Thursday, December 18, 2014

CRIKEY: Pakistan school massacre and the nature of terrorism

At funerals for the dead students kill Pakistan, mourners will recite the same words uttered by the terrorists. And yet some would have us believe Islam has something to answer for.

In his column yesterday, Chris Kenny lectured us on how “sections of the media and political class” are pressuring him and his colleagues to “play down the Islamist element” in various terror attacks affecting Australians. These forces would have us ignore the “horror of Islamic extremist terrorism”.
Kenny wrote of 9/11, when “10 of our nationals were killed”, then of the Bali bombings, when “88 of our citizens” were among the victims, then of the attack on our embassy in Jakarta. We are facing this. We are the victims. And all the left-wing elites care about is “a backlash” and of “repercussions against Muslims” that will never arrive. Kenny’s simplistic binary seems to be “we” Aussie versus them … um … er … Islamic Islamist types.
There wasn’t much evidence of playing down anything from Chris Uhlmann during his conversation with the PM this morning. Uhlmann asked some tough questions that needed answering, then made the extraordinary claim about a certain set of religious and legal denominations and traditions whose adherents make up one-quarter of humanity: “[T]his is a religion that is resistant to scrutiny or criticism, that is utterly incapable of laughing at itself, and when it is criticised the reaction often tends to be violent.”
Blaming this attack on Islam won’t help survivors of the hostage drama any more than an attack on Christianity would help victims of child sexual assault who gave evidence at the royal commission.
Right now people are in mourning. The Lindt Cafe is a popular destination, situated between the financial and legal districts of Sydney CBD. I’ve been shouted coffee there myself by barristers grateful for the work. It could have been me among those hostages. It could have been the mufti wearing a suit. It was almost Chris Kenny.
Of course, real terrorists who are part of real terrorist groups tend not to care much about having the right flag or talking to the prime minister or other delusional wishes. Real terrorists like the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) don’t allow the age or gender or religion of their victims to stop them from walking into a school and starting to shoot.

Imagine being a year 10 student and witnessing 40 of your fellow students being murdered during an exam. Imagine being shot in both legs and then shoving a tie down your throat so that you don’t scream in agony and you can successfully play dead. Imagine being a parent and not knowing whether your children will still be in their school uniforms or draped in a burial shroud.
The idea that many terrorists are inspired by theocratic “Islamist” ideas is a given. Pakistani newspapers and Urdu cable TV channels are vociferous in their condemnation of dehshat gardi (terrorism). The current government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may have won the argument about peace talks with the Taliban, but Pakistan looks like it is fast losing the war.
Now here’s a thought. At the funerals of the young students, people will be reciting the Arabic sentence hung up in the window of the Lindt coffee shop in Martin Place. They will recite Allahu Akbar (God is Greater) as was shouted by Taliban assailants as the bullets entered the victims. With whom do the mourners of Peshawar have more in common? The self-styled Sheikh Haron? The Taliban murderers? Or the Sydney folk of all colours and ethnicities and faiths laying flowers and praying at Martin Place?

First published in Crikey on 17 December 2014.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

CRIKEY: Think you know the world’s terrorism hotspots? Think again

India does not spring to mind as a global terrorism hotspot, but lawyer and commentator Irfan Yusuf finds there’s much we don’t know about the world’s second-most populous nation.

India’s newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently told Commonwealth lawmakers in Canberra that Australia was firmly at the centre of his nation’s gaze. Meanwhile, our national broadcaster has announced it is closing its New Delhi bureau. And most Australians wouldn’t have much of a clue about the world’s second-most populous nation or its neighbours.

India doesn’t just want our uranium and coal; Modi has pledged to work with Australia to fight what he describes as the “menace of terrorism”.

But what does terrorism mean in India? Do publications like The Times of India or The Hindu or Caravan see terrorism as purely a Middle Eastern or Islamic problem?

The 2013 Global Terrorism Index placed India at sixth in the world when it came to number of terrorist attacks. Above India were Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. These countries accounted for some 80% of all terrorism deaths. India experienced the largest increase in terrorist attacks, with deaths almost doubling (238 to 404) from 2012-13.

Yes, there certainly are jihadists operating in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region. But the GTI Report states what most Indians already take for granted:

In 2013 around 70% of attacks were non-lethal. Communist terrorist groups are by far the most frequent perpetrators and the main cause of deaths in India. Three Maoist communist groups claimed responsibility for 192 deaths in 2013, which was nearly half of all deaths from terrorism in India. Police are overwhelmingly the biggest targets of Maoists, accounting for half of all deaths and injuries.

The Maoist insurgency has much to do with farmers in impoverished tribal areas being forced off their land. The uprising has been going since 1967, with the Naxal movement operating in 20 of India’s 29 states. Terrorism doesn’t happen in an economic or political vacuum.

