Australian Notes

Australian notes

16 April 2015

9:30 AM

16 April 2015

9:30 AM

I have over the years passed up many an opportunity to hear Keysar Trad in the flesh. Publicist, poet, media tart and ‘community organiser’, he is perhaps the most famous Muslim spokesman in Australia, always ready to speak up for sharia law, polygamy, the punishment of adultresses and homosexuals, and quick to denounce his Australian critics (‘descendants of criminal dregs’) and Israelis in particular. (Unexpectedly he denounced the Muslim assassins of the Charlie Hebdo journalists although he did not go so far as to declare: Je suis Charlie.) He seems flattered that a Supreme Court judge once described him as a ‘dangerous’ individual. In short, he has been so open with his opinions in all media that there seemed little point in going to any of his meetings. But when the University of Western Sydney decided to host an Open Forum on ‘Countering the Radicalisation of Muslim Youths’ with Keysar Trad as ‘Special Guest Speaker’ I decided to drop in.

Trad, born in Lebanon (date unknown) came to Australia at the age of 13 and has thoroughly absorbed Australian accents and mannerisms. He runs something called the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia, although he does not tell us how many or how few members, if any, it has. He has one wife and nine children. A few years back he fell in love with another woman, and although the passion faded it lead him to write a book of poems of unrequited love, Forays of the Heart, which Philip Ruddock, then Government Whip, launched at Gleebooks in Sydney eighteen months ago. (The cover declares: A heart in love/Chirps like a dove/But a heart in pain/Does itself disdain) It was on sale ($9.99) at the University.

The forum last week was held in the graceful Female Orphans School, built 200 years ago by Francis Greenway (with some cost-cutting by Commissioner Bigge.) Trad’s mainly sympathetic audience numbered some 70 to 80. Chairman Sev Ozdowski recorded apologies from the Governor of NSW General David Hurley and from the Minister for Social Services Scott Morrison. Trad’s case is that the real cause of the radicalisation of young Muslims is the prejudice of Australians. They are also why some 200 Muslims have left Australia to fight in the Middle East. (Others estimate the figure as closer to 1,000.) These young Muslims have been alienated and marginalised by discrimination, intolerance and unemployment. They also look around the world and see persecution of Muslims in China, Russia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, the Central African Republic, Kenya, and of course Gaza. Inevitably they feel fire in the blood. ‘I feel the same fire,’ said Trad. What is to be done? Australians, he says, will have to reform. They must teach Muslim youth to be politically effective – how to combat unemployment and win equal rights for all and equal access to services. Above all, Australians must build an inclusive society.

But in the discussion after Trad’s talk, Dr Jan Ali, sociologist at the University, took a different tack. The problem is not the prejudices of Australians but the crisis of modernity which undermines all religions, including Islam. It leaves the young without moral bearings. The answer to enervating modernity will be found neither in Australian politics nor in a return to seventh century war and terrorism. The real answer is a revival of true religious faith among Muslims. In this Dr Ali seemed to be following President Sisi of Egypt. Some in the audience clearly agreed with him. It’s our fault as Muslim parents, one man said, to applause. In thanking Trad, Ozdowski presented him with a university tie. He donned it immediately. To be continued…

I hadn’t seen Rats of Tobruk since I was a schoolboy. It was exciting in 1944 to go into the big city to see an Australian epic in the grand Mayfair theatre with its mighty Wurlitzer. The Allies were winning the war in Europe and the Pacific and Rats of Tobruk had placed Australians at the centre of the action in North Africa in 1941. The revival of the film this month was a good addition to Anzac Day commemorations. Charles Chauvel had brought together an excellent team. The stars included Chips Rafferty (as dingo trapper) and Peter Finch (as literary intellectual). The music was by Charles Mackerras and Lindley Evans, the commentary by Buddhist poet Max Dunn. Watson’s Bay served for embarkations and Cronulla for the Libyan desert. Tobruk was built at Camden and the dugouts in the Commonwealth Film Laboratories. There was no race bias. The worst said of the enemy was that they were ‘dirty rotten dingoes’. The critics were mixed. Most were generous, although the Sydney Morning Herald found the film ‘dull’. That was nothing compared with the New York Times which found it ‘one of the most harrowing bores in years.’ But Aussie audiences responded: What would it know about Tobruk? The Yanks were still neutral in the war against Hitler.

‘I can’t help myself,’ apologized Scott Morrison. He was speaking to the Sydney Institute about the unsustainable cost of social services. Michael Baume, former Senator and Speccie finance guru, asked him about pension reform. Does the Minister favour indexing the pension to average wage earnings or to the CPI? Morrison said it has to be one or the other or a new mix of both. ‘What we will not do is stick our head in the sand and create a desperate crisis for someone else in ten years’ time. That is Labor’s way. It is not ours. Sorry to be so partisan,’ he concluded. ‘I just can’t help myself.’ His audience applauded.

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