Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Indonesia's City of Soul in Mourning

If you wish to discover the real spirit of Indonesia, you need to look beyond the beaches and nightclubs of Bali. You also have to look beyond the traffic jams of Jakarta or the art deco conference halls of Bandung. Indonesia’s real cultural and spiritual heart is Jogja.

Like their Aussie neighbours in the global village, Indonesians love to abbreviate names. “Jogja” is the shortened name for Yogyakarta, the historical capital of an old Javanese Sultanate and the hub of ancient and modern Indonesian culture.

But as a result of the recent earthquake, large parts of Jogja and surrounding villages have been transformed into hills of rubble. At the time of writing, the death toll has climbed well over 5,000.

Visiting the City of Soul

In January this year I was part of a delegation of five young Australians on a leadership exchange program sponsored by the Australia Indonesia Institute (AII). We spent almost a week of our 14-day tour in Jogja.

(Currently, a number of young Indonesian leaders are visiting Australia, including at least one with family in Jogja.)

During our pre-trip briefing by AII officials, we were told we’d probably find Jogja more laid-back compared to the rush of the capital Jakarta. Jogja is a university town, with over 50 institutions of higher education. It is also a place of fine arts, culture and music.

By day, the streets outside the universities and in the heart of town are filled with food stalls. By night, the food stalls become tent cities where locals and tourists sit on the ground to savour the local culinary delights.

Our delegation dined in one of these tents one night. We were entertained by a small group of buskers consisting of a guitarist as lead singer and two backing vocalists, playing and singing everything from the Beatles to Bon Jovi.

One City, Many Faiths

We also visited a number of universities including the famous Gadjah Mada State University , ranked one of the top 100 universities in the world. There, we visited a special research centre devoted to inter-faith studies. We also visited a women’s research institute devoted to improving the status of Indonesian women and run wholly by Muslim women.

Jogja is a progressive and open-minded town. Transsexual musicians openly walk the streets even during the day. Our delegation visited a private university managed by Protestant Christians and catering for Jogja’s large Christian community.

A large number of NGO’s operate in Jogja. Among them is Interfidei, an organisation managed by people of all faiths devoted to promoting religious tolerance. An Interfidei t-shirt shows a young child asking the question: “Mummy, what is God’s religion?”. One Muslim Interfidei activist told us of her project to have Indonesia’s tiny Jewish community receive official recognition by the government of this, the world’s largest Muslim country.

Rifka Annisa

We also visited an NGO managed by Muslim women’s activists. Called the Rifka Annisa, the organisation runs a crisis centre and refuge for women and children who are victims of domestic and other violence.

The workers of Rifka Annisa educate and lobby governments, judges, religious organisations and community leaders on issues relating to violence against women. Their crisis centre provides counselling and support services to women of all faiths and from all sectors of Jogja society.

Rifka Annisa workers told us of their most painful work in Jogja’s red light district. They told us of otherwise religiously observant women of all faiths forced by poverty to become sex workers, either on the streets or in brothels. Many such women suffer violence at the hands of clients including a large number of foreign tourists.

During our Q & A session, I asked the Rifka Annisa workers whether they faced resistance from conservative sectors of Indonesian society. One told me: “If we were in Jakarta or elsewhere, that might happen. But Jogja is different. People here aren’t afraid of reality.”

Respecting Cultural Heritage

Perhaps the most awesome experience was watching a ballet of the ancient Hindu epic known as the Ramayana. The ballet was performed in a small auditorium in the shadow of an ancient complex of Hindu temples. Part of the temple was damaged in the recent earthquake.

The Ramayana is the story of an Indian prince Rama whose wife Sita (or “Cinta” in Indonesian) is kidnapped by a demon Ravana. Rama fights Ravana with the assistance of an army of monkeys and rescues his princess.

The birthplace of Rama is a North Indian town known as Ayodhya. This has been the scene of bloody rioting between Hindus and Muslims after a mosque there was destroyed by Hindu extremists in 1992.

The Ramayana story may be the basis for rioting in Lord Rama’s birthplace. But in the city of Jogja, Muslim artists regularly perform the Ramayana ballet in the shadow of the city’s Hindu temple and to a mostly Muslim audience.

