Wednesday, December 22, 2010

NEWS: Sale extended

And with that in mind, the Christmas sale of Once Were Radicals: My Years As A Teenage Islamo-fascist has been extended to Christmas.

Yep. That's right. Until Christmas.

If you live in Australia, you only have limited time to have a copy of the book mailed to your door for a mere price of

Now that is cheap.

So hurry as this offer ends on 7 January 2011.

Surely the extension of this amazing offer calls for a celebratory drink.

E-mail for more details and to place your order.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

OPINION: Asylum-seeker shame rises for some political pundits

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall of the United States embassy in Canberra last November. And to be sitting there watching and listening as that unnamed ''key Liberal Party strategist'' that boat people was a politically ''fantastic'' issue with ''the more boats that come the better''. And if, for no other reason, than to know who that imbecile strategist was!

Oh, to now be a fly on the wall of that strategist's office and see his or her face watching images of the Indonesian fishing vessel with 100 Iranian and Iraqi asylum-seekers on board crashing against the coastal rocks of Christmas Island.

Of course, the political logic of the strategist's comment to US diplomats is really quite straightforward. If the boats stop coming, Tony Abbott would look like a right royalist fool by standing up on Manly beach, budgie smugglers and all, and screaming at the top of his voice: ''Stop the boats!'' If there were no boats hitting Christmas Island, how would voters in nearby marginal Queensland seats feel threatened enough to vote for the Liberal National Party?

And of course, this madness is all the result of our obsession with border security. To secure our borders, we go to faraway places and take part in wars against enemies, many of whom have never heard of us. What we don't seem to realise is that when we take part in wars, we have obligations. We have an obligation that is triggered as soon as hostilities cease and our leaders feel triumphant enough to declare ''mission accomplished''. It's an obligation in international law to restore and maintain basic law and order for the lucky citizens not ripped to pieces by our weapons.

Now let's look at the record in Iraq and Afghanistan. Basically it can be summarised like this: we came, we saw, we conquered, we unconquered and we lost control. Any MP or pundit who thinks Iraq and Afghanistan are bastions of stability should spend Christmas with their family in a "holiday house" in Kandahar or Basra.

Many Iraqis don't celebrate Christmas. One of the most important religious festivals in Iraq is Ashura. It isn't easy celebrating when suicide bombers are out to blow themselves, you and your family to pieces on a holy day.

And if you do happen to celebrate Christmas, things aren't much better. A siege of the Our Lady of Deliverance church on October 31 left 52 worshippers dead. In such an environment, is it any wonder so many Iraqis and Afghans are fleeing?

But Andrew Bolt and other allegedly conservative bloggers keep reminding us of the existence of an orderly queue. Everyone should just take a ticket and patiently stand in the queue and wait for their number to be called.

So where does the queue start for Iraqis? We know that many fled to neighbouring Syria, where living conditions were described in a UNHCR survey conducted in July and August at the Waleed border crossing between Syria and Iraq. One extended family of 13 people was living in a one-bedroom unit.

Syria now holds 290,000 Iraqi refugees, more than 70 per cent of whom have lived there for at least four years. And back in May 2007, The New York Times reported that thousands of Iraqi women have been forced to work in prostitution. The report said:

Aid workers say $50 to $70 is considered a good night's wage for an Iraqi prostitute working in Damascus. And some of the Iraqi dancers in the crowded casinos of Damascus suburbs earn much less ... From Damascus it is only about six hours by car, passing through Jordan, to the Saudi border. Syria, where it is relatively easy to buy alcohol and dance with women, is popular as a low-cost weekend destination for groups of Saudi men.

One Iraqi prostitute told the reporter:

The rents here in Syria are too expensive for their families. If they go back to Iraq they'll be slaughtered, and this is the only work available.

This is the orderly queue we hear about. Imagine what evil people would use people smugglers to jump from such a safe and secure environment. Surely the average Aussie, let alone Bolt and Scott Morrison, would happily bring up their families in such circumstances than spend six months in a leaky boat.

If you had to choose between selling one's daughter into prostitution and borrowing thousands to hit the high seas, the choice would be obvious. If Australian voters were more aware of the realities refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran must face, they would punish politicians who used imbecilic terms like "queue-jumper".

If anything good comes out of the Christmas Island tragedy, it will be that Australian politicians will have received a reality check. Demonising the most vulnerable should now become political suicide. Voters don't have the stomach for images of children smashed against rocks and drowning, even if it means a more humane and sensible asylum- seeker policy.

