Monday, May 31, 2010

SPORT: All-Indian Superstars

Irfan Yusuf watches his cricketing namesakes hit sectarian politics out of the park in Gujurat ...

Humility is one of my strengths. Indeed, I can confidently state that I’m the most humble person I know. To confirm this, over the weekend, I took the ultimate humility test. I sat down at my computer, from whence many an article for this magnificent website has emerged, and surfed my way to Google News. There, I typed the words "Irfan Yusuf" and clicked.

As my self-effacing nature expected, the first item was an article on WYD published under my name in the New Zealand Herald. But what followed was quite instructive: article upon article from newspapers, sports blogs, cricket blogs, TV websites and e-zines about two Indian cricketers. There’s no doubt that in the online Irfan Yusuf stakes, Irfan Pathan and Yusuf Pathan are hitting me for six!

Growing up with a name no one could pronounce wasn’t the nicest experience. Was it "Eefun"? Or "Urfun"? Or "Earphone"? And if that wasn’t bad enough, people constantly misspelt my surname. "No, it isn’t ‘Y’ ‘O’ ‘U’ double-’S’ etc". Get the drift? I doubt I’ll have any more problems with spelling or pronunciation on my next trip to India. Thanks to a pair of Gujarati cricketers, millions of Indians now know how to spell and pronounce my full name correctly.

The Pathan brothers are all-Indian superstars. They hail from the north-western Indian state of Gujarat, part of which borders Pakistan. Gujarat was also the hometown of the great lawyer Mohandas Gandhi, who spent some years in South Africa fighting apartheid and went on to become the spiritual leader of the Indian independence movement.

There is a spiritual side to the story of the Pathan brothers. Until recently, their father Mehboob Khan was the caretaker at the Jammi Masjid (congregational mosque) in Mandvi, a suburb of the Gujrati town of Varodara. He had inherited this role from his father and grandfather. The mosque is 400 years old, older than any mosque — or indeed any church — in Australia. With the exception of Indonesia, India has more Muslims than any other country on earth. Yet Indian Muslims make up only around 15 per cent of India’s population. Most are relatively poor.

After the 1947 Partition, people on the "wrong" side of the India-Pakistan border left everything behind to make it to the "right" side. The Pathan family were different. Sher Jaman Ibrahim Khan, the paternal grandfather of Irfan and Yusuf Pathan, migrated from the Manshera district of Pakistan to India a few months before Partition.

Although India is officially secular, it has seen a rise in pseudo-religious far-Right Hindu nationalist politics. It isn’t alone in this regard. Until the most recent elections, two Pakistani provinces were dominated by pseudo-religious Islamist parties.

I describe such politics as pseudo-religious because I believe that no religion teaches its followers to be intolerant toward the poor and the vulnerable. The situations of millions of Hindu, Sikh and Christian Pakistanis are made to feel even more precarious thanks to misdirected blasphemy laws promoted by Pakistani politicians who only use Islam as a divisive wedge. On the other side of the border, similar wedges — of the allegedly Hindu variety — are used by Indian politicians to make millions of Muslim and Christian Indians feel vulnerable.

The Pathan brothers may tour across the world scoring runs and taking wickets with millions back home cheering them on. However, their home town in Gujarat is frequently the scene of communal violence whipped up by extremists from the governing fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Dal (BJP) party. Go to the BJP website and you’ll see that Gujarat and India’s proudest son, Mahatma Gandhi, barely rates a mention. You’ll also read essays blaming allegedly foreign "Semitic" faiths for India’s woes.

The BJP State Government of Gujarat led a massacre of religious minorities in 2002 that saw thousands of civilians murdered and hundreds of women raped by mobs armed with official records showing the residential and business addresses of Muslims and Christians. While the rest of India tossed out the BJP in the last national elections, Gujarat’s Chief Minister Narenda Modi remains the man who allegedly orchestrated much of the 2002 violence — or at the very least turned a blind eye to it.

