Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Miscellaneous Feedback Received

The following items of feedback were received. The identity of the authors has been kept as vague as possible.

On the Courier-Mail article ...

HI Irfy ,

May Allah increase you in wisdom.You have spoken the minds of thousands of Muslims in Australia. I am sure the PM will appreciate your clarification.


Hello Irfan

I wish you could have mentioned Howard’s non intervention in relation to the behaviour of his mate Alan Jones for his comments directed at Middle Eastern communities and indirectly at Muslims in general. Allan Jones made some very racist, and hateful comments and his comments incited and fuelled the troubled waters at Cronulla.

Howard talks about the Muslim leaders in Australia should exercise responsibility – we are yet to hear of Howard’s condemnation of the comments by Alan Jones. It is not just the Lebanese boys who behave badly towards the women – its also the “Australian” boys who make racist comments and shout abuse at Muslim women.

I was called a Terrorist as I was about to board a train in Richmond – only because I had a scarf over my head. My sister-in-law who wears the head cover was abused with obscenities and was shouted to remove the “bloody head gear you bitch”.

Muslim women have learnt not to complain like the Ozy girls on the beaches for fear of repercussions from the Ozy louts because they are told by the likes of Alan Jones to behave in that way and encouraged by the words of Mrs B Bishop who condemns women wearing the head gear.

That’s enough from me today. I hope you are keeping well. We should catch up soon.


Dear Irfan Yusuf,

I have just read your article in Brisbane's Courier Mail entitled Bad boys exception, not rule. I really enjoyed what you wrote and found it to be explanatory and addressed an issue that needs attention immediately so that it does not rage out of control like an Australian bushfire.

It would be beneficial to the issue if some second and third generation migrants to Australia actually realised what a great country this is, that we are all migrants or sons and daughters of migrants who have arrived in the country since the British took the country from its native inhabitants in 1788..

I personally am of Anglo-Indian heritage and regard my progenitors and their cultural gift to me as a bonus. I fully embrace the "Australian way of life" including the fantastic surf beaches we have in this country and the opportunities this country affords its people. I thank my migrant progenitors for choosing Australia as their emigrant destination; it's a great place to live.

I am not Muslim but I do appreciate the right of all people to worship God each in their own way, as I do. As a university graduate myself my belief is that the key to removing ignorance is education. From having an education springs a person's self esteem, the ability to gain useful employment, and thus find and establish for themselves a respected place in Australian mainstream society. Australia is the land of opportunity, but education is the key to opportunity.

Sadly Australia's media have demonised some residents of the migrant enclaves in the western and south western suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne. Unfortunately these happen to be young men who have developed a "siege mentality" because they "appear" to culturally isolate themselves within their own ethnic group, and apart from the mainstream Australian population.

Like you indicated in your article these young men, many born in Australia, who contribute to the vilification of Islam, are even out of touch with the Third Millennium cultural norms that have evolved within the country of their own ethnic/cultural origin.

Thank you once again for your great journalistic contribution in Brisbane's newspaper, The Courier Mail. It was educational, balanced and informative. I look forward to reading more of your newspaper articles in the future.




I'll keep this short as I'm sure you are going to get a lot of e mails today. I've read your article and am impressed with everything that you said. I'm a 27 year old blonde, blue eyed kiwi girl living in Brisbane and I've been fortunate enough not to experience anything like the riots but watching the riots and then the channel 9 forum was just awful and there is a long way to go before I think everyone can live with peace and tolerance. I'd be interested in finding out the opinions of the parents of everyone involved in the riots.

Please continue your good work and lets hope things dont get that out of control again!



On Peter Costello and sharia

Hi Irfan

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the articles - Congrats to you.

I have been enlighten on Sharia and its practice - I whole hearted agree that Muslims don’t know the principles of their religion – particularly the so called imams and mullahs – they have such limited knowledge re history of Islam and the development of Islamic Sharia Law and they have virtually no knowledge and understanding of other countries’ laws, traditions and cultures – so their sermons are limited to the interpretations of Islamic sharia or for that matter the Quranic laws through and with knowledge and understanding of their local views, cultures and values.

That is why most of the time when I listen to some of the preachings of some experts from Pakistan, and other Muslim countries I feel what they are saying is not really Islamic because it lacks common sense and scientifically untrue.


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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Actually, Costello is right. Here's why ...

I have a confession to make. The previous entry on this blog was made after I had read all the various media reports from the Fairfax and Murdoch press. I also read and saw the reactions of the usual migrant Muslim self-appointed leaders that love responding in a stereotypical manner that reinforces misconceptions and marginalises Aussie Muslims even more.

However, there was one document I hadn’t read. Guess what it was.

Have you given up? The document I had not read was Mr Costello’s actual speech!

The speech was finally e-mailed to me by someone late on Friday night. I read it and thought about it. I spoke with some more educated and wise Muslims from Canberra whom I was visiting over the weekend. I formed my own view, a version of which can be found here.

What this entire episode illustrates is how migrant Muslim leaders (whose knowledge of English, media, politics and public policy processes is at best minimal) have once again completely misunderstood the mood of Australia’s leadership and the nation.

Migrant Muslim leaders continue to sit on their perches, refusing to allow more sensible and aware Muslims from second and third generations to take on the role of community spokespeople.

These migrant Muslim leaders represent the epitome of mushy multiculturalism. Their hysterical antics are when give Muslims and multiculturalists a bad name. They have displayed a complete inability to address the understandable concerns and fears of ordinary Australians.

