Public Lecture by Professor Farhad Khosrokhavar

August 29, 2008

The nature of contemporary Jihadism:

Motivations of suicide bombers


Farhad Khosrokhavar

co-hosted by

the Centre for Middle East and North African Studies

and the Innovative Universities European Union Centre

Free Public Lecture: Tuesday 2 September, 7pm.Theatre I, Building W5A (please see campus map).

Farhad Khosrokhavar is full professor at Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, France. He was a visiting professor at Yale University for spring 2008. His main fields of study are Islam in Europe, in particular the radical forms of religion and Iranian society after the Islamic revolution.

He has published extensively. His latest books are: Muslims in Prison : a comparative perspective between Great Britain and France (with James Beckford et Danièle Joly), Palgrave, London, 2005 and Suicide Bombers, The New Martyrs of Allah, Pluto Press, Michigan University Press, 2005

Professor Khosrokhavar will speak about the nature of contemporary Jihadism. The motivations of suicide bombers cannot be reduced to a single item. In the Middle Eastern jihadism, many Jihadists are from the professional, middle class people. In Europe, they are more mixed, many would-be jihadists are from the lower or lower-middle classes and they refer to a brand of Islam which is not as “internalized” as in the Middle East. The task is not so much profiling as to understand the types of jihadists in reference to their social origin, cultural background and their mutual relationships within the district as well as the voluntary associations.

The lecture is free, but booking prior to 29 August is essential: or 02 9850-7915.

For further information check the Centre’s website at

Time to honestly debate Israel/Palestine

August 28, 2008

Robustly debating Zionism has existed for as long as its existence. Jews, historically a persecuted people, were unafraid to discuss the merits or otherwise of the plan to establish a Jewish state in Palestine.

Tragically, something has changed and left many elements of mainstream Judaism and its cheer-squad paranoid about even acknowledging faults may exist within the Zionist ideal. Presumably occupation and bombing refugee camps are traditional Jewish traits.

The recent attacks by right-wing attack dog Andrew Bolt – and the subsequent response by Macquarie University’s Middle East and North African Studies Centre, of which I am a board member – is systematic of this profound failing and insecurity.

Now we have the unedifying spectacle of a leading Australian politician writing to the Federal Education Minister concerned about Kaldoun’s “hate-filled and provocative attacks against Israel, the Jewish people and others who are friends of Israel.” The aim? To close this site down permanently, or at least force its contributors to subscribe to a more “pro-Israel” position.

As a Jewish author and journalist who has written about Israel/Palestine for years, published a best-selling book about it, My Israel Question, and argued regularly with the self-appointed guardians of the Jewish community, this latest ham-fisted attempt is nothing more than a desperate attempt to silence public debate about a conflict that increasingly embarrasses Israel. And for good reason.

Just this week leading Israeli peace group Peace Now announced that the illegal occupation of Palestinian land is growing at a worrying rate. Again. A recent report released by the Israel Bar at Hadarim Detention Centre and Hasharon Prison found widespread use of torture and intimidation, especially against the Palestinians, in the Israeli prison system.

Video cameras are increasingly capturing the barbarity of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, men, women and children who live without sanction for abusing Palestinians on a daily basis. A study last year by The Association for Civil Rights in Israel found that 50% of Israelis taking part said they would not live in the same building as Arabs, would not befriend, or let their children befriend Arabs and would not let Arabs into their homes.

I’ll no doubt be accused of being “anti-Israel” for daring to state such facts but this is the reality of the Jewish state today. Yes, the Palestinians commit crimes, including Hamas and Fatah, and I condemn them unequivocally, but this is not my focus. The Jewish state is racially discriminatory and destined, in my opinion, not to survive for another 60 years.

Over the years I’ve witnessed in Australia but especially in America a campaign of unrelenting pressure by the Zionist lobby against anybody, Jewish or otherwise, who doesn’t speak the “official line” on Israel.

Articulating an alternative Jewish identity and publicly calling for the separation of Zionism and Judaism quickly resulted for me in learning the “rules” of the game imposed by the Zionist establishment. All Jews must support the Jewish State. Any action carried out by the state is defensible, justified and moral. Any public criticism of Israel will be assumed to be anti-Semitic. If Israel is to be criticized, it should only be in hushed tones and in private. Dare to challenge these “rules”, and expect to be bombarded, invariably from fellow Jews, with hate mail, death-threats and public abuse.

