Saturday, April 29, 2006

AFIC Under The Microscope - Part II

In my last installment in the Worrell Report, I focused on the apparently unconstitutional nature of the role of AFIC’s CEO, Mr Amjad Ali Mehboob. I also queried whether he should be held responsible for the irregularities in AFIC’s financial and other procedures.

As I read further into the report and the summary co-authored by 2 current AFIC executive members, I noticed some of the extreme difficulties which Mr Mehboob and other employees of AFIC face.

AFIC isn’t the nicest of work places. The organisation has no written or set policies or procedures for recruitment or training of employees, virtually all of whom operate without job descriptions or set delegations.

It gets worse than that. There are also no policies for staff leave, including annual and long service leave. AFIC’s failure to properly document its workplace procedures is a particularly acute problem given the introduction of the Work Choices legislation.

Imagine working in an environment where such policies are not documented. For such an environment to exist in an organization which claims to represent Islam and Muslims in Australia is especially embarrassing.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace & blessings of God be upon him) is reported to have said: “Pay the worker before his sweat dries”. I am no scholar of religious law, but my reading of this particular saying leads me to believe that it is imperative for a Muslim institution to ensure its employees’ rights under law are readily met. How this can be done without properly documented procedures beats me.

The absence of documented employment procedures is a matter for which the executive members of AFIC are primarily responsible. It is not the responsibility of staff to find themselves something to do. Rather, it is the responsibility of those in management roles to provide staff with an environment where their roles are properly documented, set out and demarcated.

AFIC has not had duds or dummies for executive members. It has had senior people, many of them professionals, business people and academics. These are people accustomed to dealing with workplace situations. They know the law. And if they don’t, they certainly know where to get the advice from.

If the Worrell Report shows anything, it is the chronic mismanagement of Muslim institutions in Australia. What is happening in AFIC is reflective of what is happening at State and Territory level and in local mosque societies. Here, we will find professional people managing institutions in a manner they would never manage their own private, family or business affairs.

I’d like to think that AFIC executive members would realize they have fiduciary duties to the organization. I’d also like to think they would realize that the poor environment within which their employees work is not conducive to efficiency and productivity.

Further, an environment where workers feel vulnerable and where their rights and duties are undefined is one where corruption and graft could easily take place unnoticed. Where such instances occur, naturally the employees themselves are primarily responsible. However, part of the responsibility would also have to be shared by the executive members who failed to ensure proper workplace procedures were in place.

AFIC has been in existence for over a quarter of a century. It really is quite scandalous that these pressing employment issues have remained unaddressed for so long. What makes the situation even worse is that existing AFIC employees seem to be over-worked. Clause 182 of the Report recommends that AFIC consider increasing its administrative staff numbers to ensure administrative tasks are dealt with in a timely manner.

And while the executive members continually fail to ensure proper workplace procedures are in place, these same members then feel they should be compensated for time spent doing AFIC business as opposed to working on their professional practices or in their businesses.

It is not uncommon for executive members to seek payment from AFIC to compensate them for personal and/or professional time lost. Meanwhile, AFIC staff work undefined hours performing undefined but necessary tasks in an environment where they are over-worked and operating in procedures which, where documented, are in effect unconstitutional.

This is the peak national Muslim body. It is a matter of embarrassment and shame that a community which can produce CEO’s of some of Australia’s tope companies, partners of major commercial law and accounting firms, deans of university faculties and senior public servants is unable to ensure its own house is properly managed.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

AFIC Under The Microscope – Part I

Australian-based Muslim e-mail lists have been running hot with copies of a forensic accountant’s report dated 21 September 2005 and conducted by Worrells Forensic Accountants. The Worrells Report runs into 38 pages and seeks to investigate a range of matters concerning the financial systems and general corporate governance of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC), Australia’s peak Muslim body.

AFIC set up a committee to appoint and oversee an Independent Consultant following repeated allegations of financial mismanagement and systemic incompetence. The committee consisted of Dr Ameer Ali (then AFIC president) as well as Dr Muhammad Akmal from Canberra and Mr Suliman Sabdia from Brisbane.

