Monday, September 12, 2005

4 Years To The Day

On Sunday 11 September 2005, exactly 4 years following the horrific attacks on New York and Washington, the Affinity Intercultural Foundation organised a “Summit” to discuss terrorism, community harmony and other topics.

The Summit was billed as a chance for Muslims to express their views in front of the mainstream media. The program was aimed at providing a more representative selection of Muslim leaders to those represented at the Prime Minister’s Summit.

I could always report on the event in a nice fluffy way. After all, I acted for the Feza Foundation Limited and for Sule College for some 5 years. I have close friends from university who are heavily involved in the Foundation. But I would be doing the Foundation a disservice if I did not give an honest assessment.

Affinity Intercultural Foundation is the interfaith wing of a Turkey-based religious congregation (or “cemat”) linked to Turkish Islamic scholar Muhammad Fethullah Gulen. That cemat’s interests are represented in Australia by the Feza Foundation Limited, a company limited by guarantee and registered back in the mid-1990’s.

The Foundation runs two schools, including Sule College in Sydney. These schools claim to be non-denominational, though are modelled on other Islamic schools run under the auspices of the Gulen-led cemat.

The summit was unashamedly an Islamic event, one of the few times an organisation linked to the cemat as acknowledged their Muslim identity. It is not unusual to have representatives of the cemat approach me and hesitate in greeting with salams, especially in the presence of non-Muslims.

Amazingly, cemat members are less circumspect about being Turkish, especially in the presence of Turkish government and diplomatic officials or Turkish media.

Of course, not all persons in the cemat are like this. Many are open about their Muslim Australian identity, and wear their Islamist credentials openly. They speak with pride about their leader, regarded as one of the most sensible and moderate Islamic leaders in the Muslim world.

The Summit consisted of a range of speakers. These included the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board, Stefan Kerkesherian. Also speaking were an ALP and Green MP (though no Liberals or Democrats were given a chance to speak).

Apart from the Turkish consul-general and the imam of Auburn Gallipoli Mosque, all Turkish speakers were from the Gulen-led cemat. I myself requested that other prominent Turkish Muslim speakers be allowed to speak.

I suggested Mulayim Iskander (NSW Prison Chaplain) and Dr Abdur Rahman Asaroglu (Muslim Chaplain of UTS & Sydney University). I was advised by one organiser that these two speakers would not be invited to speak as their organisations never allowed Gulen-led cemat speakers to speak at their functions.

Instead of these two experienced chaplains, the podium was given to someone described as the Muslim chaplain of Macquarie University. As a former President of Macquarie University Muslim Students Association, a life member of the Macquarie University Union (known as "Students At Macquarie") and a regular attendee at the Friday prayer services there, I was surprised to hear for the first time that this fellow had been appointed chaplain. Indeed, I have hardly ever seen him on campus.

What made me extremely circumspect was that this fellow was described as a graduate of the Islamic University in Madeena in Saudi Arabia. This is the same institution from which Sheik Feiz Mohamad studied. But in the case of Mr Afroz Ali, no one has ever cited his qualifications, nor does he allow anyone to cite it.

When challenged to produce his qualifications, Mr Ali has always been reluctant to produce a copy of his degree from Madeena. Further, inquiries from the Madeena Islamic University have thus shown no one by his name has ever graduated from that university, though it is possible he may have used a different name.

I have asked Mr Ali on at least 3 occasions to advise me and show me his qualifications, both in private e-mail exchanges and in public debates online. Others have also made these requests. Thus far, he has been reluctant to show his qualifications.

It concerns me that Affinity Intercultural Foundation would allow to the podium someone whose claimed qualifications are yet to be proven, yet refuses the podium to accredited and qualified chaplains and scholars.

The highlight of the event was the speech of Osman Softic. Mr Softic is a graduate from the Faculty of Theology at the University of Sarajeva, and holds a Masters of International Relations from the University of NSW.

Mr Softic took the wind out of the sail of the hard-Left and the blind followers of Noam Chomsky by reminding the audience that the United States had saved Bosnia and Kosovo from near-oblivion. He also reminded them of the crimes of communism. His speech drew muted applause from many peace activists unprepared to recognise the evils of an ideology that have grown to love.

Mr Ali Roude read a speech that had been prepared for him. It was well-read. I am not sure who wrote it, but its content was clearly out of his league. I saw him after his lecture speaking with a journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald about Muslim community leadership and internal political issues.

To think he and his Nada sister castigate me for hanging dirty linen on the line.

At its peak, the hall was half-full. It seemed that, following a controversial appearance by organisers on a tabloid TV show, many chose to keep away from the event. It seems the organisers have a long way to go before being able to manage the media. As one senior member of the Foundation said to me: “These Affinity people are well-intentioned but na├»ve. They have a long way to go yet before they will make any real difference.”

Affinity should be congratulated for at least trying to host an event. But in the end, it was little more than a selection of speeches given by people whom Affinity wanted to impress or curry favour from. There was little chance for audience participation. Indeed, at one stage it seemed the speakers and their families outnumbered the real audience.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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2 comments:

gulen harmony schools said...

With Gulen inspired schools, the curriculum is designed around the state-of-the-art technology and sciences whereas the extracurricular activities expose the children to global ethical and moral values.

gulen schools said...

It is good that charter schools have extracurricular activities. For those critics know, charters are like those famous universities, the only difference is the system of administration.