Tuesday, September 28, 2010

CRIKEY: The real Delhi: not as dirty, scary and chaotic as the media thinks

Over the past few weeks, we’ve read western sporting officials declare that Delhi’s Commonwealth Games won’t work because the city (and in particular the athletes’ village) is “filthy”, “uninhabitable” and “seriously compromised”.

It’s true that many Indians have been mightily peeved with their government’s handling of the affair. Tejaswini Patil writes that “one of the English media channels in India conducted a panel discussion which referred to the CWG mishaps as ‘national shame’”. And Amol Rajan talks of “the cruel irony” that “most Indians don’t care about the Games, because it will have such little effect on them”: ”And in any case, they care about cricket, not athletics. To them, the event is above all an expensive nuisance, and a distraction from the daily grind.”

The Indian media, like their Pakistani colleagues, know how to be critical of their government. I’m reminded of this each time I visit the house of my parents (both of whom were born in Delhi) and watch them switching between South Asian news channels. Indians have bigger fish to fry than dust on the toilet boils where elite athletes will be placing their buttocks. They’re more worried about more basic issues like the Indian authorities misleading the public on maternal mortality.

Too often Western media have a skewed view of South Asia in general and India in particular. On the one hand you have the Greg Sheridans of this world rabbiting on about India’s economic boom whilst rarely mentioning major corporate corruption and institutional weaknesses exposed by major scandals such as the Satyam scandal which erupted in January 2009 when the chairman of the Indian multinational confessed the corporation’s accounts had been falsified.

Then there’s security. Unlike western cultural warriors, Indians understand that terrorism has no race and no particular religion. In August 2008, a senior Hindutva leader was assassinated in the eastern state of Orissa. Maoist rebels claimed responsibility, but this didn’t stop Hindutva terrorists from going on the rampage against local Catholics and their institutions. Churches and other Christian institutions (including those linked to the order of the late Mother Teresa) were destroyed.

India is a country where extreme elements of almost all communities have used terror. Ajai Sahni, editor of the South Asia Intelligence Review, told Newsweek in late 2008: “The fact of the matter is you have Hindus who are terrorists. You have Muslims who are terrorists. You also have Christians who are terrorists. [S]everal other denominations that have proven their capacity for terrorism. We must realise that terrorism is simply a method by which civilians are intentionally targeted. That’s it.”

But it isn’t as if bombs go off in India everyday. India continues to host major sporting events in cricket, hockey and a host of other sports. And if any Australian deserves a gold medal in the upcoming Commonwealth Games, it is Mike Duffy, the Channel 7 reporter exposed on Media Watch last night who claims to have slipped a suitcase full of explosives through the security barricade of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi. The story went across the globe. I read about it in The Economist.

And now serious doubts have been raised about Duffy’s and Channel 7’s credibility. Watch this space.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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Monday, September 27, 2010

COMMENT: Arab Derangement Syndrome

Shaykh Musa bin Maymun, also known as Moses Maimonides

Arab Derangement Syndrome. Or ADS for short. An obsessive hatred of all things Arab or associated with Arab (or broader Muslim) culture.

No, I didn't make up this term. David Shasha did. And who is David Shasha?

David Shasha is the director of the Center for Sephardic Heritage in Brooklyn, New York. The Center publishes the weekly e-mail newsletter Sephardic Heritage Update as well as promoting lectures and cultural events. His articles have been published in Tikkun magazine, The American Muslim, the Christian Progressive and other publications.

In a recent piece for the Huffington Post on the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" controversy, Shasha argues:

In recent weeks, we have heard a number of prominent right-wing Jews like Bernard Lewis, Hillel Halkin, Daniel Pipes, and David Horowitz express their outrage over the use of Córdoba as a symbol of Muslim openness, arguing instead that Córdoba was a place of Muslim intolerance and fanaticism.

