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Jetlagged analysis on upcoming 60 minutes show

G'day. Irfan Yusuf is a regular Webdiarist. His last post was Thoughts on the run in Indonesia. Irfan is back, with an unusual media sub-plot to tell us about. Thanks Irfan. Hamish.

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.


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Always a good read

I get more from reading your posts on this issue than listening to weeks of hysterical ranting in the press, thank you.  I will be emailing this link to my friends and hope everyone else does the same.

If you enter the 60 Minute fray, good luck.  I have a sneaking suspicion that their editing room is the scene of much carnage and splicing to promote whatever biased view point their bean counters  think will buy them good advertising, keep their profits up and, you never know, give them a little bit of an advantage with the impending changes to the media ownership laws...

The great con

Irfan's comments should be read in the context of what drives the media to dabble in sound-bite irrelevancy. Namely, the fuzzy fear permeating Australians that "we are a target".

This fear has been expertly mobilised by the major political party to its own advantage. That we might be a target is not disputed. To the same end, you  and I are potential car accident victims each time we get in the car.

In the US, 170,000 people have died in road accidents since 9/11. Are we so terminally stupid that we quake in our shoes at the spectre of an improbable "attack" gladly giving up personal freedoms and permitting the government to interfere with our lives at a unprecedented level? At the same time, we have no hesitation in jumping in our car where the statistical chance of our dying is far greater.

It takes a major war to kill 170,000 people. You would have to explode a nuclear device in the middle of Melbourne or other major city to achieve the same level of death.

I have read that the Customs Service physically inspects only 1% of all the containers that enter Australia. They do scan most and I would hope that they run a geiger counter over them all. But put all of those facts together and it shows what an awful bunch of superstitious mamby-pamby wallies most Aussies are.

There are many things happening in the world that require our serious attention but Al Qaeda et al have provided powerful world interests with the most fortuitous distraction. For those of us old enough to remember, the same level of hysteria was whipped up in the 50's-70's with the threat from Communism.

In 20 years time, the Al Qaeda threat will have vanished, not because we won some fictitious "war on terrorism" but because even the murderous radicals within that group of even more stupid men (it is a male thing) will have grown tired and old. Life goes on. However, unless we all get politically and intellectually smarter, those that always pull the strings will have conjured up another bogey-man for our children and grandchildren to deal with.

maybe you should Irfan

After listening to the two ratbags who represent both sides of NSW poltics today continue in the tradtion of Bob Carr - a complete lack of understanding or people's rights under the law perhaps any opportunity to put a point of view about the Cronulla riots should be taken.

Morris Iemma is turning out to be Carr-lite  and any respect I had for Peter Debnam has vanished. Iemma and his government's disgraceful campaign to jail young people of any race or creed who may have participated in events surrounding the Cronulla riots is unfair and discrimitory. It could brutalise youngsters who may have flown off the handle for the first time in their lives. It punishes before they have had their day in court.

What a loser Iemma is turning out to be as he claims today that by attacking the Director of Public Prosecutions that he is "merely reacting to public opinion". Reacting to newspaper headlines is more like it. The fire in Debnam's eyes when he is placed in front of TV camera is pathetic to observe. He should quit now while he's ahead.

Go on the show Irfan. Even if you only get in a few sensible sentences it may help.

"The" Muslim Community

Great essay, Irfan. It's nice to read something that provokes thought and laughter. Seriously, your objection to people assuming a diverse group like Australian Muslims is some sort of monolithic body is right on target. I just laugh whenever I hear someone going on about "the" [Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, take your pick] "Community." It's a dehumanising and patronising attitude.

So when someone says something like "Some of my best friends are ________" I'm always tempted to say "Oh yeah? Some of the biggest jerks I've ever met are ________!" (Both statements are often true for me).

I wish every ethnic/religious group could just be granted the basic human right to exhibit the full range of human attributes: nice people, jerks, saints, sinners, arseholes, angels, and everything in between (often in the same person!).

Fiona: Good call, Will. You've given an excellent demonstration, too, about the ways that stereotyping (and framing) provide traps for the unwary.

Divided we...usually are?

"The Muslim community," Geoff? Maybe you ought to re-read Irfan's post... since I don't really think he's convinced about the existence of same.

Divided We Are - Until We Meet One Of Them.

Point  taken. I knew there was something that jarred the instant I pressed the "post" button. Australian Muslims then.

Mind you I can make the same point about Australian Jews. And the indigenous peoples. And gay people. Even Queenslanders. Quite possibly even Sydneysiders. OK. Canberrans would be stretching the point.

What defines a "community"? I will suggest that it is defined externally at least as often as internally. The funny thing about human nature is how often external, even hostile, demarcations are adopted by the "members".

One thing is for sure. This is not a concept that is going to trouble 60 Minutes too much. 

I agree

These talk fests staged by 60 Minutes are always unsatisfying for viewers and quickly forgotten. Nothing is resolved and messages get lost for the reason you have stated Irfan - the few seconds anyone actually gets to speak.

Besides 60 Minutes really is a joke these days and I reckon it is about on the same intellectual level of Today Tonight and it's rival. Remember Paul Keating's comment to Richard Carleton after he joined the show : "why did you give up journalism and go into cabaret?"

Don't Give 60 Minutes even 60 Seconds

Don't do it Irfan.

Send the 60 Minutes dickhead a reply email saying something like "Get stuffed. Abusive letter following by post."

They are only interested in some cheap thrills and cream pie in the face entertainment at the expense of the Muslim community.

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