August 12, 2007

The Vintner's Luck: March 07 issue

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THE VINTNER’S LUCK

How NZ and Australian wines took on the world, and won

It’s not often we get a chance to celebrate international success these days, but as SELWYN PARKER in London discovered, they are seriously devouring the fruit of our vines, there:

Although it was in the depths of winter - January 15-16 to be precise, there was hardly a spare seat at Lord’s cricket ground in London. The event was under cover and it was at the famed Nursery Pavilion End of the ground. The occasion? The annual tasting of the New Zealand vintage when 120 Kiwi vignerons come over to present their creations in the world’s most important export market.

Every wine-exporting country judges its success by its performance in the British market, more specifically by percentage share and by average retail price per bottle. The tasting is both a proud showcase and a nerve-wracking examination for the New Zealand industry as buyers, wine pundits and oenophiles in general swirl, smell, see, sniff, spit and sometimes swallow their way through 600 wines.

How times have changed. Twenty-six years ago, when the British wine establishment was invited to the inaugural tasting of New Zealand wines, it was held in an upstairs room in New Zealand House. Those journalists and members of the trade who bothered to turn up only did so because they were intrigued to learn we produced something other than lamb, wool, butter, kiwifruit and All Blacks. New Zealand wine!

It was almost a contradiction in terms. In the eighties hardly anybody in Britain who wasn’t a New Zealander drank our beer (and still doesn’t), let alone our wine. “Most people came to laugh”, remembers veteran trade representative Philip Atkinson who organised it all. “I had to work extremely hard to get them there.”

The debut of New Zealand wine on the international stage could hardly be described as a glittering occasion. There were less than fifty wines on the table and they were only there by virtue of a mad dash from the airport in a Ford Cortina with a panicking Atkinson at the wheel. They had been freighted over in an RNZAF Hercules that arrived late. Knees knocking, the few New Zealand wine-growers to brave the pundits and retailers had brought over mainly whites, mostly sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, and some reds, mostly cabernet. Their anxiety was understandable. Apart from a few bottles of Cresta Dore and Bakano, labels of the sixties since mercifully buried, no New Zealand wine had ever been brought to Britain.

As it happened, it all worked out surprisingly well. As Margaret Harvey, the former Mt. Roskill girl who has helped pioneer New Zealand wine in Britain, remembers, the message was generally encouraging but blunt. “If you’re going to sell your wine here at all, it will be your whites”, the producers were told. “Your reds are yeech. Don’t show them here again”. The subsequent reviews for the whites were reasonably encouraging and the wine tastings became an annual, if minor, event on the British industry’s calendar. A stake had been put in the ground.

Wine pundits were one thing however, buyers another. Out in the boon docks of the retail trade whose shelves were stacked with European labels, it was hard going. Margaret Harvey had come to Britain as a pharmacist in 1975 but in an act of faith abandoned her profession to establish Fine Wines of New Zealand in 1985 out of her house in Camden Town at a time when the advertising authorities might have taken legal action for the first word in the company’s title. It was a one-woman operation and the owner remembers plodding around the wine clubs, pushing the New Zealand vintage night after night, often not getting home until the early hours.

Others like salesman Richard Goodman were also labouring in this stony vineyard. Representing Cooks and Montana at various times, he took on the supermarkets after the pundits told the growers: “You can’t expect us to write about your wine if we can’t tell readers where to buy it.” He and Atkinson often worked together, knocking on door after door.

“We got thrown out of a few places”, Atkinson remembers.

The message was simple: “You’ve got to stock New Zealand wine. We’ll do anything to get it on your shelves”.

And shelf by shelf, that’s what they did. The breakthrough was a supply contract with nationwide liquor retailer Threshers, which has been a friend of New Zealand wine ever since. The first supermarket to be breached was Waitrose, a chain with a reputation for fine fare, and other retailers gradually followed suit. Today the Kiwi product is found everywhere. Even Berry Bros & Rudd, purveyors of fine wines – French in particular -- for 300 years, started stocking the higher-quality labels a few years back.

Meantime the product was improving all the time. At first more enthusiastic than skilful, winegrowers began to adopt more professional practices under the tutelage of experts such as Australia’s Dr. Richard Smart, a world authority on cold-climate viticulture. They were quick to learn and the result was better trellising, leaf-plucking and spraying among other improvements. In Britain this was noticed as the pundits approved of the more subtle flavours instead of the “aggressive herbaceousness” that characterized the first offerings.

As the High Street came to stock more New Zealand wine, the believers in the government trade office found extra dollars to boost sales. One of the results was the first appearance at the London Wine Trade Fair of 1986, a landmark occasion that was followed by a splendid, celebratory dinner at Methuselah’s in Victoria Street. The dinner was a far cry from the budget tasting of 1981. Instead of a mad dash in a Ford Cortina, all the food and drink as well as the chiefs were flown in by Air New Zealand. Everybody who could be there was: Morton Estate, Delegat’s, Montana among others. One of the best investments ever made for the country, let alone its wine, it woke the industry up to how far the country had come gastronomically and vinously.

“It was a tiny participation at the fair but it was a big dinner”, recalls Atkinson who organised that too. “That made the difference. Suddenly we were real.”

But sales hadn’t taken off. Even a decade ago the Brits hardly deigned to wet their lips with the New Zealand grape. In 1996 the UK grudgingly took NZ$40.6m worth of New Zealand wine, which is barely a drop in this enormous bucket, and much of that was drunk by a hard core of expats and others who had an acquaintance with New Zealand, had tasted our wines and therefore knew better.

However with the groundwork done, the momentum was with New Zealand. From having hardly a foot in the door, sales climbed – rather, rocketed – from that $40.6m to $167m in 2006, an increase of over 400 per cent. Last year overall consumption in the British market fell while the volume of New Zealand wine sold, running against the trend, picked up by four per cent. It’s been an incredible decade envied by all other wine-exporting nations.

At the same time success in the UK market spun off into sales in other markets, like a badge of approval. Last year global volumes topped the magic half billion barrier -- to be precise, $512m -- for the first time. With the help of British distributors, the New Zealand vintage has even cracked the notoriously protectionist European Union. The Dutch drank $10m worth last year ($1.2m ten years ago), Germany $3m (well under a million ten years ago) and Ireland, home of Guinness, over $8m (nowhere near a million). The French, of course, still hardly touch our stuff.

The original pundits were right about the whites. They quickly became the building blocks of this expansion, in particular sauvignon. But nobody ever predicted that New Zealand pinot noir, a difficult wine to produce, would excite the British palate, let alone pinot gris, syrah and the trendy viognier. Sales of pinot noir in particular, the vintage du jour, have almost doubled year on year.

Most galling for rival exporting nations, New Zealand has somehow bagged the high end of the general retail market as consumers fell in love with our diversity of wine-making styles. It became a voyage of discovery for them to sample wines produced over an enormous distance of 1600kms, spanning the latitudes of 36 – 45 degrees. As the official body New Zealand Winegrowers points out, if that 1600kms were in the northern hemisphere it would run from Bordeaux to southern Spain. This huge range of wines is one reason why New Zealand occupies a premium position in the market, one that Australian producers would very much like.

Australia sells a lot more wine into Britain than does New Zealand (over £1bn worth last year). But as one of the bibles of the market, The Drinks Business, pointed out in January, it’s the New Zealand vintage that attracts the higher margins: “Australia’s average bottle price of £4.28 is second in the UK only to New Zealand with a stellar average price of £5.93.” Nobody is exactly sure whether the average price of an Aussie bottle held its own last year, declined or edged up by two pence (as ACNielsen reckons), but it certainly hasn’t done much by comparison with New Zealand wine. In other words, if New Zealand’s wine exporters were cricketers Shane Warne would have been hit all over the park.

The overall strategy is not to let the side down by going for the quick quid. Pioneers and long-time observers of New Zealand wine’s acceptance in Britain and other exports put this down at least partly to the team spirit among producers. “They have a collaborative approach. They want to make the whole New Zealand category,” says Atkinson. He’s watched in amazement as the biggest names in our industry extol the virtues of a rival label whose owner is caught up elsewhere.

Other regions don’t always behave like this. Wine pundits still shudder over the way Californian grower Charles Shaw did nothing for the reputation of his terroir by releasing Two Buck Chuck at giveaway prices to reduce a surplus. And they’re not too sure about one of the big successes of the last two years, the French Red Bicyclette launched by the US giant E&J Gallo, because a. it isn’t French, and b. California has no special claim to cycling. As an advertisement for Californian wine, it likewise did nothing.

Although New Zealand’s prices continue to head in the right direction, even the prestige labels are a long way – perhaps half a century – behind the equivalent French ones. For example, one of the top-priced Kiwi wines at the venerable Berry Bros & Rudd is the 2004 Mountford Estate pinot noir from Waipara at £232 [$650] for a 12-bottle case in bond. Although it’s hardly comparing apples with apples with apples -- or grapes with grapes -- that compares with £9,900 [$27,730] for just eight bottles of the 1967 Chateau d’Yquem sauterne. At the top end, French wines still have snob value.

ACROSS the Channel the attitude of old world producers towards our parvenu wine region remained one of rock-solid superiority throughout most of the nineties. This is understandable because they do, after all, have history on their side. “My family has been tending the vines here for 15 generations”, Monsieur Thomann, a vigneron in the tiny Alsatian village of Ammerschwihr in France, told me a few years ago when I was researching a book there. He said it in a matter-of-fact way but I worked out later that his forebears must have tended the grape in that very village from the 1550s.

He showed off his cellars with their cobwebbed, oval barrels that had survived the bombs and shells of two world wars that had almost destroyed the village and he plied me with books about wine -- its spirituality, mysticism, romance and general place in the history of Alsace and France. Monsieur Thomann was much less interested in the technicalities of viticulture than in the tradition. For him wine-making was almost a branch of the priesthood.

The way he went about his business illustrates the enormous gulf between old and new world producers such as New Zealand. M. Thomann had never considered exporting. “Why should I when I sell everything I produce here?” he asked.

He ran a degustation vente business – selling straight from the cellar. Connoisseurs simply walked in off the street, some having driven hundreds of miles from Belgium, Germany or Switzerland. They pressed a buzzer and sat down for a taste (degustation) and a chat with the man himself about the grape and the wine world in general (his son was the sommelier to the president of France). Thereupon he made his sale (vente), generally by the case load.

But now it’s all changed. New Zealand in common with other new world producers have become officially a threat, New Zealand more for what it represents than for how much it sells. “In this high-growth sector, where wine tends to become an increasingly industrialized and technological product, the dynamics unquestionably favour New World producers,” an authority wrote in French in a landmark article last year in the magazine L’Expansion. “By that I mean North and South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand”. While the “old continent” still dominates the market on the basis of claiming three quarters of total production, “its pedestal was breaking up.”

The statistics illustrate what the writer, a student of global wine markets, means. By the end of the eighties, Europe could still claim 96 per cent of all exports and was absolutely top of the heap. Now it’s down to 84 per cent and, if exports between EU countries are excluded, the losses are much more spectacular. That puts the old continent’s share of global markets at 66 per cent. In short, although New Zealand winegrowers can claim only some of the credit, a complacent Europe has been comprehensively thrashed in the higher-margin, British market where in 2005 new world wine sales exceeded those of the old continent for the first time.

That also happened to be the first year New Zealand sold more wine overseas than at home, an alarming fact duly recorded in France too. Producers there cannot believe that New Zealand not only made all that wine but sold it all as well. “Between 2004 and 2005, exports of New Zealand wine went from 31m litres to 51.4m litres, an increase of 60 per cent!” noted Viti-Net, an influential French wine industry website, in mid-2006. It added that the Kiwis vignerons are “focused on quality and the price of their wines is relatively high”.

Despite the stratospheric prices fetched by labels such as Chateau d’Yquem, that’s exactly what the French and Europeans have not been doing. As the EU’s agriculture czarina, Mariann Fischer-Boel, points out, the vineyards are churning out vin ordinaire. “We spend far too much money disposing of surpluses instead of building our quality and competitiveness”, she warned in mid-2006. Consumption was down, new world exports were making “huge inroads” and Europe was “producing too much wine for which there is no market”.

The result of these massive surpluses is that a lot of wine in France is subsidized and practically given away. At a supermarket it’s quite possible to buy a bottle of excellent local wine in Provence for a few dollars. And the wine that is not sold at all is distilled on payment of still further subsidies into something else. The whole system is blatantly protectionist and unfair to exporting nations like New Zealand, and it’s been going on for a long time.

Consider these amazing numbers. Well over 400m euros [$740m] has been spent on the “restructuring programme” for each of the last six years, but without much restructuring being done. In 2005 alone, 790m euros [$1.46bn] was spent on various “market intervention” measures that included subsidies for public and private storage, plus another 31m euros [$57m] for “grubbing-up” useless vineyards. (And still New Zealand beat the Europeans in the British market!)

The last figure says a lot. Although there have long been generous incentives to grub up loss-making vines, producers have shown a declining interest in doing so while pocketing all kinds of subsidies for making unsaleable wine. Back in 1993 for example, the EU spent 400m euros [$739m] on grubbing up, nearly thirteen times more than now.

And it’s going to get worse. In normal times Fischer-Boel, who is trying to reform all this, disposes of a budget of nearly 1.3bn euros [$2.2bn] a year purely to shore up European wine producers. France, whose vineyards account for 30 per cent of the EU total, collects the lion’s share of that. But any day now the czarina will announce new proposals offering even more generous encouragement to reform this deeply discriminatory system. The new plan is to reactivate the moribund grubbing-up scheme. This time there will be 2.4bn euros [$4.43bn] to flatten up to 400,000 hectares. Cynics of EU agricultural reforms may note that 400,000 hectares is not a lot of vineyard out of a total 3.4m hectares devoted to the grape. Moreover the grubbing-up is voluntary.