This explosive environment even affects national heroes like Irfan and Yusuf Pathan. In May 2006, Indian journalists spent time in the Pathan family home. Don’t let the headline "Genius in the time of hatred and bloodshed" put you off reading the inspiring story of young Indian athletes who honed in their skills in an environment where their poverty-stricken families and communities were subjected to discrimination and even violence.

The religion that South Asians follow most fanatically - cricket - is, ironically enough, one which overrides sectarian exclusions. Pakistan’s national side has no shortage of Hindu and Christian players, and Muslim, Sikh and Christian players step up to the pitch for India. In both India and Pakistan, religious fundamentalism sits side by side with a blend of tolerance and pluralism that is often best displayed on sporting fields.

The good news is that the Pathan brothers were able to use cricket to rise above the sectarian bigotry. We often hear that sport - and religion - and politics shouldn’t mix. But sometimes spectator sport can become a powerful religious force in its own right allowing its practitioners and fans to overcome the obstacles set by sectarian politicians.

First published in NewMatilda on 17 July 2008.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

OPINION: Refugee Hysteria Suggests Aussies Have Forgotten Their Own Ancestors

YOU can always tell when Australia has entered election mode. Suddenly the really big issues come to the fore - issues that affect the economy, national security, indeed Australia's very survival. Issues like the occasional arrival of a handful of desperate boat people from Afghanistan, Iraq or Sri Lanka via Indonesia.

On Sunday, March 28, Rupert Murdoch's tabloids across Australia ran the front-page story of a mass invasion of asylum seekers. In Brisbane, the headline was THEY'RE HERE.

And who were they? The paper reported that 2000 asylum seekers had made it to Christmas Island, while 425 people were being housed on the mainland. But the real nightmare was seven adults and three children going shopping in Brisbane. They spent an hour and a quarter in a shopping centre, the paper howled.

The group returned with two shopping trolleys loaded with grocery bags. Their purchases included Home Brand Hawaiian pizza, Smith's potato chips and cartons of Coca-Cola.

How selfish of seven adults to share pizza, chips and soft drink. And to think these people claim to be desperate refugees!

Anyway, back to the world of sanity. Readers with even a basic knowledge of Australian history will find the current immigration hysteria ironic. For some reason, non-European illegal immigrants seem to bring out the worst indignation in white Australia. It's as if Aussies have forgotten their own ancestors came here from mother England on boats. And many were here as a result of being sentenced for the kinds of offences for which our migration laws today would bar them from leaving Sydney airport.

Australians are all too quick to forget the key historical role people from Afghanistan played during the mid-19th century. For 60 years, these men and their camels were the only transportation available through the centre of Australia, servicing distant mines and sheep stations as well as being involved in Australia's first overland telegraph line.

With troops fighting in Afghanistan, Australia has an obligation under international law to restore order. Australia and its coalition and Nato partners have singularly failed to do this. Hence, when it comes to accepting Afghan refugees, Australia has a major responsibility. Sadly it is the conservatives, self-declared protectors of Australia's Christian heritage, who show the least Christian attitude towards refugees.

The prejudice in Australia's popular media toward anyone deemed a Middle Eastern migrant is so endemic that one can only hope God in his good sense doesn't send the Son of Man to Australia for the Second Coming.

IN AUGUST last year, on an ABC television chat show, Liberal deputy leader Julie Bishop reminded viewers of the perils posed to Australia by an increase in the number of people arriving by boat.

She shared the panel with conservative American humorist P J O'Rourke. He found all this hysteria about boat people in Australia and some parts of the EU rather amusing.

You know, we in the States have much, much more experience with being all wrong about immigration than you do. I mean, 36,000 you said in Italy? We laugh. That's a day in the United States. And we are so wrong about it. I mean, build a fence on the border with Mexico, give a huge boost to the Mexican ladder industry, you know ...

Ms Bishop tried to rescue her conservative credentials after being showed up by O'Rourke. She recited the usual Liberal Party mantra about people smugglers.

O'Rourke's response?

Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. You know, if you open your borders, you don't have people smugglers ...

These people are assets. One or two of them might not be, but you can sort them out later. Oh, I think conservatives are getting this wrong all over the world, I really do.