Despite these realities, the Jewish state finds itself in a precarious position, addicted to colonisation of Palestinian territory. Ironically for Israel, its inability to remove settlements from occupied land has now made a two-state solution impossible. The alternative? A one-state environment, with Jews as a minority. Equal rights for all citizens is the only answer to Israel/Palestine conflict. “Zionism — contemporary Jewish nationalism — is unlikely to bring Israel peace, because of its failure, or inability, to accord full equality to the claims of others”, wrote New York Jewish blogger, Tony Karon, on Israel’s 60th anniversary.

A year before my Middle East book was released, in 2005, the then only Jewish Federal Member of Parliament, Michael Danby, publicly called for my publisher, Melbourne University Press, not to proceed. He supposedly worried the work would be an extremist text. Since the Zionist lobby aren’t particularly media savvy, this kind of slander, and the subsequent campaign by various Jewish groups, assisted the book becoming a best-seller that recently moved to a 5th reprint. More importantly, however, was the wider community being able to see the kinds of tactics utilised by certain elements of the Zionist mafia, so insecure in their love for Israel that any alternative views must be stopped. Sadly for them, they failed miserably (similar tactics were attempted last year when I co-founded Independent Australian Jewish Voices.)

The current campaign to silence Khaldoun is in the same sordid tradition. For decades after Israel’s formation, the heroic Zionist narrative was the primary version heard in the Western world. The Palestinians were unpeople, ignored and demonised. Today, the situation is different. Arabs are still routinely shunned and their political aspirations crushed – usually by US-backed dictatorships in the Middle East – but new voices are being heard, critical of Israel, Zionism, occupation and US policies in the region. This scares the Zionist community, hence regular attempts to try and throw the “anti-Semitic” tag against anybody who challenges mainstream Zionist thinking.

Andrew Bolt’s understanding of the Middle East is determining how many more countries the West should invade to bring “liberation” to the backward Arabs. Politicians who share this view and have campaigned against this site will inevitably fail because they’re doing the bidding of powerful forces that are using them for their own censorious ends. Is this what the Australian people believe should happen in a democracy?

A story told to me by a good friend perfectly illustrates the fundamental problem within the mainstream Zionist community. A friend of his went to Israel and Poland on the Birthright program, aimed to instil in young Jews a love of the Jewish state. After visiting Auschwitz and waving the Israeli flag in the holy place – an almost grotesque example of Holocaust porn – the men and women were shown around Israel. One night they were in the Jordan Valley and as the sun was setting one of their guides decided to role-play as a Palestinian from the West Bank (the group had not visited the Palestinian territories nor spoken to any Arabs on the trip.)

The guide, playing a Palestinian, told of certain hardships in the West Bank due to the occupation but said he understood why Israel had to implement such a tough “security” regime because his brother was a “terrorist” who wanted to kill Jews.

That’s right. The only “interaction” with Palestinians for these young Jews was with an Israeli Jew who was role-playing. After the experience, the friend said he “better understood” what the Palestinians were going through under occupation.

I can’t think of a better example of the kind of supreme delusion within mainstream Zionism towards the Palestinians. The other side simply doesn’t exist, shouldn’t exist and can’t exist for the Zionist “dream” to survive. The other side are never ready for peace and their leaders are never compliant enough.

The fear of allowing alternative voices to be heard on the Israel/Palestine conflict is really a display of deep weakness. Accusing critics of being “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic” is the perfect way to mask this disease.

