Wednesday, November 24, 2010

COMMENT: Why some young people get pushed toward extremists

My views have changed a fair bit on this subject. What follows is what I thought on Thursday 10 November 2005 whrn this piece was first published.

Dr Ameer Ali, President of the migrant-dominated Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, is worried about the spectre of rednecks hating Muslims.

He should be more worried about young Muslims who may be tempted to blow themselves up and take a whole heap of innocent people with them.

Rednecks are a problem. They do bin Ladin’s work by making ordinary law-abiding mainstream Aussie Mossies feel isolated and marginalised. Bin Ladin wants Muslims to feel isolated in the hope they will join his mad pseudo-jihad.

But why should young well-adjusted educated Australian-born youth be attracted to the message of hate? Is it a few government foreign policy blunders or paranoid tabloid columnists that push young people toward extremism?

The fact is that the leaders complaining about the backlash are themselves largely responsible for the radicalisation of some young Muslims. These leaders have a lot to answer for.

On 2 March 2000, the Supreme Court of NSW delivered its judgment in a marathon case between two peak Muslim bodies. The Islamic Council of NSW took on Dr Ameer Ali’s body, spending thousands of dollars arguing over a range of matters.

Who knows how many thousands of dollars were spent in legal fees. Both sides hired big-city law firms, and both had senior barristers appearing for them at the hearing.

These two bodies consist of member societies which are dominated by first generation migrants. Virtually all mosques have imams trained overseas with poor command of English. Most imams have very little understanding of the problems faced by young people growing up suspended between parental cultural pressures and mainstream Australian life. These imams practise a cultural form of Islam with little relevance to Australian conditions.

The imams are employed often on short-term contracts and are poorly paid. They must support the existing executive committees managing the mosque. The imams deliver their sermons in Arabic and the language most commonly spoken by the ethnic committee members managing the mosque.

Many mosques bar or discourage women from attending. Young people are often discouraged from participating in the executive committee.

These societies join together to form State councils which come together to form the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC). But in recent times, AFIC has spent much of its time and resources trying to remove councils it doesn’t like.

In New State Wales, AFIC had formed 2 Islamic councils in a space of 5 years. It created the Supreme Islamic Council (often jokingly referred to as “the Supreme Pizza Council”) to replace the original Islamic Council. It then kicked out the Supreme Pizza Council and replaced it with the Muslim Council of NSW (often jokingly referred to as the “Super-Supreme Council”).

A bit like John Howard having a fight with Morris Iemma and then kicking out New South Wales from the Commonwealth to be replaced by New Zealand.

While all these silly political games are being played, young Muslims are searching for answers and meaning to their lives. Most mainstream imams cannot help them, and many are forced to learn themselves by reading books. And so many books freely distributed in Australia by peak bodies and others teach an isolationist theology that encourages Muslim youth to emphasise their differences from their fellow Australians.

And because the imams cannot speak English and the mosques are dominated by migrants disinterested in the problems of young people, many youth are attracted to those whom Sydney Radio personality Mike Carlton describes as the “thick-Sheiks”.

Whatever we think of these thick-Sheiks, one thing most have is the ability to speak English. Also, the thick-Sheiks have established centres where activities and support services for young people and Muslim converts are provided.

The thick-Sheiks make use of modern technology and means of communication to get their message across. Because they actually listen to young people, the thick-Sheiks are able to provide services young people want – sporting and fitness activities, multimedia products, internet access and other facilities you would find in any local youth centre.

But most important, the thick-Sheiks are able to communicate their fringe ideas in a language young people can understand. And because the thick-Sheiks have a simplistic and volatile theology, their charisma often wins over young people with little exposure to mainstream Islamic ideas.

You rarely see thick-Sheiks preaching in mainstream mosques. They know that Muslim migrants brought up on mainstream Islam can recognise a fringe sect when they see one. In fact, many thick-Sheiks have been banned from local mosques.

The migrant parents may recognise the thick-Sheiks as representing a fringe cult. But what would young people know? They can’t understand the sermon down at the local mosque. And the elders at the mosque arrange things in a manner local kids simply cannot relate to.