Finally, here's a Christmas gift idea. Australian-Vietnamese entertainer Ahn Do has just published his memoir The Happiest Refugee: The extraordinary true story of a boy's journey from starvation at sea to becoming one of Australia's best loved comedians.

Irfan Yusuf is a lawyer and author of Once Were Radicals. This article was first published in the Canberra Times on Monday 20 December 2010.

UPDATE I: The following letter to the editor was published in the Canberra Times on 22 December 2010:

Rescue from evil

Good on you Irfan Yusuf for reminding our politicians what drives the Iraqis, Afghans and others to turn their back on their own country and seek refuge in a foreign land ("Asylum-seeker shame rises for some political pundits," Dec 20, p9). These people, who had hoped that the West would rescue them from the clutches of their wicked rulers, now realise that their safety and security was hardly the concern of the armies that dropped in to liberate them. The least we can do for these desperate people is to rescue them from the new evil which our poorly planned mission helped create.

Sam Nona
Burradoo, NSW

Thursday, December 09, 2010

BOOK: Special Christmas deal on Once Were Radicals ...

Once Were Radicals: My Years As A Teenage Islamo-Fascist is an award-winning comic memoir by Irfan Yusuf.

The book has received some rave reviews:

... Yusuf explains the complexity of Middle Eastern culture and its history in lively, simple language. Added to accessibility is laugh-out-loud humour, as he pokes fun at John Howard’s national security fridge magnets ... (Sun Herald)

... this witty, astutely written and compelling memoir ... Often laugh-out-loud funny ... Using a curiously effective combination of caustic intellect and irreverent humour to relay and analyse his experiences ...(Courier Mail)

Like Mark Twain, Yusuf reinforces some of his stronger views with a wry and occasionally laugh-aloud view of human foible. And it is Twain who actually brings us to the book’s recurring counterpoint. Like the spirited offspring of sane and loving parents the world over, by the story’s end Yusuf has travelled old Sam Clemens’s full circle of discovery. (Canberra Times)

Yusuf’s frequently amusing account of his intellectual development, interspersed with healthy doses of (possibly retrospective) irreverence ... (The Australian)

What happens if you are a true-blue Aussie with an accent like Slim Dusty, but your name is Irfan Yusuf and everyone assumes you’re a terrorist? Very funny and well worth reading. (WarCry)

Now, you can grab a copy of this book for Chanukah/Christmas/Eid/Muharram/Noparticularreason.

And if you live in Australia, the total cost of this book for you will be ... wait for it ...


That includes postage anywhere in Australia and GST.

I know what you all want to say to that offer ...

This unbelievable offer ends 31 December 2010. For more details, e-mail

UPDATE I: We are happy to entertain overseas orders, which will cost A$18 plus postage. We will not charge GST for export orders.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

MEDIA: WikiLeaks hysteria ...

This post will be a running tally of updates on WikiLeaks developments. I can't guarantee it will be updated regularly. If only I had the resources of Fairfax or News Limited!

UPDATE 1: Jeffrey T Kuhner, a writer for the Washington Times, a far-Right newspaper published by a Korean preacher, has called for WikiLeaks dude Julian Assange to be assassinated. He writes:

... we should treat Mr. Assange the same way as other high-value terrorist targets.

Yep, send him off to be tortured at Guantanamo. Clearly he is worse than the worst of the worst.

(Thanks to NB)

UPDATE 2: A bunch of (largely left-of-centre) academics, lawyers, journos and entertainers have signed an open letter to Julia Gillard regarding Julian Assange. Read it here.

UPDATE 3: Here's a discussion on the unusual offence Assange has been charged with under Swedish law. They call it "sex by surprise".

UPDATE 4: Here's another op-ed, this time from a newspaper that at times tries to emulate the other Washington newspaper owned by a Korean preacher I mentioned earlier. The headline reflects just how much George W Bush's imbecilic logic still pervades certain sectors of the American Right. Read this and try not to laugh:

Assange has threatened America with the cyber equivalent of thermonuclear war.

UPDATE 5: I am accustomed to hacking into Alexander Downer's record as foreign minister. Hence I always imagined he would be more stupidly pro-American than the ALP when it came to China. But The Age reports that Downer and Howard showed far more good sense on this issue.

... 2004 remarks by the then Howard government foreign affairs minister, Alexander Downer, that a conflict between America and China over Taiwan would not necessarily trigger Australia's obligations under the ANZUS treaty with the US. The ANZUS treaty, which came into force in 1952, commits Australia and the US to respond if the armed forces of the other party in the Pacific come under attack.