Perhaps the most dangerous form of extremism can be found in the Indian ruling coalition. Before being elected Prime Minister in a landslide, Modi was chief minister of Gujarat province in the north-west of the country. Gujarat was also the home state of an eccentric barrister named Gandhi, who was once labeled a terrorist by Her Majesty’s government.

Far from engaging in violence, Gandhi preached a novel form of non-violent resistance with a view to securing independence for India. He was assassinated by a small cabal of extremists from his own Hindu faith, people who did not share his cosmopolitan vision for a multi-confessional India.

This coalition of theocrats has been quite happy to use violence and terror to put religious minorities — especially Catholics and Muslims — in their place. They include people within the current PM’s inner circle as well as convicted religious terrorists. They were behind some of India’s worst violence in its post-independence history.

And when it comes to violent Hindutva theocracy, guess which side the current Indian PM belongs to.

Indians (and Pakistanis and Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans and Nepalese) take this stuff for granted. But rarely will you read or hear or see much use of words like Hindutva or Naxalite in our own media. ​

First published in Crikey on 21 November 2014.

CRIKEY: As we chuckle at the ‘cali-fatties’, real questions remain unanswered

Western young men travelling to the Middle East to become jihadis is a serious problem that demands serious coverage. But all the tabloids care about it is jelly belly jihadis. Irfan Yusuf, lawyer, author and commentator, reports.

The anonymous parents sit in their Sydney home consumed with grief. They believe four of their sons, aged 17, 23, 25 and 28, have travelled to Syria to join Islamic State or one of the other groups battling each other and the army of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They’d been told by their oldest son he’d won a free holiday to Thailand and was taking his three brothers, one of whom had just finished his year 12 exams. The others had stable jobs.

The mother received a text stating the boys were now Syria and looked forward to seeing her “in paradise”. At fist she assumed it was a joke and deleted it. Now she believes it is real. The mother begs for her sons to come home. Who knows what she and other members of her family are going through.

Why did this happen? Assuming they have signed up for a militia in Syria, how did four young “cleanskins” become indoctrinated to leave behind loving parents, stable jobs and bright futures to join a war whose contours they might barely understand?

These are serious questions requiring serious analysis. Instead, what we have received is a chorus of fat jokes from the tabloids. The right-hand corner of yesterday’s Daily Telegraph front page carried the headline: “TOO FAT FOR JIHAD. Weight might stop Sydney’s would-be death cult recruits”. Page 6 carried the headlines “JELLY-BELLY JIHADIS” and “Sydney’s biggest losers too overweight to join IS cali-fat”. A photo is shown of a boy holding his head on his chin with his right fist while holding a half-eaten kebab in his left.

Two of the boys each weigh allegedly 140 kilograms and “can’t even run on the field”. A similar report appeared in the Daily Mail Australia, which cited a source saying:
‘We are hoping the fact that because two of them are quite obese they will not good foot soldiers, they are over 140 kg. People are going to realise, what are we going to do with them? Are they going to eat al [sic] the food and you can’t even run on the field.’
The source for the boys’ physical fitness or lack thereof? Dr Jamal Rifi, a GP who says he is a friend of the family. Is there any evidence that Islamic State will reject them? Any kind of statement that they are not fit enough to become soldiers? Nope.

I hope to God that the boys were playing a joke on their parents, that they return to Australia soon and that they make a fast buck pursuing defamation proceedings. No doubt that would wipe the tears off their parents’ faces.

Tabloid media discussion on these issues has tended to demonise not just those fleeing to Syria but the communities they leave behind. The same communities that more likely than not despise IS and other groups, which seem to have a knack for beheading more Muslims than anyone else. Now in the case of the four Sydney boys, the tabloids have resorted to ridicule. It might entertain the readers, but I doubt it generates much sympathy for the poor parents.​

First published in Crikey on 19 November 2014.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

CRIKEY: Emma Alberici (and the West) doesn’t understand anything about Muslims

Emma Alberici’s drawn praise for her heated interview with the head of a radical Islam group, but her conduct was not exemplary.

Tony Abbott copped a few guffaws when he said that in Syria there were no clear goodies and baddies, just lots of baddies. But in fact it was one of the wisest things he ever said about foreign policy. If only he didn’t limit such wisdom to Syria.
What Abbott and the rest of Australia (including our fourth estate) needs to understand is that the national boundaries drawn up in the Middle East were the result of shenanigans of colonial powers on their last legs. Religious, cultural and language groups were split up and even denied some kind of nationhood. Artificial nations were created.
In his memoir Leave to Remain, Australian Lebanese writer Abbas El-Zein recounts his visits to Iraq, where his relatives, from a long line of Shia Muslim religious scholars, studied and worked. He visited what is perhaps the largest cemetery on earth, the Wadi al-Salaam (Valley of Peace) in Najaf Iraq, where Shia Muslims from across the globe aspire to be laid to rest.