So you have young people reading isolationist literature distributed free by peak bodies. They are often made to feel unwelcome at the mosque, and the imam can’t help them with the normal problems most young Aussie face. Yet a few suburbs away is a centre where the imam speaks English and where you can play some sport and meet other young people in the same predicament.

And so you have very Australian kids being pushed by migrant Muslim leaders into the waiting arms of fringe extremists. Yet some peak bodies continue to complain about being marginalised by rednecks. But so many peak body leaders have been part of community structures that isolate and alienate Aussie Muslims, both the young and converts.

Methinks the only rednecks out there (apart from some Liberal backbenchers) are those migrant leaders who divide their faith-community along ethnic lines and push young Aussie Muslims toward fringe groups.

Words © 2005-10 Irfan Yusuf

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COMMENT: Scattered facts on Muslim Australia

From the Aussie Mossie blog published 23 May 2006 ...

When talking about Aussie Muslims, it’s important that commentators have accurate information based on proper research. Sadly, Muslim institutions claiming to represent Muslim communities haven’t seen the task if researching Muslims as being a priority.

Hence, the task has been left to governments and individual researchers. One such research effort was carried out by a team of researchers from the University of Melbourne and led by Professor Abdullah Saeed.

The results of this research were published in a 2004 study entitled Muslim Australians: Their Beliefs, Practices & Institutions. The study was based largely on the 2001 Census.

It would, in my opinion, be the height of ignorance for anyone to write or comment on Muslim issues without having read this study. So many myths are shattered just on pages 5 and 6.

For instance, many people presume that Lakemba has the highest concentration of Muslims of any suburb in Australia. In fact, the highest concentration is found in Dallas, Melbourne (39%). In terms of Sydney, Auburn has a higher Muslim concentration than Lakemba or Bankstown.

Often Muslim loyalties to Australia are questioned. Yet an overwhelming majority of Muslim migrants (221,856 out of a total of 281,578, some 79%) have obtained Australian citizenship.

The terms “Muslim” and “Lebanese” are often used interchangeably. It is assumed that most Lebanese are Muslims and vice versa. Yet the most frequently cited country of birth for Australian Muslims is Australia (some 103,000). This is over three times the number of people born in Lebanon (29,321).

It is also assumed that most Muslims speak only Arabic. Yet the overwhelming majority of Muslims are proficient in English, both written and spoken.

Muslims are often accused of being hostile to mainstream Judeo-Christian Australian values. Yet Muslim rates of marriage are far higher than the national average. 51% of Aussie Muslim males are married by the age of 34. Some 41% of Muslim females are married by the age of 24. De facto relationships are uncommon.

The historical presence of Muslims in Australia is also not well-known. On page 7 of the Saeed study, mention is made of Saib Sultan, a settler who arrived in Australia in the early 19th century. After arriving at Norfolk Island, he later settled in Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) in 1809 where he worked on 30 acres of land with his wife and family.

Muslims arrived in Australia as both convicts and settlers. Later, during the 1870’s Malay Muslim divers were recruited to work on Western Australian and Northern Territory pearling grounds. By 1875, some 1,800 Malay divers were working in Western Australia.

Australian troops are part of a Coalition force seeking to restore order in Afghanistan. Yet little of the Afghan contribution to Australia is taught in schools. Those complaining about the over-emphasis on Aboriginal culture and history are themselves almost always guilty of neglecting non-European contributions to Australia.

The Afghan (and in many cases, Baluchi and Pathan from what is now Pakistan) cameleers were recruited to assist in early European exploration of the inland Australia. During the late 19th century, they controlled the camel transport industry and played a vital role in the economic development of early Australia.

Afghans were largely responsible for the transport of goods through inland Australia, for laying telegraph and railway lines and for establishing many outback settlements. Cameleers transported goods and supplies to gold miners and to outback settlements.

The contributions of Muslim Australians to our economy and well-being are also not mentioned enough. Often this is caused by a reluctance of Muslims in senior positions to identify themselves by their faith. There is a perception that being open about one’s Islamic faith can be a career and social liability. Negative remarks made by a tiny minority of political and church leaders don’t help in this regard.

