Tuesday, June 15, 2010

COMMENT: Trad appeal

These days, Keysar Trad doesn’t appear all too often in the press. I’m not really sure why. Maybe journos have cottoned onto the fact that the vast majority of Muslims aren’t too keen on polygamy. Maybe it’s the impact of a NSW Supreme Court judgment from last July in a defamation claim brought by Trad against Radio 2GB presenter Jason Morrison.

In that judgment, a jury found Trad had been defamed by Morrison, but Justice McClellan ruled that Morrison had established his remarks about Trad were largely true. His Honour said it was reasonable to describe Trad as racist and offensive. He made other interesting remarks which are currently the subject of appeal.

I checked Google News but couldn’t see any reporting of Trad’s appeal. Only one opinion piece by columnist Paul Sheehan appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday 14 June 2010.

Sheehan, who was in court for the appeal on Friday, describes Trad as

... a quote-machine representing the Muslim community in Australia.

You wish, Mr Sheehan.

For more on Paul Sheehan, see this article by Shakira Hussein.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

OPINION: False Prophecy ...

This article was first published in NewMatilda on 11 October 2006.


The Australian's editorials and columnists frequently praise Muslim 'reformers' for doing little more than abandoning Islam altogether, writes Irfan Yusuf.

John Howard recently expressed his belief that 99 per cent of Muslims have successfully integrated into mainstream Australia and have adopted a set of uniquely Australian values.

Unique values. You know the ones like mateship. Just ask the current Telstra board.

And like democracy. Yes, apparently this is a uniquely Australian value. Howard has repeatedly lectured Muslims on why their countries should adopt democracy. His Treasurer lectures Muslims on why they should support secularism, separating Mosque from State.

Over the next few days, Howard will announce the new Muslim Community Reference Group (MCRG), a set of ‘leaders’ he will consult on matters affecting Australia’s 360,000 Muslims. The MCGR was formed in September 2005, and its first term recently expired.

And what democratic processes will be used to select these people? Will ordinary Muslims get to nominate people? Will Muslims get to vote on who is selected?

Yeah, right. The Government may have just enough of a majority of shares in Telstra to select one director but the Howard Government seems to hold 100 per cent of all shares in Australia’s Muslim communities.

When it comes to democracy, Howard will be misleading by example. He and his ministers will handpick which Muslims they wish to talk to. Who knows what the criteria will be.

Lately, one of Howard’s favourite newspapers has been busy supporting, promoting, and then condemning, certain current MCRG members.

Consider The Australian’s interest in Dr Ameer Ali, a former president of the virtually defunct Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, and outgoing chair of Howard’s MCRG. Some readers will remember Ali as the man whose organisation took 21 days to issue a letter condemning the London bombing, while taking less than 21 minutes to condemn Michelle Leslie’s dress sense.

Ali is now writing an academic paper on how some Muslims seem to be interpreting Islamic texts literally: an interesting theological and philosophical subject.

But for Richard Kerbaj, The Oz’s specialist reporter assigned to report on all things Muslim, Ali’s research findings have become a yardstick against which to decide who is and isn’t a moderate Muslim.

The circus began on 4 October with an article headlined ‘Prophet not perfect, says Islamic scholar’. The article followed a predictable script, with words thrown together randomly to produce a meaningless yet scary message. Try this sentence on for size:

The chairman of John Howard’s Muslim advisory board yesterday warned that Islamists would continue to breed jihadis unless the Koran was Å“reinterpreted  for today’s society.

So when Islamists do some horizontal folk dancing and one falls pregnant, you can bet your bottom dinar that nine months later out will pop a jihadi. The bastards are breeding like rabbits!

It gets better.

He also said mosques were increasingly being used by imams to deliver sermons that were not open to discussion.

What the? How can imams stop people from discussing their sermons?

Following this are quotes from Ali about how the Koran needs to be reinterpreted to suit modern times; that people should question its teachings; that Muslims should stop reacting to every provocation; and that Muslims should stop judging people’s religiosity by the length of their beards (presuming they are blokes).

It’s hard to know what to make of Kerbaj’s article. He treats Ali’s theologically benign statements as a virtual revolutionary manifesto for an all-Aussie Islamic revolution. Such a characterisation shows he has little understanding of current debates in Western Muslim communities.

Ali isn’t the first person to condemn Muslim responses to the Danish cartoons. He also isn’t the first to criticise literalism in Koranic interpretations, nor is he the first to call for honest dialogue with Islam’s critics.