The Rudd Labor Government is not much better. Australia's immigration minister recently announced that the processing of new asylum applications from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan would be suspended. The government says circumstances have changed in both countries such that it is now safe enough for asylum applicants to return.

That being the case, one can expect Australian troops in Afghanistan to prepare for their imminent return. Yet the reality is that the US is getting ready to send 17,000 more troops into the country and has requested its allies (including Australia) to increase their troop presence. Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay has told Nato and other allies that the military alliance cannot take its foot off the gas in Afghanistan, simply because the US is about to send 17,000 more troops.

And so we have all this fuss over 4500 boat people. Meanwhile, there is little fuss over 50,000 illegal immigrants from Britain and the US.

In the Australian psyche, illegal immigrants must necessarily be non-European and non-white. Either that or some illegal immigrants are more illegal than others.

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer and writer. This article was first published in the Dominion-Post in Wellington, New Zealand.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

OPINION: Rising trend of fearmongering on refugees and passports ...

Coalition rhetoric now appears to slipping back to the worst practices of the Howard era, IRFAN YUSUF writes ...

Tony Abbott wasn’t exactly born into the Liberal establishment. His political mentor was none other than Bob Santamaria, the ultraconservative Catholic activist who founded the National Civic Council and who was more concerned with ridding trade unions of communism than supporting what he described as Menzies’ "party of capital".

In his book Battlelines, published shortly before his accession to the Liberal leadership, Abbott affectionately refers to his mentor as "Santa". He admits that Santamaria (who died in 1998) had some concerns about the young Abbott joining the Liberals. Santamaria apparently had a

... prejudice that serious Catholics couldn’t advance in the Liberal Party.

In recent times, followers of other non-Protestant faiths must be wondering whether the same applies to them. Recent comments about asylum seekers, burqas and passport forgeries must surely make us wonder whether the Australian electorate would be ready for "Captain Catholic" to rule over a country where Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam are the fastest growing faiths.

Many wondered during the mid-1990s whether John Howard, the man who suggested that Asian migrants may not make a neat cultural fit, could one day become prime minister of a country located closer to Kuala Lumpur than London.

Coalition rhetoric on these issues today seems a mere continuation of the worst of the Howard era. Former Liberal prime minister (and now former party member) Malcolm Fraser described the party as being more about"fear and reaction".

The recent "real action" advertisement shows the origin of illegal immigrants to Australia. Five red arrows are shown emerging from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Indonesia respectively. The words "Stop illegals now" are shown in the top left corner of the screen.

No red arrow was shown emerging from Britain, even though it provides one of the largest proportions of illegal immigrants in Australia, certainly larger than any of the five Asian and Middle Eastern nations shown in the Liberal advertisement.

Presumably the Coalition strategists regard white-skinned English-speaking Brits as less scary than dark-skinned English-speaking Tamils or olive-complexioned Iraqi Christians.

The Coalition has also announced a return to some form of Pacific solution. This will involve the offshore processing of any asylum seekers arriving “illegally”. We will also see a return to Temporary Protection Visas under a future Coalition government. Yet, as Bernard Keane notes in Crikey, there was "a 50 per cent surge in asylum seekers coming by boat after TPVs were introduced in 1999" by the Howard government.

Furthermore, most TPV holders were eventually granted refugee status. The TPV regime is hardly incentive for “illegals” to avoid boats altogether. Hence the Liberals could once again become the people smugglers’ best friends.

Yet the irony is that so much of the fear-mongering runs directly contrary to Australia’s best interests, let alone liberal and/or conservative fundamentals and common sense. At times, the Howard government showed a complete disdain for Australian citizenship, all the while spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising campaigns encouraging permanent residents to take up citizenship.

The complete disdain Howard and his ministers showed to Australian citizens David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib, unlawfully detained by the United States, was just one example of how fear-mongering was used to evade the government’s responsibilities to its own citizens.