The Followers of Muhammad

And in case anyone thought Jogja was just a place for Muslims to celebrate Hinduism, it is important to note that Jogja was also the place where the progressive yet orthodox Muhammadiyah movement was founded in November 1912.

The movement was started by Shaykh Ahmad Dahlan in the humble Kauman district of Jogja. Its emphasis was on al-Maun, a concept of small kindnesses expressed in Chapter 107 of the Qur’an. The Shaykh taught his young students this chapter of the Qur’an repeatedly, telling them that the essence of Islam is to serve and care for others and to be aware of the needs of the broader community.

Shaykh Dahlan established this small movement, hardly 3,500-strong at the time of his death in 1923. Today, it has a membership of over 29 million, making it one of the largest Islamic organisations in the world.

Pray and Donate

The vibrant, progressive and lively city of Jogja is now overcome with grief following the massive loss of life from the recent earthquake. Yet for anyone who has spent time in Jogja, it isn’t hard to imagine this cultural heartland of Indonesia reviving itself from amongst the rubble.

Yet this revival needs our help. A number of aid agencies are already working in Jogja. These include the International Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies, Islamic Relief and local Indonesian organisations. Our prayers should go to those who are left homeless and have lost loved ones. But prayers need to be combined with hard cash.

One Australian Dollar equates to some 7,000 Rupiah. We are fortunate that even our spare change could make a world of difference to the inhabitants of Indonesia’s City of Soul.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, May 26, 2006

Australian Muslims – The Next 10 Years

On the eve of the fanatical European Catholic Crusaders landing in his town, the writer and philosopher Abul Hasan Ali al-Ma’arri summed up the state of people in his troubled times: There are only two classes of people in the world: those who have religion but not much brains, and those who have brains but not much religion!”

The same comment could just as easily be made about Aussie Muslim peak organisations in the 21st century as they could about Syrian Muslims in the 11th century.

Tomorrow night, a number of speakers representing the new generation of Australia’s Muslims will be addressing a packed crowd in Melbourne University’s Copeland Theatre to discuss their vision of where their community will (or should) be in a decade’s time.

The speakers include Dr Zachariah Mathews, a former executive member of the Federation of Australian Muslim Students & Youth (FAMSY). Dr Mathews is a senior pharmacist who has worked in the public hospital system for many years. He originally hails from South Africa, and has studied in the United States.

Also speaking will be Waleed Aly, perhaps Australia’s most articulate Muslim voice. A versatile communicator, Mr Aly is currently media spokesman for the Islamic Council of Victoria. He works in Melbourne for a major commercial law firm, and appears regularly in various newspapers including The Age and The Australian.

A chap named Abu Hamza will also be appearing. He is a speaker who lectures at the Islamic Information & Services Network of Australia (IISNA), a salafi/wahhabi organisation that tends to distance itself from more radical salafi groups. Abu Hamza is not in any way related to the blind Sheik Abu Hamza al-Masri, formerly of London.

It is significant that this topic is being discussed without the presence of any representatives from the peak Muslim body known as the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC). In recent times, AFIC’s affairs and scandals have been splashed across the pages of The Australian.

Thus far, it seems only The Oz is covering the story. Neither the Fairfax press nor the tabloids are touching the story. As if Muslims are the only religious congregation with trouble, scandal and disputation at the highest levels. Why should Muslims especially make the news?

(It might be argued that this fascination of The Oz with Muslim affairs is reflective of the fact that, at least in its editorial and op-ed policies, The Oz has a distinctly monocultural agenda. In recent times, The Oz has allowed its pages to be polluted with xenophobic and feral articles demonising both Muslim and indigenous cultures and communities.

The Oz has now jumped onto the absurd bandwagon of forcing judges to ignore peculiar cultural factors when sentencing offenders. It is always the first newspaper to bash any minority deemed vulnerable and unfashionable.

Yet the Fairfax press aren't exactly averse to Muslim-bashing either, although they tend to show a little more sophistication.)

However, the fact remains that AFIC is in an incredible degree of strife. One need not go over the numerous fatal weaknesses of the organisation. AFIC’s inevitable demise leaves a huge vacuum in Muslim community leadership. This poses enormous challenges but also substantial opportunities.

