Thursday, October 22, 2009

COMMENT: Pseudo-Sheik Haron and Radio 2GB ...

I’ve just gotten off the phone from Jason Morrison of the Sydney talkback radio station 2GB. His researcher, Judy Goldman, had been trying to contact me since this morning. She had e-mailed me via the website (of which I am an associate editor) and also rang the Law Society of NSW. I contacted her and had a brief conversation with her.

I spoke with Mr Morrison at 3:40pm. He wanted to talk about a certain "sheik" Haron who had been charged with sending grossly offensive letters to the families of fallen Australian soldiers.

Morrison asked me if I had ever heard of Haron. I said that I had read about him in a media report in The Australian newspaper last year. However, he first really came to prominence when it was reported he had written to a judge in a terrorism trial supporting and justifying the decision of certain defendants not to stand up when the judge entered the courtroom.

Morrison said that many ordinary Australians would look at this incident and wonder why more ordinary Muslims didn’t step up and condemn Haron’s remarks. He said that his show had been having trouble finding a single Muslim prepared to comment on this issue on the air.

Morrison admitted that he thought Haron had a screw or two loose (which makes one wonder why people might expect Muslims to speak out given that we don’t expect Christians t speak out when someone with a screw loose says something silly in the name of Christ).

The impression he seemed to be giving his listeners was that Muslims in general did not regard this as a serious enough issue. It was as if Australians who ticked the “Muslim” box on their census forms had little concern for the sentiments of their fellow citizens.

After the interview, I spoke to his researcher for a second time. She confirmed to me that she had not contacted any of the following to seek comment:

# Any Islamic Council

# Any imam or Board of Imams

# The NSW Community Relations Commission

She did say that Mr Morrison may have tried to contact people before the show.

This raises the question – exactly who did Mr Morrison or his researchers ring? What efforts did they make to contact representatives from Muslim communities? And why did he tell his listeners on air that he had in fact been trying to contact people from Muslim communities all day to comment about this?

UPDATE I: The website of the so-called Sheik Haron now appears to have been "suspended".

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

COMMENT: Time for Jewish-Muslim Solidarity ...

The following comment from the now-defunct Aussie Mossie blog was first published on Saturday 29 July 2006.

Israel may well gain its military objectives in Lebanon, just as it always has in the constructively occupied West Bank and Gaza. But Israel is fast losing the war of public opinion.

People across all sectors of Australian society, of all ethnicities and faiths are questioning what has clearly been a disproportionate response by Israel to the military incursions of Hamas and Hezbollah.

Australia’s Jewish community has been largely supportive of Israel. With a relatively higher proportion of Holocaust survivors compared to other Jewish communities in the Western world, many Australian Jews regard support for Israel as a kind of emotional life insurance policy.

But now even prominent Jewish writers and academics are beginning to make critical noises against Israel. This must prove unsettling for more hawkish pro-Israel lobbies. They now see Americans and Australians and New Zealanders and Europeans, people whose support they always took for granted, abandoning the blindly pro-Israel position.

Why is this happening?

Firstly, things haven’t been the same since Yasir Arafat shook hands with Yitzhak Rabin on the White House Lawn. Since then, the Palestinian cause gained respectability.

There was a time when Lebanese, palestinian or Muslim groups on Australian campuses faced a barrage of criticism when inviting speakers critical of Israel to speak. Today, on campuses across the country, Jewish, Muslim, Arab and other students are holding inter-faith gatherings and joint functions.

Secondly, the internet has opened up sources of information hitherto unavailable. Westerners now have access to Israeli and Palestinian newspapers and magazines online. Views and positions labelled anti-Semitic by rabid pro-Israel lobbies are now accessible on Israeli news websites. Previously, such views were only known to people in Israel.

Thirdly, Israel’s treatment of Christian minorities is also becoming known, thanks to the work of writers from various Christian denominations. Books such as
William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain are exposing the excesses of Jewish extremists in Jerusalem as they engage in blatant and often violent takeovers of Church land under the watchful and supportive eye of Israeli authorities.

Fourthly, Palestinians have also gained many articulate spokespeople actively building bridges for peace. Attempts to paint
Sydney Peace Prize recipient Dr Hanan Ashrawi as a bloodthirsty supporter of suicide bombers in 2003 failed dismally.Attempts to discredit the recent study by two prominent American academics, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, on the power of the pro-Israel lobby seem to have backfired. In Australia, we see the paper profiled even on the pages of establishment papers such as the Australian Financial Review.

