Well said, Bert

Dreadful choice we have in this year’s election, but perhaps some things really are more dreadful than others. This morning in the Sun-Herald is a letter from Bert Candy.

The decision by the executive of the Liberal Party to give Cory Bernardi the top position on their Senate ticket in the forthcoming federal election – despite his speech asserting that there could be a link between homosexuality and bestiality, as well as his association with an extreme right American organisation (”Smoking Gun”, January 27) – says a great deal about the political leanings of the Liberal power brokers.

A person with these questionable views can hardly represent a modern Australian electorate and, by endorsing him again, the Liberal Party is guilty by association. With pundits indicating a Liberal landslide, it appears that the extreme right have the numbers.

Bert Candy Lemon Tree Passage

Here is the man concerned:

He is clearly on the right of Genghis Khan. The recent story about him, to which Bert refers, appears online as Abbott’s man under fire over extreme right lobbying.

TONY Abbott’s handpicked former parliamentary secretary Cory Bernardi has apparently breached strict rules by failing to declare his ties to a right-wing, pro-tobacco group fighting gun controls.

The organisation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, was involved in a High Court challenge against the Gillard government last year and has financial ties with big tobacco.

The US-based council is working with the National Rifle Association to block President Barack Obama’s guns crackdown after the Newtown school massacre. An ALEC member since 2009, Senator Bernardi was dumped as Mr Abbott’s personal parliamentary secretary in September after he made a speech to Parliament that warned against legislating for gay marriage on the grounds it could open a legal path to bestiality and polygamy….

To get some idea of what kind of fruitcakes and downright subversives Bernadi sleeps with see ALEC Exposed: The Koch Connection and Three States Pushing ALEC Bill to Require Teaching Climate Change Denial in Schools.

ALEC Celebrates Groundhog Day 2013

Groundhog Day is on Feb. 2 and fittingly, ALEC and its corporate patrons continue to sing the same tune, simultaneously promoting fracking, blockading a transition to renewable energy and pushing bills mandating teaching climate change denial on par with actual science.

"It’s the same old schtick every year, the guy comes out with a big old stick, raps on the door,"actor Bill Murray said in the classic film Groundhog Day. "They pull the little rat out, they talk to him, the rat talks back, then they tell us what’s gonna happen."

Replace "guy" with "corporate lobbyist" and "legislators" with "rats" and that’s ALEC in a nutshell, serving as a mere microcosm of the current American political system at-large.

And of Cory Bernadi’s idea of a mate and a good thing for Australia’s way of conducting business. And of where his brain really lives.

A person with these questionable views can hardly represent a modern Australian electorate and, by endorsing him again, the Liberal Party is guilty by association. With pundits indicating a Liberal landslide, it appears that the extreme right have the numbers.

No way, I say. Some things really can be worse than Julia.

And speaking of the Right, cop the things crawling out from under logs to greet the bouffanted boofhead from Holland.  And look closely at the group who invited him.  I see they have the obligatory Oz flag at the top and a quote from Mary Gilmore. I wonder if they realise she was a life-long Communist.  Mind you she is an under-rated poet who certainly deserves to be better known, as this poem (not on that site) shows:

Nationality

I have grown past hate and bitterness,
I see the world as one;
But though I can no longer hate,
My son is still my son.

All men at God’s round table sit,
and all men must be fed;
But this loaf in my hand,
This loaf is my son’s bread.

On that anti-Islam group’s site you will find Robert Spencer at al, pretty much as you would expect, but you also find this, which I reproduce exactly as it is:

Ayn Rand: The Collection.
Her book ‘Atlas Shruggs’ is considered by many in the International Counter-Jihad and Freedom Movement as foundational work for the relation between the free individual, the state and the collective society.

Surprise, surprise!

tea-party-vs-ows

They are all so sane and balanced, these people, are they not?

Meanwhile here are a couple of free eBooks from ANU that you could read as a way to ensure your own sanity.

Australia: Identity, Fear and Governance in the 21st Century, Edited by Juliet Pietsch and Haydn Aarons (November 2012).

The latter years of the first decade of the twenty-first century were characterised by an enormous amount of challenge and change to Australia and Australians. Australia’s part in these challenges and changes is borne of our domestic and global ties, our orientation towards ourselves and others, and an ever increasing awareness of the interdependency of our world. Challenges and changes such as terrorism, climate change, human rights, community breakdown, work and livelihood, and crime are not new but they take on new variations and impact on us in different ways in times such as these.

In this volume we consider these recent challenges and changes and how Australians themselves feel about them under three themes: identity, fear and governance. These themes suitably capture the concerns of Australians in times of such change. Identity is our sense of ourselves and how others see us. How is this affected by the increased presence of religious diversity, especially Islamic communities, and increased awareness of moral and political obligations towards Indigenous Australians? How is it affected by our curious but changing relationship with Asia? Fear is an emotional reaction to particular changes and challenges and produces particular responses from individuals, politicians, communities and nations alike; fear of crime, fear of terrorism and fear of change are all considered in this volume.

Multiculturalism and Integration — A Harmonious Relationship, Edited by the late Professor Michael Clyne and Dr James Jupp (July 2011).

Multiculturalism has been the official policy of all Australian governments (Commonwealth and State) since the 1970s. It has recently been criticised, both in Australia and elsewhere. Integration has been suggested as a better term and policy. Critics suggest it is a reversion to assimilation. However integration has not been rigorously defined and may simply be another form of multiculturalism, which the authors believe to have been vital in sustaining social harmony.

May help you counter the dogs’ breaths that are so noisome out there, and will no doubt get worse and skankier as the year goes on, God help us.

As so often, a “yes but” reaction…

Did that annoying trick (to some) of posting yesterday’s lunch on Facebook.