In reading the Worrells Report, it should be remembered that the Report makes certain recommendations for changes to AFIC’s operations. In some places, the Report’s recommendations may have already been adopted. In the case of other recommendations, AFIC may be in the process of obtaining professional advice. Any comments, therefore, can only be made cautiously.

Among the issues raised in the Report is whether the system of payments complies with the AFIC Constitution. The Report suggests that the AFIC Constitution requires the President to also act as Chief Executive Officer. In the absence of such an arrangement, AFIC’s payment systems will breach the requirements of its constitution.

The current AFIC CEO is Mr Amjad Mehboob. If the provisions of the AFIC’s constitution are followed to the letter, it seems Mr Mehboob’s continued employment as CEO would be untenable. Mr Mehboob would therefore be made redundant, be dismissed or be found an alternate position.

Mr Mehboob has been with AFIC for over 2 decades. I doubt anyone in Australia would have as much knowledge of the history, systems and workings of the organisation as Mr Mehboob. One would hope that he could at least be kept on, even if only temporarily as some kind of consultant.

It is a matter of grave concern that until the release of the Report, AFIC’s system of payments did not comply with the requirements of its own constitution. One would have expected the auditors, the CEO and/or the accountant have brought this to the attention of the Executive.

Given that compliance would almost certainly have required Mr Mehboob’s removal from the role of CEO, one wonders whether self-preservation was deemed more important than compliance with legal and constitutional requirements. I would find it hard to believe that someone of Mr Mehboob’s education and experience would not at least suspect that this may be an issue AFIC would need legal advice on.

It also reflects poorly on successive Executive Committees of AFIC that they were unable to address this issue earlier on. Such a fundamental issue of corporate governance must surely be a matter important enough for Executive Members to deal with at the earliest opportunity.

The Worrells Report goes onto discuss the adequacy of the current payments system. It concludes that the system relies heavily on the CEO being “diligent in his duties to his employer”. The Report also mentions the role of the Office Manager and the Treasurer.

Clause 76 of the Worrells report states that the “current approach may not provide management with a high level of assurance that fraud will be prevented or detected in a timely manner”. The Report recommends that AFIC appoint “a suitably qualified fraud prevention expert to review AFIC’s authorization and accounting systems and make recommendations on strengthening that system.”

In the next instalment, I will examine those sections of the Report which touch upon AFIC’s audit reports for 2005 and the previous 2 years. In particular, I will focus on the allegations published in The Weekend Australian recently concerning the relationship between AFIC and the Malek Fahad Islamic School.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

New Blog

I don’t always have the time to update my many blogs with article-size (700-plus word) analyses. But I still like to keep my brain ticking over with short snippets on what I am reading at the moment.

With this in mind, I’ve started a new blog which (I hope) will be updated with some regularity. You can check it out here.

Hopefully, I will have some stuff to write about on this blog in the near future. Anyway, back to my 6-minute units!

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Hawaiian Islamic Council of NSW?

Picture this. John Howard has an argument with Morris Iemma at the Premiers’ Conference. He then decides to punish Iemma by kicking New South Wales out of the Commonwealth, to be replaced by a couple of highly volcanic islands to the east.

Then after a few years Mr Howard has an argument with Helen Clark, and decides it is time to punish her. He then decides to kick New Zealand out and looks even further east for a replacement state.

The result? Well, perhaps Honolulu replaces Sydney as the new showcase capital city of Australia.

This is exactly what the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) is doing with its constituent member societies.

AFIC is the peak Muslim body in Australia. It is a federation of 9 State and Territory Councils, and is meant to have a 10th council which is to be a national young and student body.

Yet instead of behaving like a federation, the powers-that-be at AFIC engage in antics to ensure that only “reliable” councils are allowed to participate and vote.

In the last 5 years, AFIC has kicked out 2 Councils from New South Wales, the state with the largest Muslim population in Australia. The first, known as the Islamic Council of NSW, was removed after a period of sustained friction following the award of a lucrative Commonwealth Government job search contract to the 'wrong' party.

In any event, relations between ICNSW and AFIC deteriorated. AFIC then gathered some disgruntled former executive members of the ICNSW to form a new Council which AFIC would then endorse. The new Council was named the “Supreme Islamic Council of NSW”. Soon, it would become affectionately known as the “Supreme Pizza Council”.