“This is a great opportunity to put the EU wine sector back at the top where it belongs,” hopes Mrs. Fischer-Boel. “We must not waste it”.

On past performance however, they probably will.

SO WHERE does New Zealand wine go from here? The British market can only get tougher, especially for the newer and smaller vineyards. The biggest supermarket chain, Tesco, is reportedly dropping ten per cent of its wine list from its shelves. Even to get onto a major chain’s shelves at all can require up-front payments of £50,000 [$140,000], which clearly favours the corporate vineyards. As Margaret Harvey says, “it’s one thing to make wine, another to sell it.”

And Europe is fighting back. French producers are developing their own labels instead just supplying others while relaxing restrictive labeling and other regulations. Italy has mounted a campaign to re-launch in Britain. Other regions are following suit – South Africa has managed to hike its margins in Britain and Australia is belatedly dealing with the surplus that has led to sales of low-cost, bulk wine.

There are risks to New Zealand vineyards. For example, at around $5m a year the R&D budget is pathetic by European standards. And now that Kiwi labels have got above the parapet, they could get shot at. New Zealand Winegrowers is concerned that some markets could play rough by introducing protection by another name, for instance by insisting on zero residues.

But that could also point the way forward in a market that’s turning greener by the month. British consumers have started to agitate for sustainability – the “carbon-free footprint” – in their food and drink. According to veterans of the market like Margaret Harvey, who is the only New Zealand-born woman to hold the Master of Wine qualification, sustainably produced wine would certainly make it easier to sell in Britain and beyond. “It’s very exciting,” she enthused. “Everybody should be on the sustainability programme if we want to keep commanding those high prices.”

That would certainly give Kiwi wine an edge that matches its image, similar to the one Australia had a decade or so ago. Over here New Zealand wine is regarded as new and exciting, the product of young and enthusiastic, even iconoclastic, vignerons who dare to play the game differently.

Like the All Blacks, you could say.


Posted by Ian Wishart at 03:17 PM | Comments (0)

Teenage pregnancy: March 07 issue

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A Brave Story and a Bitter Pill

With teenage pregnancy affecting women since the beginning of time, the choice is ultimately one that is hers to make. But with a new offering of hope and the controversial discussion around the new ‘abortion pill’ RU-486, this is a topic where every angle needs to be discussed. MELODY TOWNS reports


Walking up the corridor, Bernadette moved slowly towards the pink Wendy’s t-shirt that clung to the growing physique of her boyfriend Dave. Dressed in an identical shirt, Bernie and Dave were on their lunchbreak from the ice-cream parlour where they both worked, but there was something different about this break and with each step Bernadette took, she knew that both their lives were about to be changed forever. “I saw him differently”, says Bernadette, “He was a 16 year old boy about to be told he was going to be a father”.

When Bernadette Black was just 16 years old she, like 25,000 other teenage girls in Australia each year, was faced with a decision that would ultimately affect the rest of her life. Raised in a strict middle class Catholic home, Bernadette had always been the ‘good girl’, the girl she describes as “someone that you thought that this could never happen to”. Little did Bernadette realise the consequences of losing her virginity when she slept with her boyfriend for the first time in his bedroom while his parents were out. She says, “I found myself in an emotional pull towards Dave and, as a result, Dave and I had sex. I didn’t think about the repercussions of having sex, like the possibility of falling pregnant. I just assumed it wouldn’t happen to me. So, we had sex and the condom broke…”

Bernadette’s story is not an unusual one. With teenage pregnancy occurring since the beginning of time, this is a story that many women could relate to, despite whatever decision they make regarding their pregnancy. But Bernadette, now 30, has written a book that may surprise many. A story of a teenage mother who decided to have her child and, despite all odds, aim to make a success of her life. While being objective in saying that she is not placing any judgement on any decision that a teenage mother may make, Bernadette says the aim of her story is to present another outcome, one that is positive and has never been offered.

When I meet Bernadette, I am overwhelmed. She bounces up to me, wraps her arms around me and with a big beaming smile welcomes me into the waterfront pavilion where, today, she is getting all the attention for all the right reasons. It is like we are best friends, but we have only just met, the genuineness in her greeting something that seems surreal in the networking world of small smiles and meet-and-greets.

It is her book launch, the day that she has been working towards since she was 16. She is there with her husband, three children, a few politicians and a huge crowd of support. The media flocks around her as she shares her heart with the world and the day that so many thought would never arrive, is unraveling a new story of hope for all to see.

It is just over 12 years since the day that Bernadette made a pact with herself, despite constant criticism, that she would firstly, be a great mum, secondly complete her education and thirdly write a book to offer some hope to other girls who may and who do find themselves in this situation and decide to have their babies.

She was sitting in a mothers’ group when Bernadette conceived her dream that would see her persevere against all odds. “At the group there were many girls that had no support, their parents had disowned them and their partners had left them. These girls literally had no hope. We asked in our mum’s group if there were any books available that would be able to show us that we could be great mums regardless of our age. The nurse who ran this group said that there were no books ever written like this.”

Acknowledging that she did have the support of her family and the stability of a middle class background, Bernadette says she feels most passionate about the girls who may not be so lucky. “The amount of judgemental attitudes that some people displayed to me in society was huge, and I was with my mum and dad, but for these girls all they see is no hope, so thankfully this book and hopefully my website with the collaboration of education and health care will be a resource for them that they haven’t had access to before”.

Despite her success, Bernadette, now a trained nurse, has had to walk the hard road and empathises with other girls in this situation. Endorsing motherhood, but not sugar-coating the reality of it, Bernadette openly shares the way that she had to deal with society’s reactions and their constant disapproval of her. “I was very vulnerable, especially only being 16. I used to keep my head down to avoid people’s prying eyes. I wanted to wear a sign saying that I would be a good mum but it wouldn’t have mattered.”

Leaving room for only the truth, Bernadette describes how she felt at this time in her book. She writes, “I remember shopping at Myers for some foundation, and the shop assistant noticed my growing belly. She looked at me in disgrace saying, “Babies having babies”. I felt so inadequate, so unable, so scared. Who was I kidding?”

Going to a Catholic school and growing up in a Catholic home also proved to be a paradox for Bernadette. Although she had the support of her family, many of her friends couldn’t understand her decision, a decision that she says had a lot to do with her own beliefs. Well-meaning friends told her that she was going to ruin her life and kept asking why she wouldn’t have an abortion? “I fleetingly thought about having an abortion certainly”, says Bernadette, “however after I contemplated it a little longer I thought, “No, I can take this on. I have to take responsibility now to care for this child”, and that’s when I decided I would be a great mother”.

Dave was a great support despite the lack of encouragement he received from his family. Described by Bernadette as being very respectful, Dave supported her choice despite the critics and is still a big part of his son Damien’s life today. She says, “Early on his family had said to him that it would be better if I did have an abortion, and that was a very difficult thing. His mother had said to me that if I made this decision, then both Dave and I would make nothing of our lives and have absolutely nothing to offer our baby. At the time I felt stripped bare, like I had no defence, but I would not compromise my decision”.

Now as a mother, Bernadette says that she understands Dave’s family a little more. As a mother to 13-year-old Damien, Bernadette understands just how frightening it must have been for Dave’s family to have their son come to them and tell them that his girlfriend was going to have a baby. “For them, they’d never seen a girl who had succeeded in having a baby when she was 16; they’d seen a lot of girls that we all see today-their situations around them are often negative and when you only see negative things, then obviously your outlook can also be negative”, explains Bernadette.

“Everyone has their own personal beliefs and stances. To date in Australia, you can find out about pro-life, abortions, adoptions, the mini pill and the ‘abortion pill’ RU-486. One option that has not been presented to young mothers is a story like mine that shows you can be a young mum, continue with your pregnancy, and also have a fantastic, successful life.

With the controversy surrounding RU-486, or the ‘abortion pill’, this is one side of teenage pregnancy that needs to be told. Not political, not religious, just an offering of hope to thousands of girls faced with this life changing decision daily throughout the world. With what seems a relatively “harmless” option to surgical abortion being an issue of continual controversy between Australian politicians, RU-486 is another kind of ‘emergency contraceptive’, that women in the US, Britain, Canada and Sweden have as an option.

While the Australian parliament argues over whether or not this pill should be approved, every mother has a right to know every option that they may choose when faced with the decision of having a baby. While Bernadette’s story is one of the first offerings of hope to teenage mothers who decide to keep their child, the introduction of RU-486, whether you agree with it or not, has side effects that also need to be discussed to mothers in more depth.

An American website, standupgirl.com, offers a resource for young mothers and teenage pregnancies to discuss all aspects of pregnancy from abortion to pro life. In an article posted by one of its members named only as Mary, the ‘abortion pill’ is discussed as being linked with the death of 10 women since it was approved in the year 2000. What many don’t know is that the ‘abortion pill’, is actually two pills. Not as simple as just popping it in your mouth and waiting for it to go away, the first pill, Mifepristone, is taken to kill the tiny foetus and then a few days later, Misoprostol is taken to induce labour and expel the remains. But, as Mary writes, “with two or three visits to the doctor, an ultrasound, and the possible removal of the dead foetus, it’s not private. It’s not just contraception and it’s definitely not harmless”.

A study by Ralph P. Miech MD, PhD, describes the relationship between the drugs and the ten deaths. He states, “The first drug blocks progesterone, the hormone that tells the placenta to provide nutrition and oxygen to the baby. This causes changes to the cervix that allow c. Sordelli to enter the cervical canal. C. Sordelli thrives in the low oxygen environment and derives nutrition from the decaying foetal tissue. Meanwhile, it’s disrupting the immune system, so that even the woman’s body now becomes vulnerable to bacterial attack. Her body cannot fight the bacteria, and c. Sordelli and its toxic wastes spread throughout the body, causing widespread shock and sometimes death”.

Accessible to any woman under seven weeks pregnant in the approved countries, Danco, the leading American distributor of the drug claims that the deaths were not specifically caused by taking these pills. Their argument is that it cannot be proven that the drugs directly cause death, due to the fact that septic shock caused by c. Sordelli is possible in other circumstances including childbirth and menstruation. But the standard of safety still remains a concern, as the cause of death may not be from the pill but from the toxic shock caused by the remaining foetus that is not completely expelled from the uterus.

Describing the abortion pill as a waking nightmare, Mary states that “perhaps worse than all the bodily effects of RU-486 is the psychological effect”. Linked to a higher suicide rate for depressed women, the ‘abortion pill’ leaves no one to clean up the mess except for the mother herself. A horrifying image is presented by abortiontv.com on their website, stating that a “woman may find herself sitting on her bathroom floor at two in the morning cradling her tiny child in her bloody fingers”. While this may be considered extreme, the fact that unlike a surgical abortion where the foetus may be expelled not intact but rather in shreds, is a haunting reminder that this, like any decision regarding teenage pregnancy, or any pregnancy in fact, is something that cannot be taken lightly.

Information regarding all aspects of pregnancy is vital to teenage girls placed in a situation where a decision needs to be made. Without placing judgement on whatever decision they do choose, all information does need to be made aware to them. Whether it is an abortion that they choose to have, an adoption or like Bernadette a decision to have her child, every girl has a right to make an informed choice regarding something that will not only affect her body, but her mind and her life forever.

As Australian celebrity Marcia Hines states in the forward of Bernadette’s book Brave Little Bear, “I do not condone teenage pregnancy, please understand this, but in life things do happen…and it happened to me. Luckily Bernadette and I had support and as with anything in life if you have support and self-belief you’re going to make it. But please don’t make life any harder than it already is, and your teenage life is a gift. (And so is motherhood at the right time). If I could I would not change a thing and I’m sure Bernadette wouldn’t either, but precautionary measures is what it’s all about. However if you do fall pregnant, remember that you are no longer a child, you are taking care of a child.”

In the heat of discussion about RU-486 and the offering of hope from one teenage mum who aims to help others, lets remember that it’s life we are talking about here, and what every girl needs from society is not a judgement but a soft place to fall and the support and self-belief to get back up again, whatever her choice.

Brave Little Bear is being used in the young mothers’ program in Tasmania Australia and is under review by each state’s education department in the school curriculum. With its website, www.bravelittlebear.com.au, a dedicated resource to helping young mothers, Bernadette hopes that the incidence of teenage pregnancy will be reduced, but for now she wants to help the girls who are there walking this journey today. “What I’d like in this country is for these levels, 25,000 teenage pregnancies a year – to decrease. This is like a long term plan, it generations down the future, but what needs to happen to stop that generational cycle is that these girls, as I said before, they might see around them that all there is, is negative feedback, or just their circumstances: if they can grab that light or just that one bit of hope, then their child may not have a child at 16”.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 03:08 PM | Comments (0)

March 30, 2007

Preachers of Hate

SPECIAL INVESTIGATION
HELEN HOODWINKED BY PREACHERS OF HATE

OSAMA BIN LADEN’S TENTACLES REACH NEW ZEALAND’S FIVE MAIN CENTRES IN MASSIVE BORDER SECURITY BREACH

Some of the world’s most extreme Islamic preachers, and organizations
linked to terrorist groups, have spent seven years infiltrating New Zealand’s moderate Muslim community – running training camps and “intensive” courses – and the Government never realized. IAN WISHART has the extraordinary story that’s left local Muslim leaders shocked and embarrassed, and raised major questions
not just about our border security, but whether al Qa’ida has been actively recruiting on the ground in New Zealand


A massive breach in New Zealand’s national security has been discovered by Investigate magazine, with revelations that senior Islamic “preachers of hate”, some with links to al Qa’ida, have been able to come and go from New Zealand with no one in the media, the Government or even the security services apparently aware of who they were.

Among the roll-call of dishonour that’s left the head of New Zealand’s Muslim community reeling and pledging major changes within mosque vetting procedures: two firebrand clerics named as “unindicted co-conspirators” in New York’s infamous
1993 Day of Terror case, when Ramzi Yousef tried to blow up the World Trade Centre the first time and a dozen other men planned to explode ammonium nitrate car bombs at other major New York landmarks.