Recent comments by Julie Bishop show an even greater disdain for the rights of Australian citizens whose passports have been fraudulently used to carry out a terrorist act. Some may baulk at the suggestion that the murder of a Hamas leader could be deemed a terrorist act given that the deceased was himself responsible for acts of terror. Hamas, they will say, was a murderous organisation with a history of bloody retaliation.

And now Hamas will have a large number of Australian passport holders on their retaliation list.

To make matters worse, Bishop indicated (and hastily retracted) that Australian governments had forged other countries’ passports for use by our intelligence services.

One wonders whether Bishop was part of such a government and privy to such a decision, or, if such forgeries existed, whether they were used in assassinations or other forms of terrorism.

Indeed, can Abbott promise that a future Coalition government will not forge overseas passports, including those of permanent residents and citizens? Will he be prepared to put this in writing?

The Coalition has again been caught out placing the interests of foreign countries (albeit allies) above the safety and security of Australian citizens. In government they allowed two Australian citizens to languish in an illegal US prison camp in Cuba at the insistence of the US. Now, in Opposition, the Coalition is showing effective disdain to the security of Australian citizens to protect the sentiments of a nuclear-powered Middle Eastern government that used Australian passports to carry out an assassination.

And to think Bishop was accusing her opponents of appeasing an overseas lobby.

■ Irfan Yusuf is a lawyer, a former federal Liberal candidate and author of Once Were Radicals. This article was first published in the Canberra Times on Friday 28 May 2010.

UPDATE I: Neil James of the self-styled Australian Defence Association wrote this delightful letter to the newspaper.

In what again seems to skate closely to an apologia for Islamist terrorism, and among other polemical claims too numerous to refute, Irfan Yusuf ("Rising trend of fear-mongering on refugees and passports," May 28, p13) incorrectly claims that David Hicks was "unlawfully detained by the United States'' in an "illegal prison camp".

Under the Geneva Convention, as a Taliban combatant captured by the opposite side in a war he chose to fight in, David Hicks was not detained illegally for a single minute at least, perhaps, until his later separate criminal trial and prison sentence by US Military Commission. He was only detained by the US for so long because the war continued, and our then inadequate treachery laws meant he could not be released on prison of war-type parole for criminal trial in Australia (as the US was willing to do).

Fortunately this long-standing and disgraceful legal loophole has been closed so a future Wilfred Burchett or David Hicks can have his day in court. Rightly, since the Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act, 2002, an Australian citizen anywhere in the world now commits treason if he or she (among other things):

*intentionally assists, by any means whatsoever, an enemy, at war with the Commonwealth;

*intentionally assists, by ''any means whatsoever'', another country or organisation that is engaged in armed hostilities against the Australian Defence Force; or

*forms an intention to do any of the above acts and manifests that intention by an overt act.

In a liberal democracy ruled by law we owe no less to the men and women of the Australian Defence Force. Irfan Yusuf should be prepared to acknowledge this.

Neil James, executive director, Australia Defence Association

What can I say? Unlike you, Mr James, I don't consider myself an expert in public international law. But I find your suggestion that our men and women overseas are fighting and dying so that our liberties can be curtailed by draconian laws you and the small minority of similar mind boast of to be utterly ridiculous and an insult to our armed forces.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

POLITICS: The Pros And Cons Of Neo-Cons

In his Quarterly Essay, Waleed Aly looks to the past for the future of conservatism in Australia, but Irfan Yusuf wonders what - and who - has been left out of his political vision ...

There's nothing like a fresh approach to Australian politics. And what could be fresher than that of a former executive member of a peak Islamic religious body, a young man with degrees in engineering and law, the author of a book and a ton of op-eds who now lectures in politics at Monash University?

Waleed Aly tells us that his Quarterly Essay - What's Right? The Future of Conservatism in Australia - is not just a treatise about the strategic direction of Coalition parties but that it also delves deeper into the conservative movement and its philosophical and ideological underpinnings.

Broadly, Aly argues that liberalism, with its emphasis on individual rights, added much-needed ideological flesh to conservatism which was historically allergic to ideology. Through the marriage of liberalism and conservatism, Aly shows how philosophies can sometimes collide and end up walking hand in hand.

