Tuesday, August 29, 2006

NZ pseudo-Conservative MP tells Muslim women how to dress

First it was Fred Nile claiming women dressed like the Virgin Mary was a security hazard. Then Bronwyn Bishop and one of her Victorian colleagues claimed such women should be made to take part of their gear off before entering state-funded schools.

Now a National Party MP from across the Tasman has made the following erudite observation …

I do have a bit of a problem with Islam religion-type people wearing scarves
and burqas around the place. I think people should fit into the

Bob Clarkson’s comments clearly aren’t based on facts. Only a minority of Muslim women on either side of the Tasman wear the hijab (head scarf). None are known to wear the Afghan-style tent-like burqa.

I’d love to see Clarkson tell the new head-honchess of North American Muslims, Professor Ingrid Mattson, that she needs to fit in. Or perhaps he could tell that to the women who’ll be gathering with Pru Goward this Friday to launch the National Muslim Women’s Conference.

But it gets better. Clarkson has now compared homosexuality to … wait for it … picking your nose in public.

If you walk up and down the street picking your nose, you're a bit
different, aren't you? You're going to offend somebody. Do it in your home if
you want to … Take that gay parade. They flaunted themselves out there that
they're all different than us, and to a certain extent, in my mind, they're
trying to make out that we should be the same as them.

Funny, ‘cause I always thought our Kiwi cousins were a little more tolerant, sensitive and new-age about this kind of stuff. I mean, mouthing off against gays is the kind of thing you’d expect from middle-aged blokes righteous enough to cast the first stone.

Clarkson’s comments have caused a furore in Kiwistan, with PM Helen Clarke claiming the remarks are typical of National Party “prejudice” toward minorities. Clarkson, however, has defended himself.

I'll put it this way: I'm very happy that I was born in 1939 in Gisborne as
a male and I've stayed that way all my life.

Methinks he should stay there (i.e. the 1930’s) where he belongs.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

When converts become easy pickings for extremists

THE headline from the Weekend Australian (12-13 August 2006) screamed out: “Terror’s new ‘white converts’”. Don Stewart-Whyte’s arrest shows extreme forms of Islam sometimes attract new recruits from unexpected quarters.

Like Christianity, Islam actively seeks recruits. Unlike Christianity, Islam has no central church or priestly hierarchy. Converts don’t go on any register. The process of conversion is quite simple – just recite a two-sentence Arabic creed. No priest or witnesses are required. People even convert on internet chat channels.

Islam attracts people from all walks of life. Prominent Aussie converts include former diplomats, prominent sportspeople and a former ABC foreign correspondent. A convert now heads the Islamic Council of Victoria.

Muslim converts often prefer to be known as “reverts”. Muslims don’t believe inherited or “original” sin. Babies are born naturally sinless. Hence converts claim they have merely “reverted” to that original sinlessness.

People turn to Islam and other non-Christian faiths for any number of reasons. They might feel outcasts in conventional society or disillusioned with aspects of mainstream culture. They might even be searching for an alternative lifestyle.

Mainstream religion isn’t a problem in Australia. Most Muslim Aussies treat their faith as a deeply personal affair. Religion only becomes collective during religious festivals or at weekly Sunday (or in the case of Muslims, Friday) services.

Islam’s core is deeply spiritual Sufi tradition Sunni Muslims describe as tasawwuf and Shia Muslims describe as irfan. It’s the stuff that inspires Turkey’s whirling dervishes. To this day, translations of Sufi poet Rumi remain the biggest selling poetry books in the US.

Most converts enter Islam after exposure to Sufi teaching for reasons similar to the attraction of Tibetan Buddhism.

Islam isn’t the only faith be hijacked by fringe extremists. In Sri Lanka, deeply pacifist Hinduism has been hijacked by Tamil Tigers who have turned suicide bombing into an art-form.

Mainstream Muslims take for granted that Islam forbids suicide. The Prophet Muhammad said that the first man to be judged and sent to hell would be a person who claimed to have died as a martyr. In fact, that person didn’t die for God but only to be glorified by others after death.