Mr Downer's comments - which he insisted were taken out of context - caused concern in Washington and prompted the then US ambassador Tom Schieffer to declare that America expected Australia's support in the event of conflict over Taiwan.

The then prime minister John Howard refused to comment publicly on what Australia would do if hostility broke out between the US and China, saying it was a hypothetical situation.

But what of Kim Beazley?

AUSTRALIA'S ambassador to the US and former opposition leader, Kim Beazley, assured American officials that Australia would always side with the US in the event of a war with China, a confidential diplomatic cable reveals.

Mr Beazley's remarks, made in a 2006 meeting with the then US ambassador Robert McCallum just months before Kevin Rudd replaced him as Labor leader, are significant because no Australian federal political leader has publicly disclosed what position they believe the nation should take if the US and China came to blows over Taiwan - an event that would present Australia's greatest foreign policy dilemma.

The cable, classified as confidential and not to be disclosed outside the US government, gave the following summary of Mr Beazley's comments: "In the event of a war between the United States and China, Australia would have absolutely no alternative but to line up militarily beside the US. Otherwise the alliance would be effectively dead and buried, something that Australia could never afford to see happen."

If the contents of this cable are correct, they show a troubling degree of political and foreign policy naivety. It also shows that our political establishment places the interests of a foreign power above those of our own nation.

UPDATE 6: While millions in his country were suffering after a massive cyclone and storm surge, the head of Burma's military junta wanted to spend $1 billion buying English football team Manchester United. We know about this because of WikiLeaks.

UPDATE 7: A report from AlJazeera English on WikiLeaks on Latin American leaders.

UPDATE 8: Julian Assange cites Rupert Murdoch in Rupert's own Australian flagship newspaper.

UPDATE 9: A Labor Right powerbroker revealed as one of numerous US Embassy contacts within the Labor Party.

UPDATE 10: Hopefully my credit card won't be affected by this revenge hacking.

UPDATE 11: Hilarious video.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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Saturday, December 04, 2010

COMMENT: Why isn't this man donating to Israel's bushfire effort?

Lots of countries are helping Israel out with its current bushfire predicament. Among them are Bulgaria, Greece and Spain. Also helping are Muslim-majority states such as Azerbaijan. According to the News AZ website:

The Azerbaijani Ministry for Emergencies sent today two helicopters of the aviation group to join the international crews helping Israel in the battle a huge forest fire.

MES’ two helicopters – "Ka-32A" and "Mi-17-1b" left for Israel from Baku International Airport.

Chief of the Aviation group of MES, Colonel Ashraf Gasimov reported to the journalists that according to Israeli government’s appeal, the Azerbaijani government would take part in fire extinguishing.

Also helping is Turkey. Remember that Israeli troops recently stormed a Turkish flotilla and killed Turkish citizens on board. Still, Turkey heeded the call of its old ally. Zaman reported on 4 December:

Turkey has put aside tensions in diplomatic relations with Israel, and under orders by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan, has rushed to send fire fighting aircraft to assist in the battle against Israel’s biggest-ever fire that has already killed around 40 people.

The man some of Israel's most hawkish friends dub as a dangerous Islamist managed to earn thanks from Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu. According to Ynet News reporting on 3 December:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, along with other world leaders for sending planes and firefighting equipment to Israel in order to assist the battle against the blaze consuming its northern region.

Netanyahu added that he spoke with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan who "expressed his and his country's condolences to the families of the 41 casualties and Turkey's willingness to help."

"I told Erdogan that we appreciate the major efforts during this time and I am sure that this will be a gateway to improving relations between the two countries", the prime minister said noted.

But there's one American journalist who refuses to help. Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for The Atlantic, has written a scathing attack on what he sees as the negligence of Israeli authorities in not doing more to protect their citizens from the elements.

Israel's per capita GDP is nearly $30,000. Israel is a rich country. The fact that it doesn't possess adequate firefighting equipment is its own fault. The fact that the leadership of its fire service is incompetent is its own fault ...

It's a compelling argument. Israel isn't accustomed to fighting fires on this scale. Indeed, it's more accustomed to starting fires in other people's backyards. Still, right now Israel needs help needs help. Just as it needs help with convincing itself not to set off the kinds of fires that kill children. Fires like the one shown below.

Or is it in poor taste to mention these children at this time?