Within a few years, AFIC and the Supreme Pizza Council were at each other’s throats. As a result, AFIC decided to form a new Council. Before it was even constituted, people were already jokingly referring to it as the “Super-Supreme Islamic Council” or even the “Hawaiian Islamic Council”.

The final result of all this fighting between AFIC and its NSW Councils was that a number of lawyers grew very fat. Sadly, I wasn’t one of them. And as those who have met me in person will attest, I probably wouldn’t need much assistance in that department anyway.

So now the good Muslims of New South Wales are ably represented by not one nor two but THREE Islamic councils. Of course, in the case of the first two Councils, we know exactly which mosque societies have decided to affiliate. But in the case of the new Hawaiian Islamic Council (its actual name is the “Muslim Council of NSW”), we have no idea who runs the show.

We certainly don’t. But Richard Kerbaj, a journalist at The Australian, certainly does. So when Muslims in Sydney want to find out what their leaders are thinking, they cannot rely on AFIC to tell them. Instead, they have to rely on Mufti Murdoch and the Jamiat al-News Limited to provide the details.

The AFIC Congress and elections start in a couple of weeks. The Islamic Council of Victoria invited members of the Victorian Muslim community to attend a “meet the candidates” night and sought community feedback on who the ICV should nominate for executive positions.

In Sydney, the Muslim Council of NSW President is a Palestinian chap known as Na’il Kaddoumi (though he prefers it if you just call him “Neil”). I’ve bumped into Neil on and off over the years. He’s an interesting chap.

The first time I met him was during the late 1980’s at a Palestinian mate’s place in Auburn. Neil came to visit my mate’s mum. I was already having a chat with my mate’s mum about the Intifadeh. My mate told me not to mention Yasser Arafat in front of Neil. I asked him why.

“Irfan, trust me. Neil hates Arafat. He is a big-time supporter of HAMAS.”

Not that being a supporter of HAMAS is a big deal these days. Well, not in Gaza. Perhaps in Australia, it isn’t the best thing. And I wonder how many New South Welshmen and women of Muslim background would be impressed if they knew their representative was at one stage an active HAMAS supporter and activist within the local Palestinian community.

During the mid-1990’s I worked at a small law firm in Revesby. The nearest mosque to me was in Winspear Avenue in Bankstown and was managed by an outfit known as the Islamic Charitable Projects Association (ICPA). I was at the Bankstown mosque one day finishing my afternoon prayers. Neil came in with a large batch of educational materials. He told me he was using them to teach Arabic and Qur’an to kids in a school he ran.

In 1996, I again saw Neil. It was the Friday before the Federal Election and I had former Parramatta MP Ross Cameron with me. Neil was looking after proceedings at the Friday prayer. I asked him and some Bangladeshi members of his executive if he would agree to allow Ross to say a few words. The Bangladeshis seemed happy enough. Neil wasn’t. He said that the Islamic Society of Parramatta would be supporting the ALP.

Just over a year after the election, I saw Neil again. I was doing a short stint in a personal injury law firm in North Parramatta. Neil was a frequent visitor, usually accompanied by an injured worker of Arab descent.

I never saw Neil much after that. I wonder how many Muslims in NSW would have met or heard of Neil. Yet Neil will be casting a vote at the next AFIC elections and will be representing us at the AFIC Congress.

And what are Neil’s contact details? I looked up the White Pages website but couldn’t find a single person of the surname Kaddoumi (or any other variations of spelling). The phone number of the Muslim Council of NSW given on the AFIC website rings out without anyone answering.

And so, my dear readers, if you would like to know what the officially endorsed leadership of NSW Muslims is upto, you will have to read The Australian newspaper. And if you want Neil’s number, give the Melbourne office of News Limited a call and ask for Dick Kerbaj.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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LETTER: Open Letter to Mr Afroz Ali

18 April 2006

Mr Afroz Ali
Al-Ghazzali Centre for Islamic Sciences & Human Development
PO Box L-14

Via e-mail

Dear Afroz,

Assalamu alaykum.

I refer to the telephone discussion we had during Ramadhan last year, which resulted in the posting on one of my Madhab Al-Irfy blog (URL: dated 5 November 2005.