Mr Costello spoke of a twilight zone that can affect the children of migrants. Thousands of Muslim youth are part of that twilight zone. But migrant Muslim leaders like the middle aged Indian Muslim men’s club that is the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) refuses to assist those in the twilight zone.

AFIC overseas a system of Islamic societies that manage mosques along irrelevant ethnic, linguistic and sectarian lines. Rarely are sermons given in English whilst women and youth are made to feel unwelcome at most mosques.

AFIC has not had a female on its executive for over 2 decades. It has no formal structure for the representation of women or English-speaking Muslim youth. Yet the AFIC president chairs the Prime Minister’s Muslim Reference Group.

Peter Costello has done Muslim youth a favour by highlighting the dangers of this twilight zone. Yes, he made some errors in his understanding of sharia. But apart from that, his speech was a breath of fresh air and represented a genuine attempt to articulate the frustrations of ordinary Australians including many 2nd and 3rd generation Aussie Muslims.

Instead of criticising Mr Costello’s speech, perhaps Muslim leaders should ponder on the values Mr Costello expressed so well. These leaders might then compare these values to Islamic values and realise Mr Costello is in essence espousing the values of sharia. Maybe these leaders could invite Mr Costello to address their dinners and functions instead of just inviting the Immigration Minister to lobby for the visa applications of their relatives.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Why the PM and the PM-Wannabe should consider putting a sock in it ...

In the past two years, members of prominent Jewish business families have found themselves prosecuted and convicted of offences under corporations and taxation law.

We have also seen a number of Christian clergymen convicted of sexual offences against children. Sometimes there have been suggestions of cover-ups by the Churches involved. In one case, the allegations forced a Governor-General to stand down.

Of course, white collar crime and paedophilia are matters of grave concern. All Australians, regardless of their background, would regard these as serious crimes that need to be investigated and punished. Vigilance is necessary.

But how would our vigilance benefit from politicians and pundits continually harping on about the fact that a minority of Jews or Christians are involved in these activities? How will talking about the criminals in terms of their religious and/or ethnic background assist?

Even if the people involved claimed to commit their crimes in the name of religion, would harping on about their being a minority of a faith contribute to the effort to crack down on such crimes? Or would it serve to make the majority feel somewhat uncomfortable and perhaps even unwelcome?

Constant mention of the religious attributes or identity of certain people has been rightly described as sectarianism. John Howard rightly criticised those who make an issue of Tony Abbott’s deeply held Catholic faith. Repeated mention of the faith of corporate crooks who happen to be of Jewish background might rightly be described as anti-Semitism. So why the repeated fuss about a tiny minority of people who happen to be Muslim?

This morning, Dr Gerard Henderson of the Sydney Institute spoke to Fran Kelly on Radio National. He briefly addressed some of the issues arising from comments made by Peter Costello at Dr Henderson’s Sydney Institute.

Dr Henderson made a point of mentioning that it was largely Lebanese and North African Muslims who were the problem in Australia. He said that the Turks were well-settled.

He supported Costello’s remarks, saying that if there is a problem out there then it needs to be addressed and spoken about.

And what is the problem? Dr Henderson mentioned terrorism. Conventional wisdom tells us that terrorists of Muslim background are fighting a war against Western nations. We are also told that terrorist groups seek to recruit alienated and disgruntled Muslims (especially young people and converts without much exposure to mainstream Islamic theology) to their cause.

Following recent remarks by both Howard and Costello, a range of Muslim leaders from across the ethnic and sectarian spectrum of Australian Islam have stated that these comments do little more than make the majority of ordinary Aussies who might happen to be Muslim feel alienated in their own country.

It takes a lot to get Muslim leaders to agree on anything. Let’s face it – they can’t even agree on when Ramadan ends! So in this case, they must have a point.

In my opinion, the remarks of Howard and Costello may assist al-Qaida in their recruitment. It is not for the Liberal Party to be providing free propaganda services to al-Qaida. Nor is it for Dr Henderson and his Sydney Institute.

Repeated mention of allegedly alien Muslim cultures, sharia, jihad and a range of other issues, especially when couched in language and rhetoric saturated with ignorance, is of no benefit to the fight against terrorism. The best way to fight terrorism is through sensible intelligence and law enforcement.

The worst way to fight terrorism is to alienate young Muslims and confirm in their minds the messages that terrorist groups send out.

Bin Ladin and his henchmen want Muslims to believe that Islam is unwelcome in Australia. He wants them to regard Australia as hostile to them because of their religious faith. Bin Ladin wants to drive an emotional, intellectual and cultural wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims in Australia.

He doesn’t have to try very hard. John Howard and Peter Costello are providing him with plenty of assistance and support. The Australian government is trying to convince Australians that Muslim cultures are alien and that Muslims are unwelcome. If you don’t believe me, go to the websites of any News Limited tabloid and read what the punters are writing on the feedback pages.

Or go to the blogs of friends of the Howard government. Go to the websites of Tim Blair and Peter Faris QC. Have a read of what kinds of sentiments are expressed. Or read some of the comments left by anonymous persons on one of my blogs. And ask yourself whether such sentiments in any way assist in developing our social cohesiveness and furthering our national security.

If John Howard and Peter Costello wish to continue harping on about a handful of lunatics calling themselves Muslims, whilst at the same time expressing their views in a manner betraying of ignorance, they will be doing Australia great harm.

Talking about sharia or jihad or other religious concepts in a manner completely betraying of ignorance makes our nation look like a ship of fools floating aimlessly in the region.

Perhaps John and Peter need to get on the phone to Bill Farmer, our Ambassador to Indonesia, and find out what damage and embarrassment their remarks are doing to our image with the people of our closest neighbour. Then perhaps they can ask the Vice Chancellors of our universities whether such remarks will assist in securing more places for overseas students in Australian universities.

