Saturday, August 27, 2005

Interview With Terry Lane

As I type these words, I am around 8 hours away from being interviewed live on Radio National. The program is entitled “The National Interest” and the presenter is legendary Aussie journalist Terry Lane.

The show has been promoted on the ABC website as follows:

“This week on the National Interest, Terry Lane is joined by Irfan Yusuf to discuss the Prime Minister's summit with Muslim leaders. Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer,a former Liberal party candidate, a prolific blogger and a self described Aussie Mossie (Australian Muslim).”

What sort of questions will Terry ask me? I have no idea. But I might make a few predictions and prepare some answers. So read on, dear readers, as I try and look into the future …

TL: Hello and welcome to the National Interest. Today we are going to have a jam-packed show to entertain you all on this sunny Sunday afternoon. Sydney-siders will be especially pleased to see the new cross-city tunnel finished. And those of you who watch the wrong TV channels might have seen Geoffrey Robertson QC strut his stuff with a panel of eminent persons on national security issues. Today marks the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Bulletin magazine. This morning’s Hypothetical was to celebrate that milestone in Australian journalism. And speaking of that Hypothetical and national security, our first guest is a man at the heart of the debate. Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney industrial lawyer, columnist for newspapers in Australia and New Zealand and prolific blogger. One of his blogs is entitled “The Aussie Mossie”. Today, we talk to Irfan about what it is like to be an Aussie Mossie. Irfan, welcome to the program.

IY: Thanks very much, Terry.

TL: Irfan, what did you make of the PM’s summit earlier this week with Muslim leaders?

IY: Look, I think it is a great thing the PM has done. He is trying to engage Muslim Australians in national security issues. He obviously realises that Muslims are just as scared of terrorists as anyone else. He has Muslims in his own electorate. My own family have lived in Mr Howard’s electorate since 1970. The PM knows he can’t afford to marginalise Muslim Australians who are his biggest asset in the war on terror.

TL: So how, then, do you explain comments made by Education Minister Dr Brendan Nelson about Muslim schools not teaching Australian values?

IY: Hey I don’t like talking about Dr Nelson behind his back. I really admire Dr Nelson, especially for his work with issues concerning indigenous Australians when he was president of the Australian Medical Association. I remember sitting on Dr Nelson’s preselection panel and being lobbied by him to cast my vote in his favour. Dr Nelson convinced us preselectors that he was a compassionate conservative. I still think he is.

TL: Yes, but Muslim schools are up in arms.

IY: I know that, Terry. I don’t blame them. I acted for 3 Muslim independent schools in Sydney in their industrial matters. These schools know that, in order to survive and have the confidence of parents, they have to ensure that pupils are not marginalised or taught strange values.

TL: But how do you propose to get this message across to Dr Nelson?

IY: Well, Terry, I am sure he is listening in right now. And so I would like to introduce him to my friends who live in his electorate. On the evening of 22 September 2005, a whole bunch of friends are joining me to celebrate my 36th birthday. I’d like to invite Dr Nelson to join is at the gorgeous Pymble Hotel for drinks and nibblies. Pymble is in Dr Nelson’s electorate, and I urge him to join us that evening.

TL: Would you extend that invitation to other Liberal backbenchers like Bronwyn Bishop and Sophie Panopoulos who are accusing Muslims are not fitting in and who want to take headscarves off Muslim women?

IY: Look, I always find it amusing when people tell Australian women how to dress. My first foray in the media was to condemn an Aussie sheik who claimed that women who dress a certain way are eligible for rape. For 2 female Liberal MP’s to lecture Aussie women on how to dress is just as bad. I would hate to think that Bronwyn and Sophie see themselves as using the same rhetoric as a radical Imam.

TL: Sophie claims that women wearing scarves might be hiding bombs. Do you think the hijab is a national security issue?

IY: Absolutely not. Because if it was, then Sophie’s relatives in Greece should not be wearing it. Christian nuns should not be wearing it. If Jesus decides to bring his mum with him for company, and if Sophie and Bronwyn have their way, Mary should not be visiting any schools in case she corrupts them with her foreign Palestinian ideas.

TL: Mary, Palestinian?

IY: Yep. It was called Palestine in those days. Mary was from Bethlehem, which is today a Palestinian town in the occupied West Bank.

TL: Tell us about Australian values. Do you think Muslims need to learn more about Australians?

IY: Muslims are Australians and have been at the heart of mainstream Aussie life for over 150 years. We are one of the oldest and most established faith communities in Australia. Our involvement in Australian affairs predates that of many Christian denominations e.g. Mormons, Greek Orthodox Christians etc. We predate Buddhists and Hindus.

TL: Yes, but what about values in schools?

IY: Seriously, I think Dr Nelson is having trouble with schools. He accuses state schools of teaching anti-Americanism and socialist trendy hippy ideas. He accuses Islamic schools of doing the same. It is scary when an education minister loses touch with the reality amongst the majority of schools. I know what Muslim schools teach and how they are run. I have been lawyer to three of them. Most Muslim parents send their kids to state schools, and Muslim parents are very fussy about education. Many Muslim schools are new kids on the educational block. They cannot afford to teach extreme or fringe values as they will alienate parents. Also, there is a huge shortage of Muslim teachers. Most teaching staff at Muslim schools are non-Muslims. You can hardly accuse non-Muslims of teaching extremist Islamic values.

TL: Thank you for your insights, Irfan. Thanks for joining us today.

IY: No problems. Thanks for having me.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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