Additionally, Investigate’s inquiries have shown that a large number of the organizations listed as international affiliates of New Zealand’s mosques have been named by the United Nations, intelligence and law enforcement agencies as supporters, fundraisers and sometimes active participants in al Qa’ida terror plots. Yet members of these organizations have been able to come to New Zealand unobstructed, supply “educational and spiritual” literature to Muslim youth here and run training camps, as recently as last July.

Undercover video footage taken by Britain’s BBC television of training camps run by the same organization overseas has shown children being trained to become suicide bombers.

The President of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ), Javed Khan, was doubly shocked to find out about the backgrounds of the extreme Wahhabi Islam visitors, because his organization had personally invited them here to help encourage local Muslims in their faith.

For seven years, preachers, whose works include book urging followers to kill Jews, Christians, pagans and Hindus, have been holding “workshops” in mosques and university student halls up and down New Zealand, yet no one from the Government, Security Intelligence Service or police ever lifted a finger to ring Javed Khan and ask why moderate NZ Muslims were inviting the world’s most extremist clerics here.

While Khan and senior figures in New Zealand’s Islamic community are now urgently reviewing their policies and links to overseas Islamic groups, there’s also growing concern about why, if the Government really regards the NZ Muslim community as friends, it never even bothered to have a quiet word in their ear. Worse, if the Government didn’t know about the backgrounds of the extremists visiting New Zealand, what implications does that have for national security?

For most New Zealanders, the story of modern Islam and the government’s walk-on-eggshells approach to it, begins with September 11:

IN THE BEGINNING
As the smoke from the gaping holes that had been New York’s twin towers still swirled in an acrid mist across Manhattan, choking rescue workers with the fumes from 3,000 vapourised human bodies and thousands of tonnes of vapourised buildings, New Zealand’s acting Prime Minister when the Islamic terror campaign struck, Jim Anderton, raced to get a press release out.

“Acting Prime Minister Jim Anderton is urging New Zealanders not to associate New Zealand’s Muslim community or Afghan refugees with acts of terrorism in the United States yesterday.

“One of the great things about New Zealand is our tolerance and the absence of political and religious extremism in New Zealand. I call on New Zealanders to remember that and not blame or associate people in New Zealand with the terrorism in the US on the basis of national origins.

“It is reprehensible to link the terrorist attacks in the US to refugees in New Zealand, let alone to New Zealand’s Muslim community. Even if Islamic extremists are ultimately shown to be responsible for the terrorist activity, refugees to New Zealand are by definition trying to get away from persecution by extremist regimes and they can hardly be blamed for that,” concluded Anderton.

Leaving aside a possibility that clearly hadn’t occurred to the Deputy Prime Minister – that refugees may simply be extremists from a losing faction fleeing persecution by the extremists of the winning side – the message of tolerance towards Islam became almost a national hymn throughout the West.

A year later, just after the Bali bombings that claimed a further 202 lives at the hands of Islamic extremists, the Labour Government was once again calling for tolerance towards the real victims of terror – Muslims themselves.

“I chose to [meet] with the Muslim community,” declared Ethnic Affairs minister Chris Carter in December 2002, “because Muslims everywhere have had a very difficult twelve months. The New York and Bali terrorism attacks have focused unwelcome attention on what is a fundamentally peaceful religion.”

Among issues raised by Muslims for the government to consider, said Carter, were:
“The fact that Arabic was not taught as part of the school curriculum, despite it being one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, [and] a lack of family counseling services that were sensitive to the cultural differences of the Muslim community.”

On a number of occasions, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Helen Clark has told the country that Islam is a religion of peace. One of the most recent of these declarations accompanied the history-making visit of the PM to the Federation of Islamic Associations of NZ (FIANZ) annual conference at the South Auckland Mosque on May 28 last year.

In a copy of the FIANZ newsletter sent to Investigate, Clark – who’d previously refused to say “Grace” at a state banquet for the Queen, broke royal protocol by wearing trousers, and had a run in with Maoridom over her place on the marae as a woman – is photographed wearing the Islamic hijab – a sign to Muslim men of her secondary status as a woman and submission to Islam’s requirements.

“In her address,” says the FIANZ document, “she acknowledged
and thanked FIANZ and the Muslim community at large for maintaining calm and building better relationships with others subsequent to attacks on Auckland masjids (mosques) after the London bombings.

“Speaking on the diverse New Zealand people she said that migration over many years has resulted in a multi-faith and multi-cultural society.

“Speaking of various initiatives by her Government she mentioned the special ‘Building Bridges’ programme by the Office of Ethnic Affairs, police recruitment of ethnic people, and the Ministry of Social Development’s ‘Building Cohesion in Society’.

“Looking to the future she mentioned three priorities for Muslim kiwis: Modernisation and transformation of the economy;
Building stronger family, young and old; Building a unique national identity of our diverse country.

“In all three, the Muslim community has a part to play…Quranic classes are necessary for a sense of identity.”

You would think such an important and history-making speech by the Prime Minister would be on the government’s website. It is not. No news release about the visit was sent out electronically to media, nor is there a report in Auckland’s journal of record, the New Zealand Herald. Instead, the only printed report of this visit is that contained
in the FIANZ newsletter, which concludes:

“We need to build a distinctive New Zealand with one identity built on each of us being sincere in who and what we are, where we come from, what our hosting home and culture are. Openness and dialogue are important to go ahead as a nation.”

Elsewhere in the same FIANZ newsletter, the familiar refrains are echoed – “Islam means peace”, it declares in an article on outreach to the wider New Zealand community for Islam Awareness Week. Few New Zealanders would know, however, that the correct Arabic translation of Islam is “submission”, not peace. To a Muslim, peace only comes through submission to Allah, but the phrase gets shortened to “Islam means peace” for Western consumption.

It is little PR shortcuts like this that make Islam an easier sell to young westerners: Islam is seen as the underdog, misunderstood and bullied by the West. But this is a carefully crafted façade largely driven worldwide by Saudi extremists and Saudi money.

According to independent estimates, the Saudi Arabian regime has spent somewhere in the region of NZ$110 billion exporting Wahhabi Islam – the variety of Islam followed by terrorist group al Qa’ida – worldwide. That money, itself the proceeds of petro-dollars, has been used to train Muslims in extremist Saudi universities
and send them overseas as missionaries to train local Muslims in the most fundamentalist strains of Islam.

To put this in perspective, bear in mind that 15 of the 19 hijackers killed in the 9/11 attacks were Saudi Arabian. Nearly all had been Saudi-trained.

The tone of Saudi extremist Islam was recognized early by New Zealand, as the Prime Minister herself noted on 21 September 2001 when she followed President Bush’s lead in separating moderates from extremists.

“President Bush made it clear that the teachings of the Islamic faith are good and must be distinguished from the terrorists who have blasphemed that faith and tried to hijack it.

“I call on New Zealanders to make that distinction too. Our country also contains people of many faiths, and all those faiths and those of peaceful intent who follow them must be respected.”

Clark did not explicitly state what al Qa’ida’s blasphemy was, but the group’s aims are on the record as being consistent with Saudi Arabian Wahhabi Islam: the submission of the entire world to Islam, as is predicted in the Qu’ran and which Muhammed instructed his followers to achieve; the introduction of Shari’a law worldwide; and a return to what Wahhabists see as fundamental Islamic values, such as women being forced to wear veils, and pagans, atheists and gays being stoned to death.

Implicitly in the Prime Minister’s statement, these are the extremist blasphemies New Zealand was joining the US in fighting against.

“President Bush has said that he sees this as an international effort. New Zealand is in it for the long haul too. What the United States is asking the whole world to address is a radical terrorist network which has shown its capability to deliver co-ordinated acts of hideous violence. New Zealand supports the United States’ determination to root out al Qa’ida and other terrorist groups worldwide. This will be a lengthy campaign,” declared Clark.
Yet despite the tough talk, the New Zealand government appears to have been asleep at their posts as Islamic extremists from Saudi Arabia quietly infiltrated the very same mosques Labour had been praising as moderate.

BILAL PHILIPS “The clash of civilizations is a reality. Western culture…an enemy Islam” – Bilal Philips

In the very same 2006 FIANZ newsletter featuring Helen in the hijab is another, seemingly innocuous, article recording the July 06 visit of “Islamic scholar” Dr Bilal Philips. It wasn’t a random visit. Philips was expressly invited here by FIANZ as a warm-up act for Islam Awareness Week.

“During his visit to New Zealand,” says the report, “Dr Bilal held lectures in Dunedin, Wellington, Hamilton and Auckland…He received his BA degree from the Islamic University of Madina and his MA in Aqeedah (Islamic philosophy) from the King Saud University in Riyadh.”

Madina is to Islam what Medellin is to Colombian drug barons: the heart of the empire. For the record, and to give you an idea of the Wahhabi pedigree of Philips, the University at Madina is regarded as the most fundamentalist of all the Islamic study centres, and the King Saud University in Riyadh was also attended by Osama bin Laden.

“The theme for [Bilal’s] lectures was “Muslim Minorities living in Western Civilisations”, notes the FIANZ report. “There were full attendances in all the Centres he presented his lecture.

His lectures were very enlightening and educational.

“A recurring advice throughout his lecture is for the Muslim community in New Zealand to join together to pursue an Islamic way of life in education, housing and commerce.”

The newsletter records that Philips visited the Federation’s offices to hold discussions with local Muslim leaders Hanif Ali and Sheikh Amir, as well as discussions with Muslim students at Victoria University and intensive workshops on how to spread Islam with “a group of enthusiastic brothers and sisters” at Auckland’s Avondale Islamic Centre.

“The visit of Dr Bilal was indeed very successful and FIANZ hope to continue in the tradition of welcoming respected overseas Islamic scholars/speakers to New Zealand to further enrich our community.”

OK. That’s how local Muslims saw Philips through their eyes. But what does Bilal Philips really talk about on his sellout lecture tours? We might never have known had Philips not shot to fame on a major investigative documentary screened on Britain’s Channel 4 last month by the Dispatches programme.

Neither TVNZ nor TV3 in New Zealand have run the programme yet, but it created huge waves in Britain and America because it exposed self-professed “moderate” Muslims at the UK’s biggest mosques preaching messages of hatred and jihad against the West as recently as just a few weeks ago. A Dispatches journalist went undercover for several months to secretly film lectures in the mosques given by Bilal Philips and others.

In one segment of the programme, Philips was covertly filmed telling Muslim men it was OK to marry 9 year old pre-pubescent girls, because the prophet Muhammad did it.

“The prophet Muhammad practically outlined the rules regarding marriage prior to puberty, with his practice he clarified what is permissible and that is why we shouldn’t have any issues about an older man marrying a younger woman, which is looked down upon by this [Western] society today, but we know that Prophet Muhammad practiced it, it wasn’t abuse or exploitation, it was marriage.”

Philips later argued to the media he was only re-stating the Qu’ranic position, but it is clear from his comments above he endorsed it.

But marrying pre-pubescent girls in the name of Islam wasn’t the only message Philips has preached. In 1991, as part of a Wahhabi infiltration of US military units stationed in Saudi Arabia for Gulf War 1, he led Islamic evangelism programmes – paid for by the Saudi government – that reportedly converted some 3,000 US soldiers to Islam, some of whom later joined Islamic jihad movements. This was first revealed in a Washington Post article on November 2, 2003, which quotes Bilal Philips.

“The clash of civilizations is a reality. Western culture led by the United States is an enemy of Islam.”

Remember: this is a man hailed at the time as a leader and a scholar by moderate New Zealand Muslim leaders, and who held sellout lectures and workshops for young Muslims up and down the country last year.

One spin-off from Bilal Philips’ efforts in 1991 however was that the Pentagon suddenly had to find Muslim chaplains to minister to its freshly converted Islamic US soldiers. “One architect of this initiative was Abdurahman Alamoudi, who was indicted Oct. 23 on money-laundering charges for allegedly taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from Libya, which is designated by U.S. officials as a state sponsor of terrorism,” reported the Post. An extra irony is that Alamoudi was an election campaign donor to both Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Hillary Clinton, evincing a “bob each way” mentality.

The article goes on to say that the Pentagon is now “worried” about the loyalties of its Islamic troops.

“Some military officials believe that the al Qa’ida terrorist network is trying to recruit Muslim members of the U.S. armed services and contractors who work with them. Other officers have expressed fears that some Muslim soldiers, sailors and airmen might one day decline to take up arms against fellow Muslims.”

A news article listed on Wikipedia and sourced to Intelwire directly links Bilal Philips to known terrorists.

“An al Qa’ida operative sought to recruit US veterans as paramilitary trainers and combat volunteers in 1992 and 1993, at the explicit direction of a cleric [Philips] who converted thousands of Gulf War soldiers to Islam on behalf of the Saudi government,” begins the report.

“Clement Rodney Hampton-El was convicted of conspiring to blow up New York city landmarks in a 1993 terror plot linked to the World Trade Centre bombing in February of that year.”

As an al Qa’ida trained explosives expert with ties to the first World Trade Centre bomber Ramzi Yousef, Hampton-El (better known as “Dr Rashid”) gave evidence at his 1995 federal trial that he’d been summonsed to a meeting at the Saudi embassy in Washington in 1992 and told wealthy Saudis were bankrolling a project to recruit US soldiers as jihadists, and that he would be given a budget of US$150,000 for his role in the project. He testified that Bilal Philips then gave him a list of US Muslim soldiers to approach and worked with Hampton-El to achieve the goal.

Philips’ involvement is a matter of public record in the court documents (US vs Rahman, S5 93 Cr.18, August 2, 1995), yet he managed to slip through New Zealand immigration in July 2006 no problems at all.