Problems arose, however, when, some 30 years ago, a vicious streak of market-obsessed neo-liberalism tried to force itself onto the two political lovers, the resultant conservatism morphed into the unreal, defending the indefensible and undermining the very foundations of both conservatism and liberalism. Aly says it all started in the Western world with Maggie Thatcher and the late Ronald Reagan, both of whom adopted the basic economic ideas of Friedrich Hayek. (Surprisingly, he doesn't mention influential neo-liberal economist Milton Friedman).

In Australia, according to Aly, the neo-liberal revolution started in 1996 with the election of the Howard government. He is mistaken. In fact neo-liberalism was first adopted by the NSW Liberal government headed up by Nick Greiner and followed closely by the Victorian Liberal government of Jeff Kennett.

When Aly claims that neo-liberalism works in the unreal, what does he mean? His most significant example is climate change - neo-liberal neo-cons apparently have no way to support climate change action. He writes that:

In order for neo-liberalism to be preserved, climate change must, in the first instance, be denied ... The battle over the truth of climate-change science is therefore a political fight to the death for neo-liberalism.

Aly cites Nick Minchin and even this colourful former Thatcher adviser in support of this claim but he doesn't mention Thatcher herself, who, as far back as 1990, was under no illusions about the science of climate change or its consequences for environmental, economic and broader government policy.

Now to Aly's critique of modern neo-conservative liberalism's approach to multiculturalism. Aly takes the Howard government to task for its rhetoric toward Muslim communities in particular and migrants in general which was ostensibly about "integration" and social cohesion, but applied with alarming inconsistency. Hence Brendan Nelson can tell Muslim independent schools to "clear off" unless they teach Australian values but can still dish out millions to schools run by the Exclusive Brethren.

Aly writes that

... the cultural politics of neo-conservatism very quickly resort to a kind of groupism, prosecuting an identity politics of collectivism ... not simply the dispassionate application of a political philosophy ... a reactionary, combative doctrine that seeks out enemies it can destroy.

Muslims have in no way suffered the kinds of deprivations suffered by Australia's Indigenous peoples. On that basis, a prominent former spokesman for a Muslim peak body should surely recognise the greater injustice and identify the greater ideological evil. Aly's response?

ATSIC, native title, any kind of treaty and indeed almost the entire politics of symbolic reconciliation are very difficult to accommodate in a liberal conservative worldview ... One should be circumspect ... about explaining every liberal conservative position on these issues as the simple product of racism or colonialism. These factors may be present in varying degrees, but there is a strong philosophical dimension that is fundamental. (my italics)

So we should be wary of accusing conservatives of racism when they refuse to apologise to the stolen generation, even if they're inconsistent and have no reluctance to apologise to white stolen kids? Aly unpacks conservative rhetoric and it's underlying philosophy when used to prosecute one form of oppression and yet excuses the same process when used to execute and justify an even greater oppression. When it's done to migrants (especially Muslims), it is irrational, ideologically-charged prejudice but when much worse is done to those who have occupied this land for 400 centuries, it can have some philosophical justification and should not necessarily be seen as racism.

Muslims did suffer severe headaches and a fair few civil rights infringements during the Howard era, all in the name of national security. But Muslims have never had their social security benefits quarantined on the basis of their ethnic or religious identity. Muslims were not subject to a severe intervention which could only be implemented by suspending the operation of the
Racial Discrimination Act and Muslims have not had their children stolen from them as part of a deliberate government policy.

Aly's inconsistency reflects a lack of empathy we sadly see all too often among defenders of multiculturalism, especially current and former "ethnic" leaders. Today's migrant brown man complains of the white man's prejudice toward him but neglects to recognise the responsibility of both white and brown migrants toward the continued dispossession of the original Australians. Muslim leaders should not expect empathy when they do not empathise toward those who have suffered much more and for much longer.