P1210290

And a fine $10 roast lamb lunch as one could ever hope for from the lovely Sophia at the Wollongong Hellenic Club. Ex-SBHS student Russell Ward noted: “Nice lunchtime reading!” Indeed.

The book (Lawrence, Bruce (2006) The Qur’an: A Biography) is a delight to read and very informative. It is a salutary reminder that “civilised” readings of the Qur’an are not just possible but have existed for centuries and still exist. This is a very necessary corrective to the crudities both of the more rampant and murderous jihadists and the paranoid rejecters of almost one quarter of the world’s population and their ideas on the other – the latter leading me in the past, based on my actual dealings with actual Muslims as well as on my reading, to oppose what is called, I think more than a bit unsatisfactorily at times, Islamophobia. The latest manifestation of that is recent attention to (in my view) the quite unbalanced Dutch MP Geert Wilders.

Wilders believes Islam is a political ideology, not just a religion, and should be compared with totalitarian belief systems. He has compared the Koran to Fascism and Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. He advocates ending immigration by Muslims because the Netherlands was losing its demographic and social stability. For this he was taken to court for hate speech. He won, but the case occupied three years.

Wilders is opposed to what he calls the Islamification of Europe by a combination of demography, immigration and accommodations by multiculturalism that are not reciprocated by Muslims. Two other Dutch political activists who were similarly critical of Islam were subject to numerous assassination attempts. One was murdered, the other fled to America.

Debbie Robinson believes the fear she has encountered in Australia merely confirms her reasons for arranging Wilders’ visit: ”With every refusal I asked why, and was almost always informed that management had concerns about the repercussions. The audience was never the issue. The issue was offending Muslims. Looking at the number of cancellations and refusals it is apparent the Islamic community are not getting their message across about being the religion of peace.”

But.

Yes. BUT…

Revelations are sorted out into chapters and verses, and the causes of each revelation provide context for its content. The number of revelations exceeds 200. They came to the Prophet Muhammad via a divine mediary (the Archangel Gabriel) between 610 and 632 CE. They are now arranged in 114 chapters. All but one begin by invoking God’s Name, then qualify the Name as at once Compassion and Compassionate: "In the Name of God, Full of Compassion, Ever Compassionate". Different people close to the Prophet Muhammad heard these revelations as he uttered them. They remembered the words and repeated them orally. A few wrote them down. In all they total at least 6,219 verses. The contents of the surahs (chapters) and ayat (verses) are informed by the causes of revelation – that is, by events and circumstances that marked the Prophet’s life and the early Muslim community.

Through a complex process, the recitations that had been revealed in verses and chapters became, over time, a book. After the death of the Prophet Muhammad, ‘Ali, his close relative and supporter, worked with others to compile them into a written text. Then 20 years later, during the rule of ‘Uthman, the third Caliph or Successor to Muhammad (after Abu Bakr and ‘Umar but before ‘Ali), all extant versions were arranged into one "standard" version. This version persists substantially unchanged to the present day.

The Qur’an is a book unlike any other: it is an oral book that sounds better spoken than read silently, but it is an oral book that is also a scripture. More evocative in recitation than in writing, the Qur’an is only fully the Qur’an when it is recited. To hear the Qur’an recited is for Muslims unlike anything else. It is to experience the power of divine revelation as a shattering voice from the Unseen. It moves, it glides, it soars, it sings. It is in this world, yet not of it.

That is from an article by Bruce Lawrence summarising the book. Now of course I do not really believe “They came to the Prophet Muhammad via a divine mediary (the Archangel Gabriel) between 610 and 632 CE.”  Yes, Muslims do believe that, and so it appears does Lawrence, who in the book goes on to explain Muhammad as being in a prophetic line  from Adam via Abraham and so on.

Unfortunately both Adam and Abraham exist pretty much on the same plane as Harry Potter and Gollum, as far as I am concerned. And I regard this fairly typical statement by a Muslim apologist of no great distinction in an eBook I have as promulgating historical idiocy and terminal dishonesty.

If there were two books and there was the possibility that one of them were not true without knowing which one, then both of them would be unreliable. Why? Because there is a probability that each of the two books is wrong. These errors can be detected by the healthy human mind and brain.

So, we say to the Christians: do not expect Muslims to prove to you that the Bible (the Old and New Testaments) that you have, has not been changed and is the true Word of God. It is definitely not a Revelation sent from the Lord.

Muslims deny that these Books are an Inspiration from Almighty God.

If one who denies the facts is in doubt about their authenticity, then proof must be brought forward in justification of the fact by the one who claims to be telling the truth. This statement has been made and agreed upon by the wisdom of humankind.

Muslims are not called upon to bring evidence that their Holy Book is true because the Truth and legitimacy of the Holy Quran has yet to be questioned. However, Christians must prove to the Muslims that their Holy Book is true.

As a matter of objective fact the Qur’an is heavily dependent on Jewish and Christian writings and traditions. It even had much the same cast list, and many of the nastier things in the Qur’an echo quite closely the dark side of the Jewish and Christian scriptures. And all these texts buy into accounts of the past that have very problematic connection to anything that may really have been happening in that part of the Ancient “Near” East that God/Allah unaccountably singled out over the heads, it appears, of around two thousand generations already living down here in Australia, not to mention other parts of the world.  In other words, :faith: in all three Abrahamic religions can involve a very large degree of patent nonsense.

And of course much that is good. Lawrence does remind us of that.