For years, Muslim institutions have been dominated by the most observant yet least competent. Muslim institutions have failed to understand the communities they claim to represent. They have been dominated by persons with little interest in building strong and viable institutions that service the needs of an increasingly younger and home-grown community.

Of course, there are exceptions. The Islamic Council of Victoria has initiated its Grassroots youth programs. It has copped some criticism from more conservative and/or pro-Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) elements in organisations such as FAMSY and IISNA.

What these conservative groups fail to appreciate is that allegedly ideologically purer activities have failed to make any real or lasting difference in the lives of a substantial proportion of young Muslims. Despite its bombastic name, FAMSY has managed to attract few real youth, and its executive has tended to be dominated by middle-aged overseas PhD students from Arab countries.

IISNA is a breakaway organisation from the one headed by Sheik Mohammad Omran. It is more moderate in its theology, and has tended to shy away from political controversies. However, its insistence on limiting itself to conservative Saudi scholarship has rendered it almost irrelevant to the uniquely Australian problems faced by young people.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Australia’s Muslims is how to come to terms with the fact that not all Muslims regard Islam as the primary source of their identity. Muslim organisations need to make up their mind on whether they are to ignore or reflect this spectrum of religiosity.

Muslim institutions need to attract the most talented elements of the Muslim community. They need to look to the example of their Jewish cousins who have ensured that their best and brightest are heavily involved in community management. Involvement in Muslim institutions should no longer be seen as the pastime of those with not much else going for them in life.

We need to understand that often our best and brightest aren’t always the most observant people on the planet. Some will be engaged in lifestyles or activities that are not exactly orthodox. However, if such persons wish to share and contribute their expertise and resources to help the cause, we should be the last to come in their way.

This especially applies to public relations. While some elements of the media are worth writing off, there are plenty of opportunities for well-spoken and articulate Muslims to make their mark. Such people should be encouraged and coordinated, not shouted down for being not observant enough.

There are so many challenges facing Muslim Australia. Yet public relations and community management are the immediate matters to be dealt with. Let’s hope tomorrow night’s discussion will yield some real results.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Breaking the Stereotypes

I am a bit over writing and talking about stereotypes. The way Muslims keep harping on about stereotypes, you’d think they were the only group subject to them.

But I guess the word is here to stay. Though I’d much rather refer to them as simply untruths or simplifications or myths or even … another dreaded cliché … as generalisations.

Whatever you want to call them, the best antidote is the facts. When John Howard and Peter Costello (who now seems to be Rupert Murdoch’s favoured choice as PM in the new year) made their woefully ignorant and imbecilic remarks about Muslim Australians and their religious symbols, many Muslims were in shock.

Similarly, when Cardinal Pell showed a most unscholarly attitude toward a non-Catholic scripture in his treatment of his alleged 70 or so pages of Qur’anic readings, Muslims were astounded.

Yet we shouldn’t be astounded. Their ignorance is a symptom of our laziness in educating and “mainstreaming” our cultures.

It seems absurd that at the beginning of the 21st century, mainstream Australia regards Islam as a threat to “Judeo-Christian values”. Anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of Islamic beliefs and practices and scripture and law would see enormous similarities between Islam and its Abrahamic spiritual near-twins.

Indeed, many writers and theologians hostile to Islam keep harping on about how it plagiarised so much of itself from Christianity and Judaism, how the Prophet copied his teachings from Christian sources and how Islamic texts are little more than a re-hash of Talmudic and Apocryphal sources.

Yet at the same time, these same writers and theologians (and their fellow travellers) then claim that Islam (and, by extension, its followers who have migrated to the West) is alien to Judeo-Christian values.

Seriously, you can’t have it both ways. Either Islam is similar to Judeo-Christian values or it isn’t. If you claim Islam is plagiarised from existing religious cultures, you can’t then turn around and claim it is nothing like them.

Of course, Muslims believe that the similarity between Islam and its two elder-statesmen faiths is caused by all three having a common origin – Abrahamic monotheism. For this reason, we need to emphasise the similarities and educate people about them.