Words © 2006-10 Irfan Yusuf

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

COMMENT: al-Ahbash to speak at Melbourne University??

No, my Lebanese Moslems Association friends, don't get over-excited. It's just a post-graduate research conference that juist happens to be hosted by a university department. It's quite normal for university departments to allow all kinds of people to submit abstracts and speak at conferences.

Indeed at least one sufi (or so he once claimed) deviant fitna-mongering former Liberal Party member has spoken at a conference organised by the Centre for Excellence in Islamic Studies.

And it would not be fair to suggest that Mustapha Kara-Ali, an engineering graduate and a PhD student at the International Islamic University of Malaysia has only one layer of identity - being an admirer of one religious leader in Lebanon known as Abdullah Hareri al-Habashi and allegedly belonging to a group known as "al-Ahbash".

This same group was strongly favoured by a former Australian government for assisting with deradicalising (whatever that means) Muslim youth. The result of over $150,000 in Australian taxpayer funded largesse was one manual.

That manual was produced under the auspices of an independent school founded and managed by followers of the said religious scholar in Lebanon. In his bio for the conference, Kara-Ali refers to that manual:

In 2007, he proposed and led a Government-Community-Partnership named the Building Identity and Resisting Radicalisation (BIRR) Initiative. He was also the lead-author of its publication The Way Forward - an Islamic Mentoring Guide for Building Identity and Resisting Radicalisation (2008), which was academically endorsed.

I'm not sure who "academically endorsed" the book, or indeed how something can be "academically endorsed". Did they send it to a university academic who said some relatively nice things about the layout? Did they sit on some steering committees and provide some general direction? Or did it go through a peer review process? Is it being published in an academic journal? Or just being excerpted in Quadrant Magazine?

I was amused by this entry:

In 2007, Mustapha was selected by DFAT to join a delegation to Malaysia to strengthen people-to-people relations ...

I wonder how DFAT staff on that trip found him to work with. What was his response to a presentation on the rights of religious minorities in Malaysia by the Malaysia Chinese Association (MCA)? I really cannot say. I'd have to ask others who went with him. I wasn't in that delegation. I went in 2006 instead. But I don't mention it in a bio for an academic conference.

One thing I would shove in a bio (if I had the chance) was hanging out with the wonderful Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of New York. Imam Feisal has had a few issues of late with imbecilic fruitloops. Many who happily endorsed Imam Feisal are now having second thoughts due to political and social pressures arising from the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" project.

When Kara-Ali attended a conference organised by Imam Feisal's American Sufi Muslim Association entitled Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow, he had this stunning bio:

Mustapha Kara-Ali is a 29-year-old representative on the Prime Minister's Muslim Community Reference Group (MCRG). He represents second generation Australian Muslims. The Bulletin Magazine recently profiled him as "an active mentor and educator within the Australian Muslim youth community since 1995", and last month he was introduced on the ABC's Religion Report as "an agent for change". Kara-Ali has been an outspoken critic of some ethnic leaders in the community for what he says is their failure to address the concerns of an emerging community of homegrown Muslim youth in Australia. He believes that sections of the Muslim community can be too defensive and fail to articulate issues in which they believe strongly.

Mr. Kara-Ali has a Masters degree in Engineering from UNSW and has worked as a consultant for Sydney University and CSC. He is a NAATI accredited translator in Arabic, and has a graduate diploma in media studies. Mustapha has appeared on the Channel 9 Sunday Program, Channel 7 Today Tonight, SBS Insight, ABC Religion Report and other media fronts. He has authored opinion pieces in metropolitan newspapers on Muslim issues such as Muslim integration in the West, identity struggles and immigrant marginalization. In talking politics, Mustapha's approach is informed by the conviction that Muslims in the west are part of the solution, not the problem.

For some reason, Kara-Ali's attendance at such a prestigious international forum isn't mentioned in his conference bio. Is he also now embarrassed to be associated with Imam Feisal?

