Irfan Yusuf: Hate that can change the world

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Iran Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer and author of  Once Were Radicals: My Years As A Teenage Islamo-Fascist . Photo / Supplied
Iran Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer and author of Once Were Radicals: My Years As A Teenage Islamo-Fascist . Photo / Supplied

Irfan Yusuf writes on what can happen when marginal movements gain momentum.

One of Australian folk singer Paul Kelly's best songs is entitled From Little Things Big Things Grow. It is a tribute to Vincent Lingiari, an Australian indigenous tribal leader whose protest sparked the land rights movement in the Northern Territory and then nationally.

The song's major theme is how the persistence of the powerless can often pay off, especially when more powerful forces decide to take on the cause. Lingiari is described in the song as "lean and spoke very little; he had no bank balance, hard dirt was his floor".

His tribe "were working for nothing but rations". Then Lingiari managed to convince former prime minister Gough Whitlam of the plight of the indigenous tribe. The result was the passing of legislation granting land rights to traditional owners.

Kelly sings the moral of the story: "How power and privilege can not move a people who know where they stand and stand in the law."

The actions of a few marginalised people can have a snowball effect. The sad reality is that this principle can just as easily be used for evil ends as for good.

In New York, a few marginal people have been taking small steps to deprive a religious minority of its constitutional rights.

Unlike the heroes of Kelly's song, the marginal people at the heart of the so-called Ground Zero Mosque have little or no interest in minority rights or reconciliation.

They have managed to convince not just politicians but influential media, mainly from Rupert Murdoch's empire. The irony is that the man at the centre of the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque", Imam Feisal Abdul Raul, has written a book entitled What's Right With Islam Is What's Right With America, which is published by HarperCollins, the publishing arm of Rupert Murdoch's vast media empire.

Sadly, most other parts of Mr Murdoch's empire are busy providing oxygen to the marginalised wingnut brigade who first came up with the idea that nothing representing Islamic culture should exist near what was once the Twin Towers, even if Tower Two itself had a dedicated Muslim prayer room.

As is always the case, these forces never allow the facts to get in the way of their prejudices. Sean Hannity, a Fox News stalwart, interviewed one Robert Spencer, the director of far-right blog Jihad Watch.

In the past, Spencer has used his blog to support, among others, a violent neo-fascist group calling itself the English Defence League, made up largely of former soccer hooligans. Spencer is also associated with the United States-based and notoriously homophobic Christian Action Network.

Many months ago, Spencer joined forces with another far-right blogger, Pamela Geller, to form "Stop Islamisation in America", a franchise of an equivalent far-Right group in Europe.

According to a Guardian report, Geller has written in support of Serbian war criminals and even white supremacists in South Africa.

Geller posts videos on her blog suggesting Muslims have sex with goats and even suggested that President Obama's father was Malcolm X.

Spencer and Geller have for years been treated as marginal figures in conservative circles. They struggled to find money to fund advertisements on the sides of New York buses calling on people to stop the "Ground Zero Mega-Mosque". You'd wonder how such elements could oppose an intercultural project headed by a man with decades of experience and who has represented his country's interests in tours sponsored by the US State Department during the Bush Administration. You'd wonder how they could possibly be taken seriously by anyone, let alone the world's media.

But from little things, big things grow. The Spencer/Geller cause has now been taken on by Republican Party presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin.

Geller has appeared on mainstream news channels, speaking on behalf of American values, 9/11 victims and anything and anyone else she can marshal to support her prejudicial fantasies. The result has been, according to Salon.com, that "the mosque story spread through the conservative - and then mainstream - media like fire through dry grass ... Geller had succeeded beyond her wildest dreams".

A mere 48 hours after the September 11 attacks, Farqad Chawdury was born in a New York hospital. He never met his father Mohammed, a waiter at the Windows of the World Restaurant in Tower One who perished on 9/11.

His mother told a Canadian TV channel about the responses from people: "When they saw me ... I'm wearing a scarf. There is a hate look." This year, Farqad turns 9. He still doesn't know how his father died. His mother is too afraid to tell him.

Those who spew hatred on behalf of the victims will soon forget them. Glenn Beck once said: "[When I see a 9/11 victim family on television, or whatever, I'm just like, 'Oh, shut up!' I'm so sick of them because they're always complaining."

Meanwhile, the real victims get on with their lives, generally too busy healing their wounds to care who is pretending to speak for or pillory them.

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer and author of Once Were Radicals: My Years As A Teenage Islamo-Fascist.

- NZ Herald

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