The usual suspects roundly condemned Ali’s comments. The Oz then published a somewhat patronising editorial about the issue, which made out that the Alis of this world will rarely find support within Muslim communities. The article even went so far as to suggest that Ali’s remarks dealt with ‘some of Islam’s most controversial issues, which have already sparked widespread displays of anger and retaliatory violence around the world’.

I’m not aware of a single riot within the Muslim world on the issue of literalism in Koranic interpretation or on the notion of questioning Islamic teachings. Indeed, in the world’s largest Muslim country, followers of liberal reformers like Nurcholis Madjid are setting up foundations and even establishing universities. And the grandson of the founder of Egypt’s Islamist Muslim Brotherhood is openly calling for a limit to the application of Islamic sharia .

Most amusing was The Oz’s explanation of Ali’s scholarly authority.

Dr Ali’s standing cannot be easily dismissed. He is a doctor of economics who works at Murdoch University in Perth and is writing an academic paper entitled Closing of the Muslim Mind.

So let me get this right: an economics lecturer has the right to authoritatively comment on matters pertaining to religious law and esoteric theology. Presumably, this applies vice versa. I look forward to seeing Cardinal Pell appointed to the Reserve Bank board.

The Oz editorial then manufactured facts, claiming that the entire Muslim world was on fire as a result of the Pope’s speech and the Danish cartoons. The paper suggested that violence was a default position to be expected of Muslims:

Thankfully, the response of Australia’s Islamic leaders has been rhetorical and not vengeful, in stark contrast to the response overseas to publication of the Danish cartoons and the Pope’s speech and the treatment of French philosophy teacher Robert Redeker, who has been forced into hiding for linking Mohammed to violence.

I am the first to admit that some Muslims behaved in an extreme and inappropriate manner, to say the least. But seriously, these responses represent a minority. The vast majority of Muslims protested peacefully. Some voted with their wallets by boycotting Danish goods. Others organised peaceful rallies. There are 1.2 billion Muslims on the planet, if even half of them each lit a match, global warming would soon become global boiling.

The Oz
would have us believe that Ali is a brave lone voice in the wilderness. The paper’s editorials and columnists frequently praise Muslim ‘reformers’ for doing little more than abandoning Islam altogether. Openly ex-Muslims like Wafa Sultan and Ayaan Hirsi Ali are put on pedestals. Rushdie-wannabes like Irshad Manji are frequently quoted making outlandish claims that they single-handedly rediscovered ijtihad , a fundamental concept and process used by just about everyone from Osama bin Ladin to Anwar Ibrahim.

(Ali has since criticised the headline and slant taken on his comments by The Oz .)

People should be free to enter or leave Islam as they wish. They should be free to practise whatever religion, if any, takes their fancy (so long as it doesn’t involve blowing themselves and/or others up). And they should be able to define who they are, instead of having pseudo-conservative newspapers and politicians trying to impose alien definitions on them.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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COMMENT: Zero tolerance at Ground Zero

Imam Feisal Abdur Rauf, regarded as one of the softest voices in North America
n Islam, wants to establish a new mosque and cultural centre some 2 blocks from the site of what was once the World Trade Centre in New York.

Opposition to the project is led by a blogger named Pamela Geller and author Robert Spencer who have formed a group calling itself Stap the Islamisation of America.

So who are these people? Here is how one local website covered the group's protest:

Only a handful of victims' relatives came on Sunday.

Sunday's crowd included representatives of the conservative Tea Party movement, some of them wearing anti-tax T-shirts that had nothing to do with Ground Zero, Islam or terrorism.

"We must take a stand and we must say no," shouted rally organizer Pamela Geller as the crowd roared approval. Moments later, another keynote speaker, Robert Spencer, sparked more cheers when he asked, "Are you tired of being lied to?"

Spencer, however, did not explain precisely what lies he was referring to.

Many protesters held American flags. Many carried signs ...

Clearly these people weren't very smart. Here's why.

At one point, a portion of the crowd menacingly surrounded two Egyptian men who were speaking Arabic and were thought to be Muslims.

"Go home," several shouted from the crowd.

"Get out," others shouted.

In fact, the two men – Joseph Nassralla and Karam El Masry — were not Muslims at all. They turned out to be Egyptian Coptic Christians who work for a California-based Christian satellite TV station called "The Way." Both said they had come to protest the mosque.

"I'm a Christian," Nassralla shouted to the crowd, his eyes bulging and beads of sweat rolling down his face.