In the midst of this new ginned-up outrage over what Sephardic Jews see as their cultural home, we can discover a much larger problem that has surfaced in what has become "Arab Derangement Syndrome" among so many Zionists.

Over the course of many centuries, Sepharad/Al-Andalus was a marker of Jewish creativity and cosmopolitanism afforded by Islam in contrast to the prison that was Christian Europe. "Arab Derangement Syndrome" sees things in quite the opposite way.

Shasha goes further.

The current demonization of Córdoba stems from an irrational and fanatic hatred of all things Arab and is clothed in the disingenuous garb of academic expertise. European-style Anti-Semitism is back-referenced to the Arab world ...

In other words, the Spanish city of Cordoba under Muslim rule was and remains the cultural heartland of a large proportion of the world's Jewish population. Yet other Jews are engaged in a process of what Shasha describes as ...

... this recent demonization of Sephardic Jewry and its Arabic culture ...

The piece makes very enlightening reading, though I wonder whether Shasha's depiction of Ashkenazi Judaism as being ...

... caught up in its disdain for the outside world and conducted an internecine battle waged over strictness in the observance of Jewish ritual.

... is a little unfair.

Shasha also has some harsh words for Zionists who enter into alliances which the ideological descendants of their former persecutors.

Jews, in spite of their startling success in the Western world, feel more alienated and fearful than at any other time in their history. This is strange given the recent experience of the Nazi genocide. But what Zionism and the ongoing problems of the state of Israel have generated in many Jews is a sense of insecurity that has served to reframe and refocus the Jewish mindset. Alliances with fundamentalist Christianity serve as a marriage of convenience that strengthens the perceived vulnerable status of Israel in what is seen as a region of Arab-Muslim barbarians. This is back-referenced to the Middle Ages and to Islamic Spain and Córdoba, and ultimately linked to the Sephardic Jews and their Arabic culture ... The demonization of Córdoba is often accomplished with the help of the very Sephardim whose history is being ripped to shreds by their Ashkenazi brothers. This Jewish fratricide is not simply an obscene act of sociocultural violence by one part of the Jewish community against another; it is a sign of a much larger problem for the Jewish world.

Those nutty anti-Semites (sadly many of them Muslims) who still maintain fantasies of Jewish conspiracies should take their heads out of the sand.

Friday, September 24, 2010

MEDIA: Yet another trumped-up News Limited burqa controversy ...

It starts from a News Limited local paper and then makes its way into News Limited tabloids and finally onto the News Limited group-blog.

Down there on Planet Murdoch, a place where people of certain faiths are regarded as having genetic defects, it is big news. But up here on Planet Earth, no one seems to give a shit.

And perhaps Planet Irf shouldn't either. Back to work ...

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

COMMENT: Race and religion ...

A number of people have responded to my piece published in The Age today by claiming that I have confused race and religion. The confusion seems to largely arise out of the beginning paragraphs:

In the early '90s, I was in the final stages of my university studies and had too much time on my hands. I started teaching Muslim scripture to year 1 and 2 kids at a south-west Sydney school. On my first day, the principal took me around to various classes to pick out the Muslim children for my class. We entered a year 1 classroom. The principal asked: ''Hands up, kids, if you are Muslim.''

A small, blonde girl put her hand up. The principal looked at her and said, ''But Jasmina, you don't look Muslim!'' The poor little girl started to cry.

It turned out the little girl's parents were from Sarajevo. Given the high rate of inter-marriage in her homeland, it is quite possible only one parent was Muslim in a Bosnian sense.

But what does it mean to be Muslim in a Bosnian sense?

Indeed. What does it mean to be Muslim in Bosnia? Is it the same as being Muslim in Malaysia? Or Indonesia? Or Lebanon? And which of the Bosnian women below aren't Muslim?

Some responses to my article included this ...

Islam is a religion not a race. Being Muslim is a choice.

... and this ...

You do realise, Irfan Yusuf, that Muslim is not a race. Neither is Christian. Do your bloody homework.