Nor am I picking on Islam especially.  A figure much respected in evangelical circles in Sydney, one whose lectures I attended during Evangelical Union meetings at Sydney University in the 1960s, was Canon Broughton Knox of Moore Theological College. Nowadays, sadly, I find his arguments of “propositional revelation” alarmingly and patently circular and little better than the Muslim apologist cited above. For example:

knox

Sydney Anglicanism still follows suit: see for example articles posted by MatthiasMedia.  I, rather, see much merit in The Bible and Interpretation: Dedicated to delivering the latest news, features, editorials, commentary, archaeological interpretation and excavations relevant to the study of the Bible for the public and biblical scholars. I might add that around the time I was listening to Broughton Knox I had also studied the Ancient Near East in Ancient History I at Sydney Uni and maintained an interest. Later experience teaching Ancient History, especially in an Orthodox Jewish school, augmented that journey.

Now I could offend another group by saying that at least the writings that over some centuries emerged and became in due course the Tanach and the Christian Bible have what antique collectors would call provenance. That is, they are real documents with real histories, much of which scholarship in the past couple of centuries has recovered. The Qur’an is hobbled in that respect by its own very strong exceptionalism, though as Lawrence does demonstrate there has been a very active history of interpretation. The group I could offend are the Mormons whose text, in my view but also objectively, bears no relationship to any history whatsoever, aside from what happened to the believers after the composition of one of the most effective works of fiction in American literature.

Just goes to show there is no accounting for what people will believe.

Anyone seen The Master, by the way? Doing rather well, isn’t it.

I believe in Charles Dickens’s version of Christmas

It is a fine thing.

a-christmas-carol

Even if irrelevant in various obvious details to a steaming hot summer in 21st century Australia! But people try, as the following picture in Mount Keira Road this morning shows.

PC230201

See also When did we start saying ‘Merry Christmas’?

There are references to ‘mery’ Christmas from the 1500s and the carol God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen was first published in 1833. But the two key events which established Merry Christmas as one of the most commonly used expressions in the English language both occurred in 1843.

The first was the publication of a commercially produced Christmas card with slogan ‘Merry Christmas’. Exchanging cards became one of the ‘new traditions’ of Christmas introduced by the Victorians and Merry Christmas was the default message.

But it was the publication of CharlesDickens ‘A Christmas Carol’ on December 17, 1843, which really established ‘Merry Christmas’ as the universal greeting. In this and other respects Dickens can be said to have invented the modern, secular Christmas festival.

The people at Lakemba Mosque have been given the good oil (commonly called a fatwa) by a resident scholar on all this: Don’t. I’ll leave it to Keysar Trad, who looks more reasonable as time goes on, to say the obvious.

A community advocate and Muslim convert, Rebecca Kay, told Fairfax Media: "It’s sad to see the Lebanese Muslim Association, which considers itself the peak body representing Australian Muslims, with comments like these. It goes to show how far they are from representing the community.

"The notion that Muslims wishing other people a merry Christmas will take them out of their faith is outright ridiculous, laughable and borders on the extreme."

Keysar Trad, a former official with the Lebanese Muslim Association, said in his time with the organisation they used to regularly greet people with merry Christmas. "I don’t know what has changed," he said. "But now as a representative of Australia’s peak Muslim body, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, I would like to wish all your readers a merry Christmas and a happy new year."

I am far from sure what purpose was served by the original fatwa, as Muslims quite clearly regard the birth of Jesus differently from Christians. Do they really need to be told that? On the other hand, some appear better able to live in a pluralistic society than others. The ones I have quoted are not a problem and do not have a problem. I do wonder why the Sun-Herald thought the story merited a front page.

Meanwhile the Pope is saying really stupid things about GLBT people.

Pope Benedict has used the beginning of the Christmas period to ramp up his assault on gay marriage, stating that the very foundations of the family were threatened by same sex partnerships.

In his annual Christmas address to Vatican officials – one of the most important speeches of the year – he decried moves to allow same sex couples to marry and indicated that the Vatican would be willing to forge an alliance with those faiths who are also opposed to equal marriage rights…

In the speech, the Pope also denounced what he described as people manipulating their God-given identities to suit their sexual choices – and destroying the very “essence of the human creature” in the process.

“People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given to them by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being,” he said. “They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned.”

Franco Grillini, a prominent spokesman for Italy’s gay community, called the Pope’s words “great foolishness,” adding: “Where gay marriage has been approved, there has been no consequence on heterosexual marriage.”

This idea — people manipulating their God-given identities to suit their sexual choices – and destroying the very “essence of the human creature” in the process – shows complete failure to understand what it is to actually be GLBT and caps it with a denigration that to me denies the true humanity of GLBT people.  And a Merry Christmas to you too, Benedict!

God save us from all who pretend to believe or sincerely believe that they really really know the mind of God. As I have said quite often in the past ten years and more, one thing I am sure of is that there are NO infallible “authorities” on God, and God has never written a book… Or dictated one…

As a matter of fact, speaking of Christmas…

  1. Interpretive Gymnastics: A look at the problem of Quirinius ‘ census
  2. P. Sulpicius Quirinius
  3. On Herod and Quirinius
  4. The Historical Jesus
  5. Seven Golden Rules for Christian Theologians concerning the Old Testament and Its Relationship to the New Testament
  6. YES! TO CHRISTMAS AND ALL ITS TINSEL…

A quick quote from #4:

“If one wishes to understand the historical Jesus and early Christianity one must understand first century Judaism. During this historic era the Roman occupiers of the land were particularly oppressive and there was much opposition to them particularly in the Galilee.”
(Rabbi Moshe Reiss, PhD.)