Yes, it’s true. Shia Muslims in southern Lebanon have direct links to Shia Muslims in Iraq. Sunni Muslims in Lebanon have direct family and spiritual links to Sunni Muslims in Syria. A Sunni Muslim tribe in Syria is being housed by their direct tribal relatives from Jordan. The boundaries may be real to us, living in the Westphalian world of nation states. But to the people of the region, it really doesn’t make sense. The ties of language and culture and faith and sect go back much further. Those ties and loyalties may extend to communities in Australia, affecting even people born here. It may well be much more complex than just Shias hating Sunnis.
It also explains why the simplistic vision of “the Muslim world”, a singular rump of 25% of humanity yearning for a caliphate, also makes little sense to all but a tiny minority of nominally Muslim migrants and their offspring. This is the fringe simplistic ideology promoted by groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), the organisation of “hate preachers” Tony Abbott has promised another hate preacher he will ban.
Emma Alberici’s Lateline interview  with former HT Australian spokesman Wassim Doureihi started well enough. “We’ve invited you here tonight to help Australians better understand what it is that you stand for.” It went downhill from there, with decontextualised questions like, “Do you support the murderous campaign being waged by Islamic State fighters in Iraq?”
Then again, Doureihi could have just used some strategic sense. He’s in luck that HT leaders overseas were having serious issues with ISIS/ISIL/IS before the first Western aid worker or journalist was decapitated. Or rather, when other Western journalists were ignoring the large number of Lebanese, Kurds and other non-Westerners being slaughtered by Daesh, which is the correct Arabic name for Islamic State.
All Doureihi had to do is read out the HT rejection of the Daesh caliphate. Inane questions such as these are something any seasoned media operator should be used to. And Doureihi is about as seasoned as they come. He’s been an HT spokesman since around 2006.
But Doureihi cannot remove himself from this simplistic vision of human beings as computer hardware who just need the correct religious and political software to operate a caliphate network. HT see the idea of a caliphate as sole political glue that binds Muslims together, despite the fact that Shia Muslims don’t believe in a caliphate. As if issues like language never led to the phenomenon of Kurdish separatism or the establishment of Bangladesh in 1971 and the ongoing tensions within this relatively new Muslim nation.
Perhaps Alberici could have asked Doureihi to explain this diagram from The Guardian  — it doesn’t look much like a singular Muslim world to me. Or if complicated is her thing, perhaps this one from Slate. But then Alberici was stuck in a simplistic paradigm handed to her, one where a handful of white people being decapitated was more tragic than thousands of brown people being slaughtered by Daesh and then bombed to shreds by righteous Western forces.

Doureihi had an opportunity to decontextualise and recontextualise all he wanted if he just got past Alberici’s threshold questions. Instead, he became bogged down in a sad attempt to rejig the war on terror “narrative” in a single interview.
WASSIM DOUREIHI: Let me make it very clear: you’ve invited me on to this platform to express my views.
WASSIM DOUREIHI: You’re not allowing me to do that.
EMMA ALBERICI: But you want to express your views quite separate to the questions that I’m putting to you.
WASSIM DOUREIHI: I’m answering the question that I deem appropriate.
How hard is it to say, “I am against beheadings. I am against genocide. And I was wondering why we never gave a flying fuck about the toxic fallout in Fallujah being worse than Hiroshima”?
But Alberici’s own responses to Doureihi’s questions reinforced Doureihi’s claims that some kind of underlying narrative was at play. She was becoming flustered by a phenomenon — an interviewee answering her question in a manner he wished — that she should be well used to. Heck, politicians do this all the time. HT is a political party. Doureihi is a Muslim politician wannabe.
Alberici lectured Doureihi on how to combat phobia. “You can dispel any supposed phobia out there by putting a line in the sand and giving people a yes or a no about what your position is”. She even asks : “What are Islamic State fighters doing in your name?”

It’s easy for Doureihi and others (including me) to be offended by this. Daesh don’t fight in my name. They are violent wackos, thugs, criminals. I don’t think HT are violent, even if they are silly. But to ban them would be ridiculous. If Abbott and other pollies cannot win such a simple battle of ideas against such simpleton opponents, it says a lot about the pathetic discourse on foreign policy in this country.​
First published in Crikey on Friday 10 October 2014.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

CRIKEY: The complicated calculus of terrorists -v- war criminals

Why have we been focusing all of our attention on lone-wolf terror suspects, while a man accused of horrific war crimes attracts scant mention?