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

POLITICS: Liberal plane set to crash if crew bombs left wing

Here's a scenario for politically astute, frequently flying Canberrans. A passenger jet is about to make its descent to its destination. The pilot, Captain Blackadder, orders the cabin crew to prepare for landing.

But some of the crew have a cunning plan. They harbour a strange belief that this plane should fly with only one wing. They have strapped makeshift bombs to the left wing of the plane, attempting to cause irreparable damage, if not destroy it. They then plan to enter the cockpit, knock out Captain Blackadder and take charge of the plane.

It all sounds like a cunning plan. And one likely to lead to a rather bumpy crash landing, one with perhaps more crash than landing.

In certain sections of the Liberal Party, such delusional crash-landing politics has become the norm. Some Liberals seem to think it's not only possible but necessary to fly their party's plane with only a right wing. This kind of Liberal thinking might work well in campus politics, where often only the most doctrinaire ideological creatures congregate.

Indeed, many allegedly conservative Liberals insist that anyone not as conservative as they should find another party. NSW Young Liberal presidents have often subscribed to this school of factional aeronautics. Back in May 2005, one Young Liberal president openly criticised moderate party members. The young man told the Sydney Morning Herald:

Nobody joins the Liberal Party to be left-wing. If you stand for compulsory student unionism, drug-injecting rooms and lowering the [homosexual] age of consent, you can choose the Greens, Labor or the Democrats.

He went further and promised conservative stacking to mould the NSW Liberal Party in his own image.

I'm about a long-term philosophical shift in the Liberal Party to the right ... I do not shrink from signing up people who believe in conservative agendas and the free market. I'll sign as many as I can up every day of the week.

That young man is now a federal member for a safe Sydney seat. He is hopefully now embarrassed by the words of his political youth. If he isn't, Tony Abbott might be in for a crash landing soon.

The arch-rival of this Young Liberal was then NSW Opposition leader John Brogden. Many NSW Liberal right-wingers, both young and old, were of the view that Brogden would be unelectable. They argued that the electorate would only vote for conservative Liberals. Small ''l'', limp-wristed wets would never attract votes.

Brogden's response? '

The Liberal Party is a broad tent, capable of encompassing many views, but someone is auditioning for the role of clown.

Sadly for Brogden, the broad-tent model descended into a circus. Labor won the following NSW election. And it's fair to say that the likely result of the next NSW election would be better described as an ALP loss than a Coalition victory.

The ideological NSW Liberal right also cost Tony Abbott the Lodge. Abbott should have won western Sydney seats such as Lindsay and Banks. He could have defeated Julia Gillard's divided and demoralised ALP.

But the factional one-wingers in his home state, who prefer stacking branches with people with little incentive to hand out how-to- vote cards on election day, missed a golden opportunity to secure government for Mr Abbott, not to mention staffer jobs for themselves.

Liberals in Julia Gillard's home state have managed to pull off what Tony Abbott's Liberals could only dream of doing. They have soundly defeated both the ALP and the Greens. They have achieved the kinds of swings of seats that, if replicated at a federal level, could have avoided the prospect of a hung parliament in Canberra. And they did it with a leader who was probably to the left of his Labor opponent on a host of social issues.

Ted Baillieu is the kind of Liberal leader that Labor voters would feel comfortable voting for. He isn't a raving monoculturalist or a theocratic fruit loop. He isn't the sort of chap who would be invited to submit regular opinion pieces to a certain national newspaper.

Baillieu is the kind of Liberal premier New South Welshmen could have had back in 2006 if a certain group of Young Libs hadn't tried to dynamite the left wing. As the eminently sensible Charles Richardson wrote in Crikey recently:

Ted Baillieu has consciously branded himself as a social liberal, and even those who held no brief for the Liberal Party have wished him well in the hope of preserving that strain in the party's heritage.

The last thing the Coalition needs is to be seen as a political force that will happily "stop the boats" but ignore the electorate. As Richardson notes, Baillieu's election shows that ...

... the party has an alternative to the Howard-Abbott model of hard-right populism.

And that's a good thing not just for the party but for our democracy. If only believers in one-winged crash-land politics would understand this.

Irfan Yusuf is a lawyer and author of the comic memoir Once Were Radicals. This article was first published in the Canberra Times on Wednesday 1 December 2010.