It also doesn’t help the more hawkish pro-Israel lobbies when their views are couched in the xenophobic and racist language of News Limited tabloid scribes. Today, many pro-Israel positions are represented by the most extreme, belligerent and imbecilic argument.

Recently Australia’s Ambassador to Lebanon declared that it is almost inevitable that Australians will be amongst the dead and wounded among Lebanon’s civilian population as Israel’s campaign in Lebanon continues. When Australians see their fellow countrymen and women being incinerated and blown to pieces by Israeli fire power, when the effects of this war begin to affect ordinary Australian families, goodwill toward Israel in Australia will nose-dive.

And should Hezbollah and Lebanon’s armed forces join forces under a unified command, it will be impossible for Israel’s friends in Canberra to cry “terrorist” when young Australians leave in droves to join in the fighting on either side of the war.

Lebanon is being seen as the victim. Israel’s apparent policy of “an Israeli eye for 30 Lebanese and Palestinian heads” is being exposed in all its ugliness.

So what should Australian Muslims do? Should we raise our voices in anger toward those we presume to be Israel’s die-hard supporters? Should we be demanding Jewish Australians to prove their loyalty the way we are demanded to prove ours when Aussie are killed in terror attacks in Bali? Should we be complaining that Jewish leaders aren’t condemning Israeli aggression enough as many complained (and continue to complain) about ours?

Should we produce our own Muslim versions of Mark Steyn and Daniel Pipes? No. We should rise above such divisive strategies.

Now is the time for us to engage our brethren of Jewish faith. Now is the time for us to hold out the hand of friendship. Because the reality is that we are all victims in this war.

We know there are many Australian Jews who are openly questioning Israel’s military policies. We also know there are many decent people inside Israel (including inside Israel’s Defence Forces) questioning and rejecting Israel’s current campaign.

As Israel’s army commits more atrocities, Hezbollah replies by firing more rockets. Who is killed? Ordinary Lebanese. Ordinary Israelis. Ordinary Jews, Christians and Muslims.

As Muslims, we should be the first to hold out the hand of friendship. Yes, we are opposed to Israeli government policies. But that doesn’t mean we show venom and resentment to our Jewish neighbours and colleagues and workmates and classmates.

Extra efforts should be made by Muslim organisations, particularly those representing young people, to arrange meetings and joint functions with Jewish organisations. Imams should go out of their way to meet with rabbis. Principals of Muslim schools should arrange visits to Jewish schools.

It makes me so pleased to see the disciples of Turkish Islamic scholar Muhammad Fethullah Gulen arranging functions with groups associated with the congregation of Temple Emanuel in Northern Sydney. More such gatherings need to occur.

With so much tension in the air, surely now is the best time for Muslims and Jews to interact and to build friendships. Let the hawks and extremists on both sides talk war and blood and death. Let us ordinary Australians, Muslims and Jews, speak the language of friendship.

Rabbi Hillel is quoted as saying: “Judge not your neighbour till you've been in his place.”

The Prophet Muhammad (peace & blessings of God be upon him) is reported to have said: “You are not a true believer until you want for your brother what you want for yourself.”

Muslims and Jews in Australia are fellow citizens and neighbours. Now more than ever, both our communities need to show we will not allow conflicts overseas to colour our relations with each other. We are already friends. We now must be seen to becoming better friends.

Words © 2006-9 Irfan Yusuf

UPDATE: The following comment was left in English by this rather friendly dual citizen:

I love your last paragraph. That is the 'ideal' isn't it. I think criticism and more in-depth examination of these conflicts is eessential. I am a practising Australian Christian currently living in the UK (I differentiate myself from 'cultural' Christians, of which most white Aussies/Brits would probably describe themselves as).

And this comment was left in Spanish by a Chilean Jewish brother:


He leído con atención tu blog, y concuerdo con tus ideas.

Como chileno, judío y activista del diálogo fraterno entre los "hermanos separados" te envío un caluroso abrazo desde Santiago de Chile.


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Friday, October 02, 2009

COMMENT: Good intentions are no substitute for expertise ...

A group of organisations in Australia and New Zealand were sending a delegation to the Pacific islands-nation of Samoa to conduct an inter-faith ecological program. Since then, parts of Samoa have been struck by a devastating earthquake and tsunami which has killed perhaps over 100 people and flattened entire villages.

Here is an excerpt from their promotional Facebook page for the original Samoa adventure.

Interfaith With a Difference
A 5-Day MIZAAN Ecology Rihla to the South Pacific!

