Wednesday, February 28, 2007

COMMENT: AFIC must act now on Hilaly

In late October last year, I was in Canberra for a multicultural festival marking the end of Ramadan. I was helping a friend tape kids’ posters to a wall for the festival poster competition when we were approached by Ikebal Patel.

At the time, the Hilaly scandal was at its peak. Mr Patel took the opportunity to criticise some pieces [URL: ] I’d written in the newspapers.

Irfan, I heard his entire speech. All he said was that women should wear the hijab [head scarf]. You know that the media are out to get us with this. We should be supporting the Sheik, not rushing to the media.
Or something to that effect. My friend was angered by what she heard and walked off in disgust.

It’s therefore interesting that Patel has now been elected to the presidency of Australia’s peak Muslim body, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC). It was AFIC which created the position of Mufti of Australia and then appointed Hilaly to that position.

Patel has promised that AFIC will now enter “a new chapter of inclusiveness”. It’s pleasing that the AFIC executive consists of persons from numerous ethnic and linguistic groups and includes at least one female.

But it’s concerning that Mr Patel doesn’t wish to deal with the urgent issue of the ongoing Hilaly crisis. Patel has suggested the matter be left to the National Board of Imams which doesn’t meet until April.

Patel must understand that this is an election year (twice for NSW voters). If the performance of Kevin Rudd and/or Maxine McHugh starts to worry the PM, or should there be an upward adjustment in the reported national security threat level, there’s every possibility Howard and other ministers will raise the Muslim bogeyman and hold all responsible for AFIC's failure to act. Espcially if Hilaly is caught out having made another disastrous comment. Howard has done this in the past, and there’s little to stop him doing it again.

For that reason, Patel needs to act fast. He doesn’t need to wait for an Imams’ Board that didn’t exist when AFIC first created the mufti position. Patel’s executive has the power to act. They must act now so that a key conservative wedge is removed and mufti day is brought to an end once and for all.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Colin’s lesson for Muslims

I’m sure “moderate” Muslims will appreciate Colin Rubenstein’s brief lesson in The Age today on what “moderate” Muslims should do to moderate their views in order to convince him they are “moderate” enough for his liking.

It seems part of Colin’s strategy is for “moderate” Muslims to only reject Muslim-haters when his organisation isn’t sponsoring one of their speaking tours. Otherwise, “moderate” Muslims should embrace them.

At the beginning of his article, Colin makes it very clear what his position is ...

Characterising Muslim communities as a threat or danger per se is a sentiment we reject and with which we do not wish to be associated.

Colin mentions Daniel Pipes as an example. Pipes is apparently a scholar with only moderately critical views of Muslims. Colin proves this by reminding us that Pipes doesn't support the internment of all American Muslims. He only wants to intern those who are not "anti-Islamist".

So any Muslim who isn't openly anti-Islamist will be interned. So if you are someone who ticks the "Muslim" box on your census form and really couldn't give two hoots about some wacky Islamist group, you should be interned without delay.

Colin, do you believe that?

Of course, Pipes isn't as harmless as Colin makes him out to be (??). For instance, Pipes published an article in newspapers across the globe suggesting that a better way for Western countries to respond to their citizens being kidnapped by Iraqi dissidents is to lynch their Muslim minorities.

Gee, thanks, Danny-boy! I should let Danny Nalliah’s congregation know about that suggestion so the can include it in their next prayer.

Somehow I doubt even Colin would agree with Pipes that Australians burning mosques and shouted “We want revenge,” “Punish the Muslims” and “Down with Islam” would have been the best way to seek Douglas Wood’s release.

And it seems Waleed Aly and I are not alone in finding Pipes somewhat extreme. Unless, of course, the Council of American-Islamic Relations has set up an office in Israel. Even Israelis, regard Pipes as an extremist fruitloop hell-bent on Israel exterminating as many Palestinians as possible. Still, it’s easy to pontificate on Israeli military policy from the safety of Philadelphia.

Colin might also look at some one contributor to AIJAC’s own publication, who apparently exposed alleged extremists spreading hatred in Australian Muslim student bodies.

That same author takes a leaf out of Professor Raphael Israeli’s book, writing the following diatribe on a neo-Con website:

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 …

Despite … witnessing massive influxes of Islamic crime, Western countries continue to believe in the reality of assimilation and moral relativism.