Last December, I managed to get 3 versions of an article on the Qur’an’s account of Christ’s birth published in three separate publications – Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, the New Zealand Herald (reproduced at Online Opinion) and NewMatilda.com.

In response to those articles, I received many e-mails from readers expressing surprise and dismay at the extent to which the New Testament and Qur’anic versions of Christ’s birth were similar. Many weren’t even aware that Muslims honoured Jesus and Mary or that Muslims believed Christ was conceived miraculously.

But it isn’t just Christ’s story where so many similarities lay. The Qur’anic account of the life of Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) is virtually identical to that contained in the Old Testament. Then there are the stories of Musa (Moses) and Firaun (Pharaoh), of Yunus (Jonah) and the whale, and of Yahya (John the Baptist).

Similarly, Islamic spirituality (known as tasawwuf in the sunni school and 'irfan in the shia school) shares much in common with the few remaining remnants of Christian Gnosticism largely confined to the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Perhaps one way to illustrate this could be for Muslim scholars to study Musa bin Maymun al-Qurtubi’s work on comparative religion. Translated into English as “Guide to the Perplexed”, this Arabic work is a classic of Andalusian spirituality and religious philosophy. It was read and admired throughout the Arab world, despite being authored by a prominent Jewish physician (known in the West as Maimonides) and sought to establish that Judaism was superior to Islam and Christianity.

(Perhaps it is a reflection of how low we have sunk that a modern-day Musa bin Maymun would probably be lynched or sentenced to death if he were to write a similar book today.)

With an exposition of the facts and an open mind, we can change people’s perceptions about ourselves. But that involves reading and research beyond the usual stuff we find in (allegedly more) Islamic bookstores and written by (allegedly more) Islamic writers.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Da Vinci Code – Evidence of Muslim Selectiveness in Condemning Blasphemy?

The international Christian response to the release of the movie based on Dan Brown’s best selling novel The Da Vinci Code is hardly worth writing home about.

Thus far, the movie has been banned in that bastion of Christian power known as Samoa. Clerics from the Samoan Council of Churches had a preview of the movie before recommending to the government that it be banned.

In neighbouring Fiji, a Catholic organisation has also called for the movie to be banned. The same response might be likely in South American countries which are staunchly Catholic and where the Catholic lay order Opus Dei (portrayed in the novel and movie as a violent fundamentalist organisation) has an extensive following.

Western media outlets made much of the response by a small minority of Muslim extremists to the publication of 12 cartoons in a Danish neo-Conservative anti-immigrant newspaper. It will be interesting to see if media in nominally Muslim countries will report similar hysteria in nominally Christian countries.

Perhaps of more interest is if there is any hysteria to report. The Da Vinci Code storyline apparently suggests that Christ had an illicit affair with Mary Magdalene and then fathered a child. Christians claim that this story is blasphemous.

Few Muslims have bought into the discussion. Yet if Christians are right about the message of the book and its associated film, surely Muslims should also be offended by this blasphemy.

Some months back, I appeared on the Triple-J current affairs program Hack to discuss the Danish cartoon fiasco. I was joined by a well-meaning but clumsy young chap who later admitted to having no previous radio experience and whose only qualification was to be a former President of the Sydney University Muslim Students Association.

When asked about Muslim responses to the cartoons, this young fellow claimed that Muslims would behave the same way if Christ was insulted. At the time, I couldn’t help but think his claims were a little rich.

The Muslim response to The Da Vinci Code movie has been muted at best. I am not aware of any imam or Muslim organisational leader who has responded to the movie or has addressed the concerns Christian leaders. This situation exists not only in Australia but across the Western world.

As far as I’m concerned, this evidences a fundamental weakness in the faith of Muslims. Our faith requires us to defend the honour of all Prophets. If we are selective in that defence, it suggests we regard Christ’s honour as being less important than the honour of the Prophet Muhammad.

I am not suggesting Muslims start burning the US embassy to protest against American publishers and film makers behind The Da Vinci Code. But surely we must ask ourselves what has happened to our supposed love and honour of God’s Messiah that we cannot join with our fellow Christian believers in Christ to defend his honour against a work which, at least by Muslim standards, would be regarded as blasphemous.