Fringe politicised Islam has few followers among migrant Muslims. Australia’s radical “thick-Sheiks” have few followers among migrant Muslims, tending to attract Muslim youth and converts.

Mainstream Muslims aren’t a security threat, but failure of mainstream institutions to provide facilities for young people and converts is. Converts bring to the Muslim community a zeal which many migrant Muslims born into Islam don’t share.

Converts feel frustrated when ethnicity and migrant culture are presented as Islam by Muslim leaders. They are angered at imams who cannot speak English and at leaders making goofy public statements. Some non-European imams expect converts to abandon parts of Western culture, to change their names and to separate from their families.

Dean Jones recently described an observant South African cricketer as a terrorist. His gaffe reflects popular attitudes to Islam. Converts often hide their faith for fear of non-Muslim families and networks ostracising them. Younger converts are often dependent on their parents. The combined stress of family break-up and lack of support from “ethnic” Muslims is a source of enormous stress for converts.

New Muslims with no family support and on the fringes of Muslim communities fall into a dangerous twilight zone. Compounded with other factors (such as un-medicated depression), they are fresh pickings for extremist groups.

One effective ways Muslim communities can contribute to fighting terror is to be more welcoming to converts. Support services should be set up and mosques should break down their cultural and linguistic barriers. When Islam becomes a genuinely Australian religion and not just a cultural artefact, terrorists will be forced to look elsewhere for recruits.

(Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer. An edited version of this article was published in the Adelaide Advertiser on 15 August 2006.)

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

While blokes wear bangles …

“Only in America” is the common refrain we repeat when we read of some wacky development in the land of the free. But sometimes the Yanks do get things right.

On Tuesday, the Islamic Society of North America announced that it had elected a woman as President.

Now I’m sure some of our more conservative readers will be rushing to their bookshelves to make sure they get the right wording for that hadith. You know, the one where the Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) apparently said that any Muslim organisation who chooses to be lead by a woman is bound to become the target of awful translations from Dicky Kerbaj at The Oz.

And before you get too excited, I should tell you that the rest of her executive are blokes. Plus, this isn’t the first time she’s been on the exec of ISNA. Last year, she was Vice President.

Anyway, who is this woman whose election threatens to bring the sky crashing down on the Taliban? Her name is Dr Ingrid Mattson.

OK, I agree. Her name isn’t exactly Shaykha Maulani Hojji Aisha Amina Khadija Yasmin as-Sumsheila. But she is a woman. She is also a Professor of Islamic Studies at the Hartford Seminary. From memory, they are the dudes and dudettes who produce that journal “The Muslim World”.

Dr Mattson is no stranger to Islam or Muslims. After completing her undergraduate philosophy degree at the University of Waterloo, she worked with Afghan refugee women in Pakistan from 1987-88.

In 1999, Dr Mattson earned her PhD in Islamic law from the University of Chicago. She went to study there on the invitation of Professor Fazlur Rahman, an American scholar whose students included the former Indonesian President and head of Nadhatul Ulama Sheik Abdur Rahman Wahid.

Dr Mattson has written on a variety of legal, political, historical, literary and social subjects, and you can read them all online here.

One day, Muslims in Australia can get their act together. Perhaps that will only happen when women take control. After all, Muslim men seem to have lost the plot. Or as my mother says: “Qambakhat admiyon ne chooriyan pahan-na shuru karliya hai!” (i.e. those blasted men have started wearing bangles!).

Still, at the very least Muslim women in Canberra are getting their act together. So if you are reading this and you happen to be female, make sure you head down to the Canberra Islamic Centre on 1 & 2 September for Sawt – Voices of Women National Muslim Women’s Conference. Pru Goward will be there to launch the show, and I’m sure the Lebanese (and other) women there will be friendlier to her than the ones she might encounter at the Epping Liberal preselection!