UPDATE I: An anonymous person surnamed Darby and formerly of Fred Nile's Christian Democratic Party sent this interesting response:

I'm sure the Liberals appreciate being lectured to by a revoltingly fat and smelly Pakinigger. How about fixing your sad life and mental illneses before trying to fix the Liberal Party? Alex Hawke and Tony Abbott can at least get out of bed without needing to scoff kebabs and cakes. The best thing you can do for Australia is leave it. There is no need to apologise for being alive. Just get out of Australia and don't come back.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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MUSIC: Diesel live

Friday, November 19, 2010

COMMENT:So what on earth do we do with Afghanistan?

A British Army doctor named Henry Walter Bellew wrote these words after spending a fair bit of time in Kandahar and Kabul:

Now that our armies are in possession of Kandahar and Kabul ... the question arises, what are we to do with the country heretofore governed from these seats of authority, and latterly in the possession of the Ruler seated at Kabul.

We run the show. What do we do? How do we run it?

The question is one which must before very long be answered by the logic of accomplished facts, consequent on the stern demands of necessity more than of mere policy.

We have to figure this out. It isn't enough to just conquer and hope for the best. We need to have some kind of strategy, some direction that we can develop with (if not impose upon) the people of the country.

For having, as we have now done, completely destroyed the authority and government of the tyrannous and treacherous ... Rulers, whose power it has been our policy to maintain and strengthen during the past quarter of a century, it is now incredible that we shall deliberately abandon the vantage ground gained, ignore the great danger we have now thereby staved off, and leave the country a prey to internal anarchy ...

We put these kinds of people in power in the first place. They were our tyrants. We protected their power. And now?

In case you're wondering, the good doctor was writing from Lahore. In 1880. Yep, some things just don't change.

It's all in a fascinating book entitled The Races Of Afghanistan Being A Brief Account Of The Principal Nations Inhabiting That Country.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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MEDIA: The perils of working for Today Tonight ...

It's Christmas time. Well, not quite. It's Muslim Christmas time. The Arabs call it Eid al-Adha. The Indonesians call it Hari Rayah Haji. The Turks call it Qurban Bayram. In my parents' part of the world, they call it Baqarah Eid.

It's all about God asking Abraham to sacrifice his som. And this afternoon, I received a phone call from Channel 7's Today Tonight to sacrifice my credibility.

I feel sorry for the producer who telephoned my parents' private number at around 1pm today. She sounded nice. I think her name was Naomi. Or was it Natalie? I recall her surname. My Indian mum with limited English skills immediately recognised her surname as Indian and was happy to talk to her.

Anyway, mum put me through to her. It just so happened that I was in Sydney, visiting my parents for Eid. I talk to the producer (let's call her Sita, a nice Indian name which is also the name of Lord Rama's bride). Our conversation went something like this:

SITA: Hi Irfan. My name is Sita from Today Tonight. How are you?

ME: Aw yeah.

SITA: I'm not sure if you read that story in the Daily Telegraph about some lady in a burqa pulled over who claimed to police they were being racist.

ME: I actually don't read the Daily Telegraph. I prefer to read Australian newspapers.

SITA: Look, I know many people don't read it. I have to read it for work.

ME: Poor you.

SITA: We wanted to give a voice to people in the community who have views on this issue. I know you've spoken out in the past. We don't want to have the usual types like Keysar Trad. We want people with credibility.

ME: With all due respect to you, and please don't take this personally, why would people with credibility wish to appear on Today Tonight? It is a show with no journalistic credibility whatsoever.

SITA: Listen, I know that many people have similar views on the show. Can you recommend anyone?

ME: For a joke, yes I do.

I really felt sorry for Sita. If her goal really is to get to the bottom of this and provide a voice for alternative voices, I hope she succeeds. But if she ends up producing the same kind of racist mysoginistic tabloid tribe Today Tonight is famous for, I hope she is kidnapped by the 10-headed monster-king Ravanna and taken to Lanka for 1,000 years.

Friday, November 05, 2010

COMMENT: How things change at the Oz ...

Remember this alleged scandal about Griffith University becoming a Wahhabi terrorist camp after accepting a measly sum from the Saudi embassy?

Amazing how things change. Read this gushing profile of a Saudi prince. It gors on and on and on. The Prince's PR department couldn't have done a better job.

The Prince, of course, puts his money in all the right places.

The 19th richest man in the world only has "one house" in Saudi Arabia although it does have 420 rooms. But he also has 300 hotels to stay in whenever he travels, which is most of the year now that he is fast becoming the Middle East's most high-profile ambassador. The day starts at 10am and finishes at 4am. "I let myself have only four hours sleep. I am on a mission," says the 55-year-old, who is a shareholder in News Corporation, parent company of News Limited, publisher of The Australian.

