Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Smile of Islam

Terrorists are hijacking Islam. Islam is the victim of terrorism. Islam is being killed, and Islam is being blamed.

In London, that became apparent when a young British girl and those riding with her were mercilessly killed whilst travelling to work. She was a young bank clerk, the pride of her migrant family. She was a devoutly religious girl, and yet her sweet smile and gentle demeanour revealed the face of a truly modern British woman.

She was British. She was young. She was smiling in her published photograph. She was on her way to work. She was contributing to her society, to her economy and to her nation. She died at the hands of terrorists. At memorial services across the UK, she was being remembered and prayed for.

Tony Blair and George W Bush and John Howard and others paid tribute to her. As did other western leaders. Even those otherwise hostile to her could not help but remember her bravery.

If anyone was a martyr in this terrible tragedy, it was people like her. She was the symbol of modernity, of civilisation. Her death inspires us to fight on, to address the scourge of terror.

When we speak out against terror and its ideology, we will remember her name. When we face and address the emotions of our confused and frightened non-Muslim neighbours, we will be doing her proud.

God tells us that we should not regard martyrs as dead. They are alive. God is providing for martyrs, even if we do not perceive it.

She is a martyr. Her name and what it represents is being martyred. But her name and what it represents is not dead. Indeed, it is alive, sustained by God in ways only people of wisdom will understand.

We must fight terror so that her death not be in vain. We must fight terror so that her parents’ tears are wiped dry and replaced with the joy of knowing their daughter is a martyr and will enter paradise insh’Allah.

Our theology teaches us that martyrdom is not an automatic ticket to paradise. We are taught that amongst the first people to be judged on the day of judgment will be a martyr. He will be brought before God and questioned on why he died.

“I died to serve you and to make your Name respected and your Greatness acknowledged”, the martyr will say.

“No you most certainly did not!”, will be the Divine response. “You died so that people would say how great you were, so that people would write songs and poems and eulogies devoted to your bravery. And they did this. You have been rewarded. Today, there is nothing for you but the Hellfire!”

This is what he, the martyr, will be told before being dragged to hell.

He. Not she.

She had no intentions of glory or fame. She just intended to go to work. She was one of millions of anonymous Britons leaving the safety and comfort of their homes for the uncertainty of economic activity.

Now, in death, she has attained fame and glory. And her name deserves to be remembered and mentioned again and again.

She is from our family. We are from her family. She may be British, but she is also from the family of Islam.

The family of Islam are a British family. They are as British as the Blair family. They are as British as Prince Nassim or Nasser Hussein or other establishment figures. They are as British as Tim Winter and Zaki Badawi. And as Cat Stevens.

She shares her surname with the adopted name of the Cat. She is Shahara. She is the daughter of Britain, the daughter of the West, the daughter of progress and civilisation. And how fitting that she be the daughter of Islam.

Because Islam is not the enemy of progress, of civilisation, or indeed of the West. When terrorists attack the West, they attack Islam. They maim and murder Islam.

And they murdered Shahara, a daughter of Islam.

We will not allow her death to be in vain. We must fight for the family of Islam, for the name of Islam, for the reality of Islam. We will continue our fight.

We will not frown at our neighbours when they question our loyalty. But like Shahara, we will smile in the face of death. We will face the hatred of Islamophobes and their terrorist allies with the smile Shahara left us with, a smile that millions across the world saw.

We see her smiling face and we learn that the murder of Islam inspires some people to smile and others to weep. When Islam is murdered, we weep. When Islam is murdered, her enemies smile and cheer and dance.

When Islam is murdered, conservative columnists and professional Islam-haters cheer and congratulate each other. They tell the world to fight and kill Islam just as Shahara Islam’s murderers killed her. For indeed, Islam-haters and terrorists are both out to kill Islam.

But Islam will not die. God will preserve Islam. That is God’s promise. Islam can only be martyred. Islam doesn’t die.

Yes, we will say it. The London bombings were about martyrdom. Islam was martyred. British values and culture and traditions were martyred. British peace and liberalism were martyred. These British values are steeped in Islam. And they will not die. We must not let them die.

Lest the argument be spoilt by lengthy repetition, I end with the words of Shahara’s brother-in-faith and in humanity. Her brother Yusuf, also from the family of Islam, sang these words years before he ever thought of joining the family of Islam. These words are a virtual second national anthem for the people of London. We will remember these words as we simultaneously mourn and rejoice the martyrdom the smiling Shahara …

Oh I’ve been smiling lately,
Dreaming about the world as one
And I believe it could be,
Some day it’s going to come.

Cause out on the edge of darkness,
There rides a peace train
Oh peace train take this country,
Come take me home again.

Now I’ve been smiling lately,
Thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be,
Something good has begun …

Now I’ve been crying lately,
Thinking about the world as it is
Why must we go on hating,
Why can’t we live in bliss.

Cause out on the edge of darkness,
There rides a peace train
Oh peace train take this country,
Come take me home again.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Islamic ATSIC?

On Perth talkback radio, the President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) announced a proposal to fight terrorism. The announcement was made after the PM and other mainstream leaders called upon Muslim leaders to speak out about terror. The PM also signalled his willingness to involve Muslim communities in discussions on national security.

The PM is acting smartly by having all Australians involved in the discussion. He has learnt from experience that sidelining particular communities from major national debates does more harm than good to our social cohesion.

Excluding Aussie Mossies will only breed further resentment toward liberal democracy. And it is just plain illiberal to exclude people just because of their ethnic or religious background.

So you would think that AFIC’s proposal would be greeted with open arms by both governments and the Muslim communities. Think again.

Dr Ameer Ali, AFIC President, asked the Federal Government to give AFIC legislative powers and funding with a view to fighting extremism. He wanted Canberra to recognise AFIC as the official peak body and to contract out Muslim affairs to AFIC.

The response from Muslims on e-mail groups and discussion forums was swift. And the responses had one common feature – Muslim Australians don’t trust their leaders.

Many Muslim Australians (like many Australians) may not trust the PM. But they know that the PM was elected in a free and fair election. They know that there is an independent electoral commission which carries out voting.