... and this ...

"What does it mean to be Muslim in a Bosnian sense?"
I guess it means that you come from Bosnia and practice Islam.
Not such a profound question, really.

Actually it is a very profound question. In Bosnia, there are basically three "nationalities". You are Serb, or you are Croat or you are Muslim. If you are not Serb or Croat, you are generally classed as a Muslim. It has little or nothing to do with what religion, if any, you practise.

To make matters more complicated, Bosnia is a country with a high rate of inter-marriage. So if a Muslim woman marries a Serb man, what are the kids considered to be?

This proved to be a huge issue during the Bosnian war of the mid-90's.

Then there is Malaysia, where the constitution seems to mix up being Malay with being Muslim. Except that Indian Muslims often don't get the same privileges as Malay Muslims.

Ethnicity and religion is often mixed up. Religion often is treated as more of a racial characteristic. One doesn't always have a choice.

One does, however, have a choice to have a good laugh at Daily Telegraph opinion editor Tim Blair and the Tea Partying wingnut brigade who congregated around his Daily Telegraph bog (no, that was not a typo). Here is Tim's latest attempt at analysis. Interestingly there is no reference to my physique as is so often the case. Perhaps Tim is finally entering adulthood.

UPDATE I: Why does Rupert Murdoch keep the likes of Bolt & Blair on the payroll? Serial fruitloop Glenn Beck might have the answer ...

"How does Rupert Murdoch keep me on the air ..."

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

EDUCATION: Here's another university funding scandal The Oz chooses to ignore ...

What is it with The Australian? Why do they keep missing university funding scandals??

Some years ago, they went into complete histrionics over $100,000 given to Griffith University in Brisbane by Saudi Arabia. There were cries of bias and sinister plots of Saudi and Wahhabi ideology being spread by stealth.

(It didn't last long after it was pointed out that the Saudis had invested even more money in News Limited.)

With such a commitment to higher education, why would The Oz miss two scandals concerning one of our most prestigious universities?

First there was the scandal over China Studies. And now there is the scandal over allegations against the United States Studies Centre.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

Monday, September 13, 2010

OPINION: When the idiot few hold sway

Paul Kelly once sang a touching tune called From Little Things Big Things Grow. The song was about human rights for indigenous minorities and reconciliation. Its basic message was that the actions of a few marginalised people can have a snowball effect.

The same effect is being played out in New York. A few marginal people have been taking small steps, and have managed to create a snowball effect. Unlike the heroes of Kelly's song, the marginal people at the heart of the so-called Ground Zero Mosque have little or no interest in minority rights or reconciliation.

The story has some ironies here in Australia. We have seen our own battles over Muslim independent schools and mosques. Few have been built without fierce and often hysterical opposition whipped up by prejudiced outsiders and opportunistic politicians.

Things weren't helped by the often imbecilic remarks of Muslim religious leaders and the refusal of Muslim religious bodies to invest in some decent public relations (or in some cases, much-needed ESL classes).

In 2004, the then Premier of NSW Bob Carr decided that he needed an outsider to help him address the poisonous atmosphere in community relations. Carr was visiting New York when he came across Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.

Carr later told the ABC Compass program in December 2005 the reasons for inviting Rauf on a state visit.

I reached the view that it would be good for a lot of media commentators and the Australian public to hear the voice and American accent of an Islamic leader and Muslim scholar who was talking about Islam and talking about co-operation across cultures or civilisations. And I also thought it would be good for the Islamic community in Australia to hear his perspective.

Carr may have spoken to 9/11 family members such as Adely Welty, whose firefighter son was just 34 years old when he died trying to rescue people from the burning Twin Towers.

Welty wrote in the New York Post recently that Rauf ...

... led a peaceful congregation a couple of blocks away from the proposed Park
51 site for 27 years without incident.

