Wednesday, August 17, 2005

OPINION: Protocols of the Learned Mullahs of Wellington

Winston Peters believes that there is a militant underbelly in all countries where large Muslim migrant communities exist. He made these comments in a speech on 10 August 2005.

His comments were almost immediately being discussed on the discussion forums of popular website islamicsydney-dot-com. They have been repeated by former Australian National Party Senator John Stone in a series of articles published in The Australian newspaper.

And what evidence does Peters produce? Peters claims to have sources amongst “moderate Muslims concerned about the impact of fundamentalism in their ranks”.

So? Many Maori friends of mine tell me of a militant underbelly in the Maori community. And who do they point to as a prime example?

Yep, you guessed it. Mr Peters.

Mr Peters’ claims are heavy on innuendo and anecdotes and light on facts. He has clearly not done his homework on what kind of speakers and media and magazines and sermons New Zealand Muslims are reading and watching and listening to.

Recently, the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ) hosted Abdur Raheem Green to conduct a series of lectures as part of their Islamic Awareness Week. Mr Green does hold some extreme views on certain issues. I criticised some of these views in an opinion piece in the New Zealand Herald on 15 August 2005.

Despite the enormous controversy surrounding the proposed Green tour to Australia (which was organised by a fringe Salafi youth group in Sydney), the FIANZ tour went without incident. It appears Green has changed his views or at least toned them down.

But Peters’ claims that FIANZ are funding a Maori Muslim to spread radical Islamic views in NZ prisons is the stuff all good conspiracy theories are made of. It seems Peters is not satisfied with four mosques being vandalised following the London bombings.

In Australia, views such as those expressed by Peters were once fashionable. They were personified in one Pauline Hanson, founder of the virtually-defunct One Nation Party. Ms Hanson has moved on from her earlier xenophobic days to the real stage where she dances and sings quite well.

Hanson’s colleagues in New South Wales have been busy spreading all kinds of conspiracy theories about alleged radical Muslims trying to spread venom and hatred amongst Muslim youths.

Are there radicals amongst Muslims? Of course there are. Just as there are radical Jews opposed to the Israeli dismantling of settlements in the Gaza Strip. Just as there are radical Hindus who believe Muslims and Christians should be slaughtered in India. Just as there are radical Protestants and Orthodox Christians who believe in reviving the crusades and massacring Muslims and Catholics in the same manner as Bosnian Serbs did in Bosnia during the mid 1990’s.

And just as there is at least one radical Maori who believes Muslims are funding extremism.

But what really annoys me about Mr Peters’ comments is that he uses the alleged extremism as a means to claim that Muslim migration should be curtailed. He suggests that Muslim migrants hate New Zealand culture and values. Try telling that to Hazara Afghan refugees who risked life and limb to reach Australia and New Zealand, many (to use Neil Finn’s phrase) spending six months in a leaking boat.

And even worse is the fact that not only are Muslims demonised but even many people with some distant link to Islam. Muslims have been marrying non-Muslims for centuries. The children of these unions are being demonised. Persons with Arabic-sounding names are being castigated.

And all in the name of national security and social cohesion.

My law clerk was born in Canberra. She studies Nursing at a Catholic university. Her father is Anglo-Australian Catholic, her mother Indian Hindu. My clerk was born in Canberra. She speaks English with a posh private-school accent. Yet she keeps getting told that she should go back to where she came from. And she is now too scared to catch the train to my office in case someone thinks she is an Islamist terrorist.

One of our shared friends was born in Christchurch and never met her Muslim father. Her mum is a prominent lawyer and activist who agitates on behalf of Maori causes. Our friend has an abbreviated surname which, in Arabic, suggests her father was a descendant of the Prophet’s great-grandson. Yet she mixes champagne with orange juice and loves watching live bands at the local pub. She is the sort of girl Peters wants to see removed from New Zealand.

Both of these friends feel more demonised and fearful of anti-Muslim backlash than their activist Muslim lawyer-friend who sticks his neck out almost weekly publishing columns in newspapers in Australia and New Zealand.

When prominent political leaders attempt to marginalise an entire ethnic or ethno-religious group, it usually involves the making of gross generalisations and conspiracy theories. In times past, Jews were demonised in a forgery known as “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion”.
Today, certain political leaders are re-writing that document. In the case of Mr Peters, the document should perhaps be entitled “Protocols of the Learned Mullahs of Wellington”. Yet it isn’t the learned mullahs who are being affected as much as ordinary Aussies and Kiwis deemed to be Muslim even if they have little if any link to Islam. Indeed, hatred thrives on ignorance and stereotypes.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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