Friday, October 27, 2006

Hilali is a monster of our own making as well as the media's

Once again, Australia's Muslim community has been held up to ridicule courtesy of some ridiculous, offensive and above all unislamic comments from our supposed 'leader', Sheik Hilali.

In case you missed the myriad of news stories in all the newspapers and on all TV channels, Hilali's speech demonized Australian women, including Australian Muslims who do not conform to his cultural standard of modesty are (at least partially) responsible if they are raped. He is not the first to hold such offensive beliefs - they have been expressed by non-Muslims too in the past - however that doesn't in any way excuse them.

Transcript in English

The real problem with Hilali is that he is a cultural dinosaur who is completely out of touch with the realities of this society. It comes across as arrogant that Australia's so-called mufti, clearly not an unintelligent man, has never bothered to learn English well enough despite living in this country since 1982. How can one understand the society well enough to lead it if one doesn't speak the language?

It is long overdue for the conservative parts of the Muslim community in this country to stand aside and allow the more educated, savvy, Muslims to speak on behalf of the community. People like Waleed Aly for instance. A minimum criteria for senior religious leadership in this community should be fluency in both English and Arabic, and an ability to demonstrate some cultural intelligence.

During Ramadan I attended a Friday sermon delivered by Hilali. I have no idea what he said because he delivered a long speech in a foreign language, which looking around the mosque it was abundantly clear that at least 3/4 of the congregation had no idea what he was talking about. I felt he wasted my time - I have to sacrifice my income to attend Friday prayers and his long speech - much longer than the usual sermon was of no educational value to me or most of the other listeners. If I want to migrate to another country I would need to learn the language of its inhabitants. After 20 years - so should he.

These recent comments show why having a 'mufti' who is ignorant of the culture and the language of the country is fatally stupid for the Australian Muslim community. I have no doubt that some of his words probably were taken out of context and some of the reaction has been more hysterical than it would have been had the comments been made by others. For example, Pru Goward, how do you deport an Australian citizen? None of this diminishes the original inappropriateness or the sheer repugnance of the Sheik's rantings, however.

It should be crystal clear to even the most culturally insensitive community elder that the Muslim community shoots itself in the foot by appointing such a man as its leader. We shouldn't expect that people's words will not be taken out of context and used against them by their enemies - it is a fact of life and an unpleasant reality faced by anyone in the public eye. Aside from the Islamic offensiveness of his comments, having someone who is clearly so politically and culturally incompetent as the community's representative is not only offensive but masochistic too. Removing him from his post is essential and it must be done quickly.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Lee Kuan Yew's comments about Malaysia

Minister-Mentor (what ever than means) LKY of Singapore recently criticized Malaysia over racial issues, while musing about how a coup might be required in Singapore if the opposition ever won the elections there.

Perhaps Lee Kuan Yew is attempting to divert attention from the $2 billion US dollars his daughter-in-law has squandered of Singapore tax-payer money in Thailand?

Seriously though, his message has been the same for more than 40 years. Some young Chinese Malaysians believe that Malaysia would be a more prosperous place if Lee's ideas had been accepted all those years ago. The older, wiser heads know that you can't run a large sophisticated nation such as Malaysia in the way Lee's family business (Singapore) is run, and his policies doing nothing to alleviate ethnic disparities in wealth - largely but not entirely the result of colonial legacies - would have led to disharmony and possibly bloodshed.

Having said all this, none of this excuses the actions of irresponsible Malay politicians (such as some of those in UMNO youth) who pretend that there is any other realistic future for Malaysia in a China-centric region than a true meritocracy, not like Singapore but a genuinely democratic nation where people are assisted based on need and not on race.

In the meantime, Lee should shut up and concentrate on improving human rights and social justice in his own kingdom (and no, that is not a typo).

