I have listened with great interest to this week’s parliamentary debate about Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan, just as I have listened with great interest to this debate for the past nine years, since October 7th, 2001, when Operation Enduring Freedom was launched by the United States and its allies, including Australia, so that freedom so bravely won by the people of Afghanistan from communist oppression, and so cruelly lost over the following decade to civil war and Taliban misrule, may indeed return, and this time endure.
I have listened to this debate and heard many arguments that we should abandon our mission in Afghanistan.
Some of these arguments are passionate, others cold and rational; some seem sincere, while others callous. And all of them are wrong.
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The world is entering a new dynamic which is merely a repetition of the recasting of the political, social and economic order that has happened for as long as man can write about it.
History is punctuated with the ebbs and flows of kingdoms, empires and political movements and the conflicts that are always apparent at the peripheries of influence that abuts competing interests. In the past, the cycle of influence was over, sometimes thousands and generally hundreds of years.
From the initial cultivation of land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and the Sumerian civilisation, to the Greeks, to the Romans, to the Qin Dynasty, the first imperial dynasty of the Chinese, to the British Empire, we notice that the rise and fall of empires accelerates as technology, personified by communications, military hardware, economic processes and other associated influences advances.
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For an oppressed group, the opportunity to obtain the attention of the international community lasts for a very short time. So it has proved for the Tamil community of Sri Lanka.
Indeed, the threats and oppression in Sri Lanka extend to anyone who might dare to criticise the government.
In mid May, as the Tamil Tiger (“the LTTE”) resistance came to an end and government forces shelled areas full of civilians, the world was outraged and demanded that the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa seek conciliation with the Tamil community of the South Asian island nation.
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Before this commentary gets underway, I feel that it is necessary to close the gate before the horse bolts. So first up, let me say that I am not anti-Islamic, I have lived as a Muslim woman from the age of seventeen until I was twenty two (and admittedly, found it not to my liking for a number of reasons).
Much of my professional life has been spent working with, and for Muslim people in the war zones of Bosnia Herzogovina, Kosovo and Albania as an humanitarian relief worker, and I have traveled and worked extensively in the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Asia - so I have seen quite a bit of the world and can compare how varying societies adapt the Islamic religion to the cultural morays and sensitivities of their regions.
Tory Maguire’s piece yesterday and the reader’s comments that followed had much to say on the reasons often cited by western media and society about what is believed to be the motivation for Muslim women to don the burqa and headscarves.
The common, misinformed perception is that Muslim women mostly wear the burqa to express their religious devotion.
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If I was married to Carla Bruni I wouldn’t be a big fan of the burqa either, so it is perhaps no surprise that French President Nicholas Sarkozy is not in favour of women covering themselves from head to toe.
But Sarkozy’s forceful condemnation of the Islamic shroud as a symbol of female “subservience”, not religious faith, was absolutely right.
There is no greater way, other than locking the front door, to ensure a woman’s total invisibility in society - and thereby formalise her lack of worth - than to cover every inch of her, including her eyes, in heavy fabric.
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