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Friday, August 25, 2006

Sitting on the fence …

It’s often said that Islam and democracy cannot co-exist. The claim is made by fringe Muslim groups such as Hizbut Tahrir as well as by some critics of the status quo of Muslim-majority states.

Hence, we often read headlines in newspaper articles like “Islam must first get its house in order” and “Islam’s weaknesses must be acknowledged”. Naturally, many Muslims find such headlines offensive. After all, Islam is a faith and a set of principles based upon the same foundations and emerging from the same region as Judaism and Christianity.

When a democratic deficit exists in South American countries, we don’t see headlines saying “Christianity must get its house in order”. Similarly, when countries like Burma, Sri Lanka and Cambodia are gripped with endemic corruption, we don’t read of “Buddhism’s economic crisis”.

When something is given the label “Islamic” or “Islam”, for most Muslims this means the phenomenon being described emerges from the teachings, ethics and religious laws of Islam. What people of nominally Muslim faith might do or say isn’t anymore representative of Islam as what people do in Rio of Auckland is reflective of Christianity.

Unfortunately, in relation to those claiming or deemed to follow Islam, the mistake is made over and over again. It is reflective of the fact that so many people in the West regard Muslims as one huge foreign and potentially hostile population bloc. Muslims are one huge “them”.

For me as a Western Muslim, this can be very frustrating. Just as I become frustrated when I travel to Muslim-majority states and must politely put up with endless questions from my hosts about “those Westerners” or “them Europeans”.

For Western Muslims, the problem we face is one of sitting on the fence and being able to recognise the enormous variety in both pseudo-sectors. As far as we are concerned, Westerners fit into our “us” category as much as people from Muslim-majority states.

It’s easy to get offended when a Western journalist questions us on the timetable for “Islam’s reform” or “the democratisation of Islam” or “Islam’s embrace of liberty”. As far as we are concerned, the problem isn’t with Islam. The problem is with citizens of nominally Muslim states. Don’t blame the faith, the ethics and the religious law. Blame the supposed followers who have abandoned Islam.

As I finish writing these lines, I can’t help but wonder why I should feel loved to write something so damned obvious and self-evident. I guess we always have to remember that it is only by sitting on the fence that you can gain a better appreciation of the people and terrain on both sides. As the fence gets higher and higher, those on either side find it more and more difficult to appreciate those on the other.

And with the fence now reaching perhaps maximum height, being a Western Muslim isn’t something you should embrace if you are unable to keep balance or are afraid of heights!

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Catch The Fire Appeal commences

The Age on 22 August 2006 reports the commencement of the appeal by the Catch The Fire (CTF) Ministries and the “two Dannys” (Nalliah and Scot) against the ruling of Victoria’s Administrative Tribunal.

CTF were found to have breached Victoria’s Racial & Religious Tolerance Act during a 2002 seminar they held on Islam and Muslims.

The Age report showed an interesting photo of former Islamic Council of Victoria President Yasser Soliman shaking hands with Pastor Danny Nalliah. Neither is looking at the other. Both are only half-smiling.

Professional Muslim-hater Tim Blair cites the fundamentalist JihadWatch website report and almost commits contempt of Court by describing the proceedings as “this stupid case”.

His comment circus of far-right ratbags are also worth reading, if for no other reason than their loopy logic. Some of them are try to show that the ICV Counsel’s argument (reported by The Age as suggesting that vilification of Islam necessarily involves vilifying Muslims) means that the bloodthirsty acts and motived of select lunatics in the name of Islam can be attributed to all Muslims. Presumably, this includes that vast majority of terror victims who are also Muslims.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Yesterday’s Australia

Each day I receive a bundle of media-related stuff including press clippings and summaries of talkback radio stuff. Today, I was looking through some stuff from the John Laws program.

Mr Laws’ program commences at 9am, at a time when most people are at school, college, uni or work. Most of his listeners (and virtually all his callers) would consist of the elderly and those out of jobs.

Many talk about terrorism. Naturally, since much terrorist activity reported is carried out by persons claiming to act on behalf of Islamist groups, the terror talk includes talk about Muslims.