We expect others to be sensitive to our religious sentiments. Yet how do we respond when sentiments we should share with our Christian brethren are violated? Why don’t we see Muslim governments and organisations and scholars issue press releases condemning Dan Brown’s book?

When Salman Rushdie wrote a work of fiction suggesting the wives of the Prophet Muhammad engaged in illicit sexual behaviour, Muslims were not the only ones to condemn the offence. The spiritual leaders of the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches also condemned the book for its insensitivity to Muslim religious figures and symbols.

Now we have an opportunity to condemn what is clearly an offence to the honour of Jesus and his followers. It is also an opportunity to show how genuine we are in our claims to love and follow Christ. Further, it is a chance for us to show that we are not selective in our condemnation of blasphemy.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Writing About Muslims (in English & Spanish)

It makes me sick to enter a mainstream bookshop like Borders or Angus & Robertson and visit the religious or history or politics or culture sections. Why?

Because I see Jews writing about Jews, Judaism, Jewish history and Jewish politics. I see Christians writing about Christianity, Christian history, Christian society and Christian politics.

And I see Jews and Christians (and Hindus and Sikhs and Buddhists and Jains and Parsees) writing about Islam, Muslims, Muslim cultures, Muslim politics etc.

Hardly ever do I see Muslims writing about themselves and their identity. Muslims allow themselves to be defined by others. And the way many young Muslims are making career choices, that situation is likely to continue into the foreseeable future. Muslims are too busy studying medicine or computer science or engineering to worry about the social sciences.

It seems that the best starting point to learn about who are Muslims (in their infinite permutations and combinations) is to pick up the work of some non-Muslim writer. We just never seem to want to tell people about who we are. We almost seem disinterested in who we are.

Yet when other people paint us in a picture we don’t agree with, we automatically dismiss them as being biased or subject to some fundamental misunderstanding. I am just as guilty of this as anyone else.

Recently a young arts graduate sent me a 3,000 word piece on why some Muslim converts are attracted to “extremist” fringe groups like al-Qaida or JI. Her essay relied completely on people like Pipes and other writers. It also contained some fairly interesting factual errors (such as painting JI as the South-East Asian wing of the Pakistani Jama’at-i-Islami).

I could have written back to her in some pompous manner telling her about how she was just another ignorant conservative non-Muslim with an axe to grind. And I almost did (knowing my luck, she probably perceived my response in that manner).

But looking back on it, the fact is that she went to all that trouble to read and research the topic. She then produced over 3,000 words on the subject. She tried to understand her subject, and she even tried to get my (allegedly mainstream Muslim) perspective on the topic.

If the first and most accessible works she has on the subject are written by hostile Muslim-haters like Daniel Pipes, whose fault is that? Is it her fault? Or is it the collective fault of Muslim communities who rarely encourage their own to study and develop enough expertise to be able to write in these topics?

On April 16, 2006 the New York Times Magazine profiled another non-Muslim who writes about Islamic culture and history. The magazine profiled Spanish expatriate novelist Juan Goytisolo, a regular contributor to Spanish newspaper El Pais.

Goytisolo is q maverick character. At 75 years of age, he chooses to live in Marrakesh (a city in Morocco) with current and former gay lovers and their children. He is considered one of Spain’s greatest living writers. Yet he is hardly someone we could describe as hostile to Muslim values and culture.

His passion for Islamic culture includes a scholarly interest in tasawwuf (sufi theology) and Arabic and Turkish grammar. He isn’t necessarily well-known in the Arab or Muslim world, but he remains a leading intellectural in Spain and Latin America.

During the 1990’s, Goytisolo introduced Spanish audiences to Islamic culture through a documentary series entitled al-Qibla (“The Direction of Mecca”). He has reported from behind the lines in Chechnya during the war, and has also interviewed HAMAS leaders in the Gaza Strip.

Goytisolo appears to be doing more to introduce Spanish consumers to Islam than any Spanish-speaking Muslim I am aware of. For all this, he is still able to win numerous awards, including Mexico’s prestigious Juan Rulfo prize for lifetime literary achievement.