Not much is known about the historical Jesus since nothing was written down by him or about him during his lifetime. It is believed that he was born around 4 BCE and died in 30 CE.  He was a Jew, born probably in Nazareth in Galilee and he probably had brothers and sisters. According to scholars such as Rabbi Moshe Reiss, quoted above, it is very likely that “He had a typical Galilean Jewish education including studying the Hebrew Bible, the traditions of the people after the biblical period and he undoubtedly went to synagogue. One can safely assume his family as religious Jews kept the commandments; dietary laws, circumcision, tithing, laws of purity and the pilgrimages to Jerusalem.  Jesus dressed like a Jew, prayed like a Jew, taught and argued in parables like a Jewish Rabbi and was crucified as were many first century Jewish radicals.

And from #5:

Historical criticism has effectively undermined the validity of the great majority of Old Testament citations by the authors of the New Testament; indeed, it is seldom possible even to imagine that Old Testament writers can have had in mind the persons and events that New Testament writers claimed they did. The oft-proposed thesis that this issue cannot be resolved either negatively or positively does not hold. The long and short of it is that New Testament authors have systematically mistaken or distorted the meaning of Old Testament texts in the service of polemical and doctrinal agendas. Matthew’s five citations of prophecy in his nativity account are among the best-known examples of the practice, and perhaps the most comically inapposite. In the interest of honesty and better communication with the public, academic theology needs to demonstrate the same kind and degree of intellectual honesty that long ago led natural science to disavow the Ptolemaic world picture.

Searchings — 1

There really have been so many things I have seen or read in the past few days that deserve to be shared, that have provoked more reflection than I can possibly capture in one blog post or even two. But to begin.

God’s Politics asked Is God a Cosmic Jerk?

That’s how I ask the question, but professional theologians use the term theodicy. It comes from two Greek words: theo, which means “God,” and dike, which means “justice.” Theodicy asks, “If God is good and just, then why is there so much evil in the world?” There are many answers to this question. Some claim that God causes evil. In which case, my question becomes relevant – Is God a Cosmic Jerk?

Let’s first examine the word “evil.” Theologian Joe Jones succinctly defines evil in his book A Grammar of Christian Faith “as the harm to some creature’s good” (280). Jones distinguishes between two categories of evil that harms a creatures good. First, there is moral evil – the harm humans inflict upon one another through violence, injustice, and oppression. The second category is natural evil – the harm caused by cancer, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural events…

The older I get the more unsatisfactory the theologians seem to me, and the more “fundamentalist” they are then even less satisfactory are they likely to be – unless you are better at believing a thousand impossible things before breakfast, to paraphrase Lewis Carroll, than I am these days.

"Alice laughed: "There’s no use trying," she said; "one can’t believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven’t had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

Unfortunately the impression one is left with after much fundamentalist apologetics/theology is that God indeed could very well be a Cosmic Jerk!

This especially plagues the bibliolatrists who constitute the more conservative wings of Judaism and Christianity and, alas, far too much of Islam. The unfortunate tradition of Divine Mouthpieces and Pens is as much a curse as a blessing, indeed I suspect more a curse than a blessing. Infallibility and certainty are among the most dangerous and foolish human constructs.

anonymous-source

Take Monday’s poem from Three Quarks Daily.

For insulting the Quran, "’Thousands of people
dragged a Pakistani man … from a police station …
(and)
beat him to death,’ police said Wednesday."

Insulting Books

Is it even possible
to insult a book?

Has it a soul within its leaves
a heart that beats
an eye that winks
a cord running through its spine
descending from a thing that thinks?

Is a book of inky lines
(of characters not themselves sublime)
capable of being hurt or ridiculed
or cheapened by critiques
either of the wise, or fools?

Has it veins between its covers
salty with the blood of lovers?

Is there something in its pages
(even if put there by sages)
that warrants death to critics?

Is it a thing so lame that priestly brothers
(arrogant, imperious, parasitic)
who worship sheaves of ink on paper
must, for its sake, snuff the holy breath
of others?

by Jim Culleny

11/6/12

Go and read the comments that follow it. An excellent series, those daily poems from Three Quarks Daily. Jim is the editor of this feature and most wide-ranging in his selection and very knowledgeable. Even Aussie poets score there at times.

Back in 2008 I read Rich Merritt’s Code of Conduct and discovered his rather occasional blog But Seriously…

I am reading Rich’s Code of Conduct at the moment.

In Code of Conduct, former U.S. Marine Rich Merritt, explores the secret double lives of Don, Eddie, Karl and Patrick, all currently serving as closeted military men. Agent Jay of the Naval Investigative Service struggles with his past as he follows his own personal vendetta against homosexuality. As hope of President Bill Clinton’s promise to relieve the ban on gays in the military flourishes, Jay attempts to ruin the careers of our heroes. Action-packed, this novel kept me on the edge of my seat, while at the same time beautifully illustrating the passion and love that gay servicemen and women can have for each other.

A fast read, Merritt’s novel explores a fascinating section of the LGBTI community through his and others’ experiences in the military. Although the dialogue reads rather unrealistically, the novel was thoroughly enjoyable…

That last criticism is true at times; it is not the world’s greatest novel. Also, I would that it began differently, without quite so much military-speak and boys’ own adventure stuff so early. That aside, this is a passionate novel on several levels. It could have been even better if it had been written for outsiders rather more than it is. It would, I think, make an excellent movie though, so long as it was a movie-maker with the right political as well as artistic nous.

Rich Merritt was unfortunate enough to go to Bob Jones University from which he was expelled. His latest blog post is about his new novel Spiritual Probation.

What is it about?

Nate O’Connor wants to do right. His senior year of college, though, gets off to a rocky start. He’s a student at Bob Johnson University, the flagship institution of higher learning in American fundamentalism, where he and his best friend are placed on spiritual probation after being accused of disloyalty to the school. Their attempt to repair their reputation backfires and when Nate meets two women–one beautiful and smart, the other wise and charming–his entire belief system is uprooted. Nate’s world is further rocked by tragedy and his life will never be the same.

