Monday, July 31, 2006

Sydney synagogue attack must be condemned

The recent attack on the Parramatta & District Synagogue was a cowardly act inspired by the worst form of prejudice and calculated to intimidate an entire community for the actions of others.

The Jewish congregation of Parramatta are not responsible for the Israeli incursion and the massacre of innocent women and children anymore than the Muslim congregation of Dee Why or Auburn are responsible for Israeli deaths caused by Hezbollah rockets.

The Qur’an has strictly forbidden attacks on houses of worship, making particular mention of protecting churches, monasteries and synagogues. At the time of writing, no charges have been laid. In the event those responsible are from Muslim background, they can be rest assured that Muslim scriptures and religious law provide them with no cover for their actions.

The attacks should spur all faith communities to express and practise solidarity in the same manner as happened following the September 11 and Bali terror attacks when Christians and Muslims helped secure each others places of worship.

I hope Muslim leaders in Parramatta and surrounding areas take active steps to show solidarity with their Jewish brethren. Perhaps officials from the nearby Auburn Gallipoli Mosque could pay a visit to synagogue officials to offer their assistance.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Imam Yahya Hendi

He speaks fluent Hebrew, is completing his PhD in Judaism, and each Saturday finds himself addressing a synagogue congregation. And he’s visiting Australia on a lecture tour.

Are we talking about a visiting Israeli rabbi? Nope. He’s a Palestinian-born Washington Imam.

The US Government is sponsoring Imam Yahya (Arabic for “John”) Hendi to tour Australia. Hendi’s message is important for Australians of all faiths and no faith in particular to hear.

If only some neo-Cons in Washington listened to him carefully. Especially given the Imam is based at Georgetown University in Washington. The Jesuit-run private University employs him as full-time Muslim chaplain.

Most scribes haven’t picked up Hendi’s visit. The Canberra Times’ Helen Musa reported on 25/07 concerning his Monday press conference at the US Office of Public Affairs in Canberra.

Presently Hendi is in Sydney. Readers have missed a lecture he gave at Macquarie University’s Centre for Middle East & North African Studies today. He’ll also be touring Melbourne and Perth.

The last imam to visit on a government-sponsored tour was NY-based Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf . His tour was sponsored by the NSW and South Australian governments. At the time, some local imams felt the government was trying to show them up.

Already some local Muslim “leaders” and imams aren’t happy. Perhaps he shows up their complete irrelevance too much. Especially given his insistence that an imam living in an English-speaking country who doesn't speal fluent English is virtually wasted space.

Hendi’s visit coincides with ongoing debate within Muslim circles over imam accreditation. The NSW Islamic Council (the original one, not the subsequent 2 set up by the national body AFIC) have set up a Board of Imams and have invited applicants to submit their credentials. Some imams and teachers have expressed reluctance to disclose their credentials.

US Muslims don’t have non-English-speaking Muftis looking after their religious matters. Instead they have a national council of jurists known as the Fiqh Council of North America (where “Fiqh” means Islamic jurisprudence). Hendi is council spokesman.

Hendi says Western imams must speak local languages and understand local social and political trends. He controversially claimed the US was the most Islamic nation on earth, pointing to its (albeit limited) government welfare services. He even said 17,000 Muslims served in US defence forces including in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sadly, I haven’t yet had a chance to ask him about James Yee, former chaplain at Guantanamo Bay.

Canberra officials are watching and listening intently to Hendi’s pragmatic message. I noticed one official (involved in distributing $35M as part of a National Action Plan to stamp out extremism) present at both his Canberra events.

In future posts, I will examine some of the themes from Imam Hendi’s addresses in Sydney and Canberra. Many of these themes are familiar for those who have attended talks by Anwar Ibrahim and Feisal Abdul Rauf. All three talk about the need for Muslims to emerge from their cultural cocoons and to engage with the broader community.

Sadly, it is a message few imams of Australia’s ethnic-based mosques can understand, let alone implement.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Disturbing Correspondence

I was quite disturbed by a letter to the editor which appeared in The Australian on July 21 2006. The full text of the letter as published follows …

CERTAIN of your correspondents (Letters, 20/7) have expressed concern
that Israel has not discontinued its response to Hezbollah's terrorism to
facilitate the departure of Australian nationals from

Israel does not wish to harm innocent people. However, its
first priority, as is every country's, is its own citizens. If Australia was
engaged in a life-and-death struggle – and make no mistake, Hezbollah is totally
committed to Israel's extinction – I suggest all Australians would find it
unacceptable were our government to lay down its arms before the matter was

And as an aside, why aren't your correspondents also
worried about visitors to Israel who equally find themselves in a war zone?