Hopefully, I will get a chance to explore some of Goytisolo’s themes (as reported in the NYT Magazine article) on this site. Those wishing to receive a copy of the original NYT article should e-mail me on irfsol@yahoo.com.au.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Media Imperative

Muslims cop a raw deal in the media. At the same time, Muslims do have an opportunity to respond. Editors and journalists are always ready to hear and consider (and often, to print) a fresh perspective on local and world events.

However, there are only a small number of Muslims who work in the field of media and who have some understanding of how media operates. Generally these people don't have access to the ample funds and resources of Muslim peak bodies. Most are women, young people and converts.

In Australia, Muslim peak bodies pay little more than lip service to Muslim women, youth and converts. They continue to be dominated by middle-aged migrant men with poor English-language skills.

There are young Muslims with expertise in media and public policy. However, most of these people have bills to pay and mouths to feed. They would love to engage more in media but cannot find the time. Much of their time is spent working in jobs or businesses or attending to their family duties.

Muslim peak bodies have steadfastly refused to engage in proper and professional media work. Since the London bombing, governments have been begging Muslim leaders to reassure ordinary Australians of Muslims’ peaceful intentions in Australia. It isn’t for governments to educate people about the peaceful reality Islam and Muslims. It is for Muslims to do this.

Some years back, the Federal Government provided the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) with a grant of over $200,000 to set up a media unit. That unit was set up and a number of editions of the Australian Muslim News were published. Since then, the media unit has been all but disbanded.

The former media unit director for AFIC, Seyfi Seyit, now runs his own unit called the “Forum of Australia’s Islamic Relations”. FAIR seems to be suffering from a near-chronic identity crisis, unsure as to whether it is a thinktank or a media response unit. Its performance in both roles needs substantial improvement.

FAIR’s newspaper resembles “Green Left” more than any mainstream or even community newspaper. FAIR’s press releases in recent times have been written in childish language, reflecting a lack of experience in print media. A recent FAIR release entitled “Not Happy George” (making reference to the recent speech of Cardinal Pell on the Qur’an) was a source of embarrassment for Muslims trying to engage maturely with mainstream media.

FAIR officers need to consult more with their executive before sending out press releases off the cuff. They need to understand their limitations and not presume that their position allows them to embarrass the communities they claim to speak for.

The Islamic Council of NSW still hasn’t set up a properly functioning media committee. It has access to a radio station, yet the bulk of its programs are still in Arabic, a language that most Australians (Muslim or otherwise) cannot understand. As for the Muslim Council of NSW, its media work has been limited to frequent phone calls between Na’il Kaddoumi and Richard Kerbaj from The Australian.

Media work is a full-time job. There are people who have the skills and expertise to perform such a role. Yet these people have no incentive to perform the role as they know it will mean sacrificing income.

If Muslim organisations are serious about the image of Islam, they should put their money where their mouths are. Each Muslim congregation across the country should donate $50 a week from their Friday collections to media work. This means an annual payment of $2,600 per annum. With at least 60 Muslim congregations in Sydney alone, this would mean $156,000 per annum.

But who would run and manage the money? I somehow don’t think FAIR would be capable. Unless, of course, FAIR agreed to implement proper procedures for consultation and delegation of tasks.

Perhaps some kind of media trust could be set up. Either way, the work has to get done. There are a handful of people struggling to perform effective media work in Australia and New Zealand. They are being hampered by lack of time and resources.

This issue should be top priority for all Muslim organisations. Sadly, it will probably remain at the bottom of the pile of priorities. Muslim organisations are more interested in spending money fighting internal battles on halal meat certification and similar issues.

At least, that is the experience to date. I hope Muslim institutions can prove me wrong.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, May 06, 2006

On Robert Spencer and Peanut Allergies

I am so pleased and proud to have been described in glowing terms by the US-based Christian-Right pamphleteer Robert Spencer.

For those of you who don’t know, Spencer is the author of a variety of books "exposing" what he sees as the violent and sinister reality of Islamic theology and Muslim cultures.

Spencer wants the whole world to believe about Muslims what Nazi propagandists wanted Europeans to believe about Jews – that we are part of a huge conspiracy to destroy civilisation, that we are economic leeches and that our faith and cultures are inherently violent and psychopathic.