Perhaps John and Peter could take a short drive to ANU and ask some of our leading experts on Asia and the Middle East what negative impact ignorant remarks on sharia and jihad etc could have on our international relations and on our business interests overseas.

Lefties love hacking into George W. Bush for his occasional gaffs. But even with all the emotion post September 11, President Bush never dared comment on issues like jihad and sharia. His advisers immediately corrected him when he made an accidental reference to the Crusades.

This is how an international statesman behaves. Get the facts right, understand the issues and then talk.

Some of our greying male politicians in their dark suits are behaving just like some middle-aged migrant Muslim leaders. They say stupid things in the sort term, oblivious to the fact that it is young people like us who will have to stick around and sort out the mess after they are buried and their old-fashioned politically senile views set our country on fire.

So if I could provide some simple advice as a former endorsed Liberal Candidate who achieved a swing of over 5% in the 2001 Federal Election. John Howard and Peter Costello – with all due respect, put a sock in it!


© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

It's not about culture. It's about attitude!

Bad boys exception, not rule
John Howard's Muslim comments do not reflect mainstream Islam, writes Irfan Yusuf.

About a month ago, I joined four other Australians travelling to Indonesia on a leadership exchange program organised by the Australia Indonesia Institute and funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The purpose of the trip was for us to see first-hand just how much variety there is among Muslims in Indonesia. And because our delegation consisted entirely of young Australian Muslims, it was also a chance for Indonesians to see just how diverse Aussie Muslims are.

Our delegation included an Anglo-Australian couple who spoke fluent Indonesian. We also had two other females – a Victorian government engineer of Egyptian background and a Victorian policewoman of Lebanese background. And there was myself, an Aussie lawyer of Indian parentage.

If there was one lesson I learnt on the trip, it was this – don't generalise about anyone.

I respect the Prime Minister for speaking his views about some people within the Muslim communities with hostility to the Australian mainstream. He's also correct to point out that a minority of Muslims have bad attitudes to women. I've seen and experienced this myself.

Unfortunately, the PM's message is being portrayed as if this is a broader Muslim problem. Some journalists and commentators are saying the PM's words are directed at Muslim culture.

This analysis wrongly assumes a singular "Muslim culture" exists. But anyone who knows anything about Aussie Muslims knows we certainly aren't one cultural monolith.

My Delhi-born parents brought me to Australia in 1970 when I was five months old. We grew up surrounded by people who spoke the languages of Bollywood movies – Hindi and Urdu. My mother's first friend in Australia was a Hindi-speaking Jewish woman.

The first non-Indian Muslim woman my mother met at work was a Cypriot Turk who tried to force my mother to drink a glass of beer. First impressions are lasting, and my mother still has this mistaken impression that many Turks are alcoholics.

Our family friends were Hindus, Sikhs, Parsees, Jains and Indian Catholics. When we discovered that Aussie Catholics were teased as much as we were at school, our circle of friends expanded to include all Catholics.

My Lebanese friends of similar age tell me similar stories. Their parents tended to mix with other Lebanese, whether they be Muslim or Catholic or Orthodox or Druze.

The parents of my Bosnian friends used to mix with Serbians, Slovenians and Croatians with whom they shared language and culture.

Muslims in Australia come from more than 60 different countries. Religion is just one source of their identity. For my parents, the most important source of their identity was language and culture.

Howard has suggested that it is recent arrivals who show the sort of behaviour whose backlash led to the Cronulla riots. But the Cronulla rioters vented their anger at second- and third-generation boys of "Middle Eastern" (presumably Lebanese) appearance.

Our most recent Muslim arrivals aren't from Lebanon. Rather, they're from Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa. I've yet to meet a Somali of Middle Eastern appearance.

In my view, the kids with bad attitudes who show disrespect to Anglo-Australian women are the same kids who show disrespect to all women.

Some weeks back, I attended a Channel 9 forum on the Cronulla riots. One girl stood up and complained of experiencing harassment from Middle Eastern boys. She had light brown hair and white skin. She was an Afghan Muslim who spoke with a strong Farsi accent.

So why do these boys behave this way? Is it Lebanese or any other Muslim culture to be rude to women on beaches or wearing skimpy dresses?

If so, how does this explain the fact that such behaviour rarely occurs at beaches or on the streets of Beirut, Tripoli or other Lebanese cities?

Actually, it isn't culture which causes this behaviour. Cultured people don't behave like this. In reality, it's about lack of culture. Most Muslim women dress in the same way Michelle Leslie did after she left her Bali prison.

From what I saw Muslim women wearing in Jakarta, Leslie wouldn't look strange in hipsters and a singlet top.

Actually, perhaps what these boys need is a trip to Lebanon. Let them behave like that on a Lebanese beach to a Lebanese woman who could be their aunt or cousin or future wife. Let them see how they will be treated by the woman's male friends and family members.

It's not about culture or religion. It's about attitude.

All religions teach us to have an attitude based on respect for ourselves and others.

By reporting the PM's words as targeting one set of cultural and religious values, some journalists are providing louts with a convenient excuse to continue with their behaviour.

Let's remember this. The PM spoke about a tiny minority of people who identify as Muslim.

He didn't talk about all Muslim cultures and all Muslim Australians.

• Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer and former president of the Islamic Youth Association of NSW

(This article is published in the Courier-Mail on 22 February 2006.)

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Muslims becoming the new Slopeheads?

It’s official. John Howard doesn’t like some aspects of “Muslim culture”. Or at least that is what that American newspaper calling itself The Australian would have you believe.