Geoffrey Zygier
Executive directorExecutive Council of Australian Jewry

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry is a national umbrella organisation representing Jewish congregations across the country.

Not all Jewish congregations have identical attitudes to Israel and political Zionism. Indeed, there is a separate national body (the Zionist Federation of Australia) which represents Zionist opinion.

Israel itself has an embassy in Canberra with staff quite capable of defending Israel’s interests in any dispute. Indeed, I have seen at least one letter from a staff member at the Israeli embassy published in the Australian Financial Review.

Mr Zygier is entitled to write letters to the editor of any newspaper on behalf of the congregations represented by his organisation. I am also entitled to comment on my own behalf (and not on behalf of any community) on the appropriateness or otherwise of Mr Zygier’s views.

Mr Zygier’s letter seeks to address concerns by some letter writers that “Israel has not discontinued its response to Hezbollah's terrorism to facilitate the departure of Australian nationals from Lebanon”.

He then goes onto make comments and claims defending Israel’s official position. The fact that this position potentially places Australian lives at risk doesn’t seem to concern Mr Zygier.

Australian Jews are entitled to support a particular side in this conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. Whilst many have been critical of Israel, I am not aware of any Lebanese and/or Muslim organisation in Australia which has publicly defended Hezbollah’s position in the conflict.

Mr Zygier’s position is that Israel is in “a life-and-death struggle”. On what basis can he argue this proposition? The only basis is one of semantics – the fact that “Hezbollah is totally committed to Israel's extinction”.

So? Hezbollah can be committed to many things. And there are other groups also committed to Israel’s existence and/or refuse to recognise Israel.

What matters isn’t the policy position of any side. What matters is the reality on the battlefield.

Israel is the only nuclear power in the Middle East, and the sixth largest nuclear power in the world. Israel has enough nuclear weapons to blow Australia off the world map.

Israel also has access to the most sophisticated weapons in the world. It would be no exaggeration to claim that Israel’s defence forces are better equipped than those of Australia.

It is true that Hezbollah have sprung some surprises upon Israel. Its rockets have fired into Northern Israeli towns and cities including Haifa. But what realistic threat does Hezbollah pose to Israel’s existence?

Is Mr Zygier suggesting that Hezbollah has a nuclear arsenal of equal size as that of Israel? Is he suggesting Hezbollah could mount a massive air and sea invasion of northern Israel?

Already, there are reports of Australian citizens injured in southern Lebanon. Israel’s attacks on Lebanon have claimed more than 300 lives, most of them women and children. Whole families have been incinerated in Israeli air attacks.

Israelis have also been killed in missile attacks. I refuse to subscribe to the theory that the lives of one country’s civilians are more precious than the lives of another country’s civilians.

In entering Israeli territory, killing 2 IDF soldiers and kidnapping 8 others, Hezbollah has breached international law and compromised Israel’s sovereign right to protect its borders. But in what sense do Hezbollah’s actions constitute a serious threat to Israel’s existence?

If leaders of the peak bodies of Australian Jewish congregations have any influence over Israel, would it not be appropriate that they use this influence to save the lives of their fellow Australian citizens?

I’m not aware of any members of Australia’s Lebanese Shia Muslim community who have ties to Hezbollah. However, I would like to think that any Australian Muslims with any such links would use their influence to impress upon Hezbollah commanders to cease rocket firing for a set time to enable Australian citizens in Israel to be evacuated.

Mr Zygier asks readers to imagine Australia in a life-and-death struggle. Australia has faced such struggles in its short history as a federation. Australians held back the Japanese on the Kokoda trail during the Second World War. The Japanese were better armed and had superior numbers. Japan had the ability to occupy Australia.

Israel is no Australia. Hezbollah is no Japan.

Finally, Mr Zygier wonders why there is little or no concern for Australian Israeli’s seemingly trapped in Israel’s north. I am not aware of any Australian citizen in Israel who has sought to be evacuated. Further, I doubt whether Hezbollah has the ability to jeopardise any proposed evacuation should Australian citizens in Israel seek it.

However, in the event that Hezbollah could attack Israel to the extent of threatening the evacuation of Australian citizens, I would have no hesitation in ringing and writing to just about every ambassador of every Muslim-majority state asking them to pressure Hezbollah to agree to a ceasefire. I’m sure other Muslim Australians would take this and other steps to save Australian lives.