What are people saying about it?

“Setting his tale inside the closed society of a fundamentalist university, Rich Merritt tells a fascinating story that is alternately disturbing and inspiring. Spiritual Probation opened my eyes and touched my heart.
-Joe DiPietro, Tony-Award winning playwright of Memphis

“In every decade, a true classic emerges, which demonstrates the strength of the human will to conquer and survive the ills of its society. Merritt has written such a work in this coming-of-age story of courage and conviction in a world that is perceptively lacking in empathy and compassion for the individual spirit and soul. A poignant ‘must read’ for such present times, which is so heavily burdened with the painful effects of emotional bullying and spiritual abuse, so currently at the forefront of daily life.”
-Lynda Mandell, M.D., Ph.D., Board Certified Psychiatrist

Over on Goodreads another Bob Jones survivor says:

As an apologetic alumna of Bob Jones University, I truly enjoyed this book. I sympathized with the protagonist and his exit from fundamentalism as he realized how nonsensical most of it was. I cried with Danny’s family as they dealt with his tragedy. I was frustrated, but not surprised, by the reactions of the university. Even though the events of this book occurred before my time at BJ and some of the rules had changed by the time I arrived, much of the culture of the university has stayed the same, and the reactions to those who are outside the university or who disagree with the university are exactly the same. I would recommend this book to anyone who’s dealt with the IFB and wants to dwell in the big questions rather than accepting all words spoken from a pulpit as truth.

See also Dr Camille Lewis.

Seems like this is quite a week for remembering…

First there’s this one:

SomethingToThinkAbout-33

But important as that is, no doubt most Australians and very many in Indonesia will be thinking of Bali.

116424-bali-bombing-10th-anniversary-before

I can recall when and where I first heard of it – in The Forresters in Surry Hills while having Sunday Lunch with Ian “The Dowager Empress” Smith and others. My colleague at that time at SBHS, Russell Darnley, was considerably closer.  Read Russell’s own account on that link and also My First Visit to #Bali Since the October 2002 #Bombing (2010).

Violence and extremism are no more a recent phenomenon in Indonesia than in countries like the UK and the USA.  Both Indonesia and the USA fought wars of national liberation against colonial powers.  Both have constitutions and a sense of nationhood, grounded in such violent struggles. Many countries have their own uniquely violent histories and their own particular forms of extremism.  Attempting to make some historical sense of violence, extremism and associated acts of war and terror, requires some consideration of their context.  This is often a useful exercise because it helps to resolve a sense of perspective and scale.

The Bali Bombing was an horrific event that touched me personally, yet for me it’s difficult to distinguish between the madness of the suicide bomber and the madness that suffuses the actions of a nation state that, while understanding the imprecision of its technology, still persists with actions that euphemistically result in collateral damage, the death of innocents and destruction of their homes and infrastructure.  When I see images of white phosphorous raining down as people scatter in terror, I’m reminded that we live in a world where love for our fellow humans is held in scant regard by many.

Writing about the Bali Bombing of 12 October 2002 is a theme that recurs for me, but I’ve published only a small part of what I could say on this tragic event. Some of my work is far too graphic for accessible online publication, such material best lends itself to the print medium not the openness of the Internet. More is yet to be written but I’ve waited for a greater maturity of insight, which I hope might come, before writing further on this subject.  Part of the process has been a re-visiting of the places where I lived and worked before and during those tragic days…

See also Honours for carers of Bali wounded (2004).

There are some good items appearing at the moment in The Sydney Morning Herald. For example: Bali’s hidden bomb victims.

…"They all know I am a widow of a Bali bomb victim," Rencini says. "I’ve been coming here for more than two years. They don’t treat me special because of that, but they do treat me kindly. We are all here struggling. This is a man’s world; I am a woman. They protect me."

By the end of the night, Rencini has earned the equivalent of $4.50 after costs – less than half the price of a cocktail at a tourist hotel bar.

She is one of many widows, fatherless children and survivors who are the hidden victims of the Bali bombs. Each has dipped into a near unimaginable well of resilience to survive, often helped by the good hearts of strangers…

And while some direct their energy into a generalised hatred or fear of Islam – we all know the Islam=Terrorist mindset – we would do well to reflect on the many nuances we non-Muslims and non-Indonesians hardly ever grasp, thereby missing what could be parts at least of real solutions, solutions that are indeed appearing right now and deserve to be known and encouraged. For example: Turning away from radical doctrines.

The radical Islamist preacher who once helped establish terror group Jemaah Islamiyah in Australia admits he wanted to make the country a financial hub for the attempt to overthrow the Indonesian state.

Abdul Rahman Ayub was once one of Australia’s most wanted men, also believes a cell of 30 or more jihadists that he helped indoctrinate may remain active in Australia and that authorities know little about them.

Ayub, who was the deputy leader of JI in Australia to his twin brother, Abdul Rahim, has told The Sun-Herald they were sent by Indonesia’s godfather of terrorism, Abu Bakar Bashir, in 1997 to train young radicals in their form of Islam.

Abdul Rahman Ayub … once one of Australia’s most wanted men. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Both brothers stayed until 2002, the year of the Bali bombing. In his first interview with an Australian journalist, Ayub says the brothers taught perhaps 100 people about the violent form of jihad.

”When I came back from Australia in 2002, to my knowledge there were about 30 people [who were still radicals in Australia],” he says. ”I don’t know about their recent development, whether they’re still active or not, but I believe they are still there. Neither I nor ASIO know the exact figures, nor how active they are.”

Ayub was trained in Afghanistan between 1986 and 1992 to fight as a mujahid, or holy warrior. He was an expert in unarmed combat and became a confidant of the Bali bombers Hambali (whose wedding he helped pay for) and Mukhlas. He says at one time he respected Bashir ”more than I respected my parents”.