They know that state and local government elections are also free and fair. The PM does not directly interfere or intervene in state affairs. Because if he does, there is a constitution and an independent High Court to test the legality of his intervention.

In short, Muslim Australians are aware that there are checks and balances in the system. But in the structures of Muslim organisational leadership, similar checks and balances do not exist.

In NSW, over the past 5 years, AFIC has had arguments with 5 state councils. In 3 states, it has set up dummy state councils to replace existing ones. In NSW, when AFIC had a dispute with the Islamic Council of NSW, it argued the matter in the Supreme Court. It then created another body called the “Supreme Islamic Council of NSW”.

Within 2 years, AFIC were fighting with the Supreme Council. They then set up a 3rd body to represent Muslim New South Welshmen. When Aussie Mossies got wind of this, their good humoured larrikin nature came to the fore. There was talk of the new Council being called the “Super-Supreme Islamic Council”.

Hence a new phrase in NSW Muslim circles – the “Pizza Councils”.

In the last 20 years, AFIC has not had a single female on their executive. Women make up over 50% of the Muslim communities. Further, Aussie Mossies are a young community. The largest ethnic group are Muslims born in Australia. The largest age bracket is those aged between 25 and 40. It is hard to find a single person in these categories on the AFIC executive.

In short, AFIC represents old men from overseas. Women and young people (including those disillusioned young people tempted to join terror networks) are excluded. That’s fine. But AFIC should stop trying to kid the government into thinking they are representing all Muslim Australians.

Many, if not most, Muslim Australians have even heard of AFIC. And it took AFIC 20 days to write a letter to imams telling them to condemn terrorism.

A key plank of the government’s anti-terrorism strategy is to get all Australians on board. That includes Muslim Australians. AFIC and similar peak bodies have a role to play. But AFIC and the Pizza Councils don’t represent all Muslim Australians.

AFIC should not be turned into a Muslim ATSIC.

© Irfan Yusuf

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Cadbury AFIC - Full of Nuts!

Take a walk down George Street Sydney or Collins Street Melbourne. Ask the average Catholic if they have heard of Cardinal Pell. Ask the average Buddhist if they have heard of the Dalai Lama. They will both say yes.

Ask the average Muslim - the banker or lawyer or accountant or public servant – if they have heard of AFIC.

“AFIC? What’s that? Has Cadbury released a new chocolate-coated ice cream?”

After watching the hopeless display of the AFIC Chief Executive Officer, you would think it was an ice cream. Except the colour of the chocolate is irrelevant. Just know that if you are allergic to nuts, you should not taste it.

Some 20 days after the London bombing, the AFIC website still has no press release or announcement or message of condemnation of the terrorist attacks. Indeed, the last terrorist attacks I read AFIC condemning were the ones in Turkey. On that occasion, the AFIC press release advised that Istanbul was the capital of Turkey.

And these are just some of the indications that AFIC is hopelessly out of touch with mainstream Muslim Australia. Turkish Australians make up perhaps the largest single ethnic group among Muslims. Yet AFIC is so out of touch with Turks that it does not even know that Istanbul has not been the capital of Turkey for over 6 decades.

And now, AFIC has decided to write to Australian Imams ordering them to condemn terror. So which language will the letter be written in? Arabic? Swahili? Fiji-Hindi? After all, AFIC has overseen a mosque management system which has ensured that most Imams in Australia do not speak English.

What steps has AFIC taken to communicate with young people? What support has AFIC given to youth? The last time AFIC arranged a Muslim youth camp was in 1987. Since then, it appointed an Imam aged over 60 to be its youth adviser.

What steps has AFIC taken to understand its community? Is it aware of the age, ethnic, gender and cultural composition of the Muslim communities? Has it bothered to study what Muslims think of key social and political issues?

In the last 5 years, a large number of Muslims have migrated from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. The bulk of these have been Shia Muslims. What representation do Shia Muslims have in AFIC?

Then there is the issue of mismanagement. Where do we start? Over the years, AFIC has received millions of dollars in donations from wealthy private and governmental donors in the Middle East. Where has that money gone? How has it been accounted for?

One such donation was channelled into a secret account. The amount involved was around $500,000. No one on the executive committee knew of the existence of the account for at least 3 years. No one, that is, except the CEO of AFIC.

Not even the auditors of AFIC knew of the account. It was finally discovered when AFIC changed auditors. The existence of the account involved AFIC in breaches of taxation laws and threatened its tax-exempt status.

Mr CEO may deny all this. He can deny until he is black and blue in the face. I have a copy of the legal advice from AFIC’s then lawyers in which they describe this and other misdemeanours of Mr CEO.

So now this inept and bumbling organisation wishes the Federal Government to accredit it as the official Muslim peak body with special legislative powers, a kind of Muslim ATSIC. The CEO claims that AFIC is most suited to this role as it has a democratic structure.

Let’s look at New South Wales, the state which has the largest number of Muslims in Australia. Let’s see AFIC democracy in action. In 2000, AFIC had a falling out with the Islamic Council of NSW. In reality, the CEO had a falling out with the Roude family empire. AFIC showed its commitment to democracy by setting up a rival council, the Supreme Islamic Council of NSW.

Some years later, AFIC had a falling out with the Supreme Council. So they formed another council. When Muslims in NSW heard about it, some speculated that the name of the new body would be the “Super-Supreme Islamic Council of NSW”. Hence the three councils being known collectively as the “Pizza Councils”.

AFIC is but one of numerous peak bodies that have failed to represent the views and interests of mainstream Muslim Australians. It has little commitment to democracy, and has no record of structured consultation with ordinary Australian Muslims. It does little for young people. Its internal management structures are appalling.

Can the government afford to invest legislative powers in so unrepresentative and undemocratic body? Can a body which functions like a crackpot Arab regime be entrusted with government funds and powers to fight against threats to national security?

And can Muslim Australians now afford to sit back and allow this unrepresentative swill to take control of their collective destinies?

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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Sunday, July 24, 2005

Monty Python Muslims Fight For Control Of The Fringe

In 2000, Muslim students in Sydney organised a conference at the University of New South Wales. The guest speaker was Abdullah Idriss, a respected American Muslim speaker who has helped bring the disparate Muslim communities there under a single network.