It’s hard to know how to respond to such suggestions. After all, I haven’t read exactly what Mr Howard has said. But I’m pretty sure of what others will say and write.


I’m sure The Ameri … woops … Australian will be publishing a fair few op-eds on the subject. One of their regular columnists will hone in with theories about gang-rapists being inspired by "migrant Muslim culture" (whatever that means). Another will probably have another go at forming his Adolf Hitl … woops … Queen Isabella Society. Mark Steyn and Daniel Pipes will write about how this proves Muslims are trying to take over the Milky Way. And I doubt any sensible voices will be allowed into the debate.

In the tabloids, Uncles Piers and Andy Bolt will be having a field day. In the Fairfax press, the usual suspects will probably repeat their usual mantra about “Muslim” gangs.

The reality of Muslim migration

Today’s edition of the Oz reports that Mr Howard has come out and “strongly criticised aspects of Muslim culture, warning they pose an unprecedented challenge for Australia's immigration program.”

Apparently Muslim migrants are just different to everyone else. They just don’t integrate. In this respect, I have a few questions.

Which Muslim migrants? We have had numerous waves of migrants who have come from Muslim-majority countries. In the 1950's and 60's we had Turks from Cyprus and Anatolia. We also had migrants from the Middle East. Turks are well-settled, and the Turkish community manages the greatest number of mosques in Australia.

Then in the 1970's, we had more migrants from the Middle East, as well as from Pakistan and Bangladesh. In the 1980's, we had a large wave of Afghans and some Lebanese following the civil war and the Israeli invasion.

After the first Gulf War, we had a fair few Palestinians migrating from Kuwait. Most of these were highly educated and skilled migrants.

We also have had waves of Muslim migrants from countries where Muslims are a minority (e.g. India, South Africa, Fiji). Many have been highly skilled.

Aussie Mossies no longer a migrant phenomenon

The Howard government funded a study by Professor Abdullah Saeed of the University of Melbourne in 2004. That study showed that the largest ethnic group of Muslim Australians were born in Australia. Most were brought up in Australia and went to school here.

According to the Oz and its reporting of Mr Howard’s views, Muslims just don’t integrate enough – at least not yet. But now that Muslims are (in at least some cases) into their 4th and 5th generation, how can this be the case? You might be able to say that about some gang members and criminals who just happen to come from nominally Muslim families. But that's a bit like arguing all Catholics are paedophiles.

So what’s the problem with Aussie Mossies? Why do pseud-conservative leaders and commentators go on about them so much? Is it the fact that Muslim women refuse to take abortion pills? Are they having too many babies? Or has John Howard just read too many Mark Steyn editorials?

The alleged difference - "Muslim culture"

Somehow the "culture" of Muslim migrants makes them different from every other wave of migrants.

“You can't find any equivalent in Italian, or Greek, or Lebanese, or Chinese or Baltic immigration to Australia. There is no equivalent of raving on about jihad, but that is the major problem.”

Excuse me, mr Howard, but in what way does mainstream Indonesian or Bosnian or Turkish or Nigerian or Sierra Leonese or Bangladeshi culture teach people to rave on about jihad?

Muslims - the new Asians?

Mr Howard, I have a few questions for you.

You seem to be suggesting Italians and Greeks and Lebanese and Chinese are OK. Really? Sorry, John, but I do recall you saying something back in 1988 about how Asian (i.e. Indo-Chinese) migrants just don’t integrate.

Those comments haunted you for a long time, didn’t they, John? In fact, you wanted so hard to project yourself as an ethnic-friendly (and particularly Asian-friendly) leader that you even approached myself and a few other people from the Macquarie University Liberal Club to form an ordinary branch at Boronia Park in 1995. I distinctly recall you chairing the inaugural meeting at the North Ryde RSL Club yourself.

Then in January 1996, you were quite happy when Bankstown Liberal Party branches joined forces and organised a dinner for you at a Chinese restaurant across the road from the Bankstown Sports Club. On that occasion, you happily allowed yourself to be photographed with a hundred or so representatives of our Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai and other communities.

Your attitudes toward Chinese migrants soon changed. Why is that? Did they suddenly start looking different? Was the integration factor going up? Or was it just that they started donating to the Liberal Party?

Now, it seems the nips and slopeheads and gooks are no longer a problem for you. Now it’s those damned ragheads. And what is their problem?

Actually, they have quite a few problems. Most of them speak fluent English. They have a higher rate of tertiary education than the rest of the population. They come from over 60 different countries. Many of them are into their 4th and 5th generation.

In fact, a huge chunk of Muslim migrants and their kids don’t even identify Islam as the primary source of their identity. Like most Australians, they regard religion as a private matter. They have other sources of identity – race, nationality, language, etc.

Muslim migrants are not a block or a monolith. Why are you projecting them as such? What on earth is “Muslim culture”? Why are you making people who happen to be born into Muslim families feel on the edge of society? And who benefits from your attempts at marginalising them?

In the short term, perhaps the Liberal Party might benefit. But in the long term, the chief beneficiaries are radical Muslim groups outside Australia who are trying to convince some young impressionable Muslim kids that Western governments (including our very own in Canberra) will never accept as part of the mainstream people who just happen to have been born into Muslim families.

Yes, Mr Howard, if what the Oz reports is correct, you are doing al-Qaida and all the other groups proscribed by your anti-terror laws a huge favour. And so is The Australian.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Avoiding the Bigger Issues in Pakistan

Pakistan is a nation upto its eyeballs in crisis. Hundreds of thousands of its people continue to suffer from the aftermath of the devastating earthquake. At least 40% of the population cannot read or write. People with postgraduate qualifications are forced to drive cabs due to the lack of work.

