Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sheik Yahiya Howard?

So that Indonesian Sheik who shares his surname with the New South Wales Governor has invited John Howard to become a Muslim. Sounds pretty halal to me. But there might be a few hitches.

For a start, Mr Howard might be expected to change his name. Some Muslims seem to think that converting to Islam means having to de-Anglicise your name.

My old mate Gazza, a member of the Socialist Left of the ALP, tells me that he had to de-Anglicise his name. So he changed from Gary to Adam.

Huh? Why Adam? Gazza relates that he first converted to please his somewhat feisty Fiji-Indian wife. He would have remained a lapsed Anglo-Catholic (i.e. a left-wing atheist) except that she had led him astray. Hence he named himself after the first man to be led astray by a woman.

Gazza now finds himself pissing off even more Muslims (and no doubt a fair few Christians also) with his public claims that Creationism and Intelligent Design is a load of bollocks.

Speaking of which, many Muslims expect male converts to undergo some Sharia-compliant surgery.

In this respect, Gazza is quite lucky. His Catholic dad and Anglican mum decided to have him circumcised back in the early 1950’s when he was a wee-toddler. Though I doubt they did so with a view to his conversion to the ways of those heathen “Moslems”.

Another convert mate of mine, Mahmud, also married a Fiji-Indian woman. He converted from Soccerism (he is Italian) to Islam. His parents didn’t have as much foresight and allowed his foreskin to remain. His wife wasn’t as tolerant.

Conveniently, Mahmud had to get his haemorrhoids operated on. His Jewish surgeon offered a complementary cut of the excess foreskin. Mahmud happily went under the knife.

Now Mahmud had given his wife strict instructions not to tell anyone about the surgeon’s offer. My folks tell me about visiting poor Mahmud in hospital. He was clearly in excruciating pain. His wife just couldn’t keep a secret. The conversation went something like this …

DAD: So how is Mahmud feeling?

MAHMUD: Can’t talk much. Too much pain.

MRS MAHMUD: What can I say? Mahmud can’t lay on his back or his stomach!

So if John Howard decides to take up Sheik Bashir’s offer, he can look forward to a possible change in name. “John” is easy. We just call him “Yahiya” (the Koranic name for John the Baptist). But what about “Winston” and “Howard”? Perhaps we might just name him “Yahiya bin Bush”.

A bigger (and indeed more painful) obstacle will be the Sharia-compliant surgery referred to earlier. Now we all know that Peter Costello wants to see Sharia banned in Australia. Perhaps the Treasurer could allow an exemption to be granted to the new Muslim convert Yahiya bin Bush, especially if it means Sheik Yahiya vacating Kirribilli House.

Who knows? Maybe Sheik Yahiya might decide to give up Kirribilli for the less salubrious surrounds of the Imam Ali Mosque in Lakemba. (Then again, given Mr Howard’s love for being seen with the diggers, he’ll probably prefer staying at the Gallipoli Mosque.)

But was Sheik Bashir merely seeking to have Mr Howard’s frontal bits compromised? My mate Gazza reckons a more thorough circumcision was what Bashir had in mind.

“Maybe he wanted Howard to be circumcised from the neck up. Politically speaking, of curse”, Gazza remarked as he stroked his ALP membership card.

I wonder how Mr Howard’s ministers and Parliamentary colleagues would react to his conversion. Mrs Howard would need to put up with competition from three more child-bearing wives needed for our good Sheik Yahiya to lead by example and ensure Australia reaches Danna Vale’s target of becoming an Islamic State within 50 years.

Bronwyn Bishop once complained that Muslim men refuse to shake her hands. She also described the writer once in Federal Parliament as a “Muslim activist known for his abusive attitudes to women”. Perhaps with Mr Howard’s conversion, she would now have her own Prime Minister refusing to shake her hand. Then again, Howard and Bishop were never known to be good buddies.

Perhaps the most interesting reaction (or lack thereof) would come from Attorney General Phillip Ruddock. It wouldn’t surprise me if early one morning ASIO raided Kirribilli House to pounce on the latest terror suspect as he was getting ready for his early morning walk around Sydney Harbour dressed in long white robes.

I can just see Mr Ruddock at the press conference announcing the arrest of Sheik Yahiya Howard: “The suspect is believed to have made numerous trips to training camps in Iraq”.

No doubt, Defence Minister Brendan Nelson would be asking Mr Howard to subscribe to the values of the English illegal immigrant Simpson (of donkey fame) or to just “clear off”.

The local Islamic community will, no doubt, welcome having an Islamic Prime Minister. Mufti Taj Hilaly would no doubt give a statement that none of us would understand. The Presidents of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils would probably criticise him for not wearing a burqa.

And what would my old mate Gazza do? “Me? Sharing a religion with John Howard? Forget it! I might just have to see if Cardinal Pell and Dr Jensen will take me back!”

(The author is a Sydney lawyer and former Liberal Candidate for the seat of Reid in the 2001 Federal election.)