The life of an Australian Israeli (Jew or Arab) is just as precious as the life of an Australian (Lebanese or Palestinian). Australians should be more concerned about Australian lives than about justifying the military actions of overseas countries that threaten those very lives.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Notes from Anwar Ibrahim’s last visit – part I

Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s former Deputy Prime Minister, is back in Australia to deliver lectures in Canberra, Melbourne and other Australian cities.

I was fortunate enough to see him speak during a visit in early 2005. My thoughts on that visit can be found here.

Since that time, I’ve had the benefit of visiting Malaysia as part of a delegation sponsored by the Australia-Malaysia Institute. Our delegation met with people across the cultural and political spectrum. Many continue to speak warmly of Anwar, while others (generally UMNO activists) tow the party line.

Hopefully, I’ll get a chance in the coming weeks to share with readers notes I took during meetings with both Anwar supporters and detractors. Suffice it to say that Anwar still seems to exercise considerable support from young educated Malays and from members of Malaysia’s minority communities (particularly Indian Muslims).

In the meantime, Anwar’s current visit provides me with a good excuse to provide some highlights from his previous visit.

On one occasion, I was fortunate enough to attend a dinner hosted by Dr Abdul Rahim Ghouse, the current CEO of the Muslim Community Co-Operative (Australia) Limited (MCCA), a close friend and former campaign manager for Anwar.

In introducing his old friend, Dr Ghouse highlighted Anwar’s ability of bringing otherwise opposite sides together. He described how Anwar’s release saw a rare discussion between the ambassadors to Australia of both Iran and the United States to share thoughts on what this might mean for relations between the West and the Muslim world.

Dr Ghouse mentioned that Professor John Esposito, a prominent American author, commentator and expert on Muslim affairs, listed Anwar as one of the top 9 makers of contemporary Islam, both as an activist and an intellectual.

Anwar spoke at some length during the dinner. The notes I took of his speech at the time can be summarised as follows:

[01] Anwar was first arrested on 20 September 2998. At the time, the Malaysian government tried to send a message to the world that Malaysians had all but forgotten about Anwar, that he was deemed irrelevant to the Malaysian political scene. But Anwar and his family soon learnt that people of goodwill from the outside world, both Malays and non-Malays, didn’t want to forget him.

[02] Anwar quoted from historian Arnold Toynbee about the past achievements of the Islamic world. He said that this was history, and that the Muslims’ present was hardly something worth boasting about. Anwar said that the Muslim world at the moment was at the lowest ebb of its history. Its political and economic position has never been so low.

[03] In facing and addressing the rot in the Muslim world, Anwar said that Muslims shouldn’t blame Europe or the United States. Instead, Muslims need to act to place their own house in order.

[04] Anwar noted that Muslims have a tendency to blame governments for their predicament. Yet the sad reality is that governments can get away with murder in the Muslim world because the institutions of civil society are so weak and so poorly managed. Even the smallest groups within Muslim communities are characterised by disunity and unprofessionalism.

[05] Anwar noted a common feature of Muslim societies - the Rule of Law is almost absent. People can be detained for months and years on end without charge and without facing any trial. Fundamental principles of democracy and liberty are sacrificed.

[06] Anwar expressed his particular concern about similar trends in Western countries. He had read about the then-proposed Anti-Terrorism laws designed to give ASIO broader powers of arrest and detention. Citizens of all faiths and no faith in particular need to speak out about the danger of such laws being misused as has happened in Malaysia with the Internal Security Act.

[07] Anwar said it was absurd for Muslim countries to complain about the West when Muslim governments are allowed to get away with fleecing billions of dollars from the state exchequer. On what basis could Muslims criticise others when they find themselves unable to improve their own lot?

[08] Anwar gave the example of Abu Ghraib. He said it was admirable that Arab media are free to expose the American abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. But he asked why those same media outlets are not free to expose the many Abu Ghraibs that are run by Arab governments and that are used to detain and torture political prisoners across the Arab world.

[09] Anwar said that Muslims keep asking and expecting tolerance, yet are often content to live inside their own cultural cocoons. Muslim ethnic and sectarian groups find it hard to tolerate each other, let alone tolerate non-Muslims.

[10] If anything good has come out of September 11, it has been an increased sense of social maturity among Muslim minorities and from Muslims in general. Muslims now seem much more comfortable about engaging in dialogue. Muslims are learning that, in order to be understood, Muslims need to understand others. Parts of the Muslim community which used to insist on isolation are now opening themselves to other influences and to other people.