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Playing fast and loose with democracy: The 2006 Queensland Election & the media

I have just returned from having voted in the Queensland State Election. For those who don't know, voting is compulsory in Australia. Those who advocate this claim that it is a responsibility of citizens to participate in their democracy by turning up and voting. Unfortunately, precious little is said about the need to first be informed before doing so, or the responsibility of the media to assist people to become informed.

The media has an important role to play in democratic societies. They are supposed to provide citizens with the necessary information to make an informed choice between the candidates. Not to do so limits the average citizen to the partisan and trivial information presented in 30 second television commercials, most of which focus on belittling the opposition and trotting out slogans rather than meaningful presentation of policies. I know - I have been involved in the construction of these commercials and know that the most effective are those which are short on detail but big on slogans and trivial caricatures of the key players.

Unfortunately, the media in Queensland - with the exception of blogs and the state-run ABC - have been utterly negligent in their coverage of this election campaign. The commercial networks have barely covered the election in the last week, being obsessed with the death of 'Crocodile Hunter' Steve Irwin, a remarkable man who hitherto was largely as ignored in this country as he was famous overseas. Yet his death initiated a media-fed outpouring of communal grief that dominated every major news broadcast. On virtually every night this week, election news was relegated to a few snippets after the first ad break, which all programmers know is where you put the news nobody gives a damn about. Although I felt sorry for Irwin's family and what is really their personal tragedy, I feel more sorry for the people of Queensland whose media decided that intense coverage of a celebrity death would rate much higher than informing people so they credibly choose who will make decisions for the next three years that will impact all their lives, such as whether they will have hospitals to go to when they're sick, how much tax they will pay and whether they will have a government which stands up for their rights as workers.

Channel Nine - the highest rating news bulletin, was arguably the worst offender in pathetic election coverage. Yesterday, when they had promised to schedule the only debate held between the two leaders at 1pm, the overhang of a preliminary round in a foreign tennis tournament not even involving an Australian player was regarded as so important that the debate was not shown at the advertised time. To add insult to injury, a host of other programmes to inane to mention were considered so important that the debate was pushed back to the ridiculous time of MIDNIGHT, long after all but the most dedicated had gone to bed. As a commercial network, one understands - but doesn't condone - their obsession for ratings over any responsibility towards democracy. However, one also needs to consider that had Channel 9 not obtained the rights to this event, it may have been covered on time on the ABC. Furthermore, the Australian networks are protected from competition by Government regulation which allow them to become such lucrative cash-cows for their multi-millionaire owners such as James Packer, the aristocratic [what else do you call the third generation of millionaires] owner of Channel 9. If they're not prepared to act in the public interest then one questions why they should enjoy such protection.

The final straw which obliterated the election from the lead story in news broadcasts and the front page of newspapers on the election eve was the sad passing of another celebrity, racing car driver Peter Brock. While arguably understandable for a loved-sportsperson in a sports mad society, this event, which realistically is only a tragedy for Peter Brock's friends and family and doesn't effect the rest of our lives in any meaningful way, has killed off all chance of an informed public entering the polling booth today.

In some other nations, those with no interest in the polls would be free to stay home today, consoling themselves with the deaths of two celebrities who had never heard of them and would probably not acknowledge them in the street. That would be appropriate for those who don't know enough about the issues to make an informed choice. While my left of centre politics are well-known to readers of this blog, I champion the rights of all concerned citizens to exercise their democratic choice regardless of whether I agree with their preference. But forcing people who aren't informed to exercise a choice based on little real knowledge is not democracy. It is the combination of compulsory voting and an irresponsible media which conspire to make the exercise of democracy in Queensland today a complete farce.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Australians fighting for other nations should be stripped of their Australian Citizenship

Tomorrow there will be a memorial service for the Australian citizen killed while participating in the Israeli's military actions on Lebanon. No doubt, Howard and Downer will be sending commiserations and commenting on the 'valour' of this soldier.

Meanwhile, another Australian citizen who was fighting for the internationally recognised government of another country sits in a cage in Gitmo, Cuba, as he has for the last 5 years. Howard has admitted he broke no Australian law, but is quite content to let him rot there without trial and with no hope of release.