Keysar Trad cops plenty of flack, with Laws and his callers wondering why Trad doesn’t stop terrorists or at least condemn them.

The constant theme of so many callers is that ordinary Muslim citizens need to take responsibility for terrorist attacks and for extremists from among their midst.

Mark Steyn asked me to do the same on Monday night (14/08/06) during a Q & A session at the CIS “Big Ideas Forum”. I have his exact words, but would need permission before reproducing them on this blog. Suffice it to say that he suggested:

a. Most (or a large number of) Muslims support the sentiments that inspired terrorists and hence they were potential terrorists.

b. Every Muslim knows inside that Muslims are the ones committing virtually all terrorist attacks.

c. The problem is one inside Islam itself, that Islam itself enables Muslims to commit such acts and that Muslims need to reform Islam.

His statements drew loud applause from his largely geriatric audience. Afterwards, one audience member said to me: "You people are all violent".

Australia has an ageing population. All Abrahamic faiths (including Islam) teach their followers to show respect to elders. But Islam also insists elders show mercy to their youngsters. Certainly the CIS audience (whose average age must have made them eligible for Australian Pensioners Insurance) didn’t show much mercy to myself and other young Muslims present.

However, one elderly lady did approach me after the event. She was a mature-aged student who was completing a degree in religious studies at the University of Sydney. She said to me words to the following effect:

“Don’t worry about those ratbags. They are all old and ready to die. Look at them – half of them can’t even walk! I’m old and grey but my brain works. I’ve studied your religion at university, and I know everything that character on stage said is hogwash. Ignore him and his followers. They are yesterday’s Australia.”

Some moments later, a young man approached me. He seemed to be of Indian or South American extraction, and he introduced himself as someone close to one of the speakers. And what was his message?

“Steyn really frightens me. I’m so glad you stood upto him. His mob are the type who would no sooner go after me thinking I’m Muslim even though I’m not.”

The rhetoric of Steyn and co scares even non-Muslims who might be deemed Muslim because of stereotypes Steyn and his ilk busily spread. I should be scared. And I am. We should all be frightened when even respectable thinktanks provide a stage for xenophobes to spread their hate-speech.

When racism and ethno-religious intolerance gains respectability, the terrorists have won. It is upto young Australians, today’s Australia, to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Most of our politicians grew up during the White Australia Policy. They regard racism and prejudice as normal. Our politicians are happy to openly make racist remarks toward anyone deemed Aboriginal and/or Muslim and/or Sikh.

We need to make sure that we don’t repeat the mistakes of our parents’ and grandparents’ generation. In fighting political correctness, we cannot allow ourselves to go to the other extreme.

Muslims have a special responsibility in this regard. We have been blessed with a religion that has a zero-tolerance policy on racial and religious prejudice. We need to set the example by ridding our communities of racist attitudes.

We need to fight anti-Semitism in our community wherever it still exists. We need to rid ourselves of ethnic-based mosques. Groups like the Lebanese Moslems Association and the Fiji-Muslim League of NSW should remove all membership restrictions that bar other ethnic groups from joining.

We also need to do all that we can do to stop extremism where it exists. We need to provide support systems for young people and converts who might be vulnerable to being sucked in by fringe extremist forms of theology. We also need to bridge the gap between Sunni and Shia Muslims, to set an example to Muslim communities in Iraq and Pakistan where sectarian violence us endemic.

And we need to publicise our efforts. Now is not the time to be modest about our achievements. People want to feel re-assured. People want to feel secure. Smart PR based on actual efforts and real achievements.

Yesterday’s Australia are dying off. Aussie Muslims are a young community. We are home-grown. We owe it to our country and our people to build bridges. There’s no point trying to change the Steyns and the types that enjoy his tripe. For every Mark Steyn, there are 500 ordinary Aussies and Canadians and Americans and Brits and Kiwis and Europeans and others prepared to listen with an open mind.