Corruption at all levels of government is rife. The country is effectively ruled by a military dictator. Its currency is in deep trouble. Women, especially in rural areas, are subjected to violence and sexual abuse with little recourse to justice.

With all this happening, you’d think the ulama (religious scholarly class) would be flat out trying to help resolve social and educational problems. You’d think they, like their colleagues in Indonesia, would be busy establishing and improving facilities in their private boarding schools and using their considerable influence to fight corruption and develop a strong sense of civil society.

And no doubt, many Pakistani religious scholars are doing this. Until recently, virtually all emergency vehicles (ambulances etc) were provided by a private foundation established and managed by the religious scholar Maulana Abdus Sattar Edhi.

The Edhi Foundation manages a variety of other charitable and socially useful projects, and provides essential infrastructure that governments were incapable of providing. It performs this role not only in Pakistan but other countries also. During the war in Bosnia, Edhi ambulances were even seen in Sarajevo and other cities transporting the wounded to the relative safety of hospital beds.

Other scholars and religious foundations are doing the same. Many are operating on shoestring budgets and are reliant on volunteers, local and overseas. Yet for at least one Pakistani religious scholar, money is best spent rewarding people for flouting Islamic law.

Maulana Yousef Qureshi is reported to have personally offered the sum of 500,000 rupees to anyone able to successfully murder a Danish cartoonist. Two of his congregation put up additional bounties of $1 million and 1 million rupees plus a car.

The religious scholar leads the congregational prayer services at the Mohabat Mosque in Peshawar, the provincial capital of the North West Frontier Province which borders with Afghanistan. The imam was reported by Reuters to have said:

“If the West can place a bounty on Osama bin Laden and Zawahri we can also announce reward for killing the man who has caused this sacrilege of the holy Prophet.”

Pakistan’s military strongman, General Pervez Musharraf, has the ability to put a stop to such infantile pronouncements. However, his government and the provincial governments appear to be creating an environment which encourages the protesters on to more radical action. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry announced that it had recalled Pakistan’s Ambassador in Copenhagen “for consultations”. The Ministry has refused to elaborate further on the announcement.

Pakistan is officially an Islamic state. But Islam is not being evidenced in the rhetoric and actions of some mullahs. The pronouncements of Maulana Qureshi are a far cry from the persevering spirit of the early Muslims who withstood a barrage of persecution far more painful than a dozen cartoons to defend their Prophet’s honour and the quiet practice of their faith.

One would expect religious scholars, regarded as the inheritors of Prophetic knowledge, to act in a manner more befitting of their status. Islamic theology elevates religious scholars because of their knowledge, piety and character. However, there is ample material in the sayings of the Prophet which record him warning religious scholars to set a proper example or face the flames of hell.

Murder is a crime punishable by death under Islamic law. Scholars of Islamic law and other religious sciences should be the last people to be encouraging acts of extra-judicial killing. Unless the cartoonists have been tried and convicted in a properly constituted Sharia court in a properly established Islamic state, most Sharia lawyers would regard the shedding of the cartoonists’ blood as unlawful. Maulana Qureshi will know of this. Or at least he should.

Further, bin Ladin and Zawahari are hardly authorities on Sharia and its intricacies. One is a civil engineer, the other a physician. Neither has any expertise or training in Islamic law. Their actions may send shivers down the spines of their victims (most of whom have proven to be Muslims anyway), but they are hardly a precedent for Sharia-compliant action.

Pakistan is not a Sharia state. It may have Islamic courts with jurisdiction in certain “personal law” areas such as family law and deceased estates. However, despite the existence of a criminal offence of blasphemy, thus far no Pakistani courts have placed any Danish cartoonists or European newspaper editors on trial. It is unlikely they ever will, if for no other reason than want of jurisdiction. In terms of the limited Sharia law applied in Pakistan, the pronouncements of Maulana Qureshi are, with respect, fanciful.

Sadly, Maulana Qureshi’s pronouncement is more reflective of an attempt to drum up an increased support base than offering any sensible solution to the crisis. Because the real crisis in Pakistan runs far deeper than the blasphemy of 12 cartoons published thousands of miles away.

The rhetoric and actions of people like Maulana Qureshi provide a useful diversion for Pakistani federal and provincial government ministers and officials busy siphoning away public moneys into their overseas accounts. Similar riots in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere are also orchestrated (or at least encouraged) by governments to divert their peoples’ attention away from the bigger issues.

In all societies, when people begin to think about big issues, they ask big questions of people in high places. In Muslim countries where people have the freedom to ask the big questions, the protests (if any) have been far more peaceful.

In Indonesia, protests over rising fuel prices forced President SBY onto the streets of Jakarta to face angry questions from merchants and ordinary workers. But when a few hundred protestors stormed a building housing the Danish embassy (but couldn’t get past Indonesian police and security to reach the embassy offices on the 29th floor), it hardly registered on the President’s political radar.

(It still didn't stop Denmark from closing its Jakarta embassy. Given the attacks on its embassies in Damascus and Beirut, this is completely understandable.)

If the violent protests sweeping some parts of the Muslim world prove anything, it is that many Muslim communities are still living in ignorance – both of their own religious principles and of the stark social and economic realities facing their communities.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Muslim babies behind the Vale

There’s nothing like a good dose of Anglican education to give you a healthy understanding of Christian dogma. After 10 years at St Andrews, I thought I knew all the subtle nuances of Protestant theology. Though one teaching I always struggled with was the notion of original sin.