But wait, there’s more. In the mid-90s, Bilal Philips was teaching at an Islamic school in Cotabato, the Philippines – home territory to the deadly Abu Sayyaf terrorist group and an al Qa’ida recruiting ground for the Pacific (see Investigate, Feb 05).

Osama bin Laden’s brother in law, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa was documented by both US and Filipino authorities as funneling money to Abu Sayyaf via the Islamic Da’wah Council of the Philippines – an organization listed on the website of FIANZ in New Zealand as one of its international affiliates.

“In May, 1993,” continues the Intelwire story, “Bilal Philips sent for Hampton-El, who was flown first to Saudi Arabia for a week, then to the Philippines for a week.

“In Manila, Hampton-El testified, he met with Philips at an Islamic conference… sponsored by wealthy Saudis and the Islamic Da’wah Council of the Philippines. The Da’wah Council was one of Khalifa’s [Osama’s brother in law] charities.

“On his return to New York, Hampton-El told friends that he was planning to move to the Philippines and join an Islamic militant movement there. According to testimony and surveillance tapes presented at his trial…he visited training camps in the south of the country during the May 1993 trip. He also described visiting a terrorist safehouse with Bilal Philips.

“Bilal Philips, Osama bin Laden and Mohammed Jamal Khalifa were all named by the [US] government as unindicted co-conspirators in the Day of Terror trial,” reports Intelwire. For his part, Hampton-El is languishing in a maximum security penitentiary in the US where he won’t be eligible for parole until 2023.

So Bilal Philips is a very strange houseguest for moderate Muslims in New Zealand to be inviting over.

But it doesn’t stop there. The deeper Investigate dug into the moderate mosques in New Zealand, the messier it got. Of all the names of invited overseas scholars who’ve come here that it was possible for us to verify [due to variant English spellings of Arabic names], virtually none was a “moderate” – most were Wahhabi extremists and some, like Bilal Philips, have links directly to terrorists.

SHEIKH KHALID YASIN
In May 2005, another extremist Wahhabi preacher arrived in New Zealand as a guest of the Muslim Association of Canterbury, Sheikh Khalid Yasin. Trained, again, in Saudi Arabia, this American convert to Islam is well known for a verbal jihad in his lectures.

And like Bilal Philips, Yasin also rocketed to stardom in Britain as a result of January’s TV documentary exposing preachers of hate. In Yasin’s case, the TV crew found DVDs on sale at “moderate” mosques in London where Yasin says women are worthless.

“This whole delusion of the equality of women is a bunch of foolishness…There’s no such thing.”

He also claims AIDS is a western conspiracy.

“Missionaries from the World Health Organisation and Christian groups went into Africa and inoculated people for diphtheria, malaria, yellow fever, and they put in the medicine the AIDS virus, which is a conspiracy.”

But despite being welcomed by moderate Muslims in New Zealand, Yasin had a tougher time being interviewed by Nine Network’s Sunday programme in Australia, which dragged out yet more video clips of his lectures from around the world.

“There’s no such thing as a Muslim having a non-Muslim friend,” he told believers at one rally – which doesn’t gel with the gestures of friendship from the same local Muslim leaders who invited him to New Zealand.

“If you prefer the clothing of the kafirs [infidels] over the clothing of the Muslims, most of those names that’s on most of those clothings [sic] is faggots, homosexuals and lesbians.”

“How do you feel about the fact that the Government is saying we should set up some new rules to make sure that no potential terrorists are developed or cultivated. And also we want to see inside the mosque and places so we can see before something happens. How do you feel about that? Because that’s what’s being talked about. Now, if they didn’t say exactly that, I’m telling you that’s what it means!”

Naturally, young Australian Muslims digesting the questions he phrased it felt threatened, victimized and angry. Yet Yasin’s messages of hate are a very good reason for the Islamic community to be transparent.

Despite Arab TV network al Jazeera broadcasting Osama bin Laden’s admission that he ordered the 9/11 attacks, Sheikh Yasin – who has lectured extensively in NZ mosques and universities – shows himself to be a 9/11 denier.

“There has been no evidence that has surfaced, no bona fide irrevocable, irrefutable evidence that has been surfaced that showed that there is a group called al Qa’ida that did the September 11 bombings.”

He told Sunday’s Sarah Ferguson that “sophisticated entities” blew up the twin towers.

“Sophisticated entities means entities who themselves were governmentally instructed, equipped, motivated. We now know that the way the World Trade Centre fell, the way those buildings fell – they fell from internal explosive charges, the same way it’s done in a construction site.”

Yasin calls for homosexuals and lesbians to be put on trial for immorality, “and if they are tried, convicted, they are punishable by death”.

In his Sunday interview, and in his lectures to Muslim students in Australia, he preaches the message that Muslims everywhere are victimized. When Sunday raised the case of the Islamic bookshop in Sydney caught selling a how-to book on suicide bombing, Yasin simply denied it.

“There is no books [sic] in no Muslim bookstore that says how to become a suicide bomber. This witch-hunt against Muslims is what we are against. I have not been able to find one single incident.”

SIRAJ WAHHAJ
Another Muslim scholar brought out to New Zealand in 2001 – just months before 9/11, was American convert Siraj Wahhaj, invited here by FIANZ. Wahhaj was once hailed as a “moderate” in the US, and became the first American Muslim to deliver the daily prayer in the US Congress, in 1991, as a recognition of his “moderate” views. But like Bilal Philips before him, Siraj Wahhaj was leading a double life: teacher’s pet moderate Muslim on the outside for the benefit of politicians and the media, die-hard radical extremist on the inside. Wikipedia records that Wahhaj was named by the US Department of Justice as another of several “unindicted persons who may be alleged as co-conspirators in the attempt to blow up New York City monuments” including the World Trade Centre in 1993.

As Salon magazine reported on September 26, 2001, Wahhaj had a close relationship with an Islamic terrorist, the “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdul Rahman, inviting him to speak at Wahhaj’s Brooklyn mosque and even testifying as a character witness for Rahman in court.

Wahhaj, who like Philips slipped into New Zealand without opposition by the SIS, police or border security, is also quoted in Salon as calling the original Gulf War 1 – against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait – “one of the most diabolical plots ever in the annals of history”, and “part of a larger plan, to destroy the greatest challenge to the Western world, and that’s Islam.”

Comparing the fall of Soviet Russia to the current crisis in the West, Wahhaj warned America too will be crushed unless it “accepts the Islamic agenda”.

Journalist Daniel Pipes, in The Danger Within, details a 1992 address Wahhaj gave to an audience of New Jersey Muslims.

“If only Muslims were more clever politically, he told his New Jersey listeners, they could take over the United States and replace its constitutional government with a caliphate. ‘If we were united and strong, we’d elect our own Emir [leader] and give allegiance to him…Take my word, if 6-8 million Muslims unite in America, the country will come to us’.”

So that was Siraj Wahhaj’s agenda just a year after reading the opening prayer in the same US parliament he was hoping to overthrow, and he is welcomed as an esteemed speaker by moderate Muslims in New Zealand.

The website MilitantIslamMonitor.org has compiled its own research on Wahhaj.

“There’s no such thing as a Muslim having a non-Muslim friend”

“Wahhaj extolled the joys of martyrdom in this Jihad website entry, ‘No one who dies and goes to Paradise is going to want to come back to this world, except a Martyr, a person who gave their life for Islam, for Allah, they will want to come back to the earth and die ten more times in the way of Allah, because of the great gifts Allah has given them in Paradise’.

“Wahhaj often writes and speaks on the subject of martyrdom in Islam. Some of his works are entitled: ‘Are you ready to die?’ ‘The blessing of Death’ ‘The easy way to Paradise – how to get there’.

“In addition to martyrdom Wahhaj is a proponent of polygamy and has produced many tapes on the subject.”

While the latter topic might fit Labour Party policy in New Zealand, it is doubtful Wahhaj’s commitment to military jihad would.

For his part, Wahhaj has told American media they’ve misunderstood him, that “Islam is a religion of peace”, and that he really is a moderate.

ISLAMIC YOUTH TRAINING CAMPS
In addition to general visits and lecture tours by people like Bilal Philips, the Muslim community has been seeking specialist input for the spiritual training of young Muslim men in New Zealand. The FIANZ Annual Report for June 2000 through May 2001 records one such “North Island” camp, held at the Kauaeranga Forest Education Camp on the Coromandel Peninsula between 12 and 14 January 2001.

“The theme of the camp was ‘The Khilafah and man’s role as Khalifah’.”

While the words may not mean anything to the average reader, the “Khilafah” is the Arabic word for the restoration of the Caliphate – worldwide Muslim rule under one Caliph. The last Caliphate fell with the collapse of the Ottoman empire in Turkey after World War One, and extremist Muslims blame the West for this. A “Khalifah” is the future leader of Islam worldwide, the one who will unite the planet under one crescent.

“In accordance with Islam, it is the duty of the Muslims worldwide to elect a Khalifah. Such an appointment is seen as a duty (fard) similar to all other duties within Islam. The duty is seen as inevitable, and any divergence from the path is considered a grave sin, and therefore any neglect of this duty will be punished accordingly. The establishment of a Khilafah is seen as vital, because without it Islam cannot possibly be applied,” notes one Islamic scholar on the point.

Jemaah Islamiyah, the group responsible for the Bali bombings, is trying to establish a Khilafah state ruled by Muslims that covers Australia, through Indonesia and South East Asia, which is one of the reasons Prime Minister Helen Clark outlawed Jemaah Islamiyah in 2002.

“Jemaah Islamiyah is an extremist Islamic organization…its stated goal is to create an Islamic state…the organization has established links to al Qa’ida, based on a shared ideology and cooperation in relation to terrorist activities and training,” said Helen Clark.

Meanwhile, the FIANZ annual report detailing the NZ youth camp continues:

“Sixty brothers, aged between 15 and 25, attended…to improve and encourage youth practice of Islam and also to foster a greater awareness of one another amongst New Zealand Muslim students.”

Nor were South Island Muslim students left out. They had their own camp near Mosgiel in mid April 2001.

“The theme of the camp was ‘Islam is the Solution’. Approximately 100 brothers and sisters attended.”

There was another big training camp only weeks later, from 3 to 10 July 2001, arranged in association with Auckland’s Al-Manar Muslim Trust (affiliated to Mt Roskill’s Masjid-e-Umar mosque), which hosted 40 young Muslims from around the country.

“Three Sheikhs from Saudi Arabia supervised it,” notes an Al-Manar briefing on its website. “The camp was very successful, the youths and their families expressed their gratitude for such an activity, where the principles of Islam, strengthening the brotherhood ties and the development of the youths’ skills were the main purposes of the camp.

“At the closing ceremony of the camp, which was held in a very beautiful area in the north of New Zealand, prizes were given to the participants by Dr Anwar Ghani, the president of…FIANZ.”

Similar camps have been held every year since, many of them with invited Saudi-trained preachers like Yahya Ibrahim, who inspired the youth at the 2004 Muslim Youth Camp held at Tui Ridge Park in Rotorua.

YAHYA IBRAHIM
A Canadian of Egyptian descent who currently lives in Australia, Ibrahim hit the headlines just over a year ago when US Homeland Security officials barred his entry to the United States on unspecified grounds. Ibrahim had been scheduled to speak at an Islamic rally in Texas, and had been seen by some as a “moderate”. Others, however, are not so sure. Fluent in Arabic, he specializes in translating the works of some of Saudi Arabia’s most extreme Wahhabi preachers into English. Among them, three books by Sheikh Abdurahman al Sudais, whose views and television broadcasts across the Middle East urge Muslims to kill “Jews and worshippers of the Cross” as well as “Hindus”. It would be fair to say Sudais is an equal opportunities genocidal maniac.

Another of Ibrahim’s translations is Explaining the Hadith of Battling The Jews, a book often used by the terrorist group Hamas to justify suicide bombings and other attacks on Israel. The translation includes verses like “…the decrepit nation in which the scattered Jews of the world were gathered unrightfully and in oppression – the State of Israel – shall cease and be erased from existence.

“It is abundantly clear that the big battle is inevitably coming and that the Word of Tawheed (Islamic monotheism) will be victorious without a doubt.”

In another of his translations it is written, “Allah has cursed the Jews in the Qu’ran on numerous occasions, informing us of his anger towards them…the enemies of the Prophets – especially the Jews – shall not be given inheritance of the earth during
their worldly life and they shall face a grievous everlasting punishment in the Eternal Fire in the next life.”

In one of his own lectures, available on the internet, titled “How kuffars [infidels] try to take the light out of Islam”, Ibrahim himself tells Muslims they can have nothing in common with Western society, Christians or Jews, that all are “evil” – hardly the message of moderation when Prime Minister Helen Clark talked of the “peaceful intent” of Muslims.

Then there’s the comments of Ethnic Affairs Minister Chris Carter in January 2003, a full year before the New Zealand Muslim community invited Yahya Ibrahim here to train Muslim youth in January 2004.

“New Zealand’s Muslim community should be applauded for their declaration of peace and goodwill today,” Ethnic Affairs Minister Chris Carter stated.
“Ten Muslim groups from all over the country have signed a declaration to all New Zealanders affirming their commitment to peace and stability, and to being an integral part of our nation.”

The signed declaration Carter refers to was issued in the name of FIANZ, but it was FIANZ a year later that brought in Ibrahim.

One of Ibrahim’s taped lectures begins with a statement that the Qu’ran warns all Muslims who their “enemies will be”, and he then launches into a stinging attack on liberal western society, atheists, Jews and Christians. Further on in the tape, Ibrahim launches into homosexuals.

“When we look around and see the society that we are living in, we see people who are committing fornication and Allah punishes them by giving them a disease like AIDS. We look again and we see the murders, we look again we see the drug addictions, we look again and we see the prostitution, we look again and we see the disbelief in the laws of Allah: there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet! There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet! These words stand for everything against that, stand against drugs and prostitution and disbelief. These words stand against all of that.”