Yesterday’s Australia should be left where they are – in yesterday!

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Terror, Response and Responsibility

Former UK Police Commissioner Lord Stevenson is partially correct. Writing in the News of the World, he remarked:

“When will the Muslim community in this country accept an absolute, undeniable,
total truth: that Islamic terrorism is THEIR problem?”
His comments echo those of former National Crime Commission head Peter Faris and others who argue that, while all Muslims aren’t terrorists, all terrorists are Muslims. Faris has even argued that special ID cards should be introduced which identify a person’s religion.

Yes, terrorism is a Muslim problem, but not (and in some cases, not just) for the reasons polemicists and Muslim-haters suggest. Rather (or in addition), it is a problem because Muslims are victims of terror.

In fact, more Muslims than non-Muslims have died in terrorist attacks in Indonesia, Pakistan, Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey and other Muslim-majority states. Almost each day, the same number of people die in Iraq as died in London on 7/7.

So how does characterising terror as essentially Islamic assist in the fight against terrorism? Apart from upsetting Muslims, who are just as much victims as anyone else, what does it achieve?

Indeed, it isn’t just a tiny minority of Muslims seeking to kill and maim people or seeking to finance such operations.

In recent years, UK and Australian police have also conducted raids on members of Tamil expatriate communities, believing some Tamil migrants are financing the Tamil Tigers, an organisation again actively pursuing terrorism in Sri Lanka.

Tamil Tigers have turned suicide bombing into an art form. Their antics have killed and injured civilians not just in Sri Lanka but across the Indian sub-Continent including a former Indian Prime Minister. And they aren’t the only fanatics killing in the name of some ethno-religious identity.

Some fringe American Indian organisations are known to be supporting and bankrolling the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Pro-RSS programs are regularly played on Sydney community radio stations. Scottish writer William Dalrymple has documented the RSS’s record in orchestrating the killing of literally thousands of members of religious minority communities in India, including Australian Catholic missionaries.

In 2002, RSS activists systematically slaughtered over 3,000 people in Gujarat. That’s more than the combined toll in the total civilian toll in Lebanon and Israel over the past month of shelling and bombardment.

But in what sense do the activities of the Tamil Tigers and the RSS reflect on Hinduism and Hindus? Are we hearing calls for Hindus to fight extremism from among their ranks?

But as the saying goes, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Some people want to believe that all terrorism is committed by Muslims. And that all forms of Islamic teaching support chauvinism and terror and violence.

There are those like Canadian theatre critic Mark Steyn for whom the world is a stage effectively divided into two camps – Muslims and the civilised West. In an article for London’s Daily Telegraph, Steyn once remarked that violent trouble-makers always seem to have the name Muhammad.

Of course, Muhammad is also a name shared by some extraordinary people. Including American boxing legend Muhammad Ali and famous sufi poet Muhammad Jelal ad-Din Rumi.

In fact, Muhammad is the world’s most common male name. So if certain terrorists are named Muhammad, what does that prove?

Of course, Steyn is no intellectual, nor is he a law enforcement expert. Steyn is a polemicist trying to be funny. But the issues he pokes fun at aren’t so humorous. By giving terrorism the label of “Islamic” and by marginalising Muslims, Steyn effectively becomes a polemicist for real terrorists who want the world to believe their acts are genuinely Islamic.

In effect, Steyn is providing free propaganda services for groups like al-Qaida.

Terrorists are killing people. They are killing more people in Iraq and Pakistan and other Muslim countries, even more than they are killing people in Western and European cities like London and New York and Madrid and Istanbul.

But returning to Lord Stevenson. All this talk of Muslims needing to loudly shout and scream and dance and sing and pierce their nipples and tattoo their buttocks with anti-terror messages is just plain nonsensical and counter-productive. I mean, how many times do we need to condemn terrorism when we always seem to be its primary victims?

Those who claim Muslims don’t condemn terror enough obviously cannot be helped by myself. The best advice I can give them is to visit an ENT specialist and get their hearing checked.