I probably still don’t understand it properly, as the only image the original sin conjures up in my mind is otherwise innocent babies being born in the shadow of their Grandpa Adam’s sin and being sentenced to eternal hell. I’m not sure at what stage the sin is inherited – is it before or after birth?

What I do know is that the theology I was taught at home and at the various Muslim camps I attended led me to believe that babies are born sinless. And not just Muslim babies either. The word “Muslim” literally means “the one who submits to God”. New-born babies are in a completely natural state, and therefore completely surrender to he forces of nature (a pseudo-scientific word often used to describe God). By definition, this makes them “Muslim”.

When it comes to babies and toddlers, Islam knows no demarcation between the faiths. In fact, kids have limited legal responsibility under classical Islamic law until they reach the age of puberty. When it comes to sectarian conflict, Islamic theology tells all parties involved to leave the kiddies out of it.

Baby religion and the abortion pill mass debate

Yet now it seems that religious affiliation and culture are being attributed to babies and even to the unborn. And all this in the context of what is fast becoming a mass debate over the RU482 pill and whether the Health Minister or experts from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) should have the final say.

Liberal backbencher and Member for the Federal Seat of Hughes in south-western Sydney Danna Vale is part of a push by five female Coalition Members of the House of Representatives to amend the Private Members Bill on abortion drugs.

The original PMB says that the Health Minister should not have the final veto on use of abortion drugs. The amendment seeks to place one more obstacle in the way of using the drug by enabling Parliament itself to have a say. Or something like that.

I think we were almost accustomed with the PMB when the otherwise completely inoffensive Danna Vale decided to open her mouth. Following her latest forays, the debate has transformed itself from one about ovaries being strangled by rosaries to one about the need to inject pregnant Muslim women with abortion drugs. Or something like that.

Sectarianism in the mass debate

Sectarianism isn’t a stranger to this debate. Earlier, a Greens Senator was accused of stirring sectarian feeling by wearing a t-shirt requesting Health Minister Tony Abbott (and presumably all observant Catholics) to “keep your rosaries off my ovaries”.

The t-shirt, worn by the Senator, took the form of an apparently sincere request that he remove his “rosaries from our ovaries”. For obvious reasons, I’m unable to comment on how it feels to have one’s ovaries trampled on by the humble string of beads. However, according to the Prime Minister and Coalition MP’s, the feelings generated may be described as bigoted in a sectarian and blasphemous way.

That American newspaper known as The Australian also weighed in on the debate. One of its regular contributors, Adelaide Review editor Christopher Pearson, said the Senator’s wearing of the t-shirt showed that bigotry was making a comeback.

(Admittedly, it also published an article by Democrats Senator Lyn Allison that said the Health Minister’s veto should be abolished. But then, the real issues are way too boring and complicated for most punters. Getting back to the mass debate …)

It was quite amusing to watch a host of conservatives suddenly deciding that freedom of speech must apply to cartoonists but never to t-shirts. It seems the religion of Tony Abbott deserves more reverence than that of Muhammad bin Abdullah al-Hashimi (the full name of the Prophet Muhammad).


As if the mass debate on t-shirts wasn’t enough, Danna Vale has now decided to claim that Australia was in risk of becoming like just about every other country in our region – a Muslim-majority state!

She went one step further than the hysterical claims of Dr Janet Albrechtsen, pseudo-conservative commentator and ABC Board Member, who claimed in her February 8 column that a single piece of Victorian Legislation threatened to turn Victoria into Victoristan. According to Albrechtsen, the religious vilification laws “make the place look like an Islamic state-in-waiting”.

But for Danna, the abortion tablet is even more dangerous than legislation. She wants to make sure an amendment to the PMB goes through so that in half a century’s time we aren’t staring down the barrel of Australiastan.

The evidence

I understand that before entering Federal Parliament, Ms Vale was a Sydney solicitor. Which means she was (and perhaps still is) a colleague of mine.

Most solicitors I know are fairly fussy when it comes to evidence. They tend to insist on seeing evidence from their clients before filing proceedings in court. In fact, the Civil Liability Act requires solicitors to file a certificate together with a summons or statement of claim that seeks compensatory damages. That certificate says that the solicitor believes that the state of the evidence and the law ensure that the proceedings have merit.

Parliamentarians, however, aren’t required to file such certificates before commencing a trial-by-media. And from what I have read in the papers thus fair, the evidence produced by Ms Vale certainly makes her case lack merit.

Samantha Maiden, reporting in The Australian on Valentines Day (February 14), said that Ms Vale’s remarks on abortion were based on “economic grounds.”

And what was her economics? Was it Keynesian? Was she reading Milton Freidman? Or Galbraithe?

Nope. It seems Ms Vale relies on the expertise of the Lakembian school of economics. Here are her words …

“A certain imam from the Lakemba mosque actually says Australia is going to be a Muslim nation in 50 years time … I didn't believe him at the time. But when you look at the birth rates ... we are aborting ourselves almost out of existence by 100,000 abortions every year. You multiply that by 50 years -- that's 5million potential Australians we won't have here.”

I can see some references to theology in these words. And perhaps some elementary arithmentic. Maybe even some demography. But where on earth is the economics?

Offending the converted

Seriously, Mr Abbott’s attempts to scuttle the PMB haven’t had much success lately. It seems that apart from Mr Abbott, not a lot of people on his side of the debate are making much sense.

Jackie Kelly, the author of the most recent amendment to the PMB which Ms Vale was trying to support, was clearly not impressed. She remarked that Ms Vale “was on her own on that one”.