And what of those nasty evil terroristic Wahhabi university faculties?

He doesn't shoot or ride, wear plus fours or jodhpurs. "But my family are very much embedded in the system here, we feel very at home with your traditions, cooked breakfasts, teas, we go on trips to the museums, we are going to Windsor Castle. I don't wear tweed or a kilt, but I have been to Scotland, I have funded two major Islamic centres in Edinburgh and Cambridge and another small centre in Exeter. We want to bridge the gap and inform the West about Islamic culture."

Not a single critical adjective, Is this the result of a strategic alliance?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

OPINION: Artful dodger does himself no favours on David Hicks ...

A recent episode of the ABC's Q&A almost became a battle of the memoirs. John Howard was the sole guest, his appearance fitting very neatly in with his publisher's promotion schedule. Howard was buoyed by audience responses to his mantras about the economy and his gentle pokes in the eyes of Peter Costello and Malcolm Fraser.

Then, out of the blue, David Hicks's face appears via webcam. Contrary to the image Howard and others drew of him as a raving terrorist, Hicks calmly and in a dignified manner posed Howard his question.

Hicks wanted to simply understand why his own government showed indifference to his incarceration and torture at Guantanamo. Hicks also wanted to know what Howard thought of military tribunals. Hicks even ended his question with a polite "thank you". Osama bin Laden would have been pulling his beard out at Hicks's demeanour toward Howard.

It was obvious that Howard was rattled by Hicks's very appearance, let alone by questions Howard avoided for so many years in office. At first, Howard played politician by avoiding the question, instead reminding us of how lucky we were to have a free exchange on an ABC that members of his government tried ever so hard to restrict and intimidate.

Howard also reminded us that there was ...

... a lot of criticism of that book from sources unrelated to me and I've read some very severe criticisms of that book.

No doubt a perceived absence of literary merit may justify an appearance before a military tribunal. Either that, or Howard was praying Hicks's memoirs might end up on the remaindered shelves faster than his own.

Unlike Howard, I prefer to not to judge Hicks's memoirs (entitled Guantanamo: My Journey) until I have actually read them. Based on what I've read so far, Hicks' work is certainly more interesting than another book I've read, one Howard would perhaps prefer and one which actually glorifies a terrorist act - Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

Sitting opposite Tony Jones, Howard justified his government's position of allowing Hicks to rot at the Guantanamo gulag for years without trial or charge and where he was tortured. Howard reminded us that military commissions ...

... date a long way into American history ...

... and were not ...

... something invented by the Bush administration.

Indeed. Torture also wasn't invented by the Bush administration. As for history, torture has a much longer one not just in America but indeed the history of all nations. One can only wonder whether in Howard's eyes, Hicks's detention, torture and unfair trial was all part of an historically justifiable package.

Howard went on to blame delays in Hicks' charges and trial on the fact that many civil rights lawyers were busy ...

... fighting the legality and the basis on which the military commissions had been established.

So fighting unjust laws delays (and hence denies) justice somehow. Using Howard's logic, one can only assume that constitutions are a source of grave injustice.

Howard also insisted his government urged the Bush administration to bring on the trial quickly. Rubbish. Howard only did this when he saw it was becoming an election issue, when even his own backbenchers like Danna Vale saw this as becoming a vote drainer.

In a column for The Age in November 2005, Vale described Hicks as ...

... the only Western man with 500 others incarcerated in the worst prison known to the Western world that was especially created outside the Geneva Convention, and with all the ramifications of what that means to those who believe in the rule of law
and the humane treatment of prisoners.

Howard artfully dodged the question as to why he allowed an Australian citizen to be tried before a military tribunal when the US and Britain didn't see such procedure as good enough for their citizens.

Indeed, George W.Bush did not allow American citizen John Walker Lindh, the "American Taliban" fighter, anywhere near the Guantanamo gulag. British authorities also strenuously lobbied for the release of British detainees.

Danna Vale herself asked these questions:

It has been said that if Hicks is returned to Australia, we have no law under which he can be charged and he would walk free. But why should he not walk free if he has not committed an offence against Australian law. He has already been incarcerated for four years, which is more than some get for rape or murder in our country. How long a sentence is considered enough punishment for a misguided fool and prize dill?

John Howard did not agree with Vale's assessment. He said on Q&A:

I took the view that it was better that someone went before a military commission, given the charges and allegations made against him ... then that they be brought back to Australia and not be capable of being charged.