In Australia, Lebanese Christians have assimilated and become a respected part of our community … However, Lebanese Muslims have encountered serious problems because of their refusal to accept our right to live our way of life. Nothing so clearly demonstrates that it is not an issue of race — but of culture.

Pauline Hanson couldn’t have put it better. This is a classic example of holding an entire faith-community of some 300,000 people from over 60 different ethnic groups responsible for the actions of 10 or so convicted criminals.

I don’t know about you, Colin, but I don’t regard insisting on group-responsibility against the followers of any Semitic faith as the sure sign of a moderate.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

New AFIC executive elected ...

While Jewish leaders were busy defending Muslims from the vicious and vitriolic attacks of a Jewish Professor, Muslim leaders were busy until the weekend jostling and jockeying for positions on the executive of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC).

The last time AFIC had an election, the two sides ended up in court. The court appointed an administrator. The peak body was thus out of action at a time when its leadership was needed to deal with the Hilaly debacle.

The new President, Ikebal Patel, is from the ACT. He is under pressure from a number of state councils (including the Islamic Council of Victoria) to do something about getting rid of the position of Mufti.

If my last conversation with Patel is anything to go by, Mufti Day won’t be coming to an end soon. On that occasion, I was in Canberra for a Multicultural festival. It was at the height of the Hilaly affair, and Patel asked my better half and I to stop writing articles critical of Hilaly and realise that the attack on Hilaly was “a grand media conspiracy”.

It’s great to see Muslims can look forward to a continuation of savvy AFIC leaders.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Muslim migrants and their presence in Europe

The recent comments of Professor Raphael Israeli have again raised the issue of the exact role played by migrants from Muslim-majority states living in Western countries. Israeli made some passing remarks to Muslims in the UK and France. It is important that, in addressing these remarks, we rely on facts and research.

I recently came across a study by Aristide R Zolberg and Long Litt Woon published in the March 1999 edition of the academic journal Politics & Society. Entitled Why Islam Is Like Spanish: Cultural Incorporation in Europe and the United States, the study addresses key issues relating to migration, ethnicity and citizenship. It compares the fixation of anti-migrant sectors in Europe against Muslims to that of anti-migrant sectors in the United States against Spanish-speaking migrants.

Although the paper was published before the events of September 11 2001, its observations remain valid.

In June 1998, the state of California held a referendum on the issue of bilingual education. That referendum caused considerable controversy, with the formation of an “English-only” movement at the centre of what was perceived by many as a clash between “Anglo-America” and the “invading” Spanish language.

In Europe at that time, the memory of minority Muslim responses to the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and the French ban on headscarves was seen as proof of “resurgent Islam” threatening European cultures.

The authors claim that

... Islam and Spanish are metonyms for the dangers that those most opposed to immigration perceive as looming ahead: loss of cultural identity, accompanied by disintegrative separatism or communal conflict.

Muslims in Europe come from a variety of backgrounds – South Asia, North Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean and Indonesia. Then there are historically European Muslims – Bosnians and Albanians. Within each group migrating from a single nation are numerous ethnic and tribal groups. Many Turks in Germany are ethnically Kurdish, while many French Algerians are Berbers and not Arabs. There are thus enormous varieties of ethnicity, language, class and sect.

The authors say that this leads to Muslim communities having no shared or agreed upon political orientation. Different Muslims have different orders of priorities in their identity and their lifestyle. Not every European who happens to be Muslim regards religion as always central to their life.

The authors argue that Europe’s Muslims practise many versions of Islam, and that these range as widely as their Christian counterparts. This leads to “perennial calls by religious leaders for unity of the umma (community)". And usually these calls are in vain, as anyone who has tried to celebrate Eid on the same day as everyone else soon finds out.

The authors claim that essentially the objections to a Muslim presence in Europe boil down to one question: “can one be Muslim and European?”

How do we answer this question? I have my own views which I have shared at different times on this blog. Readers are welcome to share their own views. Anyone have any ideas?

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Carrying the electoral cross ...

Nadia Jamal has written a thoughtful piece in the Sydney Morning Herald today about the enormous cross which the first MP in the NSW parliament will have to carry.