[11] Anwar reminded us that the Qur’an tells Muslims that God created human beings in tribes and nations so that they could recognise and understand each other. God did not create us in this way so that we could merely tolerate each other. Tolerance isn’t the goal of our interaction. We want to understand and be understood.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Judging by appearances ...

The Newcastle Herald has a circulation of around 52,600 in the Newcastle region, some 2 hours drive north of Sydney. It is published by Fairfax.

Someone sent me a copy of an opinion piece authored by one Jeff Corbett titled: “If the descriptor fits …”

The piece concerns a report in the Sydney Morning Herald about a ministerial meeting in New Zealand of national, state and territory ministers of immigration and multicultural affairs.

At that meeting, a number of ministers raised the issue of whether using the descriptor of “Middle Eastern appearance” to identify crime suspects is all that useful.

Why is this so? Is it because there is this nasty and powerful Middle Eastern lobby stacking branches of the ALP (and, after last night’s 4 Corners program, the Libs) to ensure “Middle Eastern thugs” (as Peter Debnam and Carl Scully love calling them) free reign to terrorise our streets?

Jeff Corbett seems to think so. He regards such arguments as “garbage”. His column runs into some 11 sensible paragraphs in which he argues that the whole purpose of a descriptor is to give the best possible available information, not to cast racial aspersions on people.

Corbett’s article would make 100% perfect logical sense if he didn’t follow up these 11 sensible paragraphs with outright racist stupidity of his own.

He commences by suggesting that the Cronulla riots were little more than “young men of Middle Eastern appearance and young men of Caucasian appearance clash[ing] violently over racist insults.”

If he was referring to the riots at various places (both the Cronulla rioting and the reprisal attacks in the Eastern Suburbs), I would agree with him. The problem is that he doesn’t. He just refers to the riots at Cronulla.

Those riots consisted of drunken and stoned white-skinned rioters egged on by neo-Nazis attacking people of various backgrounds including two overseas students from Bangladesh and an Aussie of Afghan parentage.

But given Corbett probably doesn’t know Sydney all that well, we might be prepared to forgive him. However, it is what he says later that really makes Corbett look like a completely conspiratorial goof.

The Middle Eastern lobby wants people of Middle Eastern appearance to be
described simply as “other” … They want NSW to give them that special sporting
advantage over police and the public.

Let’s examine some of the elements of Corbett’s grand Middle Eastern conspiracy:

a. There is such a thing as a Middle Eastern lobby.
b. This lobby engages in criminal activity or represents people engaged in criminal activity.
c. This lobby wants to have a head start on the police and the public so that it can commit its crimes.

Let’s examine the reality of the so-called Middle Eastern lobby. The Australian government has very close relations with Israel. A fair proportion of people from Middle Eastern background (if not a majority) would not be favourably inclined to Israel. These people outnumber Australia’s Jewish community (most of whom are not Middle Eastern and are likely to be much more supportive of Israel) by a ratio of at least 3:1.

Notwithstanding this, Australia continues to have strong and friendly relations with Israel. These relations would remain strong notwithstanding the fact that some 25,000 Australian citizens are currently in Lebanon and are facing grave danger. Israel’s refusal to enable a ceasefire to allow Australians to leave Lebanon would be unlikely to affect that strong relationship.

So this so-called lobby is so ineffectual that it cannot even change Australia’s foreign policy even one iota, even when Australian lives are at risk.

Then there is the suggestion that this lobby is involved in criminal activity and/or covers for people involved in criminal activity. Really? What sort of criminal activity? Do tell.

The typical example frequently cited by the usual suspects is gang-rape. When the Skaf brothers were being tried, the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics released figures that showed Maitland to have a much higher level of gang rape than south western Sydney.

As far as I am aware (and I’m sure Mr Corbett could confirm this), Maitland doesn’t have a substantial Lebanese or Middle Eastern community. But can I therefore suggest that Anglo-Irish Australians are habitual sex offenders?

The final paragraph contains some classics.

Regardless of where they come from, people of Middle Eastern appearance look
like Middle Eastern appearance.

Is this a truism? Or has Corbett suddenly changed his tune from his first 11 paragraphs? Or isn’t he aware of an incident in London which showed that persons of South American and those of Middle Eastern appearances can be easily confused?

The real problem is that some of these people seem to believe they have more
rights than people of other appearances.