Idriss organised a gathering of various Muslim factions, from mainstream to fringe, to discuss their differences in a private forum. He hoped to focus on the fact that Muslims agree on most things, and that these were of far greater importance than any sources of division.

Amongst the speakers was a representative of the radical Hizbut Tahrir (HT), the Muslim equivalent of campus Marxism. HT believes that political and economic systems are only fit for Muslim participation if they meet HT’s narrow definitions of “Islamic systems”.

The HT have never been all that popular. Even those sympathetic to their rhetoric regard them with disdain, if only because they cannot provide any blueprint for achieving their goals.

When a leader of Indonesia’s largest Muslim party, Nahdatul Ulama, visited Sydney as a guest of the Centre for Independent Studies, he stunned his audience with the revelation that most Indonesians associated sharia with commercial dispute resolution and banking. Other mainstream Muslim legal thinkers such as Professor Khaled Abou el-Fadl of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) have found strong commonalities between sharia and common law systems.

Australian understandings and discourse on sharia are perhaps best reflected in 2 books published by Australian authors. At the beginning of the 20th century, Imam Imamovic of Brisbane wrote his “Outlines of Islamic Doctrine”, and included a detailed analysis of mainstream Sunni views of Islamic law.

In more modern times, UTS academic Jameela Hussain has had the second edition of her book “Islam Its Law & Society” published by mainstream legal publisher The Federation Press. The first edition of her book quickly sold out, and her undergraduate course on Islamic law has proven popular with students wishing to supplement their law degrees with an element of comparative law.

Muslim approaches to western legal systems tend to accommodate and encourage Muslims to use and participate in these systems. Such participation is seen as justified in Islamic law.

But in HT ideology, sharia (Islam’s broad legal tradition) is narrowly defined. Sharia is treated simplistically, almost as a software program, with Muslims being the hardware. The download process is the establishment of an international caliphate. And how does one reach caliphate? Who knows? HT certainly don’t.

Returning to the 2000 seminar, another participant was Sheik Abdus Salam Zoud. Sheik Zoud was trained in Saudi Arabia and follows the fringe salafist cult. He regards shias and sufis as being outside the pale of Islam. He also rejects mainstream Sunni Muslim beliefs on the nature of God, as well as rejecting Sunni Muslim insistence on following one of four orthodox summarised legal “checklists” (known as “madhab’s”) for their personal and social liturgy.

Zoud’s views are also on the fringe. I believe his views are more dangerous than those of HT. Though he agrees with their rejectionist stance, he and his salafist cult have always opposed the HT groups.

Zoud gained notoriety in Muslim circles after overseeing a series of video nights at his musalla (prayer hall). These included “jihad” videos showing Arab salafist fighters in Chechenia decapitating dead Russian troops and kicking their heads like soccer balls. Muslims were horrified by this clear breach of sharia laws forbidding desecration of human bodies.

While addressing the 2000 conference, Zoud told delegates that he had sought special dispensation from the Australian Electoral Commission. He had written to the AEC advising that his understanding of Islam made it sinful for him to vote and participate in a democratic political system.

The cynicism with which Sheik Zoud’s views were greeted at the seminar were summed up by a question from one delegate who asked Sheik Zoud why he was prepared to accept social security payments from the same political and governmental system. Zoud responded that taking money from the system was permitted, but voting was not.

The views of HT and Zoud are regarded by Muslim Australians as ugly and disgraceful. This explains their inability to gather large crowds at their events, despite having sophisticated and slick marketing campaigns running for weeks before each event. Muslim Australians have become accustomed to smelling an HT or salafite cultist rat a mile away.

Perhaps most promising is the fact that these two fringe groups are ripping each other apart, competing for their narrow fringe market much like competing factions in Monty Python classic The Life of Brian.

A visit to the forums of the website will show what most mainstream Muslim youth think of these fringe elements. Their simplistic logic and “Microsoft Sharia 2000” approach to complex legal and political issues has made them the laughing stock of Sydney Muslims.

(The author is a Sydney industrial lawyer, former president of the Macquarie University Muslim Students Association and former president of the Islamic Youth Association of NSW.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

REFLECTION: If a bomb hits Sydney ...

If a bomb hits Sydney, I will be blamed. People will point the finger at me. And at that time, it will be too late for me to pass the buck. So I may as well start pointing fingers now.

If a bomb hits Sydney, Islam will be placed in trial. And those persons claiming to represent Islam, the imams and sheiks, will be powerless to defend it. They will be unable to articulate the views of their flock because most of them cannot speak English. They will be unable to speak properly because they will have been hamstrung from developing skills they need for an advocacy role.

These imams will be hamstrung by their executive committees who have insisted that imams must solely concentrate on ceremonial tasks or taking sides in some useless debate over moon-sighting. They will not know the issues of the day, and will not be able to handle media inquiries.

If a bomb hits Sydney, mosque committee members will not be able to speak for their congregations and members. Most of them are uneducated and unable to speak proper English. They have spent much of their time and money litigating over halal meat certification dollars. They will be too busy deciding which one of three Islamic councils they wish to be part of.

If a bomb hits Sydney, Islamic school administrations will not be able to cope. They will be too busy mismanaging their facilities, mistreating their staff and becoming embroiled in litigation. The few schools doing anything useful will be forced into litigation, with little support from peak Muslim bodies.

If a bomb hits Sydney, His Eminence the Mufti will be blaming Iraq and Palestine and Afghanistan but not his inability to learn English after living in Australia for so many years. His executive will continue to exclude non-Lebanese members from holding membership, even though they make up a large portion of the congregation.

If a bomb hits Sydney, fringe salafist lunatics will repeat their infantile performances. They will bask in the attention and will regard themselves as heroes whilst stabbing the rest of us in the front and back. They will enjoy a limelight they simply don’t deserve. And their young students will continue to talk terror and show utter contempt for the nation which gave them freedom.

If a bomb hits Sydney, Muslim bookshops will be caught out again selling nonsensical (and usually pirated) nonsense. Their shelves will contain the stuff which, if directed at them, would be condemned as islamophobic. They will justify their display of such items using language that is clearly anti-semitic.