It’s easy to sit here in our Crikey ivory towers sipping sharia-compliant champagne while we ponder why 800 police officers are required for raids that yield a handful of arrests across three cities. But we can’t help but notice that all the fuss about lone-wolf, suspected Muslim terrorists has been somewhat absent in other cases.

I’ve been seriously trying not to be cynical about the Abbott government’s mini-Domestic-War-On-Terror-Suspects and almost succeeded when I noticed a piece published in yesterday’s Canberra Times. At a time when deceased teenage suspect Numan Haider was a mere toddler, a suspected war criminal named Krunoslav Bonic was openly and comfortably living in Canberra within 30 minutes of the Federal Police HQ.

In the grand scheme of horrors that was the 1990s’ Balkan Wars — horrors committed on all sides that include concentration camps, mass murders in cities and towns like Srebrenicagang rapes of civilian women, ethnic cleansing, etc — Bonic’s crimes aren’t at the most gruesome end.

Bonic is not accused of orchestrating the gang rapes of girls as young as 12. He was not part of a force that massacred 8000 men and boys over a few days. He did not hold emaciated civilians to be beaten and tortured in concentration camps. It isn’t suggested that he destroyed world heritage monuments such as the famous 16th-century Ottoman Stari Most Bridge.

The War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague has heard evidence that Bonic cut the ears and other bodily parts off dead soldiers to make money. He also rounded up and beat civilians.

True, it’s only a tad worse than the actions of our allies at Abu Ghraib. But if the evidence survives court scrutiny, Bonic’s alleged actions would almost certainly constitute war crimes. He would be yet another war criminal our authorities ignored in favour of pursuing potential terrorists.

One would hope that pursuing potential war criminals would also warrant a media circus, even if (in the case of ACT-based Bonic) only worthy of a few local Canberra newspapers. War criminals do matter, and not just as friendly hosts to our asylum seekers.

First published in Crikey on 2 October 2014.

OPINION: Tabloid speculation on Numan Haider and Islamic State threat is best ignored

Last Friday, the Herald Sun editorialised that there are "actively 100 Australians actively supporting terrorist organisations" in the Middle East. It's a figure that gets thrown around a lot these days. Support for terror has blown out among Australians who tick the Muslim box on their census forms.

Metropolitan newspapers across the country have provided saturation coverage to terror "suspects" and terror "supporters". And none of us are any wiser about exactly who they are or exactly what their relationship to ISIS is.
We see Facebook photos of young men boldly brandishing flags that we think look like ISIS flags. Pieces of cloth sprawled with Arabic writing. Arabic, a language spoken by millions of Christians and Muslims and Jews and people of all faiths and none. Arabic script or similar scripts used in Iran and Pakistan. It's so scary, so foreign. But more often than not, the scary words on the flags merely state that there is only one God. Hardly a revelation for a Jew or a Christian or even a Sikh.
Then we're told that Muslim extremists want to implement a strict form of sharia law where women wear burqa and infidel Westerners are beheaded. You don't expect them to be like young Melbourne teenager Numan Haider, having girlfriends and eating not-so-halal burgers at Hungry Jacks.

Haider is an unlikely suspect for what Sydney's Daily Telegraph described as "the country's first Islamic terrorist attack on home soil". And what makes the incident a terrorist attack? The 18 year old stabbed one, perhaps two, police officers. He had a knife. They had guns. He was outnumbered.

We don't know if young Haider was known to police, was involved in petty or even violent crime and had a substantial criminal record. Indeed there is no suggestion of any criminal disposition. All we know is that he was once photographed holding up a black and white flag on Facebook (whether seriously or in jest we won't know), another time driving car. We know he had been dating a girl he met at school in Year 11. We know his siblings were university students. We know he came from an Afghan family, but we have no idea what ethnic group (Hazara, Pashtun, Tajik or other) they came from or whether they were sunni or shiite.

Haider was supposed to be a "known terror suspect" How? By attending a particular mosque when he was not visiting his girlfriend? By hanging around with some radical loud mouths? By accessing online publicly available information to track the Prime Minister's movements in Melbourne? This act of online "terrorism" led one newspaper to declare Haider to be an "Abbott jihadi" or words to that effect.

Saturation reporting transformed Numan Haider. No longer was he a young man from a stable family in a stable relationship. Instead, he was an angry knife-wielding terrorist allegedly trying to behead a police officer. Or perhaps two officers. Perhaps even the PM. And until any CCTV footage is revealed, we won't have any idea of what really happened.
Incidentally, hidden in the middle of a Herald Sun story on Friday were these words: "Victoria Police said it had no evidence of a plot to behead a police officer". So how was the stabbing a terrorist act?