It is hard to reconcile the teachings of Yahya Ibrahim to kiwi Muslims on a youth camp, and his translation works heralding a coming world battle where Islam will reign victorious, with the stated declaration that Muslims are happy to be part of a New Zealand liberal society lead by a very liberal Labour government.

As Canadian commentator David Ouellette remarked after Ibrahim was banned from the United States a year ago, “In Australia, Ibrahim is widely considered as a ‘bridge builder’ between Muslims and non-Muslims. Yet, publicly available information on Ibrahim appears to point to the profile of a hardcore activist of the Wahhabi strain working to spread in the West the hateful, terror-inspiring Salafi ideology, the likes of whom should not be welcome in free societies fighting Islamic extremism.”

FUNKY COLD MADINA: SAUDIS IN NZ
You could put down a visit by one of the men above as just an aberration, a mistake made by innocent Muslim leaders in New Zealand. But taken as a whole – given that the visits involved packed lecture sessions up and down the country, youth training camps in some cases, and that all of them are extremist Salafi/Wahhabi firebrands – it does raise questions about what kind of Islamic society in New Zealand local Muslims are aiming for.

Take Auckland’s Al-Manar Trust, mentioned earlier as a Saudi-backed organizer of the youth camps. On its website, Al-Manar says one of its prime objectives is the introduction of Shari’a in New Zealand – at least among Muslims.

“One of the main objectives of the Al-Manar Trust is to expand the knowledge [of] Islamic Share’ah principles between Muslims in New Zealand.

“To achieve that goal, Al-Manar Trust has organized the following Share’ah educational courses in co-operation with Saudi Arabian universities: The first educational session – in co-operation with the International Islamic Youth Association.

“The courses were run by eight lecturers [who] came to New Zealand from the University of Imam Mohammed Bin Saud in Riyadh. There were 300 participants in the courses.

“The second educational session – after the major success of the first session, another session was held in co-operation with Al-Haramain Charity Association, between 11 July till 21st of July 2001.

“Over 250 attended the lectures given by Sheikhs from Saudi Arabia.”

Take a moment to join some dots here. Early in the article under the “Youth Camps” heading you’ll recall Al-Manar Trust organized a national Muslim youth training camp from the 3rd to the 10th of July 2001, supervised by three Saudi sheikhs. Lo and behold, on 11 July a group of Saudi sheikhs from Al-Haramain charity begin conducting intensive lectures for adult Muslims. By a process of elimination it seems highly likely it was Al-Haramain involved in the youth camp as well. Which makes the next piece of information we’re about to give you highly relevant.

It is true that New Zealand Muslims used to overwhelmingly be moderate, but in the last few years the balance has started to tip – only the media and politicians haven’t noticed it. The first public inkling of trouble came in late 2003 when genuine moderates in Christchurch warned the Government that extremist Saudi’s linked to the Al Haramain terrorist organization were infiltrating the local mosque.

“An Islamic ‘charity’ involved in fundraising for al Qa’ida and the southeast Asian terror network Jemaah Islamiyah is trying to set up a front organization in New Zealand, and may get approval to do so,” Investigate reported in November 2003.

“Al Haramain operates in more than 60 countries worldwide, and its attempts to get a toehold in New Zealand hit the headlines last month when a group of Muslim community leaders sent a letter to the New Zealand government, warning that the Saudi-backed Al Haramain would bring chaos and disaster to New Zealand if their application is approved.

“That application includes setting up an Islamic school to teach Wahhabi Islam – the radical branch of the religion – and establishing an ‘Islamic bank’ in New Zealand.

“While daily news media have played down Al Haramain’s links to terrorism, Investigate has now confirmed an extensive relationship between the ‘charity’ and al Qa’ida. Those links include Al Haramain’s involvement in a series of al Qa’ida suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia earlier this year [2003] – the Saudi government shut down ten offices…as a direct response after discovering it was funding Osama bin Laden’s organization.

“Additionally, a senior figure in Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah arrested three months ago [in 2003], Omar al Faruq, has told investigators that his organization has received extensive funding and moneylaundering services from Al Haramain.”

The website for the Wellington mosque, iman.co.nz, noted in a 2003 news release (still on the web) that two senior figures from Al Haramain, Sheikhs Abdul Majeed Ghaith al Ghaith and Menea al Dakeel, toured NZ mosques in May 2003.

Despite being warned of the threat, Labour’s then Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff dismissed the fears of the Islamic moderates in Christchurch, saying the government was “leaning towards the view that it’s mainly an internal conflict in the Muslim community in Christchurch that they need to sort out among themselves,” and describing Al Haramain as “largely a distinguished and peaceful charitable organization focusing on the education and welfare of the Muslim community around the world.”

What neither Goff nor Investigate knew in late 2003 was that Al-Haramain didn’t have a toehold, but a stranglehold on NZ Islam and had been indoctrinating local Muslims for at least two years.

Within months of making arguably one of the most ignorant comments of his career, Phil Goff could only watch from the sidelines in 2004 as the United Nations froze the worldwide assets of Al Haramain because of its strong links to al Qa’ida and other terror groups, whilst masquerading as a distinguished and peaceful charity.

The damage to the Christchurch mosque, however, had already been done. Although the UN move kept Al Haramain officially out of the picture, the Saudi financiers of terror and Wahhabi Islam simply fronted up with some other Muslim ‘charities’ to help New Zealand’s Muslim community and their mosques.

The resulting tension has split the Muslim community in Christchurch into different factions.

Disquiet was also voiced in the New Zealand Herald last year by local Muslim leader Abdullah Drury, who warned that 30 years of making the Muslim community a mainstream part of New Zealand was disappearing out the door because the huge influx of recent immigrants under Labour has changed the balance of power. Where once Muslims had a sense of their NZ identity, Drury says the new leaders’ “hearts, minds, rationale and prejudices are still firmly rooted in their home countries.

More than one North Island critic has stated that some Canterbury Muslims think they’re still living in Africa or the Middle East.

“Why are things falling apart now?” asks Drury. “The most significant contribution stems from the massive and poorly planned influx of immigrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East in the 1990s. Nobody in the local Muslim community
ever anticipated or planned this.”

From 13,000 Muslims in 1996, there are now almost 37,000, and the Islamic community has jumped 50% under Labour.

Says Drury:

“The pioneering Muslim families who established Islam in this country have been effectively overwhelmed: swept out of office by the superior numbers of the new faces, or entrenching themselves and encouraging newcomers to set up their own Islamic prayer arrangements.

“There was also a substantial change in composition. In the 1970s most Muslims in New Zealand were…mostly from societies with long traditions of interaction with white Anglo-Saxon culture and customs: Indians, Fiji Indians or Pakistanis.

“Now, there is a substantial bloc, often Arab or African, with considerably poorer education than their predecessors, with vastly different language skills and cultures to those this country has traditionally absorbed.

“This,” warns Drury, “has exacerbated community differences along ethnic, linguistic or cultural lines inside mosques from Christchurch to Auckland…very quickly [the Arab/African faction] use their disproportionately larger numbers to vote in their own leaders. Consequently, a fair number of mosques in New Zealand are currently being administered or dominated by people and groups who have arrived in this country within the last 10 years, some substantially less.”

And if that’s a warning from a moderate Muslim worth listening to, consider this: the new leaders in New Zealand’s mosques have strong ties to Wahhabism.

The Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ) website notes the Islamic organisations and educational institutions it is now affiliated to. The majority of those links, checked out by Investigate, track back to extremist organizations with known involvement in either exporting Wahhabism or terrorism.

As the FIANZ annual report from 2001 notes:

“Over July-August-September 2000 New Zealand was blessed, or more accurately blitzed, by several visits by various groups of scholars from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

“The first such group came from the Al Imam Mohammed bin Saud Islamic University of Riyadh between 25 July and 12 August. They were led by Dr Abdul Aziz al-Omari.”

Try this as an interesting exercise: Google al-Omari’s name and you’ll find it’s the exact match for a 29 year old Saudi hijacker killed on one of the planes that hit the twin towers a year after this NZ visit. Although unlikely to be the same person, you’ll find both Omari’s attended the same university.

The FIANZ report continues:

“Sheikh al-Omari ran an 11 day Islamic Seminar at the new Blockhouse Bay mosque. This group then split into three parties who traveled the country giving lectures and conducting brief courses in Aqidah, Fiqh and methods of Da’wah [spreading Islam].

“Between 23-25 August Dr Abdul Aziz al Shaum and Dr Mohammed al-Sawai al-Omari, also from the Imam Mohammed bin Saud Islamic University, conducted a similar whirlwind tour of New Zealand, visiting Muslim communities in Auckland through to Dunedin in a matter of days.”

The question of precisely why Saudi Arabian clerics from some of the most extreme, terror-linked Universities in the world, were sweeping through New Zealand every year remains unanswered. But they kept on coming.

“Over 25-28 August, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth and the South Pacific Da’wah Council organized a Da’wah training course in Auckland featuring Dr Abdullah al-Malki, Dr Sayeed al-Ghamdi, Dr Abdul Rahman Mohammed al-Jarri and Brother Abdul Rahman al-Fifi of the King Khalid University in Riyadh.

“Drs al-Malki and al-Ghamdi then went on to visit Muslims in Christchurch, Dunedin
and Wellington over 29 August-1 September. The other two scholars made corresponding visits to Hamilton and Palmerston North over the same period.”
Sayeed al-Ghamdi’s name is similar to another of the 9/11 hijackers, although the two are not the same.

But what of some of the organizations mentioned here?

THE WORLD ASSEMBLY OF MUSLIM YOUTH
Based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, this charity (WAMY) is involved in education programmes for Muslim youth, including training camps, in New Zealand.

“The Muslim Association of Canterbury (MAC) received an air cargo from WAMY, Saudi Arabia, that was intended to cover an Intensive Islamic course run by WAMY,” records a Christchurch mosque newsletter for August 2002, a year after 9/11.

“On 16 July [2003],” a MAC report says, “four scholars from WAMY in Saudi Arabia visited the mosque and conducted a 10 day Intensive Islamic course. More than 300 brothers and sisters attended the course. There was a special scholar for the children.”

The World Assemby of Muslim Youth is also listed as a special affiliate of FIANZ. But what does it really do?

Left wing American journalist Greg Palast, no friend of the Bush administration’s War on Terror, nonetheless highlighted the ongoing involvement of WAMY in the US as a failure of national security:

“On November 9, 2001,” wrote Palast in a 2004 dispatch carried by Scoop in New Zealand, “when you could still choke on the dust in the air near Ground Zero, BBC Television received a call in London from a top-level US intelligence agent. He was not happy. Shortly after George W. Bush took office, he told us reluctantly, the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the FBI ‘were told to back off the Saudis’.

“We knew that. In the newsroom, we had a document already in hand, marked ‘SECRET’ across the top and ‘199-I’ – meaning this was a national security matter.
“The secret memo released agents to hunt down two members of the bin Laden family operating a ‘suspected terrorist organisation’ in the USA.”

The “suspected terrorist organization”, it transpired, was WAMY.

“Called the World Assembly of Muslim Youth,” writes Palast, “the group sponsors soccer teams and summer camps in Florida. BBC obtained a video of one camp activity, a speech exhorting kids on the heroism of suicide bombings and hostage
takings. While WAMY draws membership with wholesome activities, it has also acted as a cover or front, say the Dutch, Indian and Bosnian governments, for the recruitment of jihadi killers.

“Certainly, it was worth asking the bin Laden boys a few questions,” says Palast, “but the FBI agents couldn’t, until it was too late.”

Remember, WAMY has been actively involved in Muslim youth camps in New Zealand right up until now.

But, as Palast points out, the “back off the Saudis” instruction meant the US headquarters of WAMY, in Virginia, wasn’t raided by the FBI until May 2004, long after the bin Ladens had fled, presumably taking with them all incriminating information.

Although a squad of 50 agents reportedly surrounded and sealed off the WAMY office, they “seized mostly empty files and a lot of soccer balls,” wrote Palast.

Over on Wikipedia, the encyclopedia acknowledges WAMY’s claim to be nothing more than a football-mad bunch of Muslim boy-scouts, but then refers to evidence about WAMY that’s emerged from some of the Guantanamo detainee hearings:

“The terrorists that plotted the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing kept literature handed out by WAMY. Here are some samples: ‘The Jews are enemies of the faithful, God and the angels. Teach our children to love taking revenge on the Jews and the oppressors’.

“Here are some examples of what specifically to teach the children: ‘In 1989 Abdul-Hadi Nemin carried out his own heroic operation while on bus #405 of Tel Aviv-Jerusalem line; he charged at the bus driver, chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ [God is great!], twirled the steering wheel toward the cliff and caused the bus to take a big fall. As a result of his courageous act, 14 Israelis were killed and 27 were injured’.”

This was the kind of “boy scout” training WAMY was caught teaching to Muslim youth. WAMY had been run by Omar bin Laden and Abdullah bin Laden.
The Muslim youth group has also been named in a major United Nations report,
“Terrorism Financing: Roots and trends of Saudi terrorism financing”, prepared for the UN Security Council in December 2002. The report states that WAMY, Al Haramain and the Muslim World League – another ‘charity’ supporting New Zealand’s mosques – are all major fundraising arms for al Qa’ida and other terrorist entities.

It is interesting, too, how these ‘charities’ are able to fly a dozen preachers all the way from Saudi Arabia to New Zealand just to run a youth camp or a few lectures. The Al-Manar Trust in Auckland acknowledged as much in its newsletter.

“Al-Manar Trust was able to build a very friendly relationship with Islamic associations overseas. Some of these associations have provided Al-Manar Trust with valuable books and resources.”

One of its goals, it says, is building an “Islamic nation” here.

“The youth activities organized by Al-Manar Trust include [a] weekly lecture for Muslim youths, sports activities and camping. The activities’ aim is to reinforce the Islamic principles and to strengthen the brotherhood ties between them. Al-Manar Trust is very keen to continue providing these activities to our youth because we believe in the youths’ important role in building the future in our Islamic nation.