If a bomb hits Sydney, ethnic Muslim leaders will blame the Jews, the PKK, the KGB, the CIA, the FBI, MOSSAD, SAVAK, the NAB and perhaps even the ANZ. Not to mention the NRL and the AFL. They will blame everyone except themselves.

If a bomb goes off in Sydney, the peak national body will allow its website to remain speechless on the matter for at least 2 weeks. They will issue no alert or press release or condemnation. They will have no political clout to handle the barrage of pressure on Muslims to agree to further erosion of their civil liberties. And they will probably declare the attack a tragedy by claiming that Sydney is the capital of Australia just as they declared Istanbul to be the capital of Turkey. Or they will be too busy setting up yet another Islamic council in New South Wales.

If a bomb goes off in Sydney, prominent Muslims will be targeted. Professionals, partners of commercial law firms, big business people, students, academics, senior public servants, anyone with any relation to Islam regardless of how tenuous will be watched and targeted. They will wonder why people are so ignorant about their faith, despite having missed hundreds of opportunities to inform people about their faith.

If a bomb hits Sydney and a few young Muslims are found to be responsible, it will be the fault of all the above. If a bomb hits Sydney, we will all be blamed. And we will all deserve the blame.

Sydney-siders have shared with us the things they value – a strong economy, a beautiful city, economic opportunities, education, fresh water, harbour views, heavenly beaches and much more. We have gladly taken of these precious things.

And what have we given of what we value? What have we given of our morals? Our ethical code? Our family structures? Our love for God and God’s creation? What contributions have we made to this community, to this beautiful city?

If a bomb hits Sydney, it will be too late for soul searching. Let’s start searching our souls and correcting our attitudes. Let’s get our house in order. Because if we don’t, and if a bomb hits Sydney, we are doomed.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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Monday, July 18, 2005

Hate-Filled Books Stay On The Fringe

Last week, I visited a good friend. She is of Muslim background, and works in medical research. She loves reading spiritual books, be they poems by Rumi or discourses of the Dalai Lama. She also enjoys a good laugh.

I wanted to buy her an early birthday present, and I knew exactly what she would like. I purchased 2 books on traditional medical sciences as taught by the Prophet Muhammad. I also bought her a DVD entitled “Allah made me funny!”.

Like most Muslim Australians, I know exactly where to get my devotional books. Frequently, I shop at mainstream bookshops like Dymocks or Kinokunya. Sometimes I visit spiritual bookstores like the Adyar Bookstore, or specialist Muslim bookstores.

There are perhaps 4 Sydney Islamic bookshops I frequently visit. I know the range and quality of their books and multimedia materials is good. They stick to respected mainstream scholars and avoid fringe cultish groups. And they respect Islam’s spiritual and legal heritage as enshrined in Sufism.

So when I opened the Daily Telegraph the other day and saw a familiar shop window photographed under a headline “Books of hate in Sydney shops”, I was not surprised. I am not sure how this shop stays in business since they have gone out of their way to alienate so many mainstream Muslim youngsters with their fringe salafist materials.

Some years back, I visited that store and saw a lovely children’s book of stories by the famous Sufi Rumi. I went to purchase it, but was quickly advised by the shop assistant that this book was not for sale. He went to where a small pile of the books sat on a display table and lifted them all.

I asked him what objections he had to a book by Rumi, perhaps the most popular spiritual poet in the world and whose work has been translated into numerous languages. “We will not sell any sufi books here as they are deviant”, I was advised.

Sufism is the spiritual heart of Islam. In the Sunni school, it is called “tasawwuf”. In the Shia school, it is called “irfan”. Sufism is the spiritual side of Islam, teaching the importance of loving God through loving God’s creatures. It has inspired numerous artistic and philosophical movements among Muslims including the famous Whirling Dervishes of Turkey.

But in the eyes of the fringe salafist cult, Sufism is regarded as evil. This attitude toward Islam’s spiritual heritage is one of many reasons mainstream Muslims reject salafist cults as heterodox.

Muslim Australians are at the heart of mainstream Australian life. When the National Australia Bank appointed a young executive to be its CEO, most commentators focussed on his relative youth and expertise than his migrant Muslim background. And I have never heard anyone refusing to buy a mobile phone from Crazy Johns because of the owner’s background.

But salafist cults teach young Muslims to emphasise differences and to treat Australian culture as alien. Some salafist imams have even claimed a special religious dispensation from the Australian Electoral Commission which allows them not to vote on religious grounds. These salafist imams claim that democracy and Islam are incompatible.

Are these cults dangerous? You would think so after reading their books. But the reality is that most young Aussie Mossies never buy these hate-filled books. Very few decent books on Islam are published in Australia. Islamic bookshops are forced to import most of their stock. And most mainstream Islamic books are published in the UK, US, Canada, India or Malaysia. The most popular authors are Europeans or Americans such as Tim Winter, Michael Wolfe, Hamza Yusuf Hanson and Feisal Abdul Rauf, authors whose work Lakemba’s salafist “Islamic Bookstore” refuse to even display.

But most salafist cultish materials are published in Saudi Arabia and are poorly translated. The tone and message of these books is regarded as ugly. And because they sit on the very edges of the Muslim communities, salafist books are often filled with venom toward mainstream Muslim groups such as Sufi and Shia Muslims.

At university, many campus Marxists used to write and sell pamphlets and books calling for violent overthrow of capitalism. Campus communists were loud and irritating. But how many people took them seriously? I certainly different.

Similarly, most Muslim Australian readers take little notice of bookstores which insist on selling only hate-filled ugly material which seeks to marginalise Muslims and alienate them from mainstream Australian values. And Muslim Australians are a community that simply will not put up with being marginalised.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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Saturday, July 16, 2005

Heads in the Tandoor

In many parts of Pakistan, meals are prepared in an underground oven known as a “tandoor”, typically carved out of the bare earth using bricks. From this oven is prepared various forms of kebabs, ‘tikka’ and even traditional bread known as ‘naan’. It is not uncommon to see roadside cafes where food is prepared in this manner.