Stabbing police officers is an extremely serious crime. But was Mr Haider the first person to have pulled a knife on a police officer? Or to be shot dead in response? In August last year, an experienced Victorian highway patrol officer shot dead a 44-year-old man after he allegedly pulled a knife. Police Professional Standards and the Coroner became involved in that case.

I'm not suggesting police should not protect themselves when accosted with threats. Victorian Assistant Police Commissioner Luke Cornelius was right to have said last August: "Where an officer chooses to take another person's life, that is a choice which is invariably made and must be made in defence of one's own life or in defence of another person who is facing an imminent threat of serious injury or loss of life."

When Brazilian tourist Roberto Laudisio Curti was killed by a police officer using a Taser gun in Pitt Street, Sydney, in 2012 after stealing two packets of biscuits from a convenience store, both the NSW Ombudsman and the Coroner savaged police actions as "thuggish.

Similar investigations will be carried out into police actions on that fateful night at Endeavour Hills. But that will be unlikely to stop imbecilic reporting that describes the deceased as a "dead terrorist" or that splashes photos of an upset family friend attending the Haider family home to prepare for the young man's funeral.

Tabloid columnists may regard asking critical and forensic questions undermining their simplistic narrative as being akin to "slandering our country". Let them direct their hysterical allegations at the Coroner and Police Professional Standards. The rest of us can ignore tabloid speculation and pray for the families of the dead boy and the injured police officers doing their job.

Irfan Yusuf is a lawyer and award-winning author. This article was first published in the Canberra Times on 2 October 2014.

CRIKEY: Terror hysteria: Herald Sun plays judge, jury and executioner

What do you get when you cross a blatant disregard for facts and legal due process with a “feral Andrew Bolt column”? The Herald Sun, of course.

Regular Herald Sun readers can now breathe easy, secure in the knowledge that an 18-year-old-man has been found guilty of terrorism by the newspaper and is now buried six feet under the ground. For the past week, the tabloid of choice for Victoria’s McDonald’s patrons to spill their special sauce on has been running a campaign against Numan Haider, his family, their friends and anyone deemed to share their faith.

 Haider did stab two police officers before being shot dead. He likely had his passport cancelled and was suspected of being involved in activities that, had he carried them out, might have been found by a court to have breached the provisions of anti-terror laws.

In the real world, he had not been charged, let alone convicted. No evidence against him was brought before a properly constituted court. But as far as the Hun was concerned, all this is legal mumbo jumbo. Haider was a terrorist who planned to assassinate the Prime Minister, even if police denied there was ever such a plot.

The coverage, the allegations, the group responsibility and the hysteria was relentless. The cover of the Hun on Wednesday, September 24, carried the words “DEADLY THREAT TO ABBOTT”, and the deceased was described on page 2 as “A TEEN terror suspect under investigation for making threats against Prime Minister Tony Abbott”. Following this allegation were 11 paragraphs citing a midnight police press conference after Haider’s shooting, during which no mention was made of a plot to kill the PM. One wonders how the five reporters (Angus Thompson, Anthony Dowsley, Wes Hosking, David Hurley and Simon Benson) could not cite a single source for their allegation.

The headline of Thursday, September 25 screamed “JIHAD REVENGE FEARS” and spoke of “terror reprisals”. The following eight pages ended with a feral Andrew Bolt column arguing that the fault for terrorism inevitably is with the 1400-year-old set of religious traditions shared by almost one-quarter of humanity.

The front page of Friday, September 26 featured a man visiting the grieving Haider family holding what appeared to be prayer beads and a cup of coffee in one hand while throwing a stone with the other. “ANGER ERUPTS AS FAMILY PREPARE FOR FUNERAL” screamed the headline. Sensitive choice of photo to match such delicate journalism. More allegations were made including “DEAD TERRORIST GOOGLED PM’S MELBOURNE TRIPS” and allegations the deceased and his friends planned to ambush police at Hungry Jack’s.

On Saturday, September 27, on page 5, the headline read: “Tears for teenage terrorist lost to hate”. The story commenced with the words: “Numan Haider will be remembered as a teenage terrorist”. The cover page showed a young man attending the funeral wearing a hoodie, a black beanie and a black cloth to cover his face. The headline screamed out “DEATH STARE” followed by “MOURNER WEARS PROVOCATIVE MASK TO FUNERAL” and “RAW EMOTION AS FAMILY BURY DEAD TERRORIST”. Yep, they’re a scary lot when they bury terrorists. 

Provocative mask, you say? Given Fairfax newspapers plastered the wrong kid on its front cover and described him as a terrorist, and given the tabloid hysteria leading to hate crimes, who could blame the young man?