During our telephone conversation, you advised me that you would be prepared to show me all the credentials, qualifications and degrees you claimed to have after Ramadhan.

It is now late April 2006. Over 6 months have elapsed since that conversation and you have not made any arrangements to provide me with an opportunity to view your qualifications.

I have been raising this issue with you since, at the latest, April 2005. In that time, you have continually insisted that you have certain qualifications and credentials. However, you have not made any pro-active attempt to show them.

Further, when I have raised the issue with you on various forums, you claim that I would have no ability to understand or appreciate documents evidencing your credentials due to linguistic and other factors.

Indeed, at least 3 other persons have raised the matter with you and have sought details of your qualifications and/or requested an opportunity to inspect them. You have also avoided or refused their requests.

Indeed, you have also made personal attacks on myself and others seeking clarification of these issues, and you have accused us of having sinister motives.

You have become a public person, appearing in media and soon to be appearing on TV in New Zealand (or so I am advised by at least one Muslim from across the Tasman). Your refusal to provide evidence of your alleged qualifications does not reflect well on Muslims as a whole, and in the event that your claims are even partially exaggerated or bogus then any resulting embarrassment will be felt not only by your students but also by Muslims on both sides of the Tasman.

I have therefore decided to write to you publicly and advise that I will be referring this matter to the NSW and Victorian Boards of Imams and have them investigate your alleged credentials. Since you are not convinced of my abilities to verify your alleged qualifications, perhaps you will feel more confident putting the matter to those who are qualified.

I can only presume the Imams’ boards will request copies of your degrees and ijaza certificates from you. If you show the Imams the same reluctance, I believe they might take the step of contacting all the various persons or institutions with whom you claim to have studied and seek their confirmation. That means, as a bare minimum, contacting the Zaytuna Institute in the United States and the Islamic University of Madeena in Saudi Arabia.

Why am I doing this? You have suggested I am somehow jealous of the achievements of your Centre. Why should I be jealous, Afroz? Allah has blessed me with 3 university degrees, a practising certificate (which I am prepared to show anyone) and sufficient material means. May Allah enable us both to maintain our means.

Further, as I have advised you in the past, I believe your refusal to provide evidence of your alleged qualifications undermines the enormous good that does and will insh’Allah continue to come from your Centre.

In fact, I am taking these steps because I wish to avoid yet another Khalid Yasin-type episode. I don’t want your face to appear on national TV in Australia and/or New Zealand as someone who has charged money for holding courses whilst being not completely truthful about the extent of his qualifications.

Copies of this letter are being sent to the NSW and Victorian Boards of Imams. As this is a public letter, I will also be posting it on various websites, forums, yahoogroups and on my blog.

Ma salameh,
Irfan Yusuf

cc NSW Board of Imams (c/- Islamic Council of NSW)
Victorian Board of Imams (c/- Islamic Council of Victoria)
MuslimMediaWatch yahoogroup
Sydney Muslims yahoogroup
Mevlana Lawyers yahoogroup
Youth Emerged forums (Adelaide)
Aussie Muslims forums
Brisbane Muslims forums

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Monday, April 10, 2006

Mr Trad & Theocracy

On Wednesday evening March 29 2006, a group known as The Round Table Forum organised an evening forum on the broad topic of “God in Politics”. The forum was held at the NSW Parliament House.

Three speakers were invited to address the forum. These included Keysar Trad from a relatively unknown group called the Islamic Friendship Society of Australia. Mr Trad is a former executive member of the Lebanese Moslems Association, a body which manages a portfolio of properties in South Western Sydney including the Imam Ali ben Abi Taleb Mosque.

Also speaking was Dr Peter Slezak from the School of History & Philosophy of Science at the University of New South Wales. Dr Slezak is coordinator in the Graduate Program in Cognitive Science and the Academic Director of Continuing Education. His teaching and research interests are many and varied, from Descartes to the sociology of scientific education.

The final speaker was Mr David Clarke MLC, a convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism and a supporter of the Catholic lay order Opus Dei. Clarke is also a senior figure in the Religious Right of the NSW state branch of the Liberal Party of Australia.