Free Gaza boats are going fishing

August 26, 2008

From the Free Gaza campaign:

We’re going fishing

25 August 2008

NOTE on fishing restrictions imposed by Israel on the fishermen of Gaza.  These restrictions are also intended to stop Palestinians from reaching the outside world and from the world reaching Gaza.  Israeli naval boats and warships constantly patrol the waters to prevent any breach of the prohibited area.   The boats of human rights activists openly defied this clear and present danger to challenge Israel’s claim that it no longer occupies Gaza.  It remains to be seen if their safe arrival on the shores of Gaza will in fact mean that the Palestinians will finally have access to the outside world once the media spotlight is no longer trained on the area.  The 1.4 million population ammed into this tiny strip of land has no way of getting out through the land crossing points either.   Israeli forces prevent exit and entry whether it is for work, medical needs, studying requirements or family and social visits.  Simply, Israel prevents the very real human right of Palestinians to move freely in and out of their own territory.  Israel claims that this is not occupation. In fact, it is worse:  Gaza is a maximum security prison where the “inmates” are completely at the mercy of their jailer, Israel. Read the rest of this entry »

Diaspora Theatre

August 22, 2008

As part of my PhD research I spend a lot of time reading literature written from the Lebanese diaspora (Amin Maalouf is perhaps my favorite).  Last week I had the opportunity to see a play that is written by the Lebanese-Canadian Wajdi Mouawad.  Scorched, like some of the novels I read, was an intense and intimate story of a brother and sister (twins in fact) in search of their roots.  Their recently deceased mother, a migrant from “the old country”, sets them along this path and as a result the audience is taken back to the brutal days of Lebanon’s civil war.  The twins’ quest to uncover their history in order to make sense of their mother’s refusal to talk in the last five years of her life is, to my mind, a central concern of the play.  Of course unearthing one’s origins or history is of particular importance to any diasporic community but I think has a particular significance in the Lebanese context.  As I watched the play (it is three hours long!) I was reminded of the Arabic phrase “so and so is without origins” (hayda bala asil).  In my experience this is used as an insult against a person who is deemed to be of questionable character, who seems to lack authenticity or virtue.  As a result I think we can assume that in Lebanese culture, and perhaps generally in Arab culture, having ‘good’ origins and knowing your origins is a crucial measure of self worth and value.   


Given this importance it is only fair that the play’s narrative sees the twins discover their history and family story.  But there is an interesting twist at the end of the performance which left the whole idea of finding one’s “true” origins in an ambivalent state.  I don’t want to give too much of the plot away (you really should see this play!) but I can say that the unsettled nature of the play is part of the broader theme of the push and pull between “roots” and “routes” within the diaspora literature I have been reading.  In short, as some commentators in diaspora studies have noted, to emphasise one form of roots/routes over the other leaves one part of any diasporan’s story under represented and, dare I say, inauthentic.  I think by its conclusion Mouawad’s play shows the importance of a necessary oscillation between the two forms within the Lebanese diaspora. 



If you’ve seen the play let me know what your thoughts are.  And if you haven’t you better get to it – it’s showing until 7 September.


To learn more about the play and book tickets please visit the Belvoir Street Theatre website at


To learn more about Wajdi Mouawad go to

What is the link between Macquarie University and Khaldoun?

August 20, 2008

Barry O’Farrell, the opposition leader for New South Wales, has recently written to the Vice-Chancellor of Macquarie University and to Australian Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard urging them to investigate and censor Khaldoun for being a “hate-filled,” “anti-Israel propaganda website.”  A Macquarie University spokesperson, Greg Walsh, has provided the following response which affirms the university’s commitment to the principles of freedom of speech.  Instead of calling for censorship of perspectives they disagree with, Walsh patiently observes, Khaldoun’s critics might better uphold the principles of democracy and free speech by engaging in reasoned debate on this site, or “better still start a blog of their own.”

With Greg’s permission, we thought it worthwhile to publish the entirety of Macquarie’s response here to clarify the relationship between Macquarie University and Khaldoun.

–L.L. Wynn

The recent case of internet censorship by the Chinese Government during the Beijing Olympics is a timely reminder that freedom of speech and access to differing points of view are not rights shared by all peoples of the world.

Throughout history, universities have contributed toward the development of democracy and freedom of speech in society by being places where academics could present and argue theories and points of view – no matter how controversial.

The academics commenting on the Khaldoun blogsite – which is not a Macquarie University site – are expressing their professional opinions on subject matter well within the area of their appointment: Middle East politics. The University does not either endorse their views, or those of their critics, our role is simply to ensure the University is a place where different views are tolerated and debated without prejudice.

A measure of the strength of freedom of speech in a society is its ability to tolerate the expression of ideas, even those that may cause some within that society to feel annoyed or hurt. The alternative – the suppression of ideas – only erodes free speech and democracy.

