Monday, March 21, 2011

MEDIA: Jetlagged analysis of 60 Minutes ...

No, I'm not jetlagged right now. I'm just pain-killer-lagged thanks to having some recent surgery. And so I really couldn't be bothered right now to write something about a recent silly episode of Channel 9's Sexy ... woops ... 60 Minutes show on multiculturalism and other big words tabloid TV hacks find hard to spell, let alone understand.

With that in mind, here is something I wrote for Margo's Webdiary back in January 2006.

Jetlagged analysis on upcoming 60 minutes show

By Irfan Yusuf
Created 31/01/2006 - 16:09

Two weeks ago, while I was sitting in a mini-bus melting in the 300% humidity and then boiling in the heatwave-like conditions of Jakarta, I received a call from a mate in Sydney. The conversation went something like this:

HE: Listen, dude. 60 Minutes wanted to have me on some panel. I’ll be on my honeymoon. I presumed you’d be interested so I gave them your contact details.

ME (somewhat excitedly): You f#cking what?

HE: It’s ok. It’ll go for an hour and will be live. I would’ve done it except the missus would have killed me for cancelling the honeymoon.

ME: What’s this panel about? Industrial relations?

HE: No, some crap to do with Cronulla. You know how they are. They want a few token Muslims who actually speak English.

ME: Mate, you know I’m sick of being the village Muslim!

HE: Dude, I already told the bloke you’d do it. Anyway, they are going to call you, so have your phone on.

ME: Yeah, right. Have a good honeymoon.

The Perfect Face for Radio

Over the next few days, I made sure I sent and received enough text messages to use up the entire charge in my phone. I was not keen to appear on any commercial TV show on the Cronulla issue. Why?

Well, for a start, I am becoming a bit tired of being a commentator on anything remotely to do with that confusing and convoluted group known as the “Muslim Community”. Unless if it’s radio. Heck, if it’s Radio National, bring it on. Even being on the other end of the line with Alan Jones wasn’t terribly devastating.

But TV just isn’t my thing. It might be in 12 months time, once this diet begins to kick in. Until then, in relation to the world of television, my only comment is that I have the perfect face for radio.

(Unless I’m sitting across the table from Maxine McHugh. Lateline – bring it on!)

Not only that, I do have my doubts about 60 Minutes. OK, admittedly the show isn’t as infantile and unethical as Today Tonight, a show that makes Jerry Springer and his guests look like the Op-Ed pages of the New Zealand Herald. But the prospect of being on a one hour panel with a whole bunch of Muslim dimwits who couldn’t argue their way out of a paper bag was not my way of overcoming jetlag.

Nonsensical Spokespeople

I’ve been on some forums with Muslim “leaders” before. I remember a forum on Channel 9’s Today Show which took place some 20 days after the London bombing. I was on there with Sheik Fehmi, one of the few imams who can speak English. There was also a lady from the Muslim Women’s National Network of Australia (MWNNA) who sadly didn’t get much of a chance to speak. The rest of the crowd were an embarrassment.

There was the representative from the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC), which is apparently the peak body of Muslims. This chappy was boasting about how his organisation had issued a letter condemning the London attacks.

From memory, the letter was dated 27 July 2005. The bombing happened on 7 July 2005. It took the organisation 20 days to issue a condemnation of terrorism. But when Michelle Leslie took off her scarf and put on a singlet top and hipsters (presumably so that she could fit in with all the Aussie Muslim chicks in Auburn and Broadmeadows), it took AFIC around 20 seconds to condemn her.

Then there’s that poor fellow who works in a convenience store. Wassim Doureihi is wasting away his life working for the big chief of the fringe group Hizbut Tehrir (HT) who owns a host of convenience stores in and around Sydney. This young Aussie Muslim is talented and full of energy. Why he wastes his time grinding the axes and selling over-priced soft drinks for a fringe group baffles me.

Ethnic Islam & Aussie Mossies

Actually, it doesn’t. Why? Because I could so easily have been him. You see, folks, AFIC and all the other middle aged migrant male-dominated Muslim organisations have created a system of mosques in which Islam is little more than a cultural relic of life in Muslim countries half a century ago.

Today in Pakistan and Bangladesh guys and girls may be hitting the nightclubs, but women are still not allowed in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi mosques of Sydney. The Lebanese Moslems Association may have had some kind of generational change, it Islam is still a strictly Lebanese phenomenon at the Imam Ali Mosque in Lakemba. The congregation there may be multi-racial, but most of them are barred from joining the LMA due to constitutional apartheid that only allows persons eligible for a Lebanese passport to be on the committee.

Most Imams cannot speak English. They are imported from overseas and poorly paid. Their job description is simple – do whatever it takes to make sure Islam remains a cultural relic for first generation migrants, thereby guaranteeing its almost complete irrelevance to young Australian-born Muslims who make up the majority of Australia’s Muslim community.

So what has this to do with Aussie Muslim kids following wacky fringe groups? The mainstream Imams may not speak English. Their employers may be lost on a cultural time warp. But mainstream Islamic theology which these imams can teach when they extricate themselves from their employers’ cultural time warp is not something anyone should be worried about. In fact, it is the best antidote to religious extremism.

But the migrant self-appointed elders and leaders are keeping this mainstream Islam from young Muslims who are brought up in Australia and cannot recognise fringe groups for what they are. Further, so many of the English-language materials we grew up with and which were given to us by lazy and stingy leaders were hand-outs from some radical Saudi and Pakistani publishers committed to an isolationist theology.

Getting Over Radicalism

Hence, so many of us forced to learn Islam from books have been exposed to writers on the more radical end of the Muslim literary spectrum. This in itself is no big deal. I’m sure more senior readers here will recall dabbling in those little red books of Chairman Mao.

And I do recall some months back spending an hour or so with a theatre full of well-heeled ex-lefties as they cheered on that mad Argentinian dentist as he swam across the Amazon after riding a motor cycle across South America before hanging out with Ayatollah Castro for a while.

Was I in Newtown or Glebe at the time? Nope. Roseville. In the heart of Sydney’s North Shore.

I may have read my fair share of Dr Ali Shariati and other ideologues of the Iranian Revolution. I might have attended a few lectures given by Afghan mujahideen leaders. Though admittedly that was the time when they were directed by the Grand Ayatollahs Ronald Reagan and George Bush Snr.

I’ve read my quota of radical stuff. But it didn’t take me long to get over it.

(Actually, in Shariati’s case, I haven’t quite gotten over it. If anything, the current lot of conservative Iranian mullahs are well and truly over this super-funky Sorbonne-educated Iranian sociologist. His work is deemed too liberal and is banned in Iran.)

But not all young people get over their flirtation with radicalism. For many Aussie Mossies, their first impressions of Islamic faith are lasting. Mainstream imams and mosques often cannot provide them with spiritual and ideological antidote.

I strongly doubt people like young Wassim will do anything risking national security. Their rhetoric is radical, but their actions are harmless. Although it only takes just a handful of serious wackos to … I don’t even want to think about it.

Individual Responsibility

Yes, I realise that each individual has to take responsibility for their own actions. We can’t go on always saying society is to blame. Unless, of course, if we are on the funnier end of the human spectrum and do talk shows for ABC TV.

In a sense, all Muslim individuals are responsible for the near-complete cultural irrelevance of their imams. In the same sense that all Catholics and Anglicans are to blame if a small group in their churches try to cover up for paedophile priests.

If Muslim dimwits keep speaking for Aussie Muslims, it’s because educated articulate Muslims able to understand the Aussie mainstream don’t speak out. And their silence is allowing the dimwits to confuse the hell out of mainstream Australia.

Getting Back to 60 Minutes

You might recall my leaving the mobile phone uncharged for a few days in Indonesia so that I could avoid receiving a call. The following week, I felt a bit guilty and sent an e-mail to the producers. I vaguely recall someone ringing me the next morning, but it was at around 4am.

The 60 Minutes dude finally managed to track me down when I had just touched down in Sydney. He sent me the blurb via e-mail. Here it is...

Cronulla Forum

On February 8, the 60 Minutes program is holding a forum to discuss the Cronulla riots. The forum, chaired by 60 Minutes, will be filmed and televised nationally in late February.

While calm has been restored to Sydney’s beachfront, the underlying problems that caused this unprecedented eruption of violence remain.

This was not just a suburban territorial dispute, nor simply a law and order issue – it struck at the very heart of multiculturalism in Australia, highlighting serious social problems caused by mistrust, alienation, frustration and anger.

Why did it happen and how can this potentially explosive situation be resolved?

60 Minutes is keen to involve young Muslims and non-Muslims to hear their views on what is undoubtedly the most important social issue in Australia today.

Er, I never knew Muslims were an issue in Cronulla. I understand persons of Middle Eastern appearance may be problematic to some Cronulla locals. Perhaps we might even narrow that down further to persons of Lebanese extraction and of Middle Eastern appearance.

The forum will be held in the Sydney Entertainment Centre. Apparently Ray Martin will be hosting it. It will go for around an hour, and will then be edited down to 20 minutes.

So we might have 200 people in the hall from all different sides of the argument – Cronulla locals, white supremacists, non-English speaking imams, Leb kids with bad attitudes and even worse haircuts, non-Leb surfie kids with bad attitudes and smelling of too much beer and cheap Byron Bay gunja, etc. We each have to try and contribute something within a space of 60 minutes. This gives us all a space of 18 seconds to say something. Then the show will be edited down, enabling each person to get 6 seconds on the channel. That’s 6 seconds to express one’s self on multiculturalism and alienation and Lebbos and all that stuff.

And what will be the focus of the edited version?

From the wording of the blurb, it seems the 60 Minutes crew regard the entire Cronulla thing to become a debate about Aussie Mossies. And with 6 seconds each, even the most articulate Aussie Mossie (or indeed Aussie anything) will have little chance to say anything useful.

And what is the point of running things this way? In what way will viewers be more enlightened about the issues underlying the riots?

Once I get over my jetlag, I will address more on this issue. Until then, I’m off for another nap. Selamat Lemmegetsomesleep.

Words © 2011 Irfan Yusuf

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