“Protecting our youth from the influence of the western society that they live in is a very important factor in achieving our goal.”

In other words, forget warm fuzzy talk from the government about common ground: whatever the Muslim leaders are saying publicly, privately some appear to be creating a state within a state, a kind of Islamic apartheid which will grow in significance as Islamic immigration grows, helped by theology and resources from Saudi Arabia’s extremist, terror-linked “charities”.

Al-Manar has already used that expertise and resource to begin Islamification outreach programmes “at New Zealand universities and visiting prisons”. The Trust says it recognizes “the importance of introducing Islam and its principles to the New Zealand society. Therefore, the Trust intends to provide the public and university libraries with a set of Islamic books, which are simple, easy to understand and very comprehensive. There is a lot of potential to spread the word of Allah in New Zealand. New Zealand is a very peaceful country where Islam has no enemies
and the people are kind, simple and keen to read.”

Among the resources Al-Manar has, it boasts its library “has the full set of Dr Tarek Sweedan cassettes”. Sweedan, or under one of the many alternative English spellings of his Arabic name, Tareq Sweidan, hosted a TV show in the United Arab Emirates two years ago where he urged Muslims to find gay men and kill them:

“Anyone caught committing sodomy – kill both the sodomiser and the sodomised. The clerics determined how the homosexual should be killed. They said he should be stoned to death. Some clerics said he should be thrown off a mountain. This is an abominable act in human life, and so the punishment is severe.

“If moral values sink to this level, Man becomes lower than a beast. Therefore the punishment was extremely severe, and the position of Islam was clear and courageous. There should be no lenience in this case, and governments and countries must enforce the law strictly against anyone committing such an abomination.”

New Zealand has certainly seen its fair share of stoned gay men in recent years, but the stoning Sweidan contemplates would be a vastly different kind of experience.
Over at CooperativeResearch.org, Tareq Sweidan was named, along with Abdullah bin Laden of WAMY, of being involved in a US finance company allegedly raising money for terror.

Under the heading, “Prisoner’s Library”, the Al-Manar newsletter says:

“We have noted that the prisoners are the largest group in New Zealand to accept Islam as their faith…We believe there is a lot of potential work that can be undertaken in that area, such as a small Islamic library in each prison. Therefore we need support
from Muslims around the world to help us by providing the Islamic books, particularly the translation of the meanings of our Holy Qura’an and translation of various hadith.”

The Sunday Star-Times published details of the Aotearoa Maori Muslim Association converting Maori prisoners to Islam three years ago, although the AMMA claimed its comments had been deliberately sensationalized by the newspaper. Nonetheless, a young Muslim woman calling herself ‘Penelope’ posted a message on the NZMuslim.net bulletin board warning of the dangers of prison outreach:

“These converts are Maori gang members – drug traffickers, drinkers, wife beaters, thieves, rapists – you name it, they are the dregs of NZ society. The interviewer got it right – they are drawn to Islam because they perceive Osama Bin Laden as a hero, beheading videos as light entertainment and jihad as their cause against Christian/Judaic non-Maori New Zealanders. I think it is only fair to warn you that these despicable criminals are not interested in Islam as a religion – they are only interested in submission and power for themselves and their gangs and they will use the name of Islam to hide behind whilst continuing their evil and illegal practices.

“FIANZ is doing the Muslim community in NZ no favours by financially supporting this “missionary of Islam” in his conversion of uneducated thugs. Do you really want these people in your community representing your religion? The sooner all NZ Muslims and the Muslim councils of NZ advise FIANZ to withdraw any support from this man the better, or you will all be tarred with the same brush. NZ does not need an Islamic Black Power or Islamic Mongrel Mob gangs – these men will never change their ways, drug-dealing and death are part of their lives – even their own people live in fear of them.

“It is the responsibility of FIANZ to stop financing this madman before it is too late and he and his converts degrade the good name of Muslims in NZ.

“Do not be flattered that these criminals are converting to Islam – they see Islam as a way to oppress and terrorise the good and lawful people of this land and Islam will eventually take the blame! Every decent Kiwi is certainly ashamed of them.

“And don’t think it won’t happen, because if this man continues bringing these undesirables to Islam – it will!”

THE CALL OF THE WILD ONES
Naturally, we wanted to put all of these issues to FIANZ and its President, Javed Khan. To his credit, Khan just about fell off his chair in shock when Investigate began running through the list of people and organizations with terror links that FIANZ had brought out here.

We began by raising the visit of Bilal Philips just six months ago, a man whose photo is in the latest FIANZ newsletter. Javed Khan was unaware of Philips’ videotaped comments about marrying nine year old girls, and was stunned to hear about his involvement in the Day of Terror trial.

“No, I was not aware of any of that!”

Khalid Yasin, who’s been to New Zealand on numerous occasions, was another whose statements took Khan utterly by surprise. When we told him of Yasin’s claim that Muslims were not permitted to have non-Muslim friends, for example, Khan was audibly disappointed.

“Oh, gosh.”

We took Javed Khan through the many statements of Siraj Wahhaj, from his comments on martyrdom to his wish to overthrow the US government, to his involvement in the Day of Terror case and his desire for polygamy.

“No, I was not aware of any of this, to be quite honest,” admitted Khan.

On the links between World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) and al Qa’ida, Khan told Investigate, “I am aware that at one stage WAMY was blacklisted by the US, as an organization which was affiliated with al Qa’ida or had some sympathy
with al Qa’ida. But that blacklisting I understand has been lifted because after further investigation they found this allegation was not founded on any sort of concrete evidence.”

When we pressed Khan’s memory further on the point, he told us that a letter had come from WAMY rejecting the US allegations. But in fact, there has been no lifting of the blacklist. Although WAMY continues to operate in 55 countries, including
New Zealand, and works closely with the Western charity Oxfam, its literature for children’s camps in other countries has been found to include incitement to hate crimes and jihad against Jews, and at least one of the 9/11 hijackers was on its payroll. Osama bin Laden’s nephew remains the organisation’s Treasurer at head office in Saudi Arabia.

WAMY organised a big youth camp here in New Zealand only seven months ago.
Javed Khan says New Zealand’s Islamic federations had initially cut ties with WAMY when it was blacklisted, “but they wrote to us, saying that this was a totally false allegation and WAMY was not involved in any of those activities. And we have been involved for quite some time with WAMY – they helped us out, well previously they used to but not now, after the United States started to take control of funds going out. But our youth camps were very well organized and we wouldn’t have anyone coming talking to us promoting hostage taking or suicide bombing. To my knowledge no one has ever come and taught anything like that to our youth.”

But the problem, as we pointed out to Khan, was not necessarily what the al Qa’ida linked groups and preachers actually said while they were in New Zealand, so much as the mana that would rub off on them in students’ eyes because of the fact they’d been invited by the New Zealand mosques. In other words, by being welcomed as esteemed leaders, wasn’t FIANZ unwittingly encouraging NZ youth to search out more of their lectures and material online and start buying into the global jihad?

“It could happen, yeah, I agree it is possible.

“But now I think we have become much wiser. What we have decided to do, before inviting any overseas speakers in the future, is that we will vet what they are saying, their websites, all those things, well in advance of extending any invitation for them to come here.

“We were a bit lax and we took people on face value in the past, but after coming to know about all this, and there was some talk internally about one of our speakers, we have decided that we have to be extremely careful before inviting anybody to come here to New Zealand. We have become much wiser as parents and we will really investigate into the backgrounds of any people who want to come here and decline somebody who has the sayings and doings that you have described.”

We asked Khan about Auckland’s Al-Manar Trust, which had worked closely with WAMY on the youth camps and whose library was carrying the “stone the gays to death” Tareq Sweidan cassettes.

“That would be a concern to me, yeah,” says Khan, although he adds that the guys who run Al-Manar are “pretty moderate sort of people, although they are from an Arab background, but I have pretty regular discussions with them.” On the issue of comments like building an “Islamic nation”, Khan laughs, putting it down to a poor command of the English language. “I’m sure they mean ‘Islamic community’.”

But if the New Zealand mosques are moderate, we ask, why are there so many ties to Wahhabi organizations linked to terror?

Khan ponders the question for a moment, and says he hears what we’re saying in regards to some of those organizations.

“But you’ve got to remember we’ve had associations with some of these organizations since FIANZ was formed (in 1979), before al Qa’ida even existed. The extreme teachings that are advocated, or that any of these people are advocating, are not taken any heed of as far as we are concerned.

“Look,” he says, “we don’t have those firebrand-type teachers or speakers [based] here, like demagogues, who go out telling people ‘this is what you need to be doing…committing suicide is becoming a martyr’ – we don’t have anybody like that who does things like that, and if we find anybody doing that we’ll deal to it pretty quickly.

And yet…and yet, we ask Khan, the reality is that for seven turbulent years FIANZ has been inviting in men who are the rock stars of international Wahhabism – latterday Pied Pipers – without even realising what songs they’re singing. It hardly inspires confidence in FIANZ’s ability to diagnose the problem.

And precisely how do moderates teach young Muslims to view the wider New Zealand culture, given its current climate of extreme liberalism?

“Everybody has a TV, youngsters these days are not fools. We advocate that you abide by the law of the country in which you live. If the law of the country legalizes homosexuality then you have to respect that law, although it is against the teachings of Islam. But you have to accept that that’s the law, and whatever is legal you cannot go against in that country. Now that has been coming out very strongly, the imams have been telling their congregations that we are living in a country with its own set of laws and you have to live by the laws of this country.”

Whether that message is strong enough to combat the allure of the “rock stars” remains to be seen. Khan says that although there have been strong historical ties to Saudi organizations, that source of money has dried up recently and local Muslims are having to dig into their own pockets to pay mosque expenses.

He insists that the community is moderate but, as we remind him, the parents of the kids who blew up the London Underground were moderates: their children were not.
Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Massey University, Peter Lineham, is one who believes the New Zealand government is aware of a growing extremism in the young but was hoping no one would notice.

“The complexity of Islam is that very often we see the face of the woman from Hamilton, who is a very moderate Muslim, but certainly there are other voices in Islam. You need to bear in mind that the Government is pretty nervous about the potential for radical Muslims – within the international Western security
framework there’s a great deal of nervousness about terrorist links with Islam but they deliberately won’t talk about it.

“I think this is why they’re promoting things like religious dialogue, because their attitude is that religious dialogue, and the proposed religious harmony agreement coming out later in the year – I think the hope is that documents like this will convince Muslims to not align themselves with the radical side of Islam.

“I suspect that these are things that the Government is very concerned about but doesn’t want to draw attention because it figures that there will be a negative reaction from the Islamic community that perceives itself being attacked. And so they therefore try and work with moderate Islamic leaders. If you look at the people associated with these religious harmony dialogues like the one coming up in Hamilton next month, they’re clearly trying to build and strengthen the moderates. They’re following the British line on this.”

The problem, as Lineham himself acknowledges, is that the British are failing to make a dent in the uptake of extremist Islam, despite six years of bowing, scraping, and praise for “tolerance”.

In July last year, to mark the first anniversary of the London Tube Bombings, the Times newspaper in Britain published a national opinion poll of British Muslims. There are one million Muslims living in London. Of those polled, 7 percent agreed suicide attacks on civilians in the UK are justifiable.

That’s 70,000 Muslims in London who support mass murder in the name of Islam. The figure rose to 16% (160,000) who supported suicide attacks against military targets in Britain – that’s roughly one in every six Muslims!

No similar poll has ever been commissioned in New Zealand, but if seven percent of Kiwi Muslims supported suicide bombings here, that’s still a hefty 2,600 people – some of whom might just be prepared to volunteer for martyrdom, especially
after listening to some of the hardline preaching in NZ’s mosques that nobody realised was going on.

As Mark Steyn notes in his book America Alone, another poll of British Muslims found 60% want to live under shari’a law in England! Ask the 300 who attend the intensive Islamic courses each year in New Zealand, and you’d probably get a near-100% agreement.

With a few more years’ percolation, and immigration growth in double digits every year, imagine the sort of headache New Zealand could end up with.

Religious studies professor Peter Lineham remains cynical about the Government’s current reliance on “Interfaith dialogue” to promote greater understanding and tolerance.

“The problem with interfaith discussions, as I see it,” says Lineham, “is that the interfaith attracts the people who are interested in interfaith discussions and they’re not necessarily a fair representation of their faith communities. The Christians who’ve been involved have very rarely been representative of the whole of the Christian community. I do think that the Christian community in NZ does have to find some way of living with people from other religions, but for those of us who are Christians the concern is that we can’t do that in a way that reduces our allegiance to our faith. And unfortunately, the leaders of the interfaith discussions do seem to have a more relativist approach to their faith.”

In the meantime, the big question is whether the seven year security breach – that allowed some of the most extremist Wahhabi clerics on the planet to hold seminars and training camps in New Zealand – has had an impact on the hundreds of young Muslims who attended. As terror analysts like Rohan Gunaratna point out, al Qa’ida works by shoulder-tapping people quietly, and setting up small localized cells that no one, not even their parents, knows about.

The people who listen to Islam’s firebrands will not become suicide bombers overnight, if ever, but the more exposure they get to messages of hate over the long term, the less these people will feel they belong to New Zealand society.

How can they belong when the Qu’ran, in verse after verse quoted by Bilal Philips and others, repeatedly tells ordinary Muslims not to mix with infidels, not to become part of their society, and to remain a nation apart?

And how can a good Muslim sit back and twiddle their thumbs when the same Qu’ran then instructs him that the entire world must submit to Islam in order for the Mahdi to return and usher in the end times? The Qu’ran says that infidels are actually born Muslims who rejected the faith and must be brought back to it. That’s why they call Western converts to Islam, “reverts”.