I spent 6 months living in Karachi. I was 7 years old at the time. Each day, I would cross Alfalah Road and grab some “tandoori roti” (as we used to call naan) for our domestic consumption. I would watch as the chef would manipulate the dough inside the oven using two metal sticks. Sometimes the bread so deep into the oven that his head would almost enter the oven.

And that pretty much sums up the attitude of many Pakistani and other migrant Muslim parents, whether it be in Australia, New Zealand, France or the UK. Heads in the tandoor.

I read that 4 bright middle class Pakistani boys grab their Jamaican friend, stuff backpacks with bombs and pull off an explosive attack that sends shockwaves around the world. I hear all sorts of explanations and theories, from the sublime to the ridiculous. So why do migrant kids do this sort of thing? And why would kids with seemingly everything going for them, with middle class backgrounds and good education and family support, indulge in this sort of ghastly act?

I really have no idea. I will not hazard a guess. I am no expert in terrorism or in Middle Eastern politics. But I do know what it is like to work with young kids.

Growing Up As An Urdu-Speaker in Sydney

At age 16, I attended my first Muslim youth camp. I had just finished Year 10 at St Andrews Cathedral School. I was one of a small number of Indo-Pakistani kids at this camp.

Up until that time, I associated Islam with Indian culture and Hindi/Urdu language. My parents were on a mission to ensure that I learn to speak their first language fluently. They reasoned that I would learn English anyway at school and with friends. But at home, it was Urdu/Hindi only.

And how did we learn our language and our culture? By mixing with people who spoke that language. And so my “Muslim” friends included Hindus, Sikhs, Goan Catholics and even the kids of a Pakistani-born Anglican minister. We used to commemorate Deevali and Holi with our Hindu friends. We had a Christmas tree in the house. And we had Ramadan and the Eid feasts.

I learnt to read the Qur’an in Arabic, though reciting it with a more Indian accent. I never quite knew the meaning. But I did know that if I finished reading it then I would have a huge party at the end.

I was also taught how to say the five daily prayers (called ‘namaz’, a Persian word borrowed from Zoroastrian tradition). But I never understood its meaning.

Academic Expectations

But real Pakistani religion for kids was being at the top of the class. Being high achievers was what it was all about. And most important was to eventually become a doctor. If you weren’t a high achiever, the community rejected you.

One poor Pakistani boy found himself unable to achieve academically. He was an extremely intelligent young man with an extraordinary artistic ability. He was a born actor, and possessed a comic genius that many (including myself) admired and envied. But his inability to give his parents something to boast about academically made him into a social outcast. He succumbed to depression and eventually committed suicide.

Cultural Artifacts & Discrimination

Pakistani Islam is more of a cultural artefact. And it is about displaying that artefact. Because display and appearance is emphasised more than reality, the degree of hypocrisy is extraordinary. And much of this is directed at girls.

My sisters could never go out after dark. I could. My sisters were never allowed to go to an Islamic camp. I was. My sisters could not stay over at friends’ houses overnight. I could. In many respects, I was spoilt rotten.

Pakistani girls and boys are not encouraged to mix and mingle. For girls, the fear of losing one’s reputation is pervasive. For boys, there is the fear that the girl will attempt to protect herself by telling everyone the boy is a loafer.

Identity, Depression, Anger, Rebellion

I could write so many paragraphs about this. Basically, it boils down to the fact that Pakistani kids are growing up confused. Some become depressed. Others become angry. And most rebel at some stage of their lives. This is where the danger begins. And this might provide some clues as to the motives of the young men from Leeds who dragged themselves and 60 others to their deaths.

Rebellion can take the form of lots of sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. But sometimes it can also take the form of a loud and rebellious form of religiosity. Many Pakistani kids find little support structures in existence in their mosques or cultural organisations.

Irrelevant Mosques & Imams

Pakistani mosques are typically managed by a cocktail of suburban GP’s and taxi drivers. The executive committee functions as a highly politicised affair, with mosque elections frequently characterised by vote-rigging and even minor violence (chairs being thrown around the room etc). Few mosque societies have their books and legalities in order.

Imams of Pakistani mosques tend to be imported from a madressa (seminary) in Pakistan. Usually these imams have little or no command of English, and very little understanding of mainstream Australian culture. Their role is generally limited to leading the daily prayer services, teaching children how to read the Qur’an in Arabic, advising people on religious and cultural matters and providing some religious legitimacy to controversial decisions of the mosque executive.

Imams are often engaged on a temporary basis, and their immigration status is subject to sponsorship of the committee. Many imams find themselves embroiled in the factional politics of the mosque, and are forced to take sides in order to keep their post. This is especially the case when the imam is related to one of the factional heavies.

So when a young Pakistani Muslim kid or teenager has a problem s/he finds it difficult to find an imam who can provide any coherent advice. The same story is repeated in other cultural communities (with the possible exception of Turkish communities where imams tend to be young and try to organise sporting and other events for young people).

As a result, many young Muslim Australians and Britons (and, to a lesser extent, Canadians and Britons) are forced to find assistance and identity by reading books or by attending sessions with teachers not associated with mainstream mosques. Some of these teachers have attended courses of varying lengths in Saudi Arabia. They return with fringe literalist views reflective of what has become known in mainstream Muslim circles as the “salafite cult”.

The Salafite Cult – Filling the Vacuum

Salafitism is a cult. It cannot be called a sect. It has such small representation in the Muslim world that labelling it a sect would be giving it more credit than it deserves. Shia Muslims form a minority sect, making up around 10% of the Muslim world and enjoying healthy majorities in Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan and some Gulf states. They also have significant minorities in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

Salafite cultists, on the other hand, would be lucky to constitute 0.5% of the Muslim community internationally. They tend to congregate in Western countries, taking advantage of sponsorship from Saudi Arabian religious authorities. Many salafite imams are able to attract young people as they speak quite fluent English and can provide an abundance of literature.

Salafite cultism attracts young Muslims for similar reasons that some fundamentalist and fringe Christian groups attract young nominally Christian youth. They tend to involve a charismatic leader. They involve a simple literalist rendition of theology and understanding scripture.

Mainstream imams cannot compete with well-resourced and English-speaking salafite cultists, many of whom are young people who studied in Saudi Arabia and who are being funded by Saudi religious authorities.