In fact, rather than focussing all their resources on loudly condemning terror, Muslims need to keep doing what they have always done - to be vigilant, to report any unusual behaviour they notice, to always be on the lookout.

At the same time, Muslims need to work with their countrymen and women who are committed to fighting those forces working against social cohesion. They need to fight the likes of Mark Steyn, Pauline Hanson and other members of the “white trash brigade” (no, these aren’t my words) who use people’s legitimate fears about terrorism to spread conspiracy theories in the manner similar theories were spread by supporters of National Socialism against Jews in the first half of the 20th century.

Most importantly, Muslims need to continue supporting Australian values. We need to be truly conservative, to support our multicultural status quo. We need to resist the monocultural revolution currently supported by some of the near-senile fruitloops and Joh-for-PM enthusiasts that congregate from time to time on op-ed pages.

At the same time, Muslims need to take on board that miniscule 2% of Steyn’s white-trash message perhaps worth considering. When Mark Steyn says that Muslims need to recognise terrorists from amongst their ranks, we should agree and do something about it.

And that means opposing those forces within our community that foster extremism. We need to recognise our own Mark Steyns – the thick-Sheiks, the mad Mullahs and those preaching an isolationist form of religion that breeds resentment and hatred.

Muslim communities need to start looking inward. For too long, we have been focussing on just being ordinary Aussies lie everyone else. Meanwhile, our mosques and institutions are being dominated by non-English-speaking muftis and middle-aged men who treat Islam as a foreign cultural artefact.

We also need to protect our most vulnerable ones – young people and Muslim converts – from the nefarious influence of religious nutcases seeking to preach a fringe suicidal ideology. The best means of inoculating young and new Muslims is to expose them to mainstream theology.

Muslims also need to assist governments, law enforcement and intelligence officials by providing them with information (and not just apologetics) about the nature of politicised Islamist ideologies and their influence in Australia. We need to provide real information to ensure that officials don't just hear and believe the tripe that emerges from the xenophobic lunatic-fringe.

To some extent, Lord Stevenson and Mark Steyn are right. Muslims desperately need to expose and deal with their own Mark Steyns. Muslims also need to provide real facts and information about themselves.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Inspirational film about the struggles of a Sydney independent school …

The Howard government prides itself on its commitment to educational choice for parents. It is been a long-standing Liberal policy to support the establishment of independent schools, including religious-based schools.

But often such schools are faced with a barrage of pressures from media and the broader community. One such school is Noor al-Houda Islamic College, one of Sydney’s most respected independent Islamic schools. The school was founded by Silma Ihram, an Anglo-Australian woman and a pioneer of Islamic independent school education in Australia.

Last year, I managed to see a superb production entitled Silma’s School. This documentary profiled the struggles of Silma Ihram in taking on the Federal Airports Corporation for the survival of the College established initially on the Bankstown Airport site in Condell Park.

That screening took place at the Sydney Film Festival to a packed audience, many of whom were visibly moved and some in tears. The movie received a standing ovation, as did Silma Ihram who came on stage at the conclusion of the production.

The film was also shown in London where its screenings were consistently sold out. The film was reviewed in one English publication as a touchstone for some of the big domestic and international issues of our times. It was also a finalist at the New York Festivals’ International Television Award in the Community Portraits category.

The film has been described as “a moving, suspenseful and sometimes funny story provides a microcosm for many of the issues facing young Muslims growing up in the West - without the political rhetoric, stereotypes and firebrand mullahs which have characterised so much recent media scrutiny”.

The makers of that movie, Firefly Productions Pty Limited, will be holding a special screening of the movie at the NSW Parliament House Theatrette on Wednesday 9 August 2006. The screening commences at 2pm.

The screening is held in conjunction with SAVE Australia Inc, a Sydney-based charity. Following the screening will be a number of speakers including the film director, Jane Jeffes and journalist Tagred Chandab.

Seats are limited, and this is a film not to be missed. Future screenings are also planned for September, so watch this space for details.