I would like to see a bill introduced into our parliament to make it a condition of Australian citizenship that one doesn't join or assist any other foreign government to wage war. People who break this law in taking part in military operations which are not sanctioned by the Australian government on behalf of another nation should be stripped of their Australian citizenship. If they are killed waging war on behalf of another nation their death should be ignored by politicians and treated no differently from the death of any foreigner in a foreign conflict.

A life is a life, and it's sad when anyone dies. Frankly though, I care a lot more about the hundreds of civilians who have been killed by this round of military adventurism than I do about someone who leaves a peaceful life in a beautiful country such as Australia to wage war.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Mahathir's new enthusiasm for democracy

Although this blog is mostly concerned about Australian & NZ issues, I also follow with interest events in Malaysia, a country in which I used to live and still have much affection for.

A recent big controversy there which has attracted some attention in the Australian media is the strident attacks by former PM Tun Mahathir (incidentally, pronounced MaHAthere not Mahateer as by most of the Aus media) on current PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (know as Pak Lah) . These criticisms, which border on the vitriolic, imply that the current regime has betrayed Mahathirs trust and legacy, and (much more seriously) that they have sold out the nation to Singapore by canceling the planned half-bridge (designed because of the Island republic's refusal to cooperate in a full-bridge to replace the aged causeway between Singapore and Johor Bahru). He has implied that figures associated with the government stood to gain from the proposed sale of sand to Singapore which was (according to him) offered as a sweetener to get Singapore to agree to build a full-bridge. Such criticisms are highly unusual in the Malaysian climate, not so much in their substance but in the way they have been covered in the mainstream media. While opposition figures are generally able to criticize the government, they are effectively restricted from publicising these criticisms in the mass-media. Mahathir's position as former PM creates a dilemma for the administration, as the traditional perspective of respecting one's elders conflicts with the usual prerogative to protect the government from such criticism.

Although Mahathir's criticisms have been received much more attention than if they had been made by opposition figures such as Lim Kit Siang or Anwar Ibrahim, and Mahathir has not been charged, or incarcerated under the Internal Security Act (a colonial hangover which allows detention without trial on national security grounds), Mahathir has complained that the media have not covered his criticisms fairly. In a supreme irony, Mahathir - who tolerated little dissent when he was in power - has become a major advocate of freedom of the press and democracy.

This situation is perplexing for those of us who believe in free speech and democratic values. For PAS (the Islamic opposition party), they are quite happy to overlook Mahathir's track record and probably welcome him should he choose to assist them (this remains a highly unlikely option). However, I don't believe the leopard has lost his spots. While the media in Malaysia definitely needs to grow up and politicians to realise they should be accountable to their constituents. I don't believe if Mahathir was back in power things would be any better. One wonders what his objective actually is, but my feeling is that it is much more likely to be the replacement of Pak Lah with a more amenable crony that the genuine transformation of Malaysia to a true democracy - something he more than any other sought to undermine when he held the reins of power. Accordingly, it would be better if the Malaysian public were to treat his rants as the outbursts of a somewhat senile and bitter great-uncle whose time and usefulness has past.

The photo above, btw, is a reference to the nickname of Mahathir as Mahafiruan, or the great Pharaoh - as he was referred to during his time as quasi-democratic leader of Malaysia. Mahathir was responsible for many actions such as decreasing the independence of the Malaysian judiciary, locking up dissidents, including most famously his deputy Anwar Ibrahim on charges of sodomy and corruption, charges widely perceived as fabricated to remove him from politics.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Support an act of self-determination for Australians!

It's time for the good citizens of the world to call for an act of self-determination for the Australian people. For thirty years the indigenous people of Australia have suffered through a false act of free choice held in 1967, when the government of the Commonwealth of Australia invited White people to vote to compulsorily make the indigenous people of Australia citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia.