On Monday, Hun columnist Rita Panahi argued that the actions of a fictitious uniform entity called “the Muslim community” was behaving in a manner that “threatens to turn inclusive Australians into frightened xenophobes”. Perhaps she imagines all inclusive non-Muslim Australians read her newspaper.

She then says Muslim leaders need to “finally dissociate the Muslim community from the extremist scourge”. As if they haven’t done so already. But two can play that game. I’ll dissociate myself from pseudo-religious nutcases whose actions I have no control over if you dissociate yourself and your buddies from the disgusting criminal actions of your colleagues that led to the closing of the News Of The World and the imprisonment of a number of its staff. Deal?

The Hun can count its lucky stars young Numan Haider is no longer with us. Imagine if he survived the gunshot wounds. Imagine if he were put on trial and convicted of a serious criminal offence that was not terrorism-related. Defamation lawyers would be queuing up to represent him. Andrew Bolt wouldn’t be able to cry freedom of speech then. And he’d look like a right royal fool if he blamed Islam.

First published in Crikey on 30 September 2014.

Monday, June 02, 2014

OPINION: West must gets its own glass house in order

The next budget should be an absolute shocker. Cuts to pensions and the dole and even a "one-off" tax – a temporary measure to pay for the deficit.

Still, if you don't like it, you can always leave before the next election. There are plenty of places with stronger economies and less fiscally oppressive regimes where you could claim to be an economic refugee. And you won't even get locked up while your application is processed.

Take Brunei. Its population is barely 406,000. Writing in the IFLR1000 (an international guide to commercial law and lawyers) in 2012, Bruneian lawyer Colin Ong notes: '

Tax advantages and incentives are comparable if not better than those offered by other countries in the region. For example, no personal income, capital gains, export, sales or payroll tax is imposed in Brunei Darussalam. 

Beat that, Mr Hockey.

If you obtain permanent residency and reach the ripe old age of 55, you'll get a nice pension. And regardless of age, there are plenty of other benefits. According to Hjh Rahmah Hj Md Said, deputy permanent secretary (professional and technical) at the Bruneian Ministry of Health, Brunei has universal healthcare coverage. She told delegates at a health forum hosted by the Asia Inc Forum in 2012 that men in Brunei had an average life expectancy of 75.5, only 18 months below that of Australian men.

Little wonder Brunei calls itself ''Darussalam'' (Abode of Peace). Bruneians are healthy and rich. The Sultan of Brunei, whose easy-to-remember name is Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien, has a fair bit of wealth including a private Boeing 747 and a luxury car fleet that would make John Laws extremely jealous. The sultan is surrounded by more female ministers than Tony Abbott.

Among them is the Bruneian attorney-general, known impressively as Yang Berhormat Datin Seri Paduka Hjh Hayati Pehin Orang Kaya Shahbandar Dato Seri Paduka Hj Mohd Salleh. She'll be responsible for overseeing implementation of the Shariah Penal Code Order 2013 that introduces draconian punishments for certain crimes, and applies only to Muslims. It won't apply to most Australian economic refugees. Unlike us, Bruneians don't treat economic refugees harshly.

The usual bleeding heart ABC/Fairfax types would have you believe that Brunei's tough-on-crime policies will make it an ayatollah's paradise and a living hell for anyone engaging in such innocent pastimes as having consensual sex (or less innocent acts of murder, stealing and rape). As if all sharia-based jurisdictions only concern themselves with penal sanctions, where citizens can be seen walking the streets limbless and/or headless (but certainly not legless unless they desire a good flogging).

One article for The Diplomat carried the misleading headline ''Brunei Imposes Sharia Law''. But as Dr Ong notes, Brunei has had parallel common law and sharia law systems in non-criminal jurisdictions for years. Sharia courts have

.. limited exclusive jurisdiction to hear matters of personal law relating to persons that belong to the Islamic faith on matters pertaining to marriage, divorce, inheritance, maintenance of dependants and the estates of deceased Muslims. 

Dr Ong also mentions increasing use of sharia-based financial instruments. It isn't just all chopping and changing. This is hardly new. As far back as 1870, an English translation of the classic 12th century Islamic legal text al-Hedaya (“the Guide”) was commissioned by the Governor-General and Council of Bengal. It was a compulsory text in English law schools for those seeking to practise in colonial India. The British understood that their common law system was strong and flexible enough to accommodate Islamic (and Hindu) legal traditions in limited areas.

For 14 centuries, Muslim jurists have been borrowing from Roman, Judaic and other legal traditions. What passes as sharia today is really the illegitimate child of centuries of fornication between different legal traditions.

Speaking of fornication, it's impossible to be prosecuted for ''zina'' under the Sharia Penal Code if four witnesses to the actual copulation cannot be found. So no swingers' parties in Brunei, thanks very much. And Anwar Ibrahim's sodomy prosecution would be thrown out of court.