Further, because many Aussie Muslim kids are unable to identify and differentiate between fringe and mainstream ideas, they are taken by salafite rhetoric which appears to comply more with some literal and non-contextual understandings of the texts.

To be continued …

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Some Questions for Australian Muslim Leaders

We have a number of peak Muslim bodies operating in Australia. Each state and territory has an umbrella body consisting of various local mosque management societies and other bodies. At federal level, these state and territory councils come together to form a national Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC).

In the wake of the London bombing and increasing backlash against Muslim Australians, the focus is now on Muslim organisational leaders and imams of mosques. Muslim Australians are looking to their leaders for direction and for adequate response to the many questions thrown at Muslim communities from hostile and/or frightened elements in the broader community.

Recently, some fringe elements have attempted to hijack Australian Muslim discourse. The results have been disastrous. Some months back, a young salafist imam in Sydney suggested that women who dress a certain way are eligible for rape. He later fine-tuned his remarks by effectively saying that he felt such treatment should be reserved for Muslim women.

And now, a salafist imam from Melbourne has sparked outrage by defending Usama bin Ladin and doubting bin Ladin’s involvement in September 11.

But is it merely fringe imams who put their feet in it? What about the Muslim mainstream? And who are the Muslim mainstream in any case?

Does Sheik Hilali, the man appointed by AFIC to act as mufti of Australia, represent mainstream Muslim opinion? Is it possible for an imam with an interpreter at his side at all times to represent largely English-speaking Muslim communities?

Sheik Hilali is no stranger to controversy. He is still haunted by his comments made 20 years ago concerning Jewish Australians. At the time, his expulsion from Australia seemed imminent. It was only with the intervention of the then acting Prime Minister Paul Keating that Hilali was allowed to stay.

To secure Hilali’s immigration status, AFIC created a new position of mufti. Yet no one on the AFIC executive at the time had any idea what the new mufti’s role would be. Was he to act as Senior Counsel, giving legal advice on curly issues of Islamic law? Was he to act as official community spokesman? Was he to be the official representative of all Australian Muslims?

Muslim Australians were never consulted in any formal or structured way about the decision to make Hilali mufti. But then, AFIC rarely bothers to consult Muslims on anything. Instead, its decision making processes are similar to those of certain dictatorial regimes of Muslim countries.

Indeed, AFIC has not even made any serious effort to understand the communities it claims to represent. AFIC has never conducted any survey or study of the composition, needs and sentiments of Muslim Australians.

And so Muslim Australians are represented by an irrelevant national body and a non-English speaking mufti. And Anglicans thought things were bad in the Sydney diocese.

Increasingly Muslim Australians are finding their leadership ill-equipped to handle delicate issues. For instance, the attempts by some leaders and imams to link the London bombings to Iraq have made Muslim Australians sound like something out of the Green Left Weekly.

And now all Australians (Muslims and otherwise) are openly asking certain questions. What will Muslim leaders and imams say if Australia is targeted? What message will Hilali and the chairmans of the 3 NSW Islamic councils give to re-assure Australians that they should continue to tolerate Muslim presence? What steps will Muslim leaders take to moderate Australian Muslim discourse?

And most important of all. Given that most Australian Muslims are never consulted by their leaders on key issues (including the appointment of a mufti), to what extent to organisations like AFIC and individuals like Hilali and Omran really represent the views and aspirations of mainstream Muslim Australians?

(The author is a Sydney industrial lawyer who has represented various Muslim peak bodies and school in industrial matters.)

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Australian Muslims must reign in irresponsible spokesmen

Al Jazeera gets plenty of flack from some quarters. It is seen as the voice of extremism. Some western news agencies are offended by the presence of this new player in the media market.

But even Al Jazeera disagrees with claims made by a fringe Melbourne imam. Mohammed Omran doubts bin Ladin and al-Qaida had any involvement in the September 11 attacks. Most disagree with Omran, including Attorney General Phillip Ruddock and Islamic Council of Victoria spokesman Waleed Aly.

And including me.

Last December, I finished reading Yosri Fouda’s book “Masterminds Of Terror”. Mr Fouda was a senior investigative reporter with Al Jazeera. His book is based on contacts and meetings with senior al-Qaida operatives.

Fouda risked his life by spending 48 hours with Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the two al-Qaida masterminds behind the 9/11 attacks that killed thousands of people from all ethnic and religious backgrounds. At least 30% of the victims were of Muslim background, many of them New York fire fighters struggling to assist the rescue effort.

Fouda has no doubts about who was behind the September 11 attacks. His book, co-authored with Scottish journalist Nick Fielding, lays the blame firmly on Osama bin Ladin and his group. And his claims are backed up by official press releases and multimedia materials produced by al-Qaida themselves, not to mention his interviews with the al-Qaida leaders.

Fouda’s work represents mainstream Muslim Australian consensus. Mohammed Omran’s claims are on the fringe.

Fouda includes in his book official al-Qaida documents used to religiously justify the attacks using select verses from the Quran usually quoted out of context. Again, mainstream Muslim opinion was against al-Qaida. Religious scholars from across the Arab world dissected and criticised the documents as being based on infantile reasoning and flagrantly contradicting 1,400 years of scholarly consensus.

It isn’t just Islamic scholars from the Arab world who are saying this. Recently, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf from New York delivered the same message to audiences at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas. His words have been echoed by imams in the UK, United States, Canada, New Zealand, France, Switzerland and Australia.

Mr Omran would do well to study the words of one prominent Swiss Islamic scholar. On July 9, Dr Tariq Ramadan wrote in the Guardian:

“Muslims must speak out, explain who they are, what they believe in, what they stand for, what is the meaning of their life. They must also have the courage to denounce what is said and done by certain Muslims in the name of their religion.”

And with that in mind, I have to express my condemnation of all terrorist attacks, whether carried out in London, Istanbul, Baghdad or New York. I must condemn, not excuse, those who carry out thee attacks. All available evidence points to the involvement of bin Ladin and his network in the 9/11 attacks. Even a senior investigative journalist from al-Jazeera confirms this. Who is Omran to deny this?

