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

DeliciousBookmark this on Delicious
Digg!Get Flocked

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.
Advertisement: Story continues below

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

DeliciousBookmark this on Delicious
Digg!Get Flocked

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.