The promotional flyer of The Round Table Forum stated that each speaker would be given around 25 minutes to speak. I have been sent by Mr Trad a copy of his speech, and will be approaching the organisers to see if copies of speeches of the remaining speakers can be made available.

Over the next few days, I hope to read Mr Trad’s speech and comment on it. The MS Word file containing Mr Trad’s speech was entitled “Speaking for Islam”, perhaps a somewhat presumptuous claim and one which might concern the many Muslims who disagree quite strongly with the way Mr Trad has projected the “Muslim” view on issues in the media for the past few years.

Mr Trad concludes his speech with what appears to be a call for a more God-centred approach to law-making in Western democracies. In a rather convoluted way, he claims that the “Islamic perspective” requires that law making become “a model where laws are put to a Scriptural test before they are introduced, whether these laws are to criminalize, decriminalize, promote, sanction, or discourage certain behaviours, they would need to be put to an ethical test to see where they fit within the Divine guidance, are they fair, equitable and constructive, or do they favour one section of society over another?”

Trad’s model theocracy is certainly no right-wing dream. There is a strong emphasis on the rights of minorities. This seems to reflect Trad’s understanding of classical Islam which placed enormous emphasis on minority rights and whose prescriptions were (and in some cases still are) frequently ignored and flouted by Muslim rulers.

Neo-Conservatives tend to ignore minority rights, insisting that the Rule of Law in effect means the Rule of Parliament elected by majorities and reflecting majority wishes regardless of commonly-held ideals.

The reality is that minority rights are guaranteed by our present system of liberal democracy and the rule of law. I doubt many Muslims would want to see this system eroded. Certainly many Muslim asylum seekers who risk their lives to seek refuge in Australia prefer our political system to the systematic abuses they left behind.

Personally, I think Mr Trad should avoid discussing these issues. His limited formal training in law and government, even notwithstanding his years in the Commonwealth Public Service, are not enough for him to address such sensitive issues. Further, I think Mr Trad has relied too heavily on a small range of Muslim political thinkers from a more “Islamist” strand.

I personally find the word “Islamist” troubling, thought it is useful to the extent that it is an alternate adjective to “Islamic” which is often used to describe more orthodox and mainstream ideas. When I use the term “Islamist”, I refer to those who tend to politicise (in a modern sense) Islam and who write on behalf of “Islamic movements” such as Pakistan’s “Jamaat-i-Islami” and Egypt’s “Ikhwan al-Muslimeen”.

Much of the literature emerging from these movements is focussed upon specific political struggles of the host countries of these movements – Pakistan, Iran, Egypt etc. Such struggles have little or no relevance to the sorts of struggles faced by young Australian Muslims. Hence, the approaches contained in Islamist literature are inappropriate to the Australian Muslim experience.

More importantly, offshoots from Islamist groups have produced a host of violent heterodox groups engaged in politically motivated violence including terrorist attacks targeting civilians. Further, the views of many Islamists are regarded by mainstream Muslim theological authorities as often being of questionable orthodoxy.

I think Mr Trad needs to be very careful with what ideas he passes off as Islamic orthodoxy. Perhaps he should consider limiting his public speaking engagements to those areas where he is able to competently project views more reflective of mainstream Muslim opinion.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Is the burqa a traffic hazard?

The President of the NZ Police Association, Greg O'Connor, was reported by NZPA on 5 April as suggesting that the tiny minority of women who choose to wear the burqa shouldn't be allowed to drive in New Zealand.

Some Muslim women are understandably upset with his comment as reported. Surely it isn't for the police to seek to control what women wear. Further, there is no empirical evidence to support the notion that women in burqa pose a danger to themselves or other road users.

Indeed, where identification of a driver needs to take place, it can in most instances be done by a female police officer, thereby not compromising the burqa-wearer's religious scruples. In any event, even that tiny minority of women wearing the burqa would agree that Islam places a higher importance on public safety than on dress code.

The President of New Zealand's Muslim peak body indicates he sees no problem with a change in traffic laws requiring women wearing face veils to remove their covering for identification purposes. He suggests hardly 30-40 Muslim women wear anything resembling the burqa in New Zealand, out of which only a handful drive.