But it was no use. The protesters had become so angry at what they thought were Muslims that New York City police officers had to rush in and pull Nassralla and El Masry to safety.

"I flew nine hours in an airplane to come here," a frustrated Nassralla said afterward.

Yep, if you look like Jesus, you ain't welcome! Another "Tea Party" protestor decided to drag monkeys into the controversy:

... the proposed mosque has also drawn criticism, including a blast from a Tea Party bigwig who said it would serve as a tribute to the 9/11 terrorists "for the worship of the terrorists' monkey-god."

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

COMMENT: The athiest who wants Muslims to become Catholic ...

No, I kid you not. Self-confessed migration fraud and evangelical athiest Ayaan Hirsi Magaan argues in her new book Nomad that Muslims should be converted to Catholicism.

Many Muslims recognize the weaknesses in Islam... But they will not join me in atheism because they still believe there must be a God. This is not easy for an atheist like me to admit, but it appears that the painstaking construction of a personal ethic is not enough for many people ...

I explained to Father Bodar [a Dutch priest living in Rome] why I had asked him to meet me. 'I'm not a Christian and I'm not here to ask you to help me convert and become one," I told him. "But I think the Christian Churches should begin dawa (proselytizing) exactly as Islam does. You need to compete, because you can be a powerful tool to reverse Islamization. You should start with Muslim neighborhoods in Rome. Europe is sleepwalking into disaster - cultural, ideological, and political disaster - because the authorities of the church have neglected the immigrant ghettos.

The churches could go into Muslim communities, provide services just as the radical Muslims do: build new Catholic schools, hospitals and community centers, just like the ones that were such a civilizing force under colonialism in Africa. Don't just leave this in the hands of governments - take an active role. The churches have the resources, the authority, and the motivation to convert Muslim immigrants to a more modern way of life and more modern beliefs. Teach hygiene, discipline, a work ethic, and also what you believe in. The West is losing the propaganda war. But you can compete with Islam outside Europe and vigorously assimilate Muslims within it.'

Father Bodar positively beamed with happiness.

So Catholicism is like a half-way house on the way to atheism. Christianity is a sheltered workshop for Muslims not yet ready to embrace the athiest faith.

Many in the so-called Christian Right will probably be too imbecilic to see just how insulting and patronising such an attitude is to their faith. Presumably Hirsi Magaan is counting on that to keep them on side. But I doubt many genuine Christians would be happy to see their faith treated as some kind of temporary arrangement.

I also wonder why Ms Magaan doesn't choose other faiths for Muslims. Why, for instance, does she not want Muslims to become Jews? Surely Jewish doctrine is far more close to Islam than Christianity. Rabbis play a similar role to Imams. There is a sacred law and an emphasis on maintaining scripture in its original language. Dietary laws are similar. And Muslims don't have to forcibly wrap their heads around a trinity.

What about Buddhism? Or Javanese spirituality? Or Mormonism?

Hirsi Ali appears to have seriously lost the plot. And I have no doubt that many Muslim atheists (as in atheists with a Muslim cultural heritage) will agree with my assessment.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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Sunday, June 06, 2010

COMMENT: The Irrelevant Men's Club ...

The following article was first published in NewMatilda on 5 April 2006.


Australia's 300,000 Muslims - more than 40 per cent of whom were born in Australia and are under 40 - are being represented by a bunch of middle-aged and muddle-headed migrant blokes with poor English skills, writes Irfan Yusuf

There are two really exciting events coming up in the Aussie Islamic calendar. And, as is the case with most organised religious events, both are dominated by blokes.

The first is the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) elections, timed to coincide with its congress in late April.

And who are these guys?

They are the peak body of middle-aged men who apparently speak for anyone who has anything to do with the Aussie version of the world’s most disorganised form of organised religion. (They claim to speak for all Muslims. Unless, of course, you decide to start modelling underwear, in which case the AFIC leadership will outlaw you regardless of how many days you spend in a Bali prison cell with your head covered.)

Clause 26 of AFIC’s constitution sets out the selection criteria for nominees wishing to fill the elected positions of President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer. The other positions are appointed. Each of the criteria is different except for the first word. Subclauses (a), (b) and (c) begin respectively with ‘He must be ,’ ‘He has served ,’ and ‘He is not in receipt of any ’

AFIC hasn’t had a female executive member for over 20 years. And the last female executive member was appointed, not elected.

In case you’re wondering, AFIC is an umbrella body of nine councils representing various Australian States and Territories, including Christmas Island. Only accredited delegates from each council can vote on who gets to rule the halal roost. The average Muslim punter doesn’t get a vote and cannot even attend the meeting as an observer.