So if someone accused you of committing an act for which no charge existed in any Australian statute book, the prime minister of Australia would prefer to have you brought before a kangaroo commission to be charged and convicted on the basis of evidence extracted as a result of the torture of yourself and God-knows how many others. Howard somehow reasons this can actually be better for the national interest.

Howard's government valued its Guantanamo citizens as much as the Middle Eastern dictatorships whose citizens shared cells with Hicks. Actually, Howard's attitude toward Hicks was worse.

Countries like Saudi Arabia, Libya and Algeria aren't known for having depoliticised criminal justice systems. Their detainees would probably be just as "lawfully" detained and tortured back home.

Howard was happy to see an alien legal regime imposed on an Australian citizen not by some tinpot dictatorship but by an ally in circumstances where that Australian would have walked free in Australia.

Howard was so keen to please Dubya in his so-called war on terror that he was prepared to sacrifice the human rights and liberty of two Australian citizens David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib. In Habib's case, no charges were ever laid and he was subjected to torture in numerous countries before reaching Guantanamo.

Howard continues to defend the indefensible. Is it any wonder he lost both the election and his own seat?

Irfan Yusuf is a lawyer and author of Once Were Radicals. This column was first published in The Canberra Times.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

COMMENT: Switzer isn't into tea ...

Former Opinion Editor of The Australian Tom Switzer makes some interesting observations about the Tea Party.

Some argue that the Tea Party's success in Republican primaries is evidence of a rejuvenated right dedicated to a genuine constitutionalism and commitment to small government. But while the Tea Party is tapping into the economic anxiety and political estrangement that voters feel across the nation, the movement itself has its fair share of problems.

He continues.

It not only sports a few clowns and creeps who make embarrassing pronouncements; it is also leaderless and riven by chronic divisions over social and foreign policy. Moreover, it is not clear whether the Tea Party resonates with the broader electorate.

And what about some of the Tea Party's stars?

... some in the Tea Party scare centrists - think of Delaware candidate Christine O'Donnell, the former anti-masturbation advocate who "dabbled" in witchcraft. She will almost certainly lose a seat the Republicans should have won.

America, Switzer seems to say, is in economic and social free-fall at the moment. The Republicans would have won, with or without the Tea Party. Buut winning with the Tea Party is likely to be a one way ticket to long term political irrelevance.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

Monday, November 01, 2010

COMMENT: Why David Hicks matters ...

I've just started reading David Hicks' memoirs. I'm upto the part where he travels to Pakistan and spends time with the Tabligh Jamaat, an international Muslim missionary effort founded in India during the early 1940's. So many young Muslims have been with the TJ at some stage or other, myself included.

Hicks has gove to Pakistan after spending some time with the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) who were fighting with the support of the United States and its NATO alies. Some fruitloops like to claim that the KLA was ome kind of al-Qaeda outfit. That's a bit like saying that the Vatican is a product of the Sydney Diocese of the Anglican Church.

Cynthia Banham reminds us in a column for the Sydney Morning Herald of why Hicks' memoirs are important. Here are some excerpts.

... Hicks's memoirs are an important development for our democracy.
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Why? The Howard and Rudd governments failed to investigate his allegations of abuse, mistreatment and torture while in US custody. Consequently, this is likely to be our only insight into what happened to him.

I haven't yet read Leigh Sales' book about Hicks so I can't confirm or deny this. Then again, I think Sales' book was published when Hicks was still at the gulag.

As a liberal democracy, the manner in which our government treats Australian citizens, or permits them to be treated by foreign states, in a time of war or national security crisis - or any time - should concern us.

It should concern us unless we are carried away by the hysteria of those who want us to ignore legal obligations and act on our emotions.

But Hicks pleaded guilty in a court, did he not? Certainly that was John Howard's line before two shoes were thrown in his direction in an ABC studio. And what kind of court was it?

... Hicks never got a day in a court to consider his claims - a properly constituted court, which followed accepted rule-of-law procedures ... He was tried by a farcical military commission that the British refused to let its own citizens be subjected to, and that President Barack Obama has denounced as flawed.

The Skaf brothers, Ivan Milat and Martin Bryant had their days before a properly constituted court. Was Hicks ever found to have raped or murdered anyone?

Do yourself a favour and go out and read this book. It's written in such simple language that even Tim Blair might understand it.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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OPINION: Cricket corruption exposes hypocrisy in Australian circles

I was watching Pakistani satellite TV at my parents' house in Sydney the other day when I saw an unusual character appear on the screen. He looked Pakistani. He dressed Pakistani. But he sounded like something straight out of Little Britain.