Across the Tasman, the burqa has also made waves, starting with Australian swimwear model Michelle Leslie's decision to don the full face covering during her narcotics trial in Bali last year. In an interview with Sky News in late February, Prime Minister Howard described the burqa as "confronting", a view which he claimed was shared even by many Australian Muslim women.

On that occasion, however, Howard said governments should not legislate against the burqa. "You don't ban what people wear and you don't pass laws on what people can and can't do with their clothing."

Virtually all Australian states require photo identification on drivers' licenses to show the license holder's face. However, as far as the writer is aware, there are no traffic laws forbidding women from wearing the burqa whilst driving.

In Australia, small numbers of burqa-wearers are often seen in Muslim neighbourhoods walking the streets and driving without any evidence of their face covering posing a problem. During my recent trip to Indonesia, I saw Indonesian women in burqas navigating motor cycles through Jakarta's legendary traffic jams.

In this respect, it is important to note the various kinds of face coverings common amongst the minority of Muslim women who wear them.

The burqa is a single head covering which covers the entire face whilst providing a screen to enable the wearer to see. Then there is the niqab, which covers the hair and all parts of the face except the eyes. Finally, there is the hijab, perhaps the most popular choice for Western Muslim women insistent on covering their heads.

Women who regard the head covering as a religious requirement tend only to do so when leaving their homes or in the company of men outside their family. Although there have been no formal studies undertaken in this regard, anecdotal evidence suggests that overwhelming majority of Muslim women do not wear any head covering.

Indeed, in some parts of the Muslim world, women only cover their heads during ceremonial occasions or when entering the mosque.

The practise of covering the face arose 14 centuries ago during the time of the Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet's wives were forbidden from re-marrying after his death, and they are still described as "Mothers of the Believers" to express their status as spiritual aristocracy. They rarely if ever appeared from their homes and would speak to men outside their immediate family from behind a curtain.

This requirement of extra covering and segregation was followed by other Muslim women. Eventually, extra covering became a symbol of more worldly aristocracy. Women covered their faces more as a status symbol than as an act of piety.

Different Muslim cultures display varying attitudes to covering both hair and face. The complete burqa is worn mainly in rural areas of the Indian sub-Continent as well as in Afghanistan. It is also worn to a limited extent in Saudi Arabia, where the law bans women from driving.

The niqab (covering most of the face except the eyes) is commonly worn in the Indian sub-Continent and some parts of the Arab world. It is regarded by a minority of Islamic religious scholars as compulsory under religious law, this view only being current amongst scholars influenced by the puritanical Wahhabi sect which is the official religion of Saudi Arabia.

The hijab covering the hair and leaving the face exposed is worn across the Muslim world. Malay, Turkish and African American Muslim women are known for their fashionable and brightly-coloured hijab's.

It is therefore arguable that the burqa is more of a cultural than religious practice. The majority of modern Muslim religious scholars do not regard face-covering of any form as a religious requirement for Muslim women.

As a policy proposition, it is difficult to argue that banning burqa-wearers from driving for safety and law enforcement reasons discriminates against Muslim women per se. During an interview on TVNZ’s Breakfast program on April 6, both Mr O’Conner and Muslim lawyer Anjum Rahman agreed that public safety on roads requires identification to be carried out more easily.

Which means now Police can spend their valuable time and resources fighting the overwhelming majority of offenders who prefer to wear socks or stockings instead of burqa's on their faces.

(The author is a Sydney lawyer. An edited version of this article was published in the Wellington-based Dominion-Post on 7 April 2006.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Pro-Israel writer issues fatwa against FAMSY

The Australia-Israel Jewish Public Affairs Committee is one of a number of Jewish organisations claiming to speak for Australian Jews. Though in its treatment of its critics from within the Jewish communities, one would have to doubt its credentials. And if you don't believe me, just ask this chap.

The reality is, of course, that AIJAC is more concerned with identifying (and at times defaming) even the midlest critics of a certain Middle Eastern country. At times, it does provide useful material on a range of anti-Semitic activities. However, it also provides space in its publications for a range of other anti-Semites, which undermines its claims to being a force against racism.