ANU sociologist Shakira Hussein also penned a piece some weeks back in The Oz, specifically on Sheik Hilaly’s attempts to endorse candidates. My own experience in the Auburn by-election and as a candidate in other Liberal election campaigns suggests that endorsement by Sheik Hilaly is something to be avoided at all costs.

And in the current environment, one doubts if the NSW branches of either major party will run candidates of Muslim background or heritage in a winnable seat. The Liberals have 25 year old Ned Manoun running in Liverpool. Like many Western Suburbs Libs, Ned is a former ALP member. He ran as an independent in the 2005 Werriwa by-election that followed Mark Latham’s retirement.

One important issue Jamal raises is the expectation that Muslim MP’s will always have definitive answer for “Muslim” issues. When they do this, they end up copping flack from overly sensitive Muslims and/or from sectarian fruitloops.

New Zealand Labour MP Ashraf Chaudhury has found himself in hot water for expressing somewhat homophobic sentiments. Similarly, when Choudhary abstained from a vote on liberalising New Zealand’s prostitution laws (thus allowing the bill to pass), he was criticised by Muslims for abandoning their religious principles.

Indeed, it will be interesting to see how newly elected Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison (the first Muslim to be elected to Congress) will be received in his own community after he visits Israel in the near future. He has also been criticised by the looney-Right for using the Koran (albeit Thomas Jefferson’s personal copy) at his swearing-in ceremony and even for “allowing” some of his Muslim campaign workers to shout the generic Arabic religious phrase “Allahu Akbar” (meaning “God is always greater”).

Yet the advantage of having at least one Muslim MP is that s/he can speak their mind on inter-communal matters from a genuinely non-partisan and non-communalist perspective. In this respect, British MP Shahid Malik criticism of a Muslim umbrella body for its exceptionally inconsiderate and infantile boycott of a Holocaust memorial commemoration is timely. Sometimes religious leaders won’t budge until secular ones give them a decent push.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

COMMENT: Europe & Islam

Over the next few weeks, this blog will focus on certain academic writings which I have collected over the past 12 months on various topical issues relating to Muslims, democracy, multiculturalism, clash of civilisations and all those other catch phrases we have come to know and love (or loathe, depending on your perspective).

Each day (I hope!), parts of a particular study will be presented in summarised format. I’ll share some of my own thoughts, and readers are free to make their own observations.

Today I want to discuss an article by Timothy M Savage entitled Europe and Islam: Crescent Waxing, Cultures Clashing. This article was published in the Summer 2004 edition of The Washington Quarterly, a journal on international affairs published by the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS).

Savage is a former US consul general in Leipzig, Germany and currently works at the Office of European Analysis at the US State Department. The article discusses what the author describes as the “Islamic challenge to Europe” which is two-fold.

Firstly, Europe must deal with its internal sphere. It must integrate a ghettoized and rapidly growing Muslim minority which many Europeans regard as encroaching upon the collective identity and public values of European society.

Second, Europe must develop a viable external approach to dealing with its primarily Muslim-populated volatile neighbours which are the focus of the EU’s recently adopted security strategy entitled “A Secure Europe in a Better World”. Linked to this is the EU’s New Neighbourhood initiative which defines a new framework for relations with 14 states or entities – Algeria, Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Morocco, Ukraine, Tunisia, Syria, Russia, Moldova and Belarus.

Savage’s basic thesis seems to be that Europe’s new interaction with both its external and internal manifestations with Islam “offers a range of opportunities for positive change in the world”. Savage laments that Europe is choosing to rely on its old ways as entrenched in its unimpressive “track record of engagement with Islam over the last 1,350 years”.

Savage laments that Europe’s current stance shows it prefers “caution, predictability, control, and established structures over the boldness, adaptability, engagement, and re-defined relationships that the new situation requires”.

As for Muslims in Europe, Savage believes that they by and large are showing a “similar mindset”. This situation is dangerous, especially as Europe’s Muslim communities are growing. US State Department figures from 2003 show that Muslims make up some 5% of Europe’s population, and number in excess of 23 million. If one were to include Turkey, this figure climbs to 90 million or 15% of the total. In the past 3 decades, the Muslim population has more than doubled.

Externally, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has the world’s 2nd highest fertility rate. Meanwhile, Europe has the world’s lowest fertility rates. In the next 3 decades, the population of the MENA region is expected to double.