No, Jeff, the problem is that you haven’t realised that Australia isn’t a milky-bar coloured country anymore. You need to travel beyond Newcastle and visit Lakemba or Bankstown. Then you can meet people with your red-coloured hair and blue/green eyes who will great you with “marhaba” or “asslamau alaykum”.

If describing a suspect as being of “Middle Eastern” appearance assists in catching a criminal, well and good. The reality is that this descriptor actually creates more problems than it solves. It also quite possibly enables more (and not less) crooks of Middle Eastern background to get away.

Corbett has tried to argue in favour of keeping the Middle East descriptor. His argument could have worked had he not descended into paranoia and conspiracy-theorising. If this is the best proponents of comprehensive racial profiling can come up with, is it any wonder that police forces across Australia and New Zealand don’t use it.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Halal Snippets - 15/07/06

A few years ago, I was driving to work in the northern Sydney suburb of Hornsby. I had Sydney talkback radio station 2UE on. Steve Price was talking about people of Lebanese appearance, using demeaning and racist terms.

I couldn’t help myself. I telephoned the 2UE line at 8:30am during the “free-for-all” phone-in. I managed to get on the air. I told Steve that there are plenty of Lebanese and other Arabic-speakers with red hair and green eyes. I even told him of a young Sheik of Palestinian background who preaches to kids at the Imam Ali ben Abi Taleb Mosque at Lakemba and who has red hair and green eyes.

Steve thought I was joking. When I pressed the point, he shut me off and invited John Laws into the studio. They both scoffed at the idea, continuing their derogatory and racist remarks about people of Lebanese background.

Well, Sydney’s talkback gurus may live in their own social cocoons. But State and Federal Ministers for Immigration & Multicultural Affairs meeting with their Kiwi counterparts in New Zealand yesterday supported a review of the use of various terms including “middle eastern” to describe the appearance of crime suspects.

Sadly, there seems to be some resistance from NSW police. They and their political masters from both sides of the fence have used “middle eastern” as a divisive term to play dog whistle politics since the Cronulla riots.

And so, it seems the descriptor will probably be used in NSW for the next few years. Which might allow red-headed and green-eyed Lebanese-Aussie criminal suspects to get away with communal murder!


As Indian authorities hunt for clues and suspects in the aftermath of the July 11 bombings in Mumbai, the head of the Hindu neo-Nazi movement Shiv Sena is again stirring the communal pot.

Bal Thackeray (pictured) was reported in Mumbai’s Economic Times as accusing the current Maharashtra State Government of appeasing Muslim minorities. Mumbai is located in the State. The Times report included the following chilling remarks by Thackeray ...

“This government is not capable of protecting Maharashtra because those whose politics is based on appeasing minorities, cannot defeat terrorists,” the Sena chief, who is the editor of party mouthpiece Saamna, said in an editorial in the Thursday issue. “The roots of the blasts may be in Pakistan and Bangladesh, but the hands which feed these terrorists are in Mumbai,” he said.

Thackeray’s movement ruled the Maharashtra State Assembly for five years until October 1999. He was responsible for inciting communal riots which rocked Mumbai and other cities in the state in which thousands of Muslims and other minority groups were murdered in cold blood.

The Shiv Sena are a powerful force in Indian politics, and formed part of the BJP Coalition which ruled India until it was defeated at the last Indian general election. For years, Bal Thackeray was regarded as the uncrowned king of Maharashtra.


July 11 this year marks the 11th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, the worst atrocity in Europe since the end of the second world war. Some 8,000 Muslims were massacred. Mass graves continue to be unearthed.

The perpetrators of the massacre – former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and military strongman Ratko Mladic - continue to evade detection. Slowly Srebrenica’s Muslims are returning to their home city as tensions between Bosnia’s Muslim and Orthodox Christian communities are settled.

A photo-gallery on Srebrenica produced by the international aid agency Islamic Relief can be found here.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Friday, July 07, 2006

Thoughts on the first anniversary of 7/7

Today marks the 1st anniversary of the London terrorist attacks that claimed at least 50 lives. Among those injured were Australians traveling and working in London. The victims included at least 5 people of nominally Muslim background.

The bombing was believed to be the work of home-grown terrorists, young English boys from Pakistani and Jamaican backgrounds disillusioned and depressed. According to official UK government and police reports, it is unclear whether the boys were directly linked to an overseas terrorist outfit. What is clear is that at least some of the boys were influenced by Islamist pan-nationalist literature and lecturers.

The London bombing led to a complete re-think of security and anti-terrorism policies. No longer was terrorism just something that happened when overseas extremists were sent on a mission to a Western country. Rather, terrorism could be home-grown.