But as Dr Ramadan says, condemnation is not enough. Muslim migrant communities have to carefully think about what they say and how they behave. People are openly questioning the merits of multiculturalism. Instead of calling those people racist, Muslim leaders need to consider how their actions can be made to speak louder than the words of minority voices such as those of Mr Omran.

We are living in times of uncertainty and fear, when passions can easily become inflamed. Community leaders, even on the fringe groups such as Mr Omran, must think before they speak. It is easy to speak boldly, but speaking with wisdom requires some skill. Those like myself who find speaking troublesome should communicate through other means.

Muslim leaders must understand that the literal meanings of newspaper columns and of infantile questions of shock-jocks are not what count. Rather, what counts is the emotion behind these messages. Muslim Australians share those emotions, and they are increasingly becoming frustrated with the inability of their leaders to articulate and address these emotions.

As people of all faiths and ethnicities mourn their dead in London, Muslim Australians should combine their mourning with some hard thinking. Our fellow Australians are looking to us for reassurance. They know we would never agree with minority extremists. But they want to be sure. If we stay silent, loud minority voices will continue to hijack our faith and our liberty. We have to pull our leaders into line.

(Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney industrial lawyer. He holds no leadership position in any religious community organisation, but has acted as legal adviser to a fair few.)

© Irfan Yusuf 2005.

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Sunday, July 10, 2005

Islam On Trial - Part 1

ATTENDANT: All rise. This court is now in session.

JUDGE: Yes, thank you. There is only one matter on today’s list. It is the trial of a mere 1.2 billion people. We have our jury present. I will start with opening submissions. Mr Prosecutor?

PROSECUTOR: Ladies and gentleman of the neo-Conservative jury. Today you are being asked to judge on the guilt of the scourge of humanity. 1.2 billion people from over 60 different countries, speaking over 500 languages and dialects, following different cultures and with different sectarian and political leanings.

And all with one thing in common.

The prosecution will establish beyond reasonable doubt that all Muslims are part of a huge conspiracy to destroy our western civilisation, institutions and way of life. We will establish that each and every Muslim is a partner to this grand conspiracy.

Our evidence will consist of a number of experts. Amongst them is former director of the National Crime Authority, Peter Faris QC. Mr Faris is a respected barrister and radio announcer …

DEFENCE COUNSEL: Objection, your honour. Mr Faris is in fact a shock jock.

JUDGE: Yes, I will allow that objection. Mr Prosecutor, kindly use correct terminology in future.

PROSECUTOR: As the court pleases. Mr Faris has stated on his blog that in his expert opinion …

DEFENCE COUNSEL: Objection again. Mr Faris’ evidence must be discounted because he has not proven his expertise.

PROSECUTOR: Mr Faris is a respected barrister. As former head of the National Crime Authority, he is an expert on criminal law, forensic investigation and law enforcement. He …

DFENCE COUNSEL: Yes, but with respect to my friend. Your Honour, Mr Faris has not established any serious expertise in Muslim cultures or Islamic theology.

PROSECUTOR: Why should knowledge of Islam or Muslims be a requisite for proving their guilt?

JUDGE: Come now, Mr Prosecutor. How can you condemn a man without understanding his motives? Or without delving into his psyche? Even if 1.2 billion Muslims were guilty, how can I sentence them properly without taking into account these factors? At some stage, you will need to consider this.

PROSECUTOR: As the court pleases. I will therefore move onto the real experts whom Mr Faris and even the governments rely upon. DR Daniel Pipes is a respected author and writer. He holds a PhD from Harvard and has written extensively on Islamist extremism. He has also delivered lectures and has a popular website where his editorials are published. He speaks fluent Arabic and and …

JUDGE: Look, he sounds impressive. I need not hear anymore, unless the Defence Counsel has something to say.

DEFENCE COUNSEL: Your honour, Dr Pipes’ credentials are impressive. Yes, he does speak Arabic. But most modern Islamist ideological texts have been written in Urdu and Farsi by non-Arabs. The most prominent Islamist scholars include Syed Maududi from Pakistan and Ayatollah Khomeini from Iran. These writers rarely wrote in Arabic.

PROSECUTOR: That may be so, but my friend still needs to address Dr Pipes’ PhD from Harvard.

DEFENCE COUNSEL: Dr Pipes claims to be an expert on 20th century Islamist political polemic. His PhD is actually in Medieval European History. The closest he will have studied to modern Islamist rhetoric would have been the Seljuk and early Ottoman period prior to the 1600’s. Or perhaps he will be able to tell us about the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain and the subsequent Inquisition. My friend has also not informed the Court as to what knowledge Dr Pipes gained in his other studies and what results he obtained. Also, Your …

PROSECUTOR: That may be true, Your Honour, but Dr Pipes has lectured widely in the area and …

DEFENCE COUNSEL: Your honour, apart from practising law, I too have lectured widely to both students and professionals. I have prepared and delivered materials on Criminal Law and Procedure. But that does not necessarily qualify me to condemn a certain class of people as criminals.

JUDGE: Mr Defence Counsel, this trial is not about you.

DEFENCE COUNSEL: With respect, Your Honour. This trial is about me. It is about condemning my Muslim neighbours. It is about condemning my instructing solicitors of Muslim background, not to mention the Prosecutor’s instructing solicitors. It is about condemning my family doctor, my accountant, my bank manager, the Dean of the Law School where I studied, my colleagues at the Bar and other good and decent people making contributions to society.

JUDGE: That may be so, but all these good people you speak about are silent about terror. They must speak out.

DEFENCE COUNSEL: Your honour, in our criminal justice system, every man woman and child has the right to remain silent upon arrest. We need to ask ourselves why they are silent …

PROSECUTOR: Your honour, I note the time.

JUDGE: Yes, thank you Mr Prosecutor. I will take the morning adjournment.

ATTENDANT: All rise. This court is temporarily adjourned.

© Irfan Yusuf, 2005

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Thursday, July 07, 2005

To London Muslims - Speak Out Or Be Condemned For Your Silence

The last 24 hours will have been an emotional roller coaster ride for the people of London. Following the elation of winning the right to hold the 2012 Olympic Games, at least 7 deadly explosions have brought death and tears to this ancient city.