In recent times, one of AIJAC’s front men has refused to disassociate himself from vile racist remarks made about Muslims and Arabs by people supporting his viewpoints on the forums of Online Opinion. It is difficult to know what to make of this refusal. I guess sometimes silence speaks louder than words.

A cursory glance at these forums shows this fellow's aversion to the "r" word (r for racism) which he sees as a politically correct tool used by people on the left of the political spectrum. Again, this aversion to identifying racism reflects poorly on AIJAC.

Now an article in the April edition of AIJAC’s Review declares war on a small Muslim youth and student body which does little more than organise an annual conference, publish a magazine entitled Salam (meaning literally “Peace”), sell devotional books and invite speakers from the UK and US to lecture in Australia.

AIJAC accuses the ambitiously named Federation of Australian Muslim Students & Youth (FAMSY) of being a front for that nebulous entity known as “radical Islam”. AIJAC’s main source is the notorious Steve Emerson, a Muslim-hater frequently sprouting conspiracy theories about Muslims in North America and Europe. For AIJAC to cite Steve Emerson as a source would be akin to my citing David Irving on the Holocaust.

AIJAC’s other source is Robert Spencer, whom, they describe as a “Middle East expert”. In reality, Spencer is an inveterate Islam-hater who is associated with a number of pro-Israel and/or Christian fundamentalist organisations from the deep-south of the United States. He is also known to be linked to Opus Dei, a catholic lay order whose supporters include a NSW MP named in the Australian Jewish News for his links to far-Right anti-Semitic individuals and groups.

The fact that AIJAC regards such extreme Islam-haters as “authorities” and “experts” on Islamic movements is an indication of perhaps AIJAC's own thinly-disguised hatred toward even the most moderate forms of Islam. And if it isn’t, AIJAC’s governing board should act swiftly to distance themselves from the offending article in the same manner that Mr Downer distanced himself from a provocative cartoon published recently in The Australian.

Given that members of AIJAC’s governing board include prominent members of the Jewish community involved in inter-faith and anti-racism issues, their response to what is clearly an offensive and defamatory article will be seen by mainstream Muslim Australians as a litmus test of the value AIJAC officers place on maintaining good Jewish-Muslim relations in Australia.

In the past, AIJAC has allowed the pages of its publications to be polluted by anti-Muslim extremists such as Mark Steyn and Daniel Pipes. Mr Pipes, of course, is known for an article in which he called for the lynching of Muslim minorities as a means to combat kidnapping of Western civilians by Iraqi dissidents.

The article in the April edition of AIJAC’s Review features a photograph of respected Muslim speaker and pharmacist, Dr Zachariah Mathews. Dr Mathews migrated to Australia from South Africa and has been involved in numerous youth and inter-faith initiatives across Australia and New Zealand. He is a former editor of the Australian Muslim News, the official publication of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. Dr Mathews is one of the most respected Muslim leaders in Australia.

Yet the article seeks to paint Mr Mathews and FAMSY to al-Qaida and other extremist groups. It does so by claiming that FAMSY is inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood, which is in turn apparently responsible for inspiring Usama bin Ladin.

Of course, such reasoning could just as easily be used to link AIJAC to extreme Jewish terrorist groups inside Israel who, like AIJAC officers, are inspired by the philosophy and activism of Theodore Herzl.

What the Review article fails to mention is the bin Ladin was never a member of the Brotherhood. Indeeed, one could just as easily argue that the Holy Qur’an inspired al-Qaida. Does that mean that the Qur’an should be exposed as an extremist text?

The entire piece is laced wth a combination of far-fetched associations and half-sourced quotations more befitting of tabloid publications than of serious public affairs writing.

I am reluctant to write much further on this topic given my past experiences with a predecessor organisation to AIJAC known as "Australia-Israel Publications". This small unincorporated body threatened myself and the editors of a small newsletter known as "The Muslim Monitor" with defamation proceedings back in 1995. That matter did resolve itself.

Time will tell if AIJAC instructs solicitors to write to me seeking a retraction and apology for this blog entry. I will keep you all posted. Be sure that any and all correspondence from AIJAC and/or their solicitors will be posted on this blog. I will also keep readers informed of possible moves by FAMSY and its various bodies to proceed against AIJAC and the author of the defamatory Review article.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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