However, he denies he had any advance knowledge of the Bali attack and insists he never wanted an attack on Australian soil.

”My mission was to preach Islam … Bashir told us not to commit any violence in Australia – we treated Australia as a country for taking political asylum,” he says.

”But we did teach jihad against Indonesia, against Suharto at the time. We taught about forming an Islamic state, but in Indonesia, not in Australia.”…

Ayub says the attack of September 11, 2001, Bali and Roche’s plot were errors that had changed how Islam was regarded and had damaged his own faith in violent jihad. ”I was furious. I was very against those attacks because it hurts Muslims themselves … It hurts humanity and it hurts our principles,” Ayub says now.

Over a number of years he abandoned his former belief in the overthrow of the Indonesian state. He says he believes now that Muslims should fight only as soldiers in a war zone.

Ayub hoped Indonesia might become an Islamist state but now believes it cannot be rushed: ”It’s God’s decision. If Allah wants to give it to us, it will happen.”

He works around Jakarta as a freelance theologian, preaching Islam. His brother, who left Australia three days after the Bali bombing, runs two schools. Abdul Rahim declined to be interviewed but, according to Abdul Rahman, has also given up belief in violent jihad.

With about 35 other former mujahideen, Abdul Rahman is working through the ”Afghan Alumni Forum” to de-radicalise some of Indonesia’s young jihadists and inoculate Indonesians against the radical doctrine.

You might prefer that people like this all became Christians/Atheists/Agnostics/Dudists and forgot all about Islam, but it isn’t ever going to happen. On the other hand, this is now someone that no longer reoresents any kind of threat to us – and isn’t that the outcome we really desire as well as the outcome we can actually have, it appears. Bless the “Afghan Alumni Forum”, I say.

See also Indonesia’s jihad factories: uncovering nurseries of terrorism’s next generation.

I see that at the time I tangled, so to speak, yet also almost agreed with Piers Akerman, whose bon mots on Alan Jones we can no doubt look forward to on QandA tonight. Let’s replay 2002:

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Piers Akerman has really done a fine job on Osama bin Laden in today’s Daily Telegraph (Sydney). Now it so happens that I do not disagree with much of what he says: Osama bin Laden is a frightening creep with a very deep hatred of the West and is undoubtedly a ruthless, dangerous, fanatical and murderous opponent of tolerance, particularly for "any who may be interested in fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling or trading with interest" — all of which, incidentally, are frowned on by the Bible and, traditionally, by the Catholic Church and to this day by the Anglican Church in Sydney — not to mention my own (or erstwhile own) Presbyterian Church**. There is a certain irony in Akerman here, as gay-friendliness (to select one aspect of interest to me) is not really the thing one associates with Akerman, though intoxicants is possibly another matter. Or so I am told.

Nor do I disagree that bin Laden and his like (that sad and murderous young man in Indonesia comes to mind, the human bomb that it is now thought blew up Paddy’s Bar in Bali) are "perverting the tenets of Islam", to quote Akerman’s headline. Well, they are at least perverting what the majority of the practitioners of Islam actually believe, though the Good Book (the Islamic one) is just as embarrassing as its Jewish and Christian cousins in this respect. All the Big Three Sacred Books have things in them that are anti-civilisation.

The best thing to do with such books, in my view and also in the view of many others, is to grant their historicity, their contexts of origin, and to jettison what is in them that reflects their age and keep what is still of value, or what still offers guidance for living, as much in all of them does. Islam is in a difficult position here as it has been even more bibliolatrous than Christianity, and proper critical study of the Koran, while not unknown in the Islamic world, encounters difficulties. But so does proper critical study of the Bible in ultra-Orthodox Jewish circles, where the age of the planet equals the current Jewish year (did you know the Jews count from the Creation?), or in Bible Belt America where the seven-day creation still has its supporters, along with nutters who believe the 1611 Bible is itself the very Word of God, and so on. We will consign them to Landover Baptist Church where they belong.

OK, so what is my complaint then, since so far it appears I agree with Akerman essentially? It is this: he is such an prat that he leaps into the theology of Islam with a show of knowledge without even checking his well-thumbed Children’s Encyclopaedia, let alone the Koran, and therefore commits a series of howlers that would have a Muslim kindergartener cacking himself with laughter, except that in the current climate such pig-ignorance is both stupid and dangerous. One recalls what George Orwell said, quoted a couple of entries back. Akerman represents the nadir (a good Arabic word) of opinion journalism; if advertising is brainrot of a particularly pernicious kind, Akerman’s attitude towards accuracy is brainrot of an even more insidious kind, since his opinions become the opinions of thousands of loyal readers. His worldview, God help us, becomes theirs. He is their surrogate brain, as it were.

Had he done his homework, Akerman would have known that the Koran itself, and subsequently Islam, has from the beginning counted Moses and Jesus as prophets. He would know that Islam has no quarrel with the fact that Judaism and Christianity predate it, as it in turn predates Presbyterianism. He would know that at times in Islamic history this has led to policies of toleration for other "people of the Book"– Jews and Christians. For example, the persecuted Jews of Spain found refuge under Islam. It is true that Osama bin Laden does not represent this more benign stream of Islam, of course — Akbar the Great or Suleyman the Magnificent he definitely ain’t. But Osama did not invent the Islamic interpretation of Moses, or the Abrahamic origins of the religion, or its connection with Jerusalem (for what that is worth, which is no more or no less than the Jewish and Christian connections — in other words, best forgotten for the sake of everyone else in the world.) You would think Osama had, to read Akerman.