The Olympic win promised to be an enormous boost to the East End, home to many impoverished groups including sub-continental Muslim migrants. Now these same migrants and their brethren in communities across the Western World will once again be asked to explain and prove their loyalty.

And how should we Western Muslims respond? Should we cry discrimination? Should we remind our fellow citizens that we are just as English or American or French or Australian as they are?

Or should we appreciate their fears and uncertainties? Should we empathise with their feelings of vulnerability as they feel besieged by what appears to be yet another attack by extremists using our faith as an ideological weapon?

When western citizens are kidnapped by extremists with Muslim-sounding names, the reputation of Islam is hijacked. When western citizens are murdered and executed, Islam is also being murdered and executed. When western citizens are the target of injustice, Islam is treated unjustly.

Islam is a word that means ‘peace’. How can peace be established with bombs and suicide attacks and kidnappings? How can peace be spread through killing peaceful civilians?

Islam is a word that also means ‘surrender to God’. Our Lord never taught us to kill and maim civilians. Our God never taught us to harm people who do not harm us.

The English people recently delivered a severe blow to their government over its involvement in the Iraq invasion and occupation. Even before the war, some of the largest protest crowds marched through English cities including London. The hearts of English men and women are on the side of the victims, of innocent Iraqi children and women and men who die each day in Iraq and elsewhere across the Muslim world.

England has provided sanctuary to hundreds of Muslim refugees and dissidents fleeing repressive Muslim regimes. For over a decade, London was home to the late Abdul Majid Khoei, one of Iraq’s most senior religious figures. Muslim dissidents and activists speak their minds more freely in London than perhaps anywhere else in the world.

The time has come for these English Muslim dissidents and activists to raise their voices and condemn the attacks on the city that has provided them with freedom and sanctuary.

One of the best remembered incidents from early Islamic history is the story of repressed Muslim refugees fleeing from Mecca to Abyssinia at the orders of the Prophet Muhammad. This small band of Muslims sought protection and refuge from a Christian King, known in Islamic tradition as Najashi.

Notwithstanding strong submissions from the Meccan authorities and support from his advisers, Najashi granted the Muslims a fair hearing and natural justice. Following an impassioned speech by the Prophet’s cousin, Jafar, Najashi orders that the refugees be granted sanctuary for as long as they wished to remain in his kingdom.

The Christian kingdom of Abyssinia proved a safer place for Islam than the Arabian peninsular. While the Prophet and his remaining disciples faced famine, exile and war, his cousin and some 70 other Muslims enjoyed peace and security under the auspices of a Christian king.

London has been to many Muslims what Abyssinia was to the early Muslims who fled to its Christian government seeking sanctuary and protection from their oppressors. And just as the King of Abyssinia granted the early Muslims a fair hearing, natural justice and security, so has London done the same.

The Mayor of London has been a prominent supporter of human rights for Muslims, particularly for Muslim women struggling against discrimination based on dress. The English Parliament has welcomed Muslims into its hallowed halls. Muslims are free to participate at all levels of English society.

The nation that cheered for its cricket team even when captained by one Nasser Hussein deserves to feel secure in the knowledge that its Muslim citizens openly and publicly condemn the perpetrators of these attacks. Muslim Englishmen and women must echo the condemnation of terrorist acts and ideologies already expressed by prominent English Muslim scholars such as Tim Winter and the late Martin Lings.

The time to speak is now. Muslims must speak out now. Or else they will be condemned by their silence. And at a time of terror-induced pain and tears coming so soon after Olympic elation, English Muslim silence will speak louder than any detractors’ words.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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Sunday, July 03, 2005

MEDIA: Tabloid manipulations ...

Many of us will have heard of Fleet Street, the name given to the trashy English tabloid papers responsible for destroying many a reputation and flinging mud at the rich and famous. These unusual journalistic entities are not exactly known to practise integrity or to bind themselves by a code of ethics.

In Australia, most people get their news from tabloid. In Sydney, thankfully, we have only one tabloid newspaper. In Brisbane, they only have one major paper, and that is a tabloid!

The Daily Telegraph is not your typical tabloid. It has serious news and opinion sections. It is perhaps the best source of sporting news. It even has a business and finance section. It is, without question, the biggest selling paper in Sydney.

The Telegraph has been accused in the past of being a trashy paper and of deliberately misrepresenting individuals and communities. I personally have been defamed in the Telegraph by its senior columnist Piers Akerman. On that occasion, he could not even get the spelling of my name right as he proceeded to argue why I was unfit to be the Liberal candidate for the seat of Auburn in the by-election that took place in 2001.

I was then shocked when I read a Telegraph reporter defame one of my former clients. This poor fellow had not seem his children for over 3 years. He had been to hell and back, and was struggling to improve himself. The young man was arrested for having pipe bombs in his house.

The Tele reported the story on 20 December 2002, a few months after the Bali bombings. The Tele reporter joined what appeared to be a chorus of tabloid journalists seeking a “muslim terrorist” story. A summary of the story is reproduced:

"Sydney Bomb Factory" (The Daily Telegraph, 2002/12/21)"Police were interrogating a South African-born Muslim man last night after 14 bombs and Islamic literature were found in a dramatic raid on his western Sydney home. Police revealed the devices were packed with ammonium nitrate, nails and metal and had enormous lethal power. Ammonium nitrate is the same chemical used in the Oklahoma city bombing. The terror scare, which centred on the house of Gill Daniels – described by neighbours as a committed Muslim – occurred only by chance. Daniels, 36, now an Australian citizen, had not paid rent on his apartment in Nagle St, Liverpool, for two months and sheriffs arrived yesterday morning to evict him. Daniels was absent and, when sheriffs forced their way into the apartment, they found the bombs, Islamic literature and a blackboard covered in Arab characters."

The Tele attempted to show that my former client was a terrorist because he had Qur’ans in his house and was taking Arabic lessons. He also had other items of Arabic language in his house. The paper also tried to find a link between the Oklahoma bombing and the pipe bombs in Liverpool. It reported that the materials used for the pipe bombs were allegedly the same as those used in the Oklahoma Federal Government building bombing that killed hundreds of innocent Americans.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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