The councils are interesting creatures, frequently changing shape to suit the powers-that-be in the AFIC. In the past 5 years, AFIC has fallen out with the Islamic Council of NSW. It then endorsed the Supreme Islamic Council of NSW, before falling out with them and creating a third council.

Before this third council was officially named, Muslim Sydney-siders already called it the ‘Super-Supreme Council of NSW’ and now all three competing councils are collectively labelled the ‘Pizza Councils.’

The amazing thing about AFIC’s newly endorsed council is that no one quite knows who runs the show. Try dialling their number as it appears on their website good luck if someone picks up the phone. Or send an e-mail to the address taken directly from the AFIC website and it bounces back as having ‘permanent fatal errors.’

But I shouldn’t say anything nasty about AFIC. After all, they are the PM’s favourite Muslims. Howard knows that, when he wants to pass legislation giving ASIO the power to lock people up if they are associated with terrorism, he can always rely on the AFIC to rubber stamp his proposals in public.

The PM would rather deal with middle-aged men with poor English skills than with, say, the former CEO of Citigroup, the current Managing Director of a major telecommunications company, or even a senior bureaucrat responsible for implementing immigration policy.

The reality is that these last three guys are more reflective of mainstream Muslim Australia than most of the PM’s favourite Muslims. They won’t react nonsensically to every alleged criticism of Islamic culture. And the next time the PM or the Treasurer want to wax unlyrically about the burqa or sharia law, their only response will be to point in Commissioner Cole’s general direction.

The PM relies on the AFIC to make sure those nasty critters known as ‘imams’ are kept in line. This is absolutely crucial for national security. After all, we cannot have a bunch of guys unable to speak English and hardly able to draw a crowd of 1000 each Friday, corrupting our English-speaking Aussie Mossie kids by turning them into terrorists!

Which brings me to the second huge event on this year’s Islamic calendar.

As I write, the AFIC is holding its National Summit of Imams. I’m not sure if any TV channels are providing live coverage of what promises to be a sectarian football game that would match the best stoushes held at Sydney’s Anglican Synod.

Howard and other senior ministers want a system of accreditation for imams. During a recent visit to the UK, Phillip Ruddock observed that imams should give sermons in English, not in Arabic or Urdu. (My Urdu-speaking mum will be so upset! Then again, most Urdu-speaking mosques probably wouldn’t let her through the front door. She has to use the separate entrance, usually out the back at the end of a dark lane, where she has to dodge used needles and inebriated street people.)

The National Summit of Imams was meant to be in mid-February, but had to be delayed after some nasty people of the female persuasion complained about the absence of women at the summit. (Female imams! What would the Jensens say?)

The Summit will be attended by the Mufti, Sheik al-Hilaly, who also doubles as the adviser to the AFIC on youth affairs. Now that makes sense: a non-English-speaking imam in his 60s advising a group of middle-aged male migrants about young people in Australia.

What is the role of the Mufti in Australia? Apart from spitting the halal dummy at the prospect of his role becoming redundant should a National Council of Imams be formed, I don’t quite know. Nor, dare I say, does the Mufti. Or his employers.

Not that the elderly Sheik has no role to play whatsoever. He did, after all, have a hand in what our Foreign Minister described as the ‘Team Australia’ effort to free Douglas Wood from his Iraqi captors.

According to an article by The Australian’s Richard Kerbaj, there is a push to get rid of Sheik Hilaly as Mufti. At least, that’s what the elusive President of the Super-Supreme Pizza Council (properly known as the Muslim Council of NSW), Na’il Kaddoumi, reckons.

Sheik Hilaly appears to have made a few too many enemies over the years. Mosque leaders aren’t used to having imams who speak out on controversial social or political issues. In fact, the only thing Hilaly has in common with the rest of the subservient imams is his inability to speak English.

One Imam told me that Sheilk Hilaly is not even qualified to pronounce fatwas (the literal meaning of the word Mufti). His major qualifications are apparently not in Islamic law but rather in Islamic literature. (Imagine John Howard appointing Colleen McCullough to the High Court bench.)

So there you have it: Australia’s 300,000 Muslims from over 60 different nationalities, more than 40 per cent of whom were born in Australia and are under 40, are being represented by a bunch of middle-aged and muddle-headed migrant blokes with poor English skills.

It’s a pizza well past its use-by date with perhaps too much cheese and all the wrong toppings!

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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