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Muslims don't need think tanks to say what's on their mind

By Irfan Yusuf - posted Wednesday, 24 October 2007

There are experts. And then there are experts. When it comes to Islam and/or national security, these days just about anyone can pass themselves off as an expert. But how do the real experts behave?

Some months back, a number of Muslims in Australia and New Zealand were approached by a leading expert in political Islam. William Shepard is a retired associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. He has taught and researched political Islam for more than three decades.

He reads and writes fluent Arabic in both its classical and modern forms and is regarded as a world authority on leading jihadist ideologues, including Egyptian journalist Syed Qutb, whose work heavily influenced Osama bin Laden. He has also closely followed developments in Muslim communities across the Western world.


The author had been asked to write an entry on Muslims in Australia and New Zealand for an encyclopaedia of Islam. The entry was to be hardly 1,000 words in length.

Notwithstanding his obvious expertise and experience, Shepard still felt the need to run his entry past a number of leading figures in Muslim communities on both sides of the Tasman.

Compare Shepard's humility to the author of another recent monograph, purportedly on Islam in Australia. The report was published last week by Policy Exchange, a right-wing London establishment describing itself as an independent think tank aiming to develop and promote new policy ideas and committed to an evidence-based approach to policy development, working in partnership with academics and other experts.

The Policy Exchange publication, Islam in Australia: Democratic bipartisanship in action, is written by Sydney-based columnist and commentator Gerard Henderson.

The title itself is misleading as, according to Henderson, the purpose of the booklet is to report how Australia has handled national security since the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the Bali bombings of October 2002.

The study isn't really about Islam in Australia at all.


To link 300,000-odd Australians who tick the Muslim box on their census forms to national security concerns is inflammatory to say the least. Are Muslims treated as equal citizens? Or are they just a security risk and cultural menace to be managed?

And what qualifications does Henderson have to pontificate on Muslims and/or national security? He holds undergraduate degrees in arts and law and a doctorate in history. He has worked in various roles, including as chief-of-staff to Prime Minister John Howard when the latter was deputy leader and then leader of the parliamentary Liberal Party. But what books has he read on the topic? What courses has he completed? How many scholars has he consulted? None of this is mentioned in the monograph.

Instead, Henderson has presented 26 pages of his own analysis, largely a chronological regurgitation of news reports. The balance of the report consists of interviews with current and former NSW and federal MPs, law enforcement and intelligence officials.

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First published in The Canberra Times on September 17, 2007.

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About the Author

Irfan Yusuf is a New South Wales-based lawyer with a practice focusing on workplace relations and commercial dispute resolution. Irfan is also a regular media commentator on a variety of social, political, human rights, media and cultural issues. Irfan Yusuf's book, Once Were Radicals: My Years As A Teenage Islamo-Fascist, was published in May 2009 by Allen & Unwin.

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