Harper Collins, the publishing arm of Rupert Murdoch's vast media empire, doesn't have problems with Rauf's views. They flooded the market with the imam's book, entitled What's Right With Islam Is What's Right With America, to the extent that it is available from just about every bookstore from Mackay to Montreal.

Sadly, most other parts of Murdoch's empire are busy providing oxygen to the marginalised wingnut brigade who first came up with the idea that nothing representing Islamic culture should exist within sight of what was once the Twin Towers. As is always the case, these forces never allow the facts to get in the way of their prejudices.

Glenn Beck, the modern-day conservative messiah of FoxNews, declared that Rauf "seems to be connected to people who hate America". And how so?

Because Rauf said in a 2005 speech:

We tend to forget in the West that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than al-Qaeda has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims.

So if I speak the self-evident truth that the United States military has killed more Muslim civilians in its numerous invasions, raids and expeditions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, the Philippines etc than a loose terror network has killed non-Muslims, that makes me a dangerous foe of the United States. Even if I could be echoing the sentiments of prominent American generals, politicians, commentators, writers, academics and policy makers.

Others project Rauf as a dangerous proponent of radical Islamic theocracy ruled by a legal system characterised by little more than non-anaesthetic amputations. Sean Hannity, another FoxNews stalwart, claimed that Rauf wanted to set up a parallel legal system with separate sharia courts.

Hannity went on to interview Robert Spencer, the director of a far-right blog called JihadWatch. In the past, Spencer has used his blog to support, among others, a violent neo-fascist group calling itself the English Defence League and made up largely of former soccer hooligans. Spencer is also associated with the US-based and notoriously homophobic Christian Action Network. But does all this stop FoxNews from having Spencer on air?

Spencer many months ago joined forces with another far-right blogger, Pamela Geller, to form "Stop Islamisation in America", a franchise of an equivalent far-right group in Europe. Geller has her own blog which features a photo of herself wearing a Superman uniform. According to a Guardian report, she has written in support of Serbian war criminals and even white supremacists in South Africa. Geller's blog posts videos suggesting Muslims have sex with goats and even suggested that President Barack Obama's father was Malcolm X.

Spencer and Geller have for years been treated as marginal figures in conservative circles. They struggled to find money (much of it raised on their respective blogs) to fund advertisements on the sides of New York buses calling on people to stop the "Ground Zero Mega-Mosque".

You'd wonder how such elements could oppose an intercultural project headed by a man with decades of experience and who has represented his country's interests in tours sponsored by the US State Department during the Bush Administration. But from little things, big things grow.

The Spencer/Geller cause has now been taken on by Republican Party presidential hopeful and former US House speaker Newt Gingrich and former vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin. Geller has appeared on mainstream news channels, speaking on behalf of American values, 9/11 victims and anything and anyone else she can marshall to support her prejudicial fantasies.

The result has been, according to Salon.com, that

... the mosque story spread through the conservative and then mainstream media like fire through dry grass ... Geller had succeeded beyond her wildest dreams.

Indeed from little things, big things grow. A mere 48 hours after the September 11 attacks, Farqad Chawdury was born in a New York hospital. He never met his father, Mohammed, a waiter at the Windows of the World Restaurant in Tower One who perished on 9/11. His mother told a Canadian TV channel about the responses from people to her:

When they saw me ... I'm wearing a scarf. There is a hate look.

This year Farqad turns nine. He still doesn't know how his father died. His mother is too afraid to tell him.

Those who spew forth hatred on behalf of the victims will soon forget them. Glenn Beck famously once said:

... when I see a 9-11 victim family on television, or whatever, I'm just like, 'Oh, shut up!' I'm so sick of them because they're always complaining.

Meanwhile, the real victims just get on with their lives, generally too busy healing their wounds to care who is pretending to speak for or pillory them.

Irfan Yusuf is a lawyer and author of Once Were Radicals: My Years As A Teenage Islamo-fascist. This article was first published in the Canberra Times on 13 September 2010.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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