However, we should be concerned about the implementation of such punishments in any country. We know such punishments exist across south-east Asia for a range of crimes, including drug trafficking.

But unfortunately we in the West are no longer in a position to lecture others about human rights and capital punishment. We look somewhat silly lecturing brown-skinned Bruneians while happily participating with white-skinned Brits and Americans in wars that often involve the worst human rights atrocities. Our condescension may force Muslims to say that there is more to their faith than stonings and beheadings. But is there more to our allegedly liberal ideals than torture in secret prisons and indefinite detention without trial at Guantanamo? Can we claim to be more free when, in the leader of the free world, 32 states and the US military and government all provide for the death penalty?

Indeed, where would Clayton Lockett prefer to be executed – Oklahoma or Brunei?

Irfan Yusuf is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Citizenship & Globalisation at Deakin University.

Friday, May 30, 2014

OPINION: Aussies doing their best to upset key neighbour

Abbott's emphasis on the 'Anglosphere' as the focus of Oz's foreign policy confirmed suspicions that Australia saw itself as a Western colonial outpost in the Asia-Pacific. 

Indonesia has withdrawn its ambassador from Canberra following revelations that Australian intelligence operatives bugged the phones of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), his wife and a number of senior ministers in August 2009. Details have only been released recently by the Guardian newspaper and Australia's public broadcaster ABC. It was part of the intelligence information revealed by Edward Snowden, former contractor to America's NSA.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is publicly downplaying the issue. But surely he knows just what a huge diplomatic disaster this is. Indonesia is Australia's closest neighbour, and two-way trade between the two countries last year amounted to A$15 billion ($16.9 billion). In Parliament, Abbott some days back described Indonesia as an "emerging democratic superpower in Asia" (perhaps distinguishing Indonesia from the not-so-democratic China). Abbott also described SBY as "one of the best friends that we have anywhere in the world".

Abbott's stated respect for Indonesia has not, however, been reflected in Australia's recent dealings involving asylum seekers which have largely been driven by partisan domestic political considerations. The Abbott asylum policy, reflected in the simplistic formula of "stop the boats", could only ever work with the co-operation of Indonesia.

The policy is being treated as a military operation, as if 50 dishevelled asylum seekers on a boat somehow represent a security threat requiring a 3-star general. The secretive implementation of this policy, with the Immigration Minister and the general providing vague weekly briefings to journalists, reached such heights of stupidity that Australian journalists found more information about the policy from their Indonesian colleagues at the Jakarta Post than from their own Government.

Time and again, Indonesian officials expressed frustration with Australia's unilateral approach to the issue of asylum seekers which affected both countries. Abbott's policy included the Australian Navy turning back tiny fishing boats carrying asylum seekers "when it is safe to do so". The fishing boats would then return to Indonesia. Abbott insisted that Indonesia would co-operate, ignoring Indonesian concerns about both the human rights implications and of the immense social pressures this would have on the more crowded and poorer nation.

It was as if Indonesia was at Australia's beck and call. Tony Abbott's emphasis on the "Anglosphere" as the focus of Australia's foreign policy confirmed commonly held Asian suspicions that Australia saw itself as a Western colonial outpost in the Asia-Pacific region, as the deputy sheriff of the United States.

Australian politicians of all political stripes are so focused on the West that they forget their own geographical location. Understanding of Asian cultures in Australia is poor. Indonesian language instruction, once a primary feature in Australian secondary schools, has all but disappeared. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade does an excellent job running cultural and other exchange programmes, but these are to build person to person contacts, not replace the bilateral policy process.

Some in Jakarta are quite happy to attack Tony Abbott's domestic standing by undermining his efforts to stop the boats. At the time of writing, a member of the House of Representatives' Commission on defence, foreign affairs and information had told the Jakarta Post:

We are in a better position than Australia. This issue [boat people] could be utilised as a bargaining chip in demanding an apology from Prime Minister Abbott. 

Abbott's response has been to virtually scoff at any suggestion of an apology.

Every government gathers information and every government knows every other government gathers information. 

True, but not everyone gets caught. When it comes to such spying methods, Indonesia is hardly in a position to cast the first stone. As News Limited points out:

When he retired in 2004 Indonesian spymaster General Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono revealed his agency had not only tapped Australian civil and military communications and politicians' phone calls during the 1999 East Timor crisis, but had also unsuccessfully attempted to recruit Australian officials as double agents.

The official Australian response at the time was muted.

