewish blog as saying that Haron “works alone and has no support”.

And yet somehow fake-sheik Haron was an issue that one journalist described to Kevin Rudd at a press conference yesterday as “the question that’s dominating talkback radio today”. Rudd ended his response to the journalist’s question with: “You know, when you pick up the front page of the Tele today, I think people, I think their stomachs turn.”

The journalist asked Rudd whether he would consider changing Australia’s citizenship laws to allow “someone like that” (like what? Fake-sheik? Iranian? Crazy dude in a turban? Migrant?) to have their citizenship stripped of them and be deported. Rudd was non-committal.

It’s one thing for media outlets to use the rants of a thick sheik to cook up a divisive broth of dog whistles. But why use the imbecilic correspondence of a fake sheik to cast aspersions on 360,000 people, most of whom (including their religious leaders) have never heard of?

After my interview with Morrison, I telephoned his researcher and asked whether the show had any trouble finding a Muslim to talk on the show. She confirmed that she hadn’t called an Islamic council, an imam, a board of imams or the Community Relations Commission. She did say that Morrison may have tried calling other people about the matter.

He may have. But I somehow doubt it.

An edited version of this article was first published in Crikey on 23 October 2009.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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Friday, October 16, 2009

COMMENT: Noooooooooooooooooooooo Fatso's

I’m sure readers will remember that show National Bingo Night. Readers of South Asian heritage will have particularly fond memories of the Bingo Commissioner who kicked so many goals for their ancestral culture in Australia with this classic performance.

How could we ever not forget?

Dr Tanveer Ahmed had more than just failed TV game shows in his comedic repertoire. Indeed, perhaps his best comic performance has been convincing the neo-Conservative Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) that he is also an eminently qualified to be appointed a visiting fellow with research interests in:

… Islamic affairs, South Asia and the health sector.

Ahmed’s expertise in and contributions to psychiatry are well documented. His latest contribution to Islamic affairs (whatever that phrase means) consists of a review of the book by yours truly, published in the Spring 2009 edition of Policy magazine published by the CIS.

Normally I wouldn’t waste $9.95 on this allegedly intellectual magazine. However, it had one of my all-time favourite writers - PJ O’Rourke - on the cover. Yet as I found out after I had parted with my cash, all they had from PJ was an interview he did with some bloke who does a radio show on Radio National. I could have just as easily read the same interview online on the ABC website for free! Indeed, I had already downloaded the podcast back in May!!

Anyway, Ahmed’s review makes interesting reading for his complete objectivity. He sticks to the issues. He avoids making personal attacks. He’s not interested in innuendo. Consider this paragraph:

Yusuf also fits the profile of those vulnerable to radicalisation in other ways, for it is the socially awkward who are most likely to turn to Islamist teachings for a sense of social connectedness, in much the same way that other disaffected adolescents may become punks or Goths. Yusuf writes of being bullied because of the colour of his skin while in primary school. He is also obese. In a recent New York Times op-ed piece, an Iranian blogger captured it beautifully when he describes the religious police as ‘those young men least likely to ever attract the opposite sex but then find the government tells them they are special and gives them guns to prove it.’

Ahmed continues with this prediction:

Yusuf will remain controversial and disliked by many, including some Muslims.

Yes, I am disliked by the likes of Keysar Trad, Andrew Bolt, Mark Steyn, Daniel Pipes, Tim Blair and Tanveer Ahmed. The latter two seem to relish making references to my physique. It is true. I am fat. Still, my message to them is ...

And for some ailments there is NOOOOOOOOOOOO cure. Not even if you are a medical practitioner.

UPDATE I: Speaking of Daniel Pipes, Ahmed's review describes Pipes as a "US Middle East expert". Ahmed famously shared the podium with Pipes arguing the proposition that Islam and democracy are incompatible. To argue that Islam and democracy are incompatible implies that Muslims cannot live as productive citizens in a democracy. Given that Pipes seems to believe that Barack Obama was (and possibly still is) a Muslim, one wonders how Pipes can explain a current or former Muslim now becoming President of arguably the world's most successful democracy.

UPDATE II: An interesting discussion on Tanveer's review can be found at the blog of Policy editor Andrew Norton here.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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BLOGS: Andrew Bolt's tabloid excuses ...