For further details, please call the representative of SAVE Australia Inc on 0422 085 222.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

On Hanson, Israel & The Reference Group

If the Federal Government's response to the Muslim Community Reference Group's proposal to revisit Hezbollah’s status as a terrorist organisation proves anything, it is that the Howard government will allow only limited involvement from Muslim communities on decision-making on foreign policy issues.

When the Group was first set up, its apparent purpose was to provide some kind of formal two-way consultation mechanism for the Federal Government and representatives of Muslim communities across Australia to address issues of national security in the wake of the London bombings.

Muslim representatives were to provide advice on how security threats from within the local Muslim community were to be best addressed.

Such threats are often said to arise from young Aussie Muslims feeling isolated and alienated from the broader community.

However, such threats also arise due to the government’s foreign policy agenda. The Muslim communities are entitled to express their views on such issues. They are also entitled to be heard by John Howard who is apparently the Prime Minister of all Australians (including Muslims).

Yet when Muslim representatives wanted to bring up the issue of the impact of the war in Iraq, the PM and other relevant Ministers refused to discuss the issue.

Pauline Hanson once said that she doesn’t represent Aboriginals in her electorate. By refusing to engage Muslims, the PM and the Federal Government are effectively sending the same message to Muslims.

It is true that the Chairman of the Reference Group (chosen by the PM himself) didn’t exactly express himself on the issue using precise language. His analysis was hardly the stuff public policy discourse is made of. But Dr Ameer Ali’s lack of sophistry shouldn’t be used as an excuse to dismiss his call.

The Government’s classification of the armed wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation is a problematic issue. The classification criteria used could just as easily apply to a number of groups and states with whom Australia has friendly relations.

The criteria could easily be applied to Israel. In other words, according to the criteria set by the Federal Government, Australians choosing to fight in Lebanon for the Israeli army could well be classified as terrorists.

The waters could become even muddier should Hezbollah decide to merge its armed wing with the mainstream Lebanese army. Alternatively, Hezbollah might instruct its fighters to fight under the command of the Lebanese Defence Ministry.

If this happens, would this change the status of Hezbollah’s armed wing?

The classification of the armed wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation also has implications for Australians donating to charities working in South Lebanon. With Hezbollah now part of the government and holding a number of Senior Ministries, it means that moneys donated even to mainstream charities such as Red Cross/Crescent may end up somehow getting to organisations linked to Hezbollah.

This raises the dangerous prospect of Australian donors falling foul of anti-terror laws and liable to prosecution and jail.

Australian Jews are free to donate to any number of Israeli causes and charities, including extremist groups such as YESHA which openly support ethnic cleansing and the destruction of churches in Israel. At least one Australian businessman of Jewish background is known to bankroll a number of Jewish extremist groups.

Further, Australians are free to join the Israeli army and engage in activities which could well be classed as war crimes.

If the Australian Government refuses to engage with Lebanese and/or Muslims on foreign policy and security issues, it will effectively be confirming the suspicion held by many Arab and Muslim Australians that it favours pro-Israel opinion over the opinions of those criticsl of Israel.

Alexander Downer frequently speaks with Jewish media and community leaders on foreign policy issues. This in itself is not a problem, and nor should it be seen as one. What is a problem us that he rarely allows his doors to be open to Arab, Muslim or other community media or representatives.

This government claims it does not wish Muslim youth to be alienated and marginalised. Yet on key issues of Australia’s security and foreign policy, it is seen to be actively marginalising even the most moderate Muslim opinion, whilst allowing the most hawkish pro-Israel opinions open access and a direct line.

If the government has no intention of allowing Muslims genuine involvement in foreign policy issues, it may as well disband the Reference Group. If the only purpose Muslims serve to the government is to address security issues on the government’s terms, it means the Reference Group has reached its “used-by” date.

On the other hand, if Reference Group members are not prepared to consult more widely and act with greater sophistication, they should allow more articulate voices to raise such issues with the government.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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