All this fracas coincides with a visit to Jakarta by Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands. Indonesians don't exactly have fond memories of Dutch colonisation which began in the 16th century. Following Japanese occupation during World War II, Dutch forces attempted to re-establish colonial rule. Most Western countries supported Dutch claims. Australia's Labor government under Prime Minister Ben Chifley openly supported the nascent Indonesian nationalist movement.

Why did Australian leaders at the time support Indonesia, even going to the extent of criticising their closest ally, the US, for supplying material and moral aid to Dutch forces in the archipelago? Simply because Australia realised that its security and its national interest lay in an independent, strong and proud neighbour. Indonesian independence reinforced Australian independence.

There are still some in Canberra who see Indonesia as a potential threat. Which is all the more reason to keep Indonesia on side. You keep your friends close and your potential enemies closer.

• Irfan Yusuf is a lawyer and an award-winning Australian author. This article was first published in the NZ Herald on Friday 22 November 2013.

Stupid Australian tourist.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

OPINION: At least God has the Commonwealth on His side

There was a time when the Liberal Party stood for the "forgotten people", the people who didn't have a union or truckloads of cash and capital to back them up. Vulnerable individuals.
The 2014 budget hasn't given young and future voters much to cheer about. A swag of youth-related programs have been slashed, especially in regional areas. Often these are places where businesses are shutting doors, where workers are being laid off and where the only jobs available often involve flipping burgers in return for a few dollars.

And if you are unlucky or too depressed to do this kind of work, you may find yourself with no income source for six months. Apart from your parents, that is. Conservatives are all about family values, you know.

You might choose to study. No upfront fees! What a bargain! And enough debt to make getting married, having babies and putting a roof over their head almost impossible.

There was a time when the Liberal Party stood for the "forgotten people", the people who didn't have a union or truckloads of cash and capital to back them up. Vulnerable individuals.

But that seems like ancient history today. There are plenty of vulnerable individuals today, especially with union membership falling. But instead of providing opportunity, modern Australian liberalism is all about kicking vulnerable individuals in the guts.

So to whom can young vulnerable individuals turn? What should they do? Jostle a few past and present female MPs? Hold placards upside down on national TV?

Hiding in the detail of Joe Hockey's 2014 budget is a clue. Young people could do with a dose of good old-fashioned religion. An injection of taxpayer funds to empower God is what's called for.

John Howard injected $90 million into a pastoral care scheme. Howard knew public school teachers were spending too much time sorting out the great unwashed kids whose parents were too selfish to invest in decent grammar school education. Too much money for beer and cigarettes, and not enough for chapel, Latin classes and rugby.

Money for wealthy public schools also got shared among the poor struggling private schools. The result was that all schools could claim funding under the National School Chaplaincy Programme.

The scheme was a huge success. By July 2011, a 28 per cent of state schools had taken the dosh. Writing in Inside Story on July 21, 2011, Monica Thielking and David Mackenzie noted:

The initiative had its critics, but generally the education sector welcomed the additional resources.

Also happy were the chaplaincy providers, most of whom were faith-based. Here was a chance to spread the word.

One spokeswoman from ACCESS Ministries was quoted saying:

[I]n Australia we have a God-given open door to children and young people with the Gospel. Our federal and state governments allow us to take the Christian faith into our schools and share it. We need to go and make disciples.

This missionary zeal was nothing new. Back in the 1980s my school was making us year 10 boys spend one hour each week for an entire term being indoctrinated by Francis Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live?.

This series of videos presented the European Enlightenment as an atheistic tragedy, the French Revolution as a series of guillotines (OK, he got that one right) and modern "secular humanism" as responsible for everything from the Holocaust to the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

Schaeffer's solution? Bring God back into public life, into the public square, into government. Spoon-fed theocracy. That's where my parents' school fees went.

Seriously, though, the chaplaincy scheme is a good idea so long as governments recognised that not everyone believes that the Son of God was sent to die for our sins. And that some youth problems are too tough even for prayer.

The very hint of the Commonwealth funding direct preaching in schools (even if this isn't generally the reality) doesn't sit well with voters. Even if Chris Pyne and Tony Abbott scream until the Christ comes home that states and territories are funding less godly counsellors and psychologists.

Which is exactly what is happening. An extra $245 million has been found in the budget for the chaplaincy program. But schools don't have the option of having a not-so-religious social worker to fill the role.

When it comes to our kids' pastoral needs, at least God has the Commonwealth on His side. But not in other areas of school life.

Chris Pyne has already indicated he wants a reviewed curriculum for schools which puts emphasis on Anzac Day and our Western civilisation. God's children mustn't be pacifist and certainly mustn't have a black-armband view of the past, even if His son was a Palestinian Jew.

The culture wars are alive and well in our schools. God help our kids.

Irfan Yusuf is an author and PhD candidate at the Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University. First published in the Canberra Times on Saturday 24 May 2014.