Excuses, excuses. Andrew Bolt is full of them. And after reading this entry on his blog, I'm convinced Bolt is full of it.

Bolt has a serious dilemna.

I now face a moral dilemma. My intention has been to allow on this blog a discussion that is as free as possible - freer, in fact, than you will find on virtually any other blog. Even my worst critics, several of whom post here almost every day, will concede that I have enabled just that.

(At least they will until they are banned!)

And the debate has also at times degenerated into nasty slanging matches, particularly when overworked moderators, flooded by as many as 12,000 comments in a week, have let through things we did not properly read or consider.

Why didn't you properly read them? Doesn't your moderation policy say that you will read them? Aren't you legally obliged to read them now that you have made a representation to this effect?

... suggestions are being made that by allowing a platform that includes in the crowd of thousands a few cranks - students? leftists trying to cause michief? nutters?- that perhaps the ABC should think twice before inviting me on. Silly, I know, but I suspect this is not an issue that will go away. And then there’s the real risk that one day we’ll slip up and allow on a comment that will get us sued, with me dragged into it once more as the man who “allowed” this all to happen.

Andrew, you know full well the identity of many of those defamatory, offensive and racist leaving comments on your blog.

But maybe I'm being harsh. Maybe I should consider the moral dimension to all this.

So as you can see, against my duty, as I perhaps arrogantly perceive it, to allow as free a discussion as possible, there is my ego and my self-interest in protecting my reputation. I should also admit that taking off the comments function should free up more than 10 hours of every choked week. What’s more, reading and checking those comments that I can get to can eat at my optimisim as well as my time. You should see the stuff we must delete - or, rather, you shouldn’t.

We don't need to read what you delete, Andrew. What you allow through is worse than bad. Readers can read this long litany of examples and judge for themselves.

Bolt has no more excuses left. There is no real moral dilemma. There is the law. Bolt must obey the law, just like the rest of us. Bolt must follow his own moderation charter. He must not publish material that is racist, sexist, homophobic etc. He must not breach anti-vilification laws, and he must not publish comments that breach such laws.

So what if he must moderate 12,000 comments a week. He works for News Limited. He works for a multi-billion dollar enterprise. And such an enterprise and its employees must obey the law just like the rest of us. There's no moral dilemma involved in the Rule of Law.

If Bolt continues to make excuses and continues to rebuff the law, there could well be consequences, both for him and his employers. It's as simple as that.

Monday, October 12, 2009

EVENT: Allah made them hilarious!!

The awesome threesome of Allah Made Me Funny are touring Sydney for the second time. They fly in for a show this Wednesday at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta before heading off to the World's Funniest Island festival in Sydney Harbour over the weekend for a couple of shows.

Here's the trailer from their movie.

And here is a report from Al-Jazeera English.

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Saturday, October 03, 2009

REVIEW: Correspondent's ugly truth

Fit to Print: Misrepresenting the Middle East
Joris Luyendijk
Scribe, 243pp, $29.95

The Pope had just delivered his Regensburg address. The entire Islamic world (whatever that means) was up in arms. Churches were ablaze, nuns shot, flags and effigies in flames. Or so we in the West were told.

One such article reached my attention. It was accompanied by a photo taking up a quarter of the tabloid page and showing angry men in Basra burning effigies of the Pope and former President Bush. The caption read: “Muslims in Basra hold massive protest against Pope’s recent lecture”. The headline was “Muslim fury against Pope”.

It wasn’t until the 9th paragraph that the article noted that some 300 people had gathered at the protest. Basra is a city of some 3 million. As Americans would say: “Do the math”. This was no massive protest.

My attempt at critiquing the work of the foreign correspondent reporting this story could be dismissed as the rant of a Crikey-reading (and in my case, writing) amateur. We know what good foreign correspondents do. As Joris Luyendijk notes, the occupants of editorial ivory towers want average punters like me to believe that

... [j]ournalists know what’s going on in the world … the news gives an overview of these events, and it is possible to keep that overview objective.

Journalists are the gatekeepers of truth and perspective on world events.

Luyendijk also shared this common person’s perspective when he was an Arabic-speaking anthropology graduate employed by a major Dutch newspaper and broadcaster to be their Middle Eastern correspondent in 1998. After 5 years, Luyendijk through in the towel just as American troops foolishly threw an American flag over the falling statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad after temporarily winning the war in Iraq. You’d think that would be the worst time for Luyendijk to leave the fray, just as all the uncivilised action was starting in the cradle of civilisation.