Then Akerman is so unreflectively Eurocentric (as he almost always is) that you would think Osama had invented Islamic (and Third World) disquiet with Western/American culture and power (the Crusades and all that subsequent Imperialism and the current mess in Israel/Palestine). Yes, Osama exploits these issues, no doubt; but he is not insane in pointing out that they are issues, and the West has been very remiss in coming to terms with them. He is Hitler-like in the way he uses the issues for his own ends, but just as Hitler did not have to invent the ruinous state of the German economy in the 1920s and the injustice of Versailles, so Osama does not have to invent the postcolonial legacy. All this is much better argued by others, so I will not continue, but refer you, for example, to the site the Empress sent last weekend.

Finally: although, as Akerman points out at the end, Christ did say vague things about "rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s", the separation of Church and State is in fact a very recent beast indeed. Ask a Catholic or Presbyterian in early nineteenth century England about that — if you could. Further, it is something the anticlerical Enlightenment won for some of the West (Ireland took longer, Russia under the Tsars never succeeded) not something which the Church willingly granted. It is, further, something the USA still has not really learned — in God We Trust and all those arguments about prayer in schools. Which is not to say that the USA is not a million times more desirable than a Taliban-style (or Cromwell-style) theocracy; it is. And it is true that such liberal values are very much threatened.

But then so is good journalism by the likes of Akerman. His grasp of Church History and Western Intellectual History is little better than his grasp of Islam. The trouble is, people will think I am a smart-arse and Akerman is a good bloke, as ignorance tends to go down well with the mob. Ask any commercial radio talkback jock or station owner. The more meretricious the product the more likely it is to attract the ratings, and advertising dollars just come rolling in.

Slightly ironic today, that last point!

** It’s ten years too late, but I should point out that as far as I know no Christian church currently condemns “trading with interest”. Indeed most of them practise this!

I really wanted to ignore Paul Sheehan today

It really is too tempting when he is into puffing the reputation of this creep*:

dutch-electionfinal-exitpo

… and comes to a conclusion of monumental mischievousness – another bit of petrol for the fire, eh Paul! But you are merely being on form.

And I should add that when it comes to the other part of Paul’s thesis – the ratbag who was let into the country but arguably had nothing to do with the events in Sydney last weekend, even if his supporters said in my mind some very silly things afterwards – I, unlike most of you, I would bet, have actually had first-hand experience of Hizb ut-Tahrir:

The Mine and the Islamists: cause for concern?

17MAR 2006

This back link to last year is vital background to what follows. Naturally the links therein to Diary-X no longer work, but I will shortly post the relevant items on my Angelfire blog and reset the links.* The gist: the article above discusses the visit by some interesting people to my former place of work. See also another August 2005 entry, Indigo Jo Blogs Patrick Sookhdeo on moderate Islam.. I have been able to correct the links on that one.

I urge you to read those articles, and also not to jump to conclusions when you read what follows. I do not feel threatened, but I do feel concerned.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, the Islamic Students Society at The Mine has made some connection with clearly Islamist groups. I have just read a Wikipedia article, currently being considered for deletion, written by some of the students themselves.

In 2005 the ISSBH enjoyed its most productive year, with a range of activities undertaken by the society to promote its newly dubbed “Annual Forum and Presentation on Islam”. Leading up to the event, several information stalls were held in order to give people a taste of multicultural food and also to promote the event. The Forum was well attended at around 310 people, with the speakers on this occasion being the world famous Sheikh Khalid Yasin, and the Sydney-based Islamic media personality Wassim Doureihi, invited to speak because of recommendations of his eloquence and sound expression. Both speakers impressed the audience present, despite campaigns run by senior students in the school to question the validity of Islamic law as a useful means by which to guide mankind’s affairs. The ISSBH was on the ABC program “the 7.30 Report” and has since concentrated on internal efforts and discussion with students at the school on a personal basis.

That is the actual event – 2005 at SBHS.

Wassim Doureihi is spokesman for the Sydney branch of the Muslim Hizb ut-Tahrir, a thorough but unfriendly account of which you may read here. According to Wikipedia, “The party is banned in many Arab countries, but not the more liberal Sharjah, or the UAE, Lebanon and Yemen; it is also banned throughout the former Soviet Union states of Central Asia, and in Germany. It operates legally in most Western nations, and survived a ban in Australia after clearance from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. On August 5, 2005, Tony Blair announced the British government’s intention to ban the group in the United Kingdom.” Note, then, the organisation is not illegal in Australia but is still “of interest”.

A recent article on khilafah.com says:

Hizb ut-Tahrir’s aim, as summarised in their publication, is ‘to resume the Islamic way of life and to convey the Islamic da’wah (invitation) to the world. This objective means bringing Muslims back to living an Islamic way of life in Dar al-Islam and in an Islamic society such that all of life’s affairs in society are administered according to the Shari’ah rules, and the viewpoint in it is the halal and the haram under the shade of the Islamic State, i.e. Khilafah State. That state is the one in which Muslims appoint a Khalifah and give him the bay’ah to listen and obey on condition that he rules according to the Book of Allah (swt) and the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (saw) and on condition that he conveys Islam as a message to the world through da’wah and jihad.’…

Though Hizb ut-Tahrir is a political party [in Bangladesh], they do not accept any conventional political process. Parliamentary democracy is not acceptable in their system. Though, election as a process is acceptable, elected lawmakers formulating laws to govern a country is not acceptable in the Hizb ut-Tahrir’s final stage: ‘establishing government’. Now the obvious question arises: how then do we establish government?