UPDATE I: It will be interesting to see if Mr Kara-Ali's BIRR makes a bid for the latest round of government-sponsored deradicalisation dosh. According to a recent report in The Australian:

INDIVIDUALS believed to be at risk of falling prey to the lure of violent extremism are to be targeted in a series of community-based programs under the federal government's $9.7 million counter-radicalisation strategy.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland is inviting community groups to apply for federal funding to run grassroots projects to steer young people away from extremist ideology.

Grants of between $5000 and $200,000 are to be allocated to organisations in Victoria and NSW as part of the new Youth Mentoring Grants Program, to be launched by Mr McClelland today.

"The program will support activities that directly assist young people to disengage from intolerant and radical ideologies and encourage positive and constructive participation in the community," Mr McClelland said yesterday.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

HUMOUR: Struggling to replicate a scholar bio

I just read the biography of a prominent Shaykh al-Hadith Fadhilat al-Shaykh Maulana Mulay Kiai Ayatullah Hujjat al-Islam Abul Bayan Pir Murshid on the website of Seekers Guidance, an offshoot of Sunni Path.

I am totally bowled over by the greatness of this shaykh. I wondered what it would be like to replicate his bio. I'll give it a go.

“Know that if you pray for courage, Allah will not give you "courage”, but put you in real situations where you have the opportunity to cultivate courage; if you pray for patience and strength, that He will place you in situations so that you may strengthen yourself with patience. That is the true meaning of tests of life that Allah bestows upon you- they are all truly a Magisterial Favour upon you from your Lord, The Wise!” -- Imam Afroz Ali

"Shut the hell up, you right wing fascist bull artist!!" -- Irfan Yusuf's fiance

Imam Afroz Ali can clearly remember himself as a child watching his father (may Allah sanctify his soul) pursue his two greatest passions: serving others and teaching. This powerful relationship with a man who was both friend and father, who nurtured him in sometimes surprising ways, inspired in Imam Afroz a deep understanding the power of role models and leaders to nurture excellence in an individual. Inspired to be a part of positive action in his community, Imam Afroz began the journey of a student of knowledge.

Irfan Yusuf can clearly remember his father, a university academic, telling him to get off his fat backside and do some study instead of wasting time reading Maududi books or hanging out with the Tabligh Jamaat. As a teenager, Irfan in turn wondered why his father wasted so much time listening to Mehdi Hasan ghazals when U2 has just released their Under A Blood Red Sky live EP. I mean, who could compare this ...

... with this ...


Still, Professor Yusuf did instil in Irfan a love of books and an insistence that one should only claim the academic qualifications one actually holds. May Allah grant the good Professor a long life, and may God transform the grave of Abu Afroz into a garden of divine light.

Those studies have taken Imam Afroz from university-based academia (the Islamic University in Madina, Saudi Arabia) to more traditional studies in Yemen, the United States and Mauritania. He has received licences to teach from some of the most esteemed Islamic Scholars of our time. He has also travelled to Cairo, Egypt for further studies in Islamic Jurisprudence with Scholars at al-Azhar University and is on the Board of Advisors at Markaz Aleem in Cairo, Egypt.

Irfan obtained his license to drive a motor vehicle from the NSW Motor Registry in Ryde. He has had his license suspended on a number of occasions. Irfan's studies have taken him from a pre-school in Boronia Park (behind the tennis courts) to Ryde East Primary School to St Andrews Cathedral School to Macquarie University to the University of Technology Sydney. Each year, Irfan completes at least 10 compulsory professional development (CPD) points of training.

Irfan studied in a Karachi madressa at age 6 where an oversized Maulana (may Allah have mercy on him) used to bash the crap out of him and all the other students (may Allah definitely have mercy on the Maulana!). He was also brainwashed by his darling mother with copious amounts of Tafhim al-Qur'an, Khutnaat, Tablighi Nisab, Behishti Zewar and numerous other Urdu books printed on cheap rice paper. Irfan spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out what kind of Muslim he was. Don't expect him to write it all here. You can spend arouund A$25 and read 80,000 words of the stuff by clicking here.

