Monthly Archives: May 2012

Ayaan Hirsi Ali – Enemy of Islam

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 37, faced terrible adversity from a young age in her native Somalia and now aims to reveal the “truth” about Islam and its treatment of women.

*first published in the Australian Women’s Weekly, 28/6/07

Her strident views on Islam have earned the Somali-born author, film-maker, politician and human rights campaigner Ayaan Hirsi Ali fame. controversy, a Nobel Peace Prize nomination – and countless death threats, writes David Leser.


Ayaan Hirsi Ali doesn’t look or sound dangerous but if her enemies had their way she’d be dead. A public stoning perhaps, or a bomb detonated in the middle of the night, or even an attack in broad daylight, like the one that finished off her friend Theo van Gogh’s three years ago. That’s the degree of hatred she inspires.

Never was this made more apparent than on that chilling Amsterdam morning two and a half years ago when van Gogh, the maverick Dutch film-maker, was cycling to work during rush hour and a Muslim extremist by the name of Mohammed Bouyeri stepped out from the shadows to shoot him eight times.

Van Gogh staggered on for a few metres and then, according to witnesses, twice begged his assailant for mercy. “Can’t we can talk about this,” he pleaded in words that sound today like the dying gasps of the Enlightenment.

Bouyeri, a Dutch-born citizen of Moroccan descent, was not interested in talking. He drew two butcher’s knives from under his jellaba  (Middle Eastern outer garment) and with one of them slit the film-maker’s throat. With the other, he impaled a letter on his victim’s chest, addressed to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It read, in part: “You will break yourself to pieces on Islam. You, oh America, will go down. You oh Netherlands will go down … You, oh Hirsi Ali, will go down.”

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SYDNEY WRITERS’ FEST – TMI (Too Much Information)

Don’t miss what will surely be an insightful, provocative and no doubt amusing exploration of exactly how much information is ‘Too Much Information’ with three brilliant but very different contemporary memoirists. The talk will be facilitated by acclaimed feature writer and author, David Leser.

THURSDAY 17th MAY, 10-11AM.

Pier 2/3 Main Stage

** This is a ticketed event.

“How much do you tell when writing a memoir? Lemon Andersen (County of Kings), Joshua Cody ([sic]) and Marieke Hardy (You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead) decide if there is any such thing as Too Much Information.”

For more information and ticketing please go to:,com_events/Itemid,124/agid,3113/task,view_detail/

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SYDNEY WRITERS’ FESTIVAL – Interview with the Interrogator.

David Leser will be facilitating both interviews and discussion panels at the 2012 Sydney Writers’ Festival.
Don’t miss the opportunity to attend the thrilling Interview with the Interrogator.
Interview with the Interrogator – Thursday, May 17. 2.30-3.30pm at Sydney Theatre at Walsh Bay. 
*(This is a ticketed event)
Glenn Carle says he would not use physical torture when interrogating a supposed top al Qaeda operative rendered to one of the CIA’s notorious black sites overseas. Carle, who later served as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Transnational Threats (i.e., terrorism) – the US Intelligence Community’s most senior position for terrorism analysis – is the only CIA officer to have spoken out, and written, about rendition, detention, interrogation, and torture. He talks to David Leser about his autobiography The Interrogator (heavily redacted by the CIA) and how he wrestled with what defined his real duty to his country.
To see the entire interview please click here:
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ASHER KEDDIE – The Girl Who Played Ita.

From Ita’s lisp to Blanche’s vulnerability, Asher Keddie has made celebrity roles her own. Yet there’s more to this versatile actress than mere mimicry, as David Leser discovers.

Ita Buttrose and Asher Keddie are at dinner in a small chic restaurant in Sydney’s Surry Hills, a week before filming is due to begin on the ABC mini series, Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo.

Asher is … how shall we put it? Perspiring. And not just because the night is steamy. Next to her is one of the most famous women in the country, the woman she’s about to try and embody on the screen as a 30 year-old magzine editor launching the ground-breaking magazine, Cleo, in 1972.

It’s only the second time the two have met and Asher – never one to be easily intimidated – is suddenly aware that her every movement and expression is being scrutinised.