So those twin tensions exist: reject the infidel world, then conquer the infidel world for Allah, and in doing so earn a place in Paradise. That is precisely the message being preached by people who have been welcomed in NZ’s mosques.

To an extent, of course, this is a one-dimensional portrait of the problem. There are young kiwi Muslims who do have Western friends while maintaining their own faith and managing to pray five times a day. They enjoy McDonalds and they wear the hijab. They have been born here, they’ve grown up here. New Zealand is indeed home.

If young Muslims can maintain that balance and perspective, and if other New Zealanders in turn can tolerate those differences, then a comfortable balance may yet be found. But that will become a harder task if the local mosques don’t start rejecting
Wahhabi preachers and literature. It will become a harder task if Muslim children only go to Muslim schools and don’t mix with other cultures. It will become a harder task if Muslim teenagers are told on camps by people like Khalid Yasin, “There is no such thing as a Muslim having a non-Muslim friend.”

Already, on NZ Muslim websites in New Zealand, you can read messages where people say they no longer have a nationality – their nationality is Muslim. Unlike Christians, who were instructed to tolerate Roman control, Muslims are told in the Qu’ran they are not allowed to live by Rome’s rules – they either make Rome submit, or leave themselves.

A pretty similar warning has been issued by the Australian government, with both John Howard and his deputy Peter Costello warning hardline Muslims that if they want to live under Shari’a, they’ll have to leave Australia.

One final question that arises out of this story: where is the SIS, where is border control? How did several men with known links to terrorism and al Qa’ida walk repeatedly through immigration gates at New Zealand airports? Are the intelligence agencies taking the view that it’s better to watch from a distance than ban outright, or are the agencies as totally unaware as the Prime Minister seems to be?

In the meantime, the photographic image of New Zealand’s first elected female Prime Minister – a woman who has built her entire career on feminism and women’s rights – voluntarily wearing in her own country what millions of women around the world see as one of the ultimate symbols of oppression of women – that image will echo in the minds of many in the months to come as people weigh up whether Labour has allowed a massive breach of New Zealand’s national security.

As this issue was going to press, the Government issued a news release welcoming a decision by Saudi Arabia to send more a further 350 of its own students to study in New Zealand, “as part of an expanded scholarships programme for Asia and Oceania”.

“This represents a strong endorsement by Saudi Arabia of the quality of our teachers and the excellence of our learning environments,” boasted Tertiary Education Minister Michael Cullen.

“There has been steady growth in students from the Gulf States studying in New Zealand institutions since 2001. More than 500 Gulf students are currently enrolled in New Zealand institutions, many from Saudi Arabia and Oman.”

It does beg the question however: if Saudi Arabia loathes Western culture so much, why is it really boosting the number of its students in New Zealand to more than 700?

Posted by Ian Wishart at 02:05 AM | Comments (7)

March 25, 2007

Book Reviews: March 07 issue

In association with The Nile
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MY FAVOURITE BOOK

And other stories, by Michael Morrissey

Tigers.jpg Hobbit.jpg Ignorance.jpg


TIGERS IN RED WEATHER by Ruth Padel, $29.99

I began this column seven years ago and in that time I have reviewed 370 books. In the main, they have been books I either enjoyed or admired though occasionally some were read out of cultural duty. From memory, the only two I have done “hatchet” jobs on are The Beach by Alex Garland and The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown Alas my negative reviews probably did nothing to deter sales and to date I have not received any aggrieved letters from the authors, presumably (especially in Brown's case) guffawing all the way to the bank.

It is my happy task to report that this month's lead book Tigers in Red Weather is one of the most outstanding books yet consumed during this on-going delicious seven year literary feast. As an example of naturalist writing, it often attains the heights of fine poetry and indeed the title is a quote from that brilliant poet Wallace Stevens, who along with Ezra Pound and T.S Eliot, must be considered one of the greatest American poets of the last century.

A sample of Padel's sumptuous yet precise prose:

“Brown water drops fall like cappuccino from his belly on split-end grass. A racket-tailed drongo calls, the mimic of the Indian jungle, a black glossy bird with tail-feathers like two black lollipops. A sentinel langur monkey barks from a sal tree over the pool. Both have seen the movement of a tiger, a predator, jumping. The tigress's whiskers twitch in irritation. Alarm calls cross the species barrier: they are the jungle's lingui franca. Everyone wants to know when a predator is near. Grey langurs, the silky silvery monkeys of the India forest, large as Labradors, are the eyes of the jungle, packing the trees with black judgmental faces.”

Padel, a great-great grandaughter of Darwin, takes us on a world tiger tour. Among the 14 countries or islands that still have wild tigers, she has visited three of the most dangerous and remote – Eastern Siberia, Bhutan and Sumatra – though she has been to nearly all of them. The Siberian, Bhutan and Sumatra chapters are especially fascinating both because of the remoteness of location, extraordinary fauna and flora and in the particular case of Sumatra, the fabulously rich mythology about the tiger, absolutely central to that large island's culture.

The preservation of the tiger in the wild is not merely a matter of liking a large and beautiful animal - it is a symbol of the entire conservation mode of thought. Because the tiger is the top predator, a healthy tiger means a healthy jungle. The Mahabharata, that epic Hindu poem, made exactly the same point in 400 BC: “The tiger perishes without the forest and the forest perishes without its tigers.”

Tiger preservation is not “merely” a matter of conservation ideology, it is a small war. In India, which remains the country with the largest number of wild tigers (current estimate 3000), fifty guards are killed every year by poachers, another 100 mutilated. Because of poor funds, the guards often have old-style .303 style rifles whereas the poachers have modern weapons. It's an uneven contest dangerously loaded against the felines and two of India's prominent tiger defenders have opposing views of the tiger's future. The somewhat black-tigery Valmik Thapar, author of 14 books on tigers, is a pessimist (though he will fight for its right to live in the jungle while there is breath in his body), while biologist Ullas Karanth is optimistic. Only the future will show which view is the more accurate.

Unfortunately, the villain in the world scene is China. Most of the world's illegally poached tigers wind up in the markets of the world's most populous nation. I used to cherish the idea that the proven to work Viagra would defeat the mistaken traditional Chinese medicine notion that the tiger penis was useful as an aphrodisiac but alas the tiger is also valued for its bones not to mention its magnificent skin. The current situation has become desperate and tiger skins are openly sold for approximately $13,000 dollars.

Padel admits that the tiger itself will not become extinct because there are many thousands in zoos or in private ownership (4000 in Texas alone!) who will presumably continue to breed and be placed in other zoos and reserves though not of course back into the wild.

The tiger has twice before been saved from extinction – in the 1930s in Siberia and in India in 1973. It is therefore possible to do so again though the odds currently look horribly bad. Governments have to treat it as a top priority and at the local level the welfare of peoples who lived in, around and, indeed, with tigers must always be fully taken into account. If this happens – and it is still possible - the tiger's roar will still be frightening those langur monkeys and every living thing within a five kilometre radius in the years to come.

Needless to say there are no wild tigers in New Zealand though a friend told me a specimen was once released in the South Island for hunting purposes and later died of the cold (factoid?). Meanwhile two fine Sumatran specimens can be see at the Auckland Zoo – Oz (male) and Molek (female). Mating and breeding is intended but it takes time for the two giant felines to get acquainted. Once you have seen these animals, even through the filter of protective glass, I defy you not to wish for their survival at large. Let us all hope that Tigers in Red Weather brings about a benign change in the climate for tigrine survival.


THE DISCOVERY OF THE HOBBIT by Mike Morwood and Penny Van Oosterzer, Random House Australia, $40

Late 2004 saw the announcement of a scientific and paleoanthropological bombshell – real-life hobbits! The “hobbits” were the remains of very small hominids – about a metre tall - found in the Liang Bua cave on Flores Island in Indonesia, by a joint Australian-Indonesian team led by New Zealander Mike Morwood and Indonesian Raden Pandji Soejono. As outlined by Morwood, the tiny humans hunted giant rats, pygmy elephants and Komodo dragons until 13,000 years ago. In other words, human beings far smaller than previously imagined - no larger than leprechauns - co-existed with normal-sized humans on this remote island. Needless to say, the world has been agog ever since.

If your first reaction is to think this is either a forgotten chapter from Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World or the most brilliant scientific hoax in human history, I'm not surprised. (More about scepticism presently.) Science has had to admit the existence of meteorites (once not believed in) and more recently giant rogue waves, so why not tiny humans? Once upon a time gorillas and Komodo dragons weren't believed in either.

The climactic discovery of the first hobbit occurs about a third way into the book - prior to that point, the authors give a sober outline of various background aspects – methods of excavation and dating, plate tectonics, the Wallace line, the twin theories of human origin and so forth. This effectively sets the scene for the (literally) earth-shattering discovery of the first hominid bones. The announcement provoked a media explosion of nuclear proportions - 200 enquiries a day for the first week, 98,000 websites and articles in 7000 newspapers plus a lead feature in National Geographic, world circulation ten million copies.

So far so good. Now the plot thickens. While Morwood was in Australia, his Indonesian colleague handed over the hominid remains to Professor Leuku Jacob, “the undisputed king of paleoanthropology in Indonesia.” The bones were eventually returned but according to Morwood, moulds had been taken in a way that caused serious damage to the remains. Further, Jacob spearheaded a counterclaim that the hominids, rather than being a new species of homo sapiens, were in fact pygmies suffering from microcephalis – a pathological explanation of the unusually small skulls. Morwood and his colleagues staunchly maintain that the teeth and the pelvis shape and other healthy characteristics plus long term existence on Flores suggest that the hominids were not microcephalic but another kind of human. The unusually small cranial capacity – only 380 cc – is also way below what was thought to be the size for human intelligence to be feasible. Morwood says the skull formation indicates “enlarged frontal and temporal lobes” – precisely those areas concerned with cognition and planning”. Plus the presence of stone artefacts - how could retarded folk have made them?

Unlike the notorious Piltdown man hoax of 1912, and the controversial Tasaday tribe “discovered” in 1971, no one is accusing Morwood of fakery - simply mistaken interpretation of fossil evidence. What would appear to weigh against the sceptic case of Jacob and his supporters is that at least 13 sets of bones have been found all indicating a uniformly small stature plus evidence of hunting skills. In general, the world has accepted Morwood's claims. If future excavations yield still more tiny hominids, Morwood's case will only be strengthened. In the meantime, I would love to speculate that evidence of a race of giants might come to light – though this seems rather less likely. Watch this space.


THE BOOK OF GENERAL IGNORANCE by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson, Faber and Faber, $35

What Edison invention do English speakers use every day? This is one of hundreds of comparable 'trick' questions contained in this snappy little tome. Some of the obvious answers might be the electric light or the phonograph. According to the irritatingly well-informed authors, the correct answer is “Hullo” which they assert was originally used to express surprise but Edison decided a nice loud Hullo! was the best way to kick start an immediately audible phone conversation.

In other words, this book works hard and, in the main, succeeds in revealing unexpected answers, unusual facts, while simultaneously puncturing widespread but erroneous beliefs. My guess is that in some cases the correct answer (that is, if it is correct) will not always be accepted.

I found it hard to swallow that the largest thing the largest living animal on the planet (ie a blue whale) can swallow is a grapefruit. It was sad to read that St Bernard's dogs did not carry brandy barrels around their necks though I do remember brandy being kept in the home as a means of reviving the weak and the swoony. (Perhaps it was the bite of the taste in which case whiskey would have done just as well. Note: James Bond's favourite drink was not the vodka martini but whiskey – mentioned 101 times!) Apparently, the brandy barrel was added “for interest” by an artist in an 1831 painting. So there!

Some items that either surprised, flabbergasted or I found hard to believe – alcohol does not kill brain cells though it does make new cells grow less quickly; Hitler was not a vegetarian though his doctors recommended it as a cure for flatulence (in fact, he ate Bavarian sausage, game pie and stuffed pigeon); feminists did not burn their bras but did throw them in the trash can (the burning detail was added by a journalist); practitioners of Voodoo do not stick pins in dolls.

Among such a litany of myth-busting, it was a relief to read that plaster of Paris really does come from Paris, that cats can fall great heights without injury and that the monicker “poms” is an abbreviation for pomegranates.

Too bad about those people who believe you can see the Great Wall of China from the moon - you can barely make out continents. However, from space – 100 kilometres up - you can make out all sort of objects – motorways, railways, cities, buildings etc.

The only fact I would dispute is the assertion that “from the fourth century BC almost no one anywhere, has believed the earth was flat.” A goodly number of Christian thinkers stated that the earth was flat - these include Lactantius, Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chryostom, Severian, Diodorus of Tarsus and the improbably named Cosmas Indicopleustes. However, it is true that Columbus and his men did NOT think the earth was flat as is often stated - this notion sprung from Washington Irving's popular semi-fictional book about Columbus, published in 1828.

According to one website I visited, Zhang Heng (inventor of the seismograph) was the first to introduce the notion of a round earth into Chinese thought but not until the 2nd century AD – 600 hundred years after the author's date for the widespread acceptance of the roundness of the earth. As late as the early 17the century, the popular belief in China was that the earth was flat.

I have saved two knockout drop-jaw facts till last - the biggest man-made thing on earth is not the Great Wall of China but the Fresh Kills rubbish dump on Staten Island New York and a chicken survived without its head for two years - the axe missed the jugular and it was fed with an eye-dropper. Please don't try this at home.

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AVA GARDNER by Lee Server, Bloomsbury, $59.99

Being hailed as the world's most beautiful woman is enough to swell anyone's head but according to this exhaustive biography it left Ava's down to earth personality more or less intact. In the words of one of MGM's early stars John Gilbert, “Very matter-of-fact about everything, nothing drippy or saccharine about her at all, a real no-nonsense kind of girl”.