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Understanding Iran through its bloggers

Iran is a rogue state. It is ruled by mullahs who support and sponsor terrorism and who are not to be trusted. Iran represents a threat to the West. If Iran does not agree to perfectly reasonable demands concerning its nuclear program, the rest of the world should punish it. That punishment should start with economic sanctions and perhaps even include all-out war and regime change.

This is what we in the West have been taught to believe. This is also what neo-Conservative propagandists want us to know. This is also the accepted wisdom as propagated by the foreign affairs establishment and by newspapers owned by News Limited.

But how much of this picture of clichés tell us about the real Iran? What do we know about Iranian society? What do we know about the everyday lives of real Iranians?

One way to learn about Iran is through its bloggers. Conventional journalists may frown on blogging as the journalistic sport for amateurs. But blogging is one of the few means open and available to people to project their genuine sentiments on cyberspace.

We Are Iran is a book published in the UK and authored by Iranian expatriate Nasrin Alavi. The book is a frank look at Iranian politics and society through the eyes of its bloggers.

And why should Iranian bloggers matter? Well, for a start, we need to understand something about Iran’s population. 70% of Iranians are aged under 30. Literacy is over 90%. The majority of Iranians attending tertiary institutions are women. Adult and computer literacy in Iran are higher than in any other Middle Eastern country and than in many European states.

Farsi is the language of Iran. It is also the 4th most frequently used language for keeping blogs. There are more Farsi blogs than blogs in Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese or Russian. And there are more Iranians able to access blogs than other people in the region. 2001 data from the World Bank shows that Iran has more personal computers per 1,000 people than the regional average.

As at the time Alavi’s book was written (2005), there are hardly 50 known blogs identifying their authors as Iraqis. Compare this to more than 64,000 Farsi blogs.

For many Iranians, blogs provide a means of communicating views deemed too subversive by the powers-that-be. Iran has been described by “Reporters Without Borders” as the biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East. In the last 6 years, some 41 newspapers have been closed by the regime. Many more magazines have been closed.

Alavi’s book is useful because it provides a peep inside the Iran which neo-Con commentators rarely allow. Iranian bloggers portray the youthfulness of ordinary Iranians, their irreverence to religious authority and their feelings about a political process they feel has failed to reflect their wishes.

Iran is a country whose population is dominated by people who came of age after the 1979 revolution which swept Ayatollah Khomeini to power. They are not necessarily loyal to the Islamic Republicanism of the current Iranian government.

At the same time, Iranians are also resentful of some political currents in the United States which seek war and conflict with Iran at all costs. Iranians are not overly religious, but they love their country and faith enough to resent attempts to demonise all Iranians and all Muslims.

Nasrin Alavi’s book is well worth reading. It provides a look into Iran’s future. If the Farsi bloggers are any indication, the West and the rest of the world have little to fear from ordinary Iranians.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Friday, June 09, 2006

On Cardinal Pell’s Islam Sources

Neo-Conservatives and their fellow travellers will tell you that terrorism and violence is an inherently Islamic phenomenon, one that finds its basis in the religious texts and laws of the faith of 1.2 billion Muslims.

The May 2006 edition of the allegedly conservative magazine Quadrant includes three articles on “The Challenge of Islam”. One is the text of Cardinal Pell’s address to a group of Catholic businessmen in the United States in February.

Pell claims that his “sixty or seventy pages” of reading the Qur’an led him to an unidentified number of “invocations to violence”. He doesn’t advise if he read the Qur’an in its original Arabic or whether he used a translation. Presuming the latter to be the case, Pell also doesn’t advise on which translation he uses.

Perhaps more troubling is the fact that this prominent Catholic theologian is satisfied with reliance upon the most rudimentary research which represents an insult to both his congregation and to his own obvious mastery of theology. Despite having access to numerous works on Islamic theology and history authored by prominent Christian scholars (such as Karen Armstrong), Pell chooses to use the works of journalists and propagandists such as Paul Stenhouse and Daniel Pipes.

Stenhouse has himself authored a piece in the March 2006 edition of Quadrant. He claimed that Islam only sees the world in a bipolar fashion, divided along the lines of Dar al-Harb (the abode of war) and Dar al-Islam (the abode of Islam). His entire article is based on the work of one Maliki jurist (as quoted by Bernard Lewis) and 2 20th century journalists (Abul A'la Maududi and Syed Qutb).

Stenhouse was called to appear for the controversial Catch The Fire Ministries Inc and Pastors Daniel Nalliah and Daniel Scott in the prosecution brought by the Islamic Council of Victoria pursuant to the Racial & Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic). . He was to appear as an expert witness for the Ministries. His qualifications and alleged expertise were subject to the usual examination by the Court. According to supporters of the defendants, Justice Higgins ruled that Dr Stenhouse's evidence "would not be allowed".