Join Imam Afroz Ali in this unique experience of good fun and good deed all in one! Be one of only 20 people for a 5-day journey to the beautiful Pacific Islands of Western Samoa and participate in a unique Ecology initiative of Al-Ghazzali Centre.

This Rihla will open your hearts to many realities; from environmental degradation and its effect on Pacific islanders, simplicity of living as opposed to our consumer-extremism, to why acting on the principles of your faith is the best guidance for humanity. Be part of a unique journey that does not stop in Samoa.

Now that group is still going but for different reasons. Here is an excerpt from a new promotional Facebook page.

1000 for 1000 Survivor Kit
Emergency Relief Support for Samoa ...

Al-Ghazzali Centre is responding to the post-Tsunami Disaster Relief Work in the island of Upolu, Western Samoa, by packaging emergency Survivor Food Packs specifically designed for:

• Essentials packed for 1 family per week*
• Food and water packed for 3 times a day for the family
• 1000 Australians helping 1000 Samoans with 2 weeks!

Imam Afroz Ali of al-Ghazzali Centre (Australia) and sidi Aarif Rasheed of Rasheed Memorial Dawah Trust (RMDT, New Zealand) are taking a delegation of 10 people to the island of Upolu from Friday 2nd October – Tuesday 6th October for humanitarian aid and reconnaissance for the most effective and prompt ways to provide relief assistance on the ground in Samoa. This delegation initially had planned to visit Samoa to undertake ecological regeneration work as an interfaith initiative, where Muslim Australians and New Zealanders would assist Christian villages to regenerate mangroves marine habitat which is part of the major Pacific Stream- a program supported by the United Nations Development Program. Due to the latest natural disaster in Samoa, the objectives have been re-focussed to humanitarian efforts despite the difficult circumstances the delegation is sure to experience upon arrival ...

This emergency relief work needs your full support. To source, pack and dispatch the Survivor Food Kits to Samoa by ship within approximately 10 days is significantly costly exercise. With sponsorships, much of shipping logistical is already covered. Your financial donations will be most important in sourcing the food and the essentials. 1000 Australians can easily assist 1000 Samoans for as little AU$90 per family. 1 Australian family donating $90 supporting 1 Samoan family in distress.

Your donation is needed immediately- make it happen!

In Australia, donate your AU$90 to:

Al-Ghazzali Centre
BSB: 032024
Acc: 401251
Ref: Samoa

It sounds like a great initiative. A bunch of people carrying aid packets that will keep people nourished for around a month. Delivering these packets in Samoa where the aid is most needed.

But then this delegation consists of the same people who were part of a camping trip which would conduct an inter-faith ecological project. One would think that the skills required to conduct an ecological project are quite different to those involved in surveying a natural disaster zone and determining how best to deliver aid.

I wonder whether any members of the delegation have experience in disaster relief. I also wonder whether they will liaise with existing aid agencies such as the Red Cross and Caritas who are already on the ground. And I wonder why people should donate to the Al-Ghazzali Centre to carry out such a project using inexperienced personnel when the same money could be given to more experienced aid organisations. Further, how many extra resources will be taken up by members of this delegation staying at the disaster zone, and for what net benefit to survivors?

Good intentions in disaster relief and aid are great but they are no substitute for experience and professionalism. Still, we wish the delegation well in their endeavours.

UPDATE I: I notice that some persons leaving comments here are suggesting that the Samoa trip is just a publicity stunt. There are a number of reasons to reject this suggestion:

a. The delegation were going to Samoa anyway and their trip was not triggered by the natural disasters there.

b. The organisations' publicity is limited, as far as I can see, to Facebook and perhaps some e-mails.

c. The organisations involved could have generated much more media publicity for this trip had they wished to.

d. In terms of Muslim community goodwill, there would have been more incentive for the organisations to travel to Padang and other parts of Sumatra which have been afflicted by earthquakes.

I have little reason to doubt the sincerity of the people involved, even if I doubt their good sense.

UPDATE II: If this report from a Samoan newspaper is any indication, the group is working with and under the direction of local people.

UPDATE III: Donations in New Zealand can be made to ...

Name: Rasheed Memorial Dawah Trust Inc.
Number: 12 3043 0365388 00
Charities Commission Reference: RAS22987
CONTACT: Subaie Ishaque - 021 0628 156

I'm not sure which bank the RMDT deals with. I'm also not sure who is collecting aid in Australia or whether they are legally authorised to do so. Perhaps someone could ring Muslim Aid Australia and find out.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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