When the young Carolina star-to-be arrived at MGM's headquarters, it was the largest dream factory on earth - 117 acres of offices, cottages, laboratories, barnlike soundstages big enough to house zeppelins, plus an artificial lake, a stretch of railroad track, a street of New York tenements, a castle and a patch of African jungle. It had 4000 employees, though just 100 of those were contracted actors, among them the diminutive though perfectly formed Mickey Rooney who, like so many, was instantly smitten with the young Ava. Rooney wound up proposing marriage to Ava 25 times before she said yes. Rooney and Gardner showed spirited determination in defying film mogul Louis B Mayer's decree that they should not get hitched. The marriage went well for a while until Ava, possibly with justification (though Rooney swore otherwise), felt he was being unfaithful.

Ava Gardner had a warm but stormy personality as Howard Hughes, oil tycoon and aviator, discovered. The eccentric billionaire had tried to bribe his way into her affections with expensive gifts but she resisted. An intrusive control-freak, Hughes had her followed and even bugged her room. When he discovered she had a lover (not him) he became inflamed with jealousy and attacked her. Giving as good and more than she received, Ava hit Hughes with a large bronze bell. She was given a steak for her black eye, while the world's richest man was driven off in an ambulance.

Ava's tempestuous life was of course just beginning. A volatile person, alcohol proved a bad mix that helped accelerate natural storms to hurricane or even tornado status. Ava herself could be candid about her faults: “Yes, I am very beautiful but morally I stink”. Such an admission of course never frightened off any new suitors of which there was always a ready supply. After Rooney, she married intellectual musician Artie Shaw and her third marriage to crooner Frank Sinatra assisted in boosting both careers to iconic status.

In an acutely perceptive passage, Server describes the two personalities as very much alike in temperament, tastes, sympathies, neuroses”. Both had taciturn fathers and outgoing mothers, and both hated racial prejudice. According to Server – no reason to doubt his analysis – “both were independent-minded, hotheaded, selfish, possessive, suspicious - traits intensified by the alcohol of which they were equally fond; they were both generous, open, affectionate, sensitive, funny.” And, of course, both very voraciously promiscuous - a trait that does not lend itself to happiness. Though their marriage predictably ended after bitter quarreling, their bond lasted until Gardner's death at the relatively early age of 67.

Beside Hughes, Sinatra and Rooney, many other rich and/or famous individuals passed through Ava's meteoric career, among them Clark Gable, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Mitchum, Humphrey Bogart, Fidel Castro, Robert Graves, Adlai Stevenson, George C. Scott, Man Ray, John Houston, New Zealand plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe and champion bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguin (and yes, Ava did try her hand at bullfighting).

Server's sardonic-cynical-American style is not always to my taste but he gives an exhaustive treatment of Gardner's roller-coaster life plus a very full analysis of some of her important films such as the memorable The Killers which launched Burt Lancaster's glittering career. The question sometimes asked of such glamorous stars is – but can they really act? In Gardner 's case, having watched several of her classic films, I can say the answer has to be a resounding yes. Despite her many faults, Gardner seems to have been one of those uniquely charming individuals who wind up being forgiven by everyone - even those she hurt the most.

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THE FAINTER by Damien Wilkins, Victoria University Press, $30

I have enjoyed and been impressed by Damien Wilkins's earlier novels The Miserables and Little Masters but regrettably The Fainter, his fifth novel, is a lesser work. Billed as a comedy of manners, it has the drawing room concentration of the genre but little of its dance. By tradition, the comedy of manners is associated with a style of English theatre from the 17th century (eg William Wycherley, William Congreve), which was given a new lease of life by Oscar Wilde. In more recent times, the notion has been linked to Joe Orton, Noel Coward, Marcel Proust and many others. It has been said to find its comic effect in the contrast between codes of expected mannerly behaviour and the ironically concealed motives of self interest shown by the characters. The comic effects of The Fainter are marginal and its sense of theatre weak.

The novel's character is Luke, a youthful diplomat evidently on the rise – he is a junior legal adviser on Environmental law to the New Zealand wing of the Permanent Mission at the United Nations. One night he witnesses a murder in the streets of New York but it's never altogether clear what he sees and that makes his onlooker role curiously passive. Seemingly, this event is central to the book but its dramatic follow through is oddly muted. Like Luke himself, it seems to have fallen asleep on the job i.e. fainted Generally, Luke is more passive than a central character can afford to be.

As the novel's focus shifts to Luke's stay with his sister's farming family in South Canterbury a more straightforward conflict ensues – that between the bookish fellow with soft hands surrounded by more mannish types who farm, pilot glider craft and so forth. The dialogue tends more to the banal and lifelike rather than the witty but there is one glorious burst when it is suggested that Kerry O'Keefe, Luke's retired boss turned amateur military historian, has gone over to the “dark side.” “Bestiality?” 'The National Party.” Ouch! Generally there is more interest in the mild frisson of his on-going bruising at the hand of Alec, who ironically is rescued by Luke from choking, than Luke's lack-lustre interest in Sheila, Alec's wife.

There are intriguing bits of political consciousness and know-how scattered slyly through the text and some focus on the way the late David Lange's oratory and political style impacted on an impressionable Luke. Alas, Luke is no Lange in the making neither in political clout or wit. Here and there are traces of the old Wilkins' magic but on the whole it is a curiously dull and unfocused performance. The atmosphere of the text is disconcertingly cosy and complacent. Perhaps the author needs to be parachuted into a more dangerous zone for a few weeks.


Posted by Ian Wishart at 11:21 PM | Comments (0)

Northern Queensland: March 07 issue

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The Back of Beyond

Ecotourism adventures abound in northern Australia's Queensland, writes Tim Johnson

CAPE TRIBULATION, Australia - It might have been the primeval forest noises. Or perhaps it was the tree-climbing kangaroos. It also could have been the cassowary, a flightless bird as tall as a grown man.

As we hiked out of one of the world's oldest rainforests, our older daughter put into words what we'd been sensing for several days.

"I feel like I'm visiting Jurassic Park," she said.

The northeast region of Australia - far northern Queensland - comprises an extraordinary variety of habitats. Over a few days, you can snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, hike through rainforest and visit the nearby tablelands rimming the dry Outback.

My family is currently based in Beijing, where the weather is chilly in winter, so the idea of a year-end holiday to sunny Australia seemed comforting: no struggles with a foreign language, a chance to visit some Australian friends, and plenty of familiar stores and food.

What we didn't fully expect was the stunning diversity of environments we'd see in northern Queensland, and the never-seen-before wildlife. The vacation began on the right foot with a few days in Sydney, where we soaked up the city's hilly charm, cruising in the harbor and walking the coastal trail south of Bondi Beach.

Then it was on to encounters with red-legged pademelons, bandicoots, Papuan frogmouths, assassin bugs and even a Wompoo fruit-dove, with its hallucinogenic colors.

The domestic flight landed in Cairns (pronounced "cans" in the local inflection), where you can rent a car, take a deep breath and drive north. A bright yellow dashboard sticker reminded us that the Australians drive, like the British, on the left side of the road.

Driving was a breeze. Using the turn signals was another matter. I repeatedly activated the windshield wipers when I meant to turn, drawing howls from the girls, aged 15 and 9.

An hour's drive north of Cairns is Port Douglas, a resort town that was our temporary base for explorations. To the west, cloud-shrouded mountains loomed; to the east, we gazed on the Coral Sea and the longest barrier reef in the world.

The vacation was loosely planned, and we made quick alterations. Australia was a little pricier than we expected on a $350-a-day budget for our family of four, so instead of eating out constantly we made use of the kitchenette in our rental unit. To our delight, we found that many hotels offered "self-contained units" with kitchens. Nearly all offered communal areas with facilities to barbecue, a national pastime.

Australia's northern beaches are awash in "stingers" - jellyfish - during the summer months, so the next day we headed north to Mossman River Gorge, a rainforest park. The girls delighted in the swinging bridge over a creek that cascaded over boulders, and the tangle of vines and giant ferns amid lush trees.

Walking around the Port Douglas marina in the evening, we made reservations to board the Aristocat, a double-decker catamaran, for a snorkeling visit to the outer reef, a highlight of any trip to Australia.

Among the 60 or 70 visitors the next day was a large contingent of young Japanese divers, and a smattering of Europeans and North Americans. We all donned stinger suits - lighter than wetsuits - to neutralize any encounters with jellyfish, and slid into the water.

Below were giant clams, sea cucumbers, white-tipped reef sharks, barracuda, butterfly fish and a rainbow array of other tropical fish and coral polyps.

As often happens, our girls enjoyed the wondrous sea life but they were equally amused by the sideshows on the boat: the handful of retching, seasick passengers and the group cheers that the Japanese divers gave before entering the water.

Without knowing much about the interior high plateau, known locally as the tablelands, we piled into the car the next day and climbed a thousand feet through the rainforest and into dry rolling plains and farmland. Huge termite mounds poked out of the earth. Pioneering towns with names such as Mareeba and Yungaburra dotted the map. At a fruit stand, we bought mangoes after considering the litchi nuts, passion fruit and other tropical delights.

Late that afternoon, after we'd found a simple rental cabin, my wife exclaimed as we drove along a country road: "Stop! There's a cassowary!"

Sure enough, one of the huge birds emerged from woods at the shoulder of the road. A cousin of the ostrich, the cassowary has a bulbous helmet on its head and a long blue neck, and sometimes stands more than 6 feet tall. It can be aggressive. Signs in national parks warn that the birds' sharp, powerful talons can do terrible damage to a man with a single kick to the abdomen.

Days later we learned that Australia's endangered cassowary population is only around 1,500. Wild dogs, the loss of its habitat and speeding cars have taken a toll.

A day later at the Granite Gorge, a private nature park with rock outcroppings amid scattered gum trees, we spotted our first rock wallabies, which are smaller than kangaroos but look similar. Our 9-year-old jumped with excitement when given a bag of feed and told she could lure wild wallabies from their shady lairs and hand-feed them. Hours later, sweating profusely in the midday sun, she could barely be pulled away.

A special treat awaited us that night back in the rainforest: a tour with Dr. David Rentz, an entomologist, who led us on a night walk around our cabin grounds in Kuranda. Illuminating his way by headlamp, Rentz pointed out huge nests of orange-footed scrub fowl, glow-in-the-dark fungus and assassin bugs ("They pierce other bugs with that mouth part and suck their juices out"). He also deployed an ultrasonic device that allowed us to listen to insect and bat sounds that usually are beyond the range of human hearing.

"See that?" he asked. Two eyes stared from the brush. "That's a bandicoot."

A marsupial about the size of a possum, the bandicoot scampered off. Moments later, a group of wallabies, known as red-legged pademelons, emerged from the bush.

We meandered a day later to the crocodile-infested Daintree National Park and splurged to stay at the Red Mill House, a bird lovers' bed-and-breakfast with binoculars and bird books scattered on the verandahs. Owners Andrew and Trish Forsyth handed us a bird checklist, and we quickly ticked off rainbow lorikeets, kookaburras, figbirds and gerygones, all hitherto unknown to us. Some 500 species of birds inhabit or migrate through the northwest Queensland region.

At dawn during a boat excursion, we spotted an owl lookalike known as the Papuan Frogmouth, as well as snakes, butterflies and a tiny crocodile. Like most visitors, we were fixated on the crocodiles, staring at TV newscasts and reading aloud newspaper reports of multiple crocodile attacks on humans that occurred during our holiday.

Crocodile meat was on the menu at the Papaya Cafe in the Daintree Village, with this description: "ground crocodile meat and water chestnuts in crisp wonton wrappers, served with chili plum sauce." The waitress told us more about croc meat.

"It's got the texture of pork, the color of fish and the taste of chicken," she said.

We gave it a pass.

The next day, we came across a mountain lookout with a cluster of tourists pointing into a canopy of trees where two tree kangaroos nibbled on leaves. Only later, as other guides came by, did we learn that such a sighting is rare.

We'd come to expect rare things in Australia.

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IF YOU GO:
All figures given are in Aust. dollars.

AIR TRAVEL IN AUSTRALIA: We made domestic travel arrangements through www.flightcentre.com.au, which has cut-rate airfares.

WHERE TO STAY: Australia offers a huge variety of lodging, from ubiquitous and cheap backpacker hostels to hotels, motels and full resorts. We made some arrangements through www.hotel.com.au, which includes reviews of hotels from users. In Port Douglas, we liked the Mango Tree Holiday Apartments (www.mango-tree-port-douglas.com), where we paid about $175 a night for a two-room apartment. In Daintree Village, the Red Mill House (www.redmillhouse.com.au) is a delightful small B&B surrounded by towering trees. We had two adjoining rooms for which we paid $225 per night, including a hearty breakfast. In the tablelands, we found furnished cabins for $90 to $115 a night. They were generally at parks for recreational-vehicle users.

RENTAL CARS: The Cairns airport has a number of rental car companies, including all major global brands. We rented a Toyota Corolla from Hertz with unlimited mileage, negotiating a weekly rate of $299 without a reservation.

TRIPS TO GREAT BARRIER REEF: Port Douglas has a number of companies that offer high-speed catamarans for snorkeling and scuba trips to the outer reefs. We took a trip by Aristocat (www.aristocat.com.au) that cost $500 for two adults and two children, including all snorkeling gear and lunch. Calypso (www.calypsocharters.com.au) and Poseidon (www.poseidon-cruises.com.au) have trips at similar prices.

GUIDED NATURE EXCURSIONS: The highlights of our trip were outings with naturalists. In the Kuranda area, northwest of Port Douglas, Dr. David C. Rentz, an insect expert with a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley, led three of us on a two-hour night hike. Cost: $60. He can be reached at orthop1(at)tpg.com.au. In Daintree Village, we hooked up with Mangrove Adventures, led by Dan Irby, an Oklahoman with long years of experience in Queensland. Irby's Web site is www.mangroveadventures.com.au. He offered us a two-hour boating trip for four people for $199.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 10:25 PM | Comments (0)