The young Londonistani told the Pakistani GEO cable news channel:

Dey should be sacked from da team and sent back to da motherland, innit.

Or something like that.

The GEO news crew back in the Lahore studios were clearly bemused by the passionate selfrighteousness of this and other Pakistani cricket fans in Pakistan and Britain responding to yet another match-fixing scandal involving Pakistani players and possibly officials. The sports presenter poked fun at the Pakistani team manager who had no trouble listening to the orders of his Pakistani administrators back home but had enormous trouble hearing the basic questions of international journalists in London.

But in a nation where cricket is perhaps the major religion, this is no laughing matter. Millions of Pakistanis witnessed their team suffer the biggest Test loss in its history.

And what made the loss even more humiliating was that it was at the hands of one of the world's weaker teams (England), a team that both Pakistani and Australian cricket fans have become accustomed to poking fun at.

Of course, it could never happen in Australian cricket. Certainly that's what cricket
journalist Michael Conn recently wrote in The Australian. Conn argued that the latest saga was a symptom of broader national corruption.

Cricket is widely regarded as a microcosm of the country where it is played, which offers an instant insight into why Pakistani cricket in particular and the ICC in general is such a basket case.

If it's as simple as that, how does Conn explain the incident involving Shane Warne and Mark Waugh, who happily took money from an Indian bookie in the mid-1990s? Admittedly they weren't accused of deliberately bowling no balls to throw a game away. But corruption is corruption whichever way you look at it.

Conn's argument reaches heights of hilarity when he suggests that it was corrupt nations from ...

... [t]he Afro-Asia bloc ...

... whose corrupt administrators blocked John Howard from becoming president of the International Cricket Council.

In short, having John Howard as ICC president would solve all of world cricket's corruption problems. We all know that John Howard would never oversee corruption, nor would he allow anyone involved in an administration he was in charge of to have direct links to corruption.

Those who claim the Howard prime ministership did not tolerate, whitewash or make excuses for corruption or cronyism would pause for thought if they read Caroline Overington's awardwinning Kickback: Inside The Australian Wheat Board Scandal.

They should also ask the new federal member for Denison whether Howard would treat a whistleblower on cricket corruption in the same manner as he treated the Office of National Assessments officer who blew the whistle on intelligence failures that led to a war that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

Everyone knows corruption exists at ICC level. Corrupt governments of nations where cricket is a major sport will happily stack their national cricket boards with cronies. But while many cricketing countries may have corruption issues, others have issues with dealing with racism and parochialism.

That support still lingers for a Howard presidency illustrates a peculiar form of parochialism that continues to exist in many Australian circles.

Howard supporters argued that the "Afro-Asian" bloc that opposed Howard's nomination to the ICC presidency earlier this year did so because of his attacks on Zimbabwe's racist anti-white government. Howard wanted sanctions against Zimbabwe and was a staunch critic of Mugabe's regime. He was right.

If only he was also right when it came to the racist anti- black apartheid regime that ruled South Africa during the 1970s and '80s, a time when Howard opposed economic and sporting sanctions against the regime. Howard's attitude went against the dominant world opinion at that time.

Farid Esack, a prominent South African anti-apartheid activist and a gender equity commissioner appointed by the Mandela government, told an American audience in 2006 that the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa saw those outside the country opposing sporting and economic sanctions as being collaborators with the apartheid regime. That presumably includes John Howard.

Some would argue that all this talk of Howard's responses to apartheid, AWB, Andrew Wilkie, Iraq (and indeed Dr Haneef, Asian immigration, Pauline Hanson, asylum seekers, the stolen generation) is just ancient history. The real issue is cricket corruption.

Fair enough. Let's look at this in simple terms. One major element of corruption is that the right job goes to the wrong (and often least qualified) person. Australia and New Zealand had the opportunity to put forward a nominee for the ICC presidency.

They had a choice between Sir John Anderson, a top-notch experienced and respected New Zealand administrator, and John Howard. Australia bullied New Zealand into withdrawing Anderson's nomination, despite the fact that he was already pencilled in for the job.

And now Howard's backers have the temerity to cry corruption.

Irfan Yusuf is a lawyer and author of Once Were Radicals. His top score was 14 runs for the St Andrews' under-14s. He will not be nominating for the ICC presidency in the foreseeable future. This article was first published in The Canberra Times on 1 September 2010.