So when someone of this looney-tune mentality attacks and defames me, it only adds credibility to my humble efforts in building bridges between people.

Spencer, of course, isn’t interested in building bridges. His purpose in life is to generate as much hatred as possible toward anything and anyone with even the slightest relation to Islam. He is prepared to use all sorts of pseudo-scholarly methods in pursuit of his war-mongering purpose.

Spencer’s latest attack can be found on his Jihad Watch website posting for April 30 2006, entitled “A trip to the nuthouse”.

I’m not sure if the purpose of his title is to describe his own experiences with peanut allergy or whether he is casting aspersions on millions of people of all faiths and background who struggle with mental illness.

He then brings to his readers an offering of “on-the-record and for-the-record replies to various hacks, nuts, ideologues, jealous lovers, and conspiracy theorists.”

Certainly Spencer is most qualified to identify conspiracy theorists. After all, much of his work represents an attempt to prove that 1.2 billion Muslims are all involved in an evil conspiracy to destroy the world.

Things get more amusing when he describes me as a member of “the clown parade”. He describes my comments and criticisms of Messrs Daniel Pipes and Steven Emerson as “outlandish false charges”.

Of course my charges are false. Daniel Pipes never wrote an article in which he suggested that persecuting and lynching Muslims was an effective deterrent against civilians being kidnapped in Iraq. It was just a figment of my imagination.

And as for Steve Emerson, we all know how wonderfully friendly he is to all North American Muslims. We know he has never suggested that most American mosques are used as training grounds for terrorist campaigns.

Just as we know Robert Spencer has never written any books suggesting mainstream Islam teaches Muslims to lie and kill to achieve certain religious and political goals. Such claims are all just plain fictional.
Readers, please give me a few moments to go outside and call my pet flying pigs to join me for dinner ...

... ok, thanks for that. Anyhow, returning to this discussion, I must congratulate Mr Spencer on one sentence in his piece which really says it all. Here it is.

I have never described myself as a "Middle East expert" or an expert on anything.

Yes, Mr Spencer, you certainly aren’t an expert. You are a propagandist. And a very clumsy one at that!

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

AFIC – Time Will Tell

The new AFIC executive has been announced. And once again, it looks like an episode of bro'Town.

No, there aren’t any Maori or Indo-Chinese persons on the board. But there are plenty of bros. And no sisters.

And the bros are all elderly. I doubt any of them were born in Australia. It remains to be seen whether any of them can speak English.

As we have come to expect, there were no women elected to the executive. It is unlikely any women will be appointed to the executive.

Further, the new executive is dominated by people who couldn’t exactly be described as young people or persons born and/or brought up in Australia on the executive. Once again, we can say with some confidence that the real composition of Australian Muslims is probably better represented at an Anglican Church synod than at an AFIC exec meeting.

The new president is Rahim Ghauri, a Perth-based chap. The vice president is Dr Waqar Ahmad from the Northern Territory, one of the authors of a document entitled “Worrell Report Recommendations" which was leaked to thousands of Muslims across the country.

The secretary is Harun Abdullah. I have heard on the grapevine that Mr Abdullah is an Anglo-Australian convert. I sure hope so. We tend not to see any of those in peak body organisations. Well, apart from the Islamic Council of Victoria and the Canberra Islamic Centre.

Once again, we see an opportunity wasted. As always, the AFIC exec is dominated by middle aged, first generation migrant men. Women and young Australians are ignored.

According to the 1 May 2006 edition of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, the new AFIC exec have announced it will be setting up a youth wing. Presumably this will operate in a similar fashion to, say, the youth wings of major political parties.

(I sure hope it isn’t like the NSW Young Libs. Otherwise it will probably more resemble al-Qaida!)

Existing youth bodies already exist. Most have arisen spontaneously in response to individual efforts. Instead of seeking to reinvent the wheel, AFIC would be better served working with existing youth groups and providing them with guidance and funding.

Or given AFIC’s own problems with corporate governance and workplace relations issues, perhaps it could focus its attention on getting its house in order.

Time will tell if Muslim Australians will enjoy the benefits of having a functional national body.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Stumble Upon Toolbar