We do not believe in violence. We have condemned all terrorist activity in the country [Bangladesh in this case] and abroad. We are presently spreading the vision of Hizb ut-Tahrir among the public. We are also engaging in dialogue with society’s opinion-making figures as they can influence a greater number of people,’ explains Mohiuddin. On the issue of taking power, he replies: ‘That is the third stage. We believe that by the time we have substantial members and a critical mass of sympathisers who agree to our cause, there will be pressure on the state machinery to follow suit. In such a scenario, the culmination of populist support and key opinion-makers on our side, we shall be take power and form a Khilafah state.’

OK, the students involved, some of whom I know, are not threatening individuals, and are all very concerned and very intelligent; the appeal to people of their age is no doubt parallel to the appeal to others of fundamentalist Christianity, or extreme left politics. It is an expression of idealism, a reaction to a world that they in their fresh vision would like to put right. Such youth movements and motivation are not new.

But there is cause for concern, don’t you think, in the current state of the world, for the students’ own welfare as much as for anything else.

See also The Battle for Islam, and, with what happened after Cronulla in mind, I refer you to this entry from December 2005:

Since I am at work today, I dropped in at lunchtime on the Islamic Students’ Society. They have had the occasional bit of controversy around them, as you may see above. I was interested to see what they, as intelligent teenage Muslim boys, felt about Cronulla and all that.

The gangs like the one(s) that have been causing trouble for years in Cronulla they utterly reject. “Leb arseholes.” (They mean of course those indulging in antisocial behaviour in groups in public. None of these young Muslims I spoke to today could be accused of bad manners, inconsideration, insensitivity, racism or sexism. But then they are confident, intelligent, and genuinely religious.) “Some of them are really bad people.” (That from a boy who knows the Lakemba/Campsie/Punchbowl area well.) As much to do with Islam as the Hells’ Angels are to do with Christianity. Definitely not practitioners of Islam. “They worry us as much as they worry you.”…

* Unfortunately this is not possible, as the relevant entries are casualties of the Diary-X Crash of 2006! However, I have been able to rescue one: Retreat from the Global: 11 March 2004 which tells you about “Ali”, who “was born in Pakistan — in fact he told me in Year Seven that he still spoke and read Urdu (and one or two other languages) and could still recall a three storey red house he lived in in Islamabad as a small child.” He belonged to “one of the largest ‘Islamic fundamentalist’ movements in the world, and much bigger than Al Qaeda.” I learned quite a bit that day.

This could be worth revisiting:

See also my posts Everyone has an opinion about Islam…, Irfan Yusuf’s book review and his response to a response, Is that all there is? And how to remember 9/11 constructively…, and an American I admire re Charles Notess.

At the same time I really don’t buy all of Mohamad Tabbaa’s opinion piece in today’s Herald. I really do welcome this development:

MUSLIM leaders in Sydney have broken ranks with their international counterparts to say there should be no more protests against the anti-Islamic film that has sparked violent riots around the world.

After a “historic” three-hour crisis meeting in Lakemba on Monday night, the leaders of 25 Muslim organisations united for the first time yesterday to say they would not endorse even peaceful demonstrations after the violent scenes that occurred in the city on Saturday, which they say were worse than the riots at Cronulla in 2005. But the historic alliance is already fraying at the edges, with segments of the Muslim community refusing to participate and some protesters vowing to ignore the orders.

Sheikh Feiz Mohammad, an extremist figure who has been linked to the protests, and Hizb ut-Tahrir, a radical organisation whose annual conference last Sunday forced the protest to be moved a day earlier, were not invited to the meeting.

A message from Sheikh Jamil el-Biza, a Wollongong youth leader travelling in Lebanon, began circulating, saying he was “deeply saddened” that Muslims were apologising to police and that protesters would be rewarded by Allah.

The head of the Lebanese Muslim Association, Samier Dandan, who co-ordinated the meeting of leaders, conceded that the Muslim community had failed to engage with the disaffected young men who turned violent on Saturday.

Calling for an end to the protests, Silma Ihram, a board member of the Australian Muslim Women’s Association, said: “To be honest, this film is not worth it.

“We don’t believe it is productive. What is it going to achieve?”…

Yes, I too am frustrated and annoyed, to put it mildly, by that message from some jerk from Wollongong**. But I can’t stand bigots, ANY bigots, as I have said here again and again. The hot line to God was shut down years ago, mate, and all you are hearing is your own voice echoing in an empty skull.

And sometimes a picture really does say more than a thousand words.

art-supporters-of-ahmed-elomar-620x349

Show of unity … supporters of Ahmed Elomar, who was refused bail on charges of affray following protests in the city on Saturday, leaving Central Local Court in Sydney yesterday. Photo: Wolter Peeters SMH

I don’t see that photo as any kind of general representation of Islam. I do see one of Sydney’s sadly too familiar nodes of social stress – albeit over against the overwhelming success Sydney has shown in living its cultural diversity.

Next day

Aside from my own follow-up which looks more at the implications of my last sentence above, see Paul Sheehan and Matthew da Silva on Paul Sheehan. See also Irfan Yusuf.

…Thankfully we now have spokespeople who can speak without interpreters. But the rhetoric of “we condemn this” needs to change.

Why not mock the mockers? When Newsweek recently published a front-page story on “Muslim Rage”, it promoted it on Twitter with the hashtag #MuslimRage. Visit that hashtag today and you will find lots of people poking fun at the idea.

Humour can sometimes take you much further than self-righteous condemnation.

22 September

See on * the creep We Should Welcome Wilders With Open Arms.

Update 27-28 September

** Check the comment thread. The “jerk from Wollongong” may have been verballed. Indeed, he isn’t really a jerk at all, even if I may not agree with everything he says. I still feel that the stance taken by quite a few prominent Muslims after the events in Sydney was a good one, which led to no repetition the following weekend — despite the reservations Jamil has about that. Needless to say I accept Jamil’s word that he in no way condoned violence and was misquoted.