Cardinal Pell also uses the work of Bat Ye'or, especially Ye'or's concept of "dhimmitude" used to describe the status of non-Muslims under a theoretical Islamic state. Ye-or is also author of the "Eurabia" thesis, according to which Europe and the Arab world are involved in creating an anti-American alliance that will lead to Europe eventually being transformed into an "Islamic state".

Ye'or is a close colleague of Robert Spencer, the author of the Jihad Watch website and hardly a site one would refer to if seeking to make an earnest inquiry about Muslim opinion and Islamic theology.

Spencer explains the purpose of the site as being: “Because the West is facing a concerted effort by Islamic jihadists, the motives and goals of whom are largely ignored by the Western media, to destroy the West and bring it forcibly into the Islamic world - and to commit violence to that end even while their overall goal remains out of reach. That effort goes under the general rubric of jihad.”

Spencer’s vision involves imposing the most fringe ane extreme views on mainstream Muslims. He projects an image of Islam as being inherently against the West and its allegedly Judeo-Christian roots. His site gives the following assessment of the role of violence in Islam:

“Violent jihad is a constant of Islamic history … a major element of the motivation of jihad warriors worldwide today. No major Muslim group has ever repudiated the doctrines of armed jihad. The theology of jihad, with all its assumptions about unbelievers‚ lack of human rights and dignity, is available today as a justification for anyone with the will and the means to bring it to life.”

For Spencer, this reality of “violent jihad” in the theology of 1.2 billion Muslims represents “the true nature of the present global conflict”. It is a phenomenon that affects how all Muslims behave in their approach to non-Muslims.

The titles of Spencer’s books say it all. One is entitled Onward Muslim Soldiers – How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West. Another is The Myth of Islamic Tolerance. A third is entitled The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). Its cover provides themes hardly conducive to constructive dialogue:

“Islam teaches that Muslims must wage war to impose Islamic law on non-Muslim states.”

“American Muslim groups are engaged in a huge cover-up of Islamic doctrines and history.”

“Muslim persecution of Christians has continued for 13 centuries and still goes on.”

Two of Spencer’s monologues are entitled The Islamic Disinformation Lobby and Islam vs. Christianity.

This conspiratorial nature of Spencer’s message is clear. Muslims are not to be trusted when speaking about themselves, their faith and their culture. Muslims are inherently violent, psychopathic and dangerous. Islam is at war with the West. Islam is the enemy.

Spencer’s work represents the worst excesses of conspiracy propaganda. His message echoes the messages used by German writers (including German Catholic writers) to describe Judaism and the Jews during the 1920’s and 30’s.

Cardinal Pell claims that his recent remarks represent an attempt to genuinely understand the role of violence and terrorism (if any) in Muslim cultures. But by relying on the works of amateurs with axes to grind, Cardinal Pell is exposing himself and the Catholic Church to ridicule.

Any serious theologian would at least seek to understand the sources of the faith s/he studies. Cardinal Pell clearly hasn’t done this. His failure reflects more on what might be described as chronic intellectual laziness than on the faith of 1.2 billion people.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Man returns to footy?

It seems Anthony Mundine isn’t just handy with the boxing gloves. The man who prefers to be called “The Man” has now re-entered the rugby league arena.

The Rear Window column of the Australian Financial Review (on 5 June 2006) reports Mundine is preparing to inject some badly-needed cash into a regional rugby league club near Griffith in the Riverina.

The Three Ways United Club is a largely Aboriginal team captained by Robbie Simpson who used to play with Mr Man at the St George club in south western Sydney during the late 1990’s. Simpson is also a big supporter of Mundine’s boxing exploits, and AFR reports Simpson as being in Mundine’s corner during his recent victory over Danny Green.

AFR quotes one source as suggesting Mundine might cough up as much as $20,000. Mundine and his family are active in indigenous issues, including health and sports. One of Mundine’s aunts is known to be a prominent administrator in Aboriginal health issues, and has worked with ATSIC, at least 2 state governments and 1 territory government. His uncle is National President of the Australian Labor Party and a fellow ambassador for the White Ribbon Day campaign.

The Man’s rise as a premier Australian athlete has even earned him praise from unusual and unexpected quarters. Not exactly known for her great love of Muslim cultures, even allegedly conservative Fairfax columnist Miranda Devine praised the “teetotal, non-smoking Aboriginal Muslim-convert” Mundine for being an excellent example to all Australian youth.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Monday, June 05, 2006

7 Days in Malaysia

I’ve recently been informed that I’ll be joining a delegation of Australians visiting Malaysia as part of an exchange program organised by the Australia Malaysia Institute. The delegation will be in Malaysia during late June and will spend some 7 days or so meeting people from across the spectrum of Malaysian society.

This will be my first trip to Malaysia, a country that has proven a popular holiday and honeymoon destination for Aussie Muslims.

Hopefully over the next few posts, I will explore the various cultures and religions of Malaysia. Many readers will already be familiar with Malaysia’s multi-ethnic and multi-confessional composition.

I’d also invite readers to share their own experiences of Malaysia via the comments section of this blog.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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