The boys involved in the London attacks were part of what Peter Costello accurately described in his February speech to the Sydney Institute as living “in a twilight zone where the values of their parents old country have been lost but the values of the new country not fully embraced.”

At least 40% of Aussie Muslims were born and/or brought up in Australia. They are as Australian as former English cricketing captain Nasser Hussein is English. Or as international French soccer player Zinedin Zidane is French.

Most of us handle swinging between competing cultural pendulums quite well. Our experience is little different to that of children of migrants from other ethnic and religious groups. We all have layers of identity, and not all of us regard our religious faith as the primary source of our identity.

Which makes many Muslims shake their heads and wonder when they read of the Cultural Revolution currently being promoted in the pages of Quadrant and The Australian.

As someone who regards himself as a conservative, I find it disturbing that other conservatives would attempt to overturn over 3 decades of political and social consensus expressed in the term “multiculturalism”.

The Oz, in particular, has been promoting pseudo-conservative monocultural policy, with its editorials and many of its regular and occasional contributors lobbying for the overturn of Australia’s multicultural status quo.

Like most revolutions, this monocultural revolution manufactures an enemy by attributing mythologically monolithic characteristics to an otherwise disparate group. 7/7 provided the pseudo-conservatives with a convenient enemy to manufacture – Muslim minorities, particularly home-grown Muslim youth.

The constantly recurring myth in much pseudo-conservative writing is the existence of a monolithic Muslim “culture”. In the UK, where the overwhelming majority of Muslim migrants are from the Indian sub-continent, it might be legitimate to speak of a singular culture dominating the British Muslim landscape.

When applied to Australia, the true extent of the myth becomes apparent to all but the most jaundiced and/or senile commentators. Aussie Muslims migrated to Australia from over 60 different countries (many from countries without Muslim majorities) and speak over 200 languages.

I can say with great confidence that, culturally speaking, my Delhi-born parents have more in common with a Hindu or Sikh from India than with a Muslim from Albania. My South African Muslim friends have more in common with South African Jews than with Muslims from Malaysia.

Culture is a complex phenomenon. Islam, like Christianity, is an international religious movement. I doubt there is a major city in the world which does not have a single Muslim resident. To speak of Muslim culture is as meaningless as speaking about Catholic culture.

Rupert Murdoch and the editors of The Oz should know this to be the case. Indeed, Richard Kerbaj (a journalist of Lebanese Druze roots) regularly reports on the various ethnic and linguistic feuds within Muslim peak bodies in Australia. Most Australian mosques are divided along ethnic, linguistic and/or sectarian lines. To speak about a monolithic Muslim culture is sheer nonsense.

Yet some people make lots of money by promoting this mythology. In August, the Centre for Independent Studies hosts journalist Mark Steyn as part of its “Big Ideas Forum”. Steyn’s biggest idea has been cited with approval by Sharon Lapkin, a writer for the Australia-Israel Review. In a piece she authored for immediately after the Cronulla riots, Lapkin remarks:

“Everywhere in the world, Muslims are in conflict with their neighbours. And as Mark Steyn recently said, every conflict appears to have originated by someone with the name of Mohammed.”

The national chairman of the Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) is respected Melbourne lawyer Mark Leibler. Mr Leibler is also co-chair of Reconciliation Australia. He rightly condemned comments made by alleged conservatives about Aboriginal culture during a speech to the Sydney Institute on 29 May 2006.

On that occasion, he remarked:

“To suggest that rape and pedophilia are part of Aboriginal culture is defamation. Whether it‘s used as an excuse by perpetrators or a cop-out by non-Indigenous Australians who find this explanation easier than facing up to their own responsibilities, it is slanderous and it is wrong.”

Mr Leibler’s remarks would be just as applicable. I would like to think Mr Leibler would find Ms Lapkin’s remarks as equally slanderous and wrong.

Yet such slanders appear regularly in the op-ed pages of major newspapers, especially those owned by the American ex-Australian Rupert Murdoch. They are repeated by media moguls and allegedly conservative politicians.

Fear and hysteria about the alien monolithic Muslim “other” might sell newspapers and win votes in the short term. But to use the myths underlying such fear are used as excuses to overturn over 3 decades of multicultural consensus is the height of folly.

And when such myths are used to marginalize an entire faith-community, it gives good grounds for the likes of Usama bin Ladin and Abu Bakar Basyir to claim the war on terror is really a war on Muslims.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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