Here’s how Luyendijk describes CNN’s version:

We saw the colossal statue of Saddam Hussein being torn down in Firdos (Paradise) Square in Baghdad . Jubiland Iraqis screamed into the camera lens and struck the icon with their shoes. ‘Thank you, Mister Bush!’ The presenter solemnly described it as an ‘historic moment’ – the war was over. They could put the nightmare of Saddam Hussein behind them. Baghdad was celebrating its liberation …

And what about al-Jazeera? Luyendijk writes:

They were showing Firdos Square, too, but their montage offered a different slant. In the same square, we saw American soldiers triumphantly throwing an American flag over the statue of Saddam. Then we were shown feverish discussions and the American soldiers rushing to remove the flag. Al-Jazeera went on to show the jubilant Iraqis from CNN, only they were shot from a longer range: you could see how few there were actually standing in the square, and that most of the people were watching from a safe distance.

Joris Luyendijk provides a highly accessible, irreverent and light-hearted account of the realities of life as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East. This is more a book about than of journalism. He describes the secrets, shortcuts and tricks of the trade used by foreign correspondents for both print, radio and television audiences. This includes regurgitating the content of wire service reports in a manner that, if done in an academic context, would almost certainly be considered plagiarism. Luyendijk’s news agenda about events in Baghdad or Ramallah would not be set in Baghdad or Ramallah but rather by a foreign editor in Amsterdam who had probably never been to Baghdad or Ramallah.

Luyendijk soon learns that

... the basic task of being a correspondent is not that difficult. The editor … called when something happened, they faxed or emailed the press releases, and I’d retell them in my own words on the radio, or rework them into an article for the newspapers.

Occasionally the correspondent would make use of the list of “talking heads” – diplomats (always Western ones), academics, UN workers and human rights activists on the payroll of Western countries - for obtaining “on the ground” perspectives. Otherwise, the role of a correspondent was merely to be the person at the end of the news assembly line.

Foreign correspondents and editors who take themselves too seriously may not enjoy reading Luyendijk’s descriptions about the insensitivity they show when checking into five star hotels whilst on assignment in impoverished war zones, or of their responses to the commencement of American bombing in Iraq in 2003:

... a wave of suppressed relief swept over the correspondents … No bombing would have meant no work, after money had already been spent on coming to Amman.

Or how about this hilarious description of Western journalists in the office of the Iraqi Consul trying to secure a visa to Iraq on the eve of the invasion:

We jostled [the Consul] like children clustering around a dubious-looking man with candy … I saw grown men in tears by the embassy gates when they discovered they’d be reduced to peering through the fence.

Luyendijk discovered that as he travelled to different hotspots and spoke to ordinary people, there were so many stories far more interesting and enlightening to tell than just which agreements were reached between what leaders and what accusations they made against each other when the deals inevitably became unstuck.

As a correspondent, I could tell different stories about the same situation. The media could only choose one, and it was often the story that confirmed a commonly held notion …

So the impact of conventional media processes was to confirm pre-existing stereotypes. Luyendikj’s book cleverly dispels not just our (generally negative) stereotypes about Arabs, Israelis and Muslims but also our (both positive and negative) stereotypes about journalists. A highlight of the book is the regular sprinkling of Arab jokes about dictators and secret police and even Israeli jokes about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. People don’t just weep and burn flags in this part of the world.

This book was first published in Dutch as Het zijn net mensen (roughly “People Like Us”). A veteran correspondent who had seen his best friend had died in the Iraq-Iran war gave Luyendijk this piece of advice:

If you want to write a book about the Middle East, you’d better do it in your first week. The longer you hang around here, the less you understand.

After finishing this book, readers will be glad Luyendijk didn’t take this advice. This is an outstanding book on the limitations of reportage in the world’s perennial trouble spot. Or as Luyendijk repeatedly reminds us, in the Middle East

... good journalism is a contradiction in terms.

Irfan Yusuf is the author of Once Were Radicals: My Years as a Teenage Islamo-Fascist. An edited version of this review was first published in The Australian on 3 October 2009.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

Apologies for the corny retro music in this video!

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