The University does not expect everyone who reads the postings on the Khaldoun blogsite to agree with them, that is the nature of debate – particularly in the area of politics. But rather than calling for the site to be censored, those with a differing point of view could always post a critical response backed up by their evidence, as others have done, or better still start a blog of their own. If they feel statements on the site contravene any specific legislation, then they should pursue complaints with relevant authorities. These are the sorts of measures that democratic societies provide in order to protect freedom of speech.

Macquarie University will not monitor the blog site or try to tell the blog’s authors what to publish or what views to hold. That would be the antithesis of what a university in a free society stands for. Read the rest of this entry »

More on the Free Gaza Movement

August 20, 2008

Following the previous post concerning the Free Gaza Movement I received this article that I also thought worthy of publishing. It is written by Stuart Littlewood who is the author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. What Littlewood outlines in the following article are some of the divisions amongst Palestinians, particularly the PA who do not seem to be supporting the efforts of volunteers trying to break the siege in Gaza.

When the Boats Arrive in Gaza
Stuart Littlewood, 15 August 2008

Is the Palestinian Authority for or against the siege? While others put on a show of solidarity with the brave ‘freedom’ voyagers as they set sail to break the siege of Gaza, where is the voice of the PA?

The siege has been going on for more than 2 years but here in the UK I have heard the Palestinian Delegation speak only once of the injustice, suffering and devastation. As far as I know, these ‘official’ representatives of the Palestinian people have said nothing in the media about the freedom boats, which potentially present the most important challenge to the Israeli occupation for a very long time.

Volunteers are doing in their small way what the EU – if it had a shred of moral decency – should have done massively with cargo ships, helicopters and the necessary armed escorts when this offence against every code of humanity was first committed. The slightest interference by Israel, or attempt to re-seal Gaza’s borders, should have resulted in the EU-Israel Agreements being torn up and consigned to the wastepaper basket of history. Read the rest of this entry »

Palestine coverage through 18 August 08

August 19, 2008

This selection of 18 articles from the week between August 11 and August 18th reflects some of the main issues being covered, not including the death of Mahmoud Darwish and Raja Shehadeh’s hiking through the hilltops of the West Bank. Another thing not covered (other than in the two concluding commentaries below, #s 17 and 18) is the so-called “shelf agreement” for Israel’s final borders proposed by Olmert to Abbas. While such an offer would normally dominate the news in any given week, the utter emptiness of the offer (no viable Palestinian territory, no equitable exchange for lands annexed) is not worth comment beyond the two pieces at the end of this selection laying out precisely why the “shelf agreement” is a non-starter.

Despite this, there is news of diplomatic activity from Rice’s apparent plan for another trip to the region, to Olmert’s “gesture to Abbas” of releasing 200 arbitrarily detained (i.e., abducted) Palestinian prisoners, to efforts to resolve controversy over one recent example of attempted Israeli colonization of further Palestinian land in the West Bank (through new outposts) by simply moving the outpost adjacent to another parcel of land illegally occupied by Israelis (turning the outpost debate to one about settlement expansion). And so the deck furniture is rearranged by yet another Israeli government clinging to the sinking ship of settlements while purportedly supporting a two-state solution.

Several articles below speak to the receding hopes for any two-state solution, precisely as a result of such strategies on the part of the Israeli government. An additional theme of the selection below is the continuing harassment, torture and murder to which Palestinians are daily subjected by Israel — ranging from the story about the exoneration of those who killed Palestinian journalist Fadel Shana, to stories about settler attacks on Palestinians, to the priceless piece on the apartheid system of 1948-Israel, where Palestinian citizens are not permitted in municipal swimming pools.

Finally, as Ramadan approaches it is fitting to include coverage of the ongoing shortages in Gaza, forcing a run on banks and restrictions on the desperate measures taken by Palestinians — e.g., trying to run cars on cooking oil — in order to avoid an even more extreme food shortage, i.e. the lack of cooking oil for Gazans to prepare their Ramadan iftar meals. As ever, a review of the week’s news from Palestine leaves one with little to do but hope that the next week proves somewhat less dire.

Read the rest of this entry »