Those sympathetic to Aly's Muslim advocacy might also be uncomfortable with his deep reverence for Howard-s ideas. Indeed, Aly's admirers from that nebulous ideological place often referred to as "the Left" will be shocked to read him state that "the liberal and conservative traditions contain indispensible wisdom for the functioning of our politics." They might conclude, as I have, that Aly is finally confessing his own deep conservatism.

To be fair, what Aly reveres in the likes of Howard and Abbott (and what I also recognised in Abbott) is their commitment (or at least lip service) to basic conservative principles, not policies and programs. These principles can lead to policy outcomes with which people on both sides of the political spectrum will be comfortable.

Conservatives like decentralised power, gradual evolutionary change, not revolution. They are cautious and prefer the status quo without becoming captive to what Aly calls "reactionary nostalgia". Anti-racism is thus an inherently conservative idea, even if it has not been associated with contemporary manifestations of conservatism.

Aly's historical and philosophical range is impressive: the industrial revolution, the development of liberalism and its marriage to conservatism; and the more recent morphing of conservatism into neo-conservatism via a marriage with market-obsessed neo-liberalism.

That said, by the time I reached page 64 of this 105-page essay on the future of conservatism, I wondered when - and indeed whether - we would actually reach the Australian present, let alone the future.

I flicked to the "Sources" section where Aly presents his references. There are plenty of references to Edmund Burke, John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Hayek and others. Also mentioned were Michael Oakeshott, former UK Guardian journalist Melanie Phillips and even American neo-con Irving Kristol.

One surprising omission was Tony Abbott's Battlelines which was launched in late July 2009, probably before Aly first put pen to paper for his Quarterly Essay. One needn't agree with everything Abbott's book has to say (Lord knows I certainly don't), but it strikes me as extremely ambitious on Aly's part to even attempt to write about domestic conservative futures without exploring a comprehensive treatise of one of its prominent practitioners. Instead, Aly's discussion of the current Federal Coalition leader is limited to some speeches and articles where Abbott discusses multiculturalism, Muslims and climate change.

Aly's basic conclusion is that if conservatism in Australia is to have any future, it must retreat from market-obsessed and culturally reactionary neo-liberal conservatism and return to the old style liberal conservatism. Aly argues that Abbott's understanding of multiculturalism shows he has the nuance to begin this process (although he ignores Abbott's calls around this time for a new paternalism toward Indigenous peoples.)

But exactly how is this de-and-reconstruction of conservatism to be achieved? After reading Aly's essay, I'm still not sure. His broad brush of history, economics and political philosophy hovers around the topic but never quite nails it. He has little to say on what is billed as the central theme of his essay except a confession at the top of page 96 that: "I am not optimistic."

And if Aly's conservative prescription is followed, Indigenous Australians need not be optimistic either.

This review was first published in NewMatilda.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

MEDIA:: Oz Opinion Editor finds a Palestinian she can sorta tolerate ...

It's easy to tell that the Opinion Editor of a foreign-owned newspaper calling itself The Australian isn't too fond of Palestinian national sentiment. She's also rather dismissive of that overwhelming majority of Palestinians who feel Israel's creation hasn't exactly been a boon for Palestinian nationhood.

THE Palestinian diaspora in Australia is facing an unexpected catastrophe. Normally, May 15, Israel's Independence Day, is the most important day of their year for celebrating their victimhood: the catastrophe, as they see it, of the founding of Israel.

And what will Palestinians be upset with a certain Israeli Arab journalist about?

... Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli Arab Muslim journalist, who declares: "I'd rather be a second-class citizen in Israel than a first-class citizen in any Arab country."

I agree with him. I also agree that I'd rather be an Australian citizen than have dual Australian-Israeli citizenship. I don't want my passport and identity used to commit assassinations and other acts of terror.

So who are the entirety of the Palestinian diaspora that despises Abu Toameh? Ms Weisser cites one Ali Kazak. Yep. One bloke.

Ms Weisser ends her report with these words:

Whatever transpires, Abu Toameh, unlike his critics in the diaspora, will be there to report what is happening to the Palestinian people.

Though one somehow doubts his work will appear anywhere on the Opinion Page of The Australian, especially if critical of Israel.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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