Her words probably resembled those of just about every columnist in The Australian newspaper’s op-ed stable. “Janet, when it comes to Victoristan and the Caliphate of Sheik Bracks, you’re on your own!”

Of course, Jackie Kelly knows that in this mass debate, her side needs all the sensible support from the community it can get. Like Danna, Jacky has a substantial Muslim community in her electorate. Most of these people are socially conservative and would probably be happy to support anything that makes it harder to have an abortion.

But instead of gathering the Muslim converted, Danna has single handedly managed to piss them all right off. At the next federal election, as she goes door knocking on the well-heeled Muslim streets of Wattle Grove and other suburbs, Ms Vale will certainly have some explaining to do.

From abortion debate to mass debate

So now we have the prospect of this very crucial debate on the availability of abortion drugs being once again hijacked by sectarian jinx and transformed into a mass debate. Although, on this occasion, I doubt the issues are as emotional as to cause any Muslims to burn our embassies overseas.

Instead, like the rest of Australia, Muslims will probably spend the night dining with their spouses and partners and enjoying the Valentines Day spirit of love and affection and … well … maybe even reproduction. Far out! Maybe Danna had a point after all!!

In that regard, I’d like to suggest my own amendment to the PMB. I suggest we make consumption of the RU482 pill compulsory for all Muslims on Valentines Day. Any takers?


It has now been reported that Danna Vale stood up in Parliament and apologised for her comments. All credit to her for doing so. She has certainly shown far more sensitivity and sense than her colleagues, Bronwyn Bishop and Sophie Panopoulos.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Nice words, shame about the lingo ...

It was a financially satisfying Saturday night. We had been treated to presentations by two of the world’s foremost experts on mortgages and managed funds and insurance and all that other boring stuff that I failed at university. For me it was financially satisfying because I had been given a free dinner.

The night was organised by the Muslim Community Co-Operative (Australia) Limited, Australia’s first institution set up to develop financial products that complied with the tried and tested principles of sharia.

No, that doesn’t mean they involve stoning adulterers or chopping the hands of thieves (or, if you will, bankers) or even burning embassies. Rather, in the case of tonight’s dinner, it meant launching a new kind of ethical investment that enabled investors to play the stock market without getting their hands dirty on companies that traded in arms or pornography or similar nasties.

By the end of both presentations, I was thoroughly bamboozled and ready to hit the dessert and gobble down a few more glasses of complimentary coke. It was then that one of MCCA’s sharia advisers, an Egyptian chap named Dr Ibrahim Abu Muhammnad, decided to hit the stage.

Dr Abu Muhammad graduated from Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and lived for many years somewhere in the Middle East before settling in Australia. He runs his own radio station known as Radio Qur’an-Kareem or simply Q-K Radio. It broadcasts using narrow-casting short-wave frequency or something like that. The point is that you have to buy a special radio that costs around $40.

I purchased one of these radio sets for my mum. She started using it, and found that each time she turned on the radio she couldn’t understand a word being said. Like the other two Muslim radio stations in Sydney, Q-K Radio broadcasts all its programs in what is obviously the most relevant language for Australian conditions – Arabic.

Yep, we all know that every single Muslim in Australia instinctively knows how to speak Arabic. It’s just one of those things you naturally pick up after living in Sydney’s south-west – together with an aversion to paying tax and a mysterious attraction to Centrelink officers.

Dr Abu Muhammad decided he would continue with this tradition of exceptional relevance by speaking in Egyptian dialect of Arabic. I’m not sure exactly what he said, but it sounded really grouse. I started catching up on some gossip from a lady involved in one of Sydney’s “united” Muslim women’s associations.

The audience were overwhelmed by the speech. Some 30% of the audience got up and left. Virtually all of these were non-Arabic speakers. The rest of us just kept chatting away.

Dr Abu Muhammad finally pinned his gaze on me. He gave me one of those nasty looks, as if to say: “Look, I know what I am saying is in a language that hardly 0.5% of Australia can understand, but you must listen hard because I am shouting my head off!”

I, of course, looked back at the revered doctor. I gave him a look, as if to say: “Dude, you’ve lived in this country for over a decade now. Isn’t it time you got out of the ghetto and learnt some English?”

Of course, Dr Abu Muhammad did have something very important to say. In fact, so do most other Islamic religious scholars in Australia. But like Dr Abu Muhammad, most of them simply cannot express themselves in a language most of us can understand.

Later, MCCA Director Muhammad Abu Shaban stood up and gave an impressive summarised translation of Dr Abu Muhammad’s speech in English. It was truly awesome stuff.

Dr Abu Muhammad made the following points in relation to the Danish cartoons:

a. The fatwas (non-binding rulings) apparently made by various Middle Eastern scholars such as Dr Yusuf Qaradawi calling for boycotts of the goods of countries whose newspapers published the cartoons cannot and do not apply to Australia. We have no reason to boycott the goods of any European country.

b. Following the establishment of the Truce of Hudaybiyya between the Prophet and his foes from the city of Mecca, the Meccans began to suffer a famine. In previous years, these same people had fought 3 battles to annihilate the Prophet and his community. They had also sent assassins to kill him. What was his response to their famine? Did he trash their embassies? No. He followed the Qur'anic dictate of repelling evil with good. He sent them food aid.

c. We should give Europeans the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they are lampooning the Prophet in frustration at the bad behaviour of some Muslims.

d. Whilst Muslims may be mistreated in Europe, Muslims in Australia have little reason to complain. Their rights are adequately protected and guaranteed under Australian law. Australian Muslims realise this, which explains why Muslims here have not made any substantial protest to the publication of the cartoons here.