Irfan did attend a whole year of masters level lectures on public international law at ANU. He handed in assignments and even passed the course but got bored sh*tless with the degree. Presumably that means he has an ijaza in public international law and can now lecture at Harvard or the Islamic University outside Madina. But he won't tell anyone that, and will let his future students and other gullible people assume that he has a full degree in international law from ANU and/or that he held an academic post at ANU.

to be continued ...

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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Monday, November 08, 2010

OPINION: David Hicks finally gets to tell his story on his own terms

There are many good reasons to buy David Hicks’ long awaited memoir Guantanamo: My Journey. One is to find out what happened to this young man without any adverse filtering from nasty pundits who would have us believe Hicks is the anti-Christ.

Naturally not everyone is pleased with Hicks’ work. John Howard, the Prime Minister who left Hicks to rot at Guantanamo for years, recently said on the Q&A program that there was ...

... a lot of criticism of that book from sources unrelated to me and I’ve read some very severe criticisms of that book.

Writing in The Australian, Sally Neighbour claims that Hicks hasn’t been forthcoming and honest. She writes:

Hicks’s firsthand account was awaited with keen interest by historians, academics and journalists who have followed these events. It has also been anticipated by the thousands of Australians who joined the Fair Go for David campaign for Hicks’s release. Hicks describes the book as the first opportunity to tell his story. In fact he’s had many such opportunities, in the form of scores - probably hundreds - of interview requests, all of which he has declined, choosing instead to write his story himself, thereby avoiding the discomfort of having his version of events questioned.

Having gone through years of abuse and torture culminating in the kangaroo court officially referred to as the “military tribunal”, one can hardly blame Hicks for refusing to undergo a trial by media. Especially from journalists who don’t venture into international trouble spots without interpreters and whose knowledge of militant groups is limited to the latest offerings from socalled socalled terrorism “experts”.

It won’t surprise many Muslims to learn that Hicks’ first exposure to Islam was from some Tablighi Jamaat people in Adelaide. Some journalists would have you believe that the TJ are an extremist organisation with links to terrorist groups. I remember once receiving an angry phone call from a senior writer for The Oz about a posting on my blog in which I lampooned her characterisation of TJ as a “secretive group” with a hidden agenda. She claimed to have done thorough research on the TJ, yet did not know the six points of tabligh and was not even aware on which night and in which mosque the TJ met in Sydney.

Still, enough media-bashing. Time for some lawyer-bashing. In his book Torture Team: Deception, Cruelty and the Compromise of Law, international law professor Phillipe Sands, QC, exposes unethical Defence Department lawyers joining forces with neo-conservative politicians to produce the Acton Memo. This document, signed by Donald Rumsfeld on December 2, 2002, enabled interrogators at Guantanamo Bay (and later at Abu Ghraib) to lawfully commit acts of torture in violation of Article 3 of the Geneva Convention.

The Americans landed in Abu Ghraib partly because of “intelligence” provided by a CIA
prisoner. Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libbi, is said to have been subjected to waterboarding that proved so effective that he provided false evidence of a link between al-Qaeda and the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein which led to the 2003 invasion. Al-Libbi made these fabricated claims as he was terrified of further harsh treatment.

Still, that is all ancient history. President Obama is in power, embracing Muslims with open arms. The days of torture are gone. Or are they?

The Washington Post reported on February 1, 2009, that Obama issued executive orders allowing the CIA to carry on with renditions. He further allowed the CIA to detain suspects in facilities used only to hold people on a shortterm, transitory basis. America will effectively now outsource Guantanamo-type operations to the generals, sheikhs, colonels, dictators and presidents-for-life who will no doubt torture not just those deemed terror suspects by the US but also domestic political opponents.

Anyway, go out and by David Hicks’ book. Whether you believe him or not, his book makes riveting reading.

* Irfan Yusuf is a Melbourne based lawyer and author. He recently published his first book Once Were Radicals: My Years As A Teenage Islamo-fascist. This column was first published in Issue 25 of the Crescent Times in November 2010.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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