By 2050, Muslims are expected to comprise al least 20% of Europe’s population.

So what does all this mean? Here’s a few thoughts …

[01] The European situation is not akin to the situation in Australia or New Zealand. Europe’s Muslim communities tend to be ethnically and linguistically homogenous. Australian Muslims come from over 60 different nationalities.

[02] Many European countries have implemented policies that have fostered ethnic welfare ghettoes e.g. France. Though some limited ghettos are present in Sydney, they are far less than in Europe.

[03] Attempts to compare the experience of Europe with its Muslim minorities (the “Londonistan” thesis) are like comparing chalk with cheese.

[04] Europe’s Muslim communities are very young and will be dominated (as they are in Australia) by the children and grandchildren of migrants. Already, in France, some 15% of the 16-25 year age bracket is Muslim. Meanwhile in Brussels, 25% of the population under 25 is Muslim In this sense, there is some comparison between Australia and Europe.

[05] The understanding of faith of young European Muslims is perhaps less affected by Middle Eastern and other theological trends in the Muslim world. It is more affected by distinctly European factors.

[06] Muslim groups and institutions from overseas will have to reinvent themselves if they are to remain relevant to the emerging younger generations.

[07] Australian and North American Muslim youth can play a constructive role within Europe by building bridges with European Muslim youth and providing them with a different and more realistic understanding of how Muslim religiosity can be played out using Western cultural symbols. Integration is not just a possibility. It is an imperative.

That’s my view. Now it’s over to you.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Getting Boned again by The Oz's token feminist?

Allegedly leftwing feminist Pamela Bone has published yet another column for The Oz featuring her usual simplistic mantra that those representing the left/liberal side have jumped into bed with the Islamist lunatic fringe. Here are a few snippets ...

Why is scarcely a word spoken by liberal commentators about the treatment of women under the Taliban rule - child marriages, stonings, absolute exclusion from public life - that Hicks wanted to fight to uphold?

Why are Muslim feminists derided as apologists for imperialism, or "neocons"? How in the world did the Left allow feminism to be hijacked by the Right, when it was always the Left that fought for women's liberation and the Right that resisted it?

It’s a message that no doubt enables allegedly conservative editors and commentators to triumphantly sneer. And why shouldn’t they? Each time Bone repeats her mantra, we all forget how, for decades, it was conservatives using this Islamist fringe to fight communism.

Those were the days when that famous Saudi dissident’s name was really Usama bin Reagan, when he and his henchmen could commit plenty of 9/11’s provided they were targeted at the Soviet Union.

They were also the days when Saddam Hussein was the West’s best friend to the extent that even Donald Rumsfeld was happy to shake his hand and encourage him to use weapons of mass destruction on Iranian troops and citizens. Indeed, for at least one survivor of these attacks, Saddam’s hurried execution means the other guilty parties will again get away with murder.

Bone’s latest piece: “Why are Muslim feminists derided as apologists for imperialism, or "neocons"?”

Bone needs to do some traveling. Perhaps she can arrange something through the Australia-Indonesia Institute. Jakarta , capital of the world’s largest Muslim-majority state, is only around 7 hours away. She can visit private Muslim universities like Paramadina University and meet Muslim feminists working without interference as lecturers.

Bone might also consider going to the women’s studies section at the State Islamic University at Yogyakarta where Muslim feminists are writing and publishing freely.

She might even care to read Australian Muslim feminist author Hanifa Deen’s riveting book The Crescent and the Pen: The Strange Journey of Taslima Nasreen. I’m reading it right now. It’s excellent stuff. Reviewing the book for The Oz, one Canberra-based Muslim feminist writes

Bangladesh has a vibrant feminist movement, but Nasreen presents herself to the world as the lone voice of dissent.

The reviewer describes how Nasreen’s well-meaning sponsors from the left-liberal European literary establishment got their hands burnt in assuming she would be another

... made-to-order heroine of free speech against Islamic primitivism, “the female Salman Rushdie”.

She concludes:

[A]s the West steps up its campaign for ideological dissent in the Muslim world, this is an immensely timely reminder that dissidents tend to be unruly beasts rather than plaster saints.

In other words, Pamela, an anti-Islamist fruitcake is still a fruitcake and hardly worthy of support from anyone, whether on the left or the right.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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