What absolute gems of wisdom can be found in these words. But unless you go out and do a crash course in classical Arabic, good luck if you can understand them.

The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC), the peak Muslim body in Australia, is meant to be having a national summit of imams on 25-26 February 2006. The Federal Government is worried about imams preaching radical stuff that could lead to some Muslim kids blowing themselves up. That summit has now been postponed as Muslim women’s groups are pushing for female scholars to be represented at the summit.

But there’s just one problem. Most Muslim female scholars can speak fluent English. Most male scholars cannot. Perhaps they need simultaneous translations. Or maybe AFIC will need to hire out the SBS subtitling machine.

Australia has some really fantastic Muslim religious scholars with bright ideas and amazing minds. Dr Abu Muhammad is one such scholar. His message is sober, thoughtful and sensible. But unless he can learn to speak English, his sensible message will go over the heads of people who need to hear the message. People like me.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Some Thoughts on Danish cartoons and Danish pastries

It’s difficult to know what to make of the controversy surrounding the publication of twelve cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a violent terrorist. On the surface, it appears to be a battle between the medieval and modern, between Abrahamic religion and freedom of speech.

The cartoons were first published in the obscure neo-Conservative newspaper Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten in September last year. They have now been reproduced in newspapers across Europe. A number of major American networks, including CNN, have refused to allow the cartoons to grace their websites.

Across the Tasman, the New Zealand Herald editorialised on February 4 why it refuses to publish the cartoons. Its competitor, the Fairfax-owned Dominion Post, has reproduced the cartoons in full and explained their significance.

Muslim haters have had a field day over images of violent protests in various Muslim-majority countries. Neo-Conservative publications known for their venom toward all things Islamic have been at the forefront of using more extreme Muslim responses as an indication of what broader Muslim opinion on the issue is.

The reality is that Muslim opinion has been divided. If anything, the entire fiasco has prompted a mood of soul-searching amongst educated Muslims, especially those living as minorities in Western countries.

Canadian writer Safiyya Ally, writing for popular Muslim website altmuslim.com, hasn’t held back in referring to the entire issue in her headline: “Stupid Cartoons, Even Stupider Reaction”.

Egyptian commentator Mona Eltahawy, writing in the Beirut Daily Star, argues that the issue exposes the inconsistencies of some despotic Muslim leaders. “Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen was right not to intervene, insisting the government has no say over media - the argument used by Arab leaders when they are asked about anti-Semitism in their media, by the way.”

She goes onto state that the Danish cartoonist may have offended Muslims but certainly did not call for violence against Muslims. Indeed, in August 2005 Danish authorities suspended the broadcasting license of a radio station calling for the extermination of Muslims.

Jyllands-Posten has since apologised for the publication of the cartoons. It claimed the cartoons were published in an attempt to test the limits of freedom of speech. Maybe. But why did the newspaper really publish the cartoons, knowing as it did that these would cause offence to millions of Muslims?

One needs to understand the political background of Denmark, in particular the ongoing claims of Danish neo-Cons that Muslims are not welcome in the country. The prejudice and hatred toward Muslims by some sectors of Danish society is reflected in an article entitled “Something Rotten in Denmark?” and published in Danish and American newspapers in August 2002. That article was written in the aftermath of the defeat of social democratic and leftist parties in Denmark’s elections.

In that article, veteran Islamophobe Daniel Pipes joined forces with Lars Hedegaard to claim that Muslim migrants “show little desire to fit into their adopted country.” Mr Pipes’ own Jewish background does not stop him from blaming Muslims for a host of Denmark’s social ills in a manner reminiscent of Nazi propaganda concerning European Jews.

American Muslim writer Svend White writes on his blog that too many commentators have ignored the role played by the offending newspaper in an ongoing debate about immigration. When one understands this context, it is clear that the Danish newspaper’s intentions were not as noble as first seems.

White, whose mother is Danish, claims that politics in Norway has made a sudden turn to the hard-right since the Conservative Party formed a government following the 2001 election. Despite an election win for a centre-left coalition in 2005, many politicians and media outlets on the conservative side continue to blame Muslim migrants (who hardly make up 4% of the Danish population) for all Denmark’s ills.

Even in Denmark itself, Jyllands-Posten has been criticised. One prominent Danish commentator, Rune Engelbreth Larsen, speaks of the cartoons and the paper in the context of “over 15 years of progressively humiliating rhetoric and propaganda attacks” suffered by Danish Muslims.

Larsen further comments on the complete futility of the exercise as a means to campaign for freedom of speech and other liberal democratic values. He says that if the paper was really concerned about freedom of speech, it would caricature the despotic emirs, kings, generals and presidents-for-life that currently rule the roost in most Muslim countries. Instead, publication of the cartoons has enabled despotic rulers of Muslim lands to shore up more support by fuelling popular Muslim sentiments.

Some 3 years ago, the UK-based Independent newspaper published a cartoon depicting Ariel Sharon as a cannibal eating the head of a Palestinian child. Jews across the world protested, some arguing that the cartoon reminded them of medieval Christian myths of Jews eating children. Today, the modern myths of Muslims as all being terrorists has been depicted in the name of freedom of speech. Surely European newspapers publishing the cartoons should understand that the Prophet Muhammad means more to Muslims than Ariel Sharon does to Jews.

At the same time, Muslims need to ask themselves how their Prophet would have liked his honour to be defended. The earliest Muslims were not known for holding violent protests, holding hostages or storming buildings. In their present response to the cartoons, many Muslims are displaying the sort of love and affection their own Prophet, had he been with us, would have condemned.

The author is a Sydney lawyer. iyusuf@sydneylawyers.com.au

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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