The Australians have become a minority in their own land through goverment policies of trans-migration from other parts of the white world, supplanting the indigenous inhabitants with immigrants of an alien culture and religion. They followed practices of genocide, with driving the Australians from their land through policies such as terra nullis and stealing children from their families to be raised as domestic servants for the immigrants. Hundreds of thousands died as a result of the invasion. The Commonwealth of Australia continues to this day to rape the Australian people's landscape including mining resources such as uranium, iron ore and coal and send the bulk of the profits to major cities such as Sydney, Perth and Brisbane, with almost no benefits to the indigenous people. They continue to enforce foreign laws based on a foreign culture and religion, and treat these laws as superior to those of the indigenous Australians.

The Australians never consented to this policy and like all indigenous people are entitled by international law to an act of self-determination. Aboriginal Australia is not part of the
Commonwealth of Australia, never was a part of the Commonwealth of Australia and never will be a part of the Commonwealth of Australia.

This piece is intended to be satirical, in response to the mostly internet based advocacy by usually right-wing anti-multiculturalists for indepence in Papua. I am not an Aboriginal Australian and do not pretend to represent their views. I have no firm views myself on Papua as my knowledge of the topic is limited. However, I find it ironic that from a country where most of us are ethnically foreign some in Australia can be so ideological about the sheer outrageousness of a mainly ethnic Javanese government ruling ethnically different indigenous people and exploiting their land without providing them with their fair share. It seems to me that there is one standard of self-determination applied in one case and another we want to implement in our own country, which is far, far larger and even though we have a much smaller, richer population which is certainly far more foreign from our own indigenous people. I suspect that the right-wing advocacy of the Papuan cause has far more to do with irrational hatred for the Indonesians - something in plague proportions in this country - than genuine concern for Papuans.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


A shining example of the rearranging the deckchairs nature of the so-called 'war on terrorism' is the latest controversy over an attempt by so-called Islamic courts in Afghanistan to sentence someone to death for changing their religion. Fortunately the court released the man, but it goes to show how our faith has been surrendered to blind dogma without anyone asking whether it was conceiveable that our Prophet would force anyone to become or remain a Muslim when we follow a creed which enshrines religious freedom in its holy book. The following article should clear it up, but of course it won't for those who value traditions as more important than clearly stated verses in the source of law which God has promised to protect.

NZ in the Commonwealth Games

There's no doubt that the games performance as a whole was disappointing. Questions need to be asked about the ability of some "stars" to perform under pressure - performing beyond one's ability used to be a hallmark of NZ athletes - no longer. It is concerning in comparison with Australians who seem to come from nowhere in just about every event.

One thing that doesn't wash is the tired old "we're great for our population size" argument. First up, according to population, NZ should have walked away with around 17 gold medals if we were performing at the same level as the Australians. Secondly, we may only have 4 million people, but we have a far higher per capita GDP than most Commonwealth nations. The reality is we probably spend more on sport than many countries can afford to spend on healthcare. To compare NZ with Bangladesh or Botswana and say we're wonderful on a per head of population basis is ludicrous.

There were welcome exceptions to the weak performances though, importantly the outstanding performance of Nick Willis, the Rugby 7s and the Silver Ferns. Willis would have won that race even if Mottram had kept his footing, despite what the Australian commentators say - he has a much better PB and would have outkicked Mottram in what was a slow-paced race. Watching Willis cross the line was a revelation to those who grew up in the 70's and endured the lean years of the 80's and 90's. With someone of the calibre of Peter Snell suggesting that Olympic success is a possibility, it's an exciting time for NZ athletics.

The other thing which was redeeming was our performance in the team sports. Frankly, I would rather beat the Australians in our two biggest sports - Rugby for men and Netball for women that pick up some obscure success in rhythmic gymnastics for instance! The basketballers also performed to or beyond their ability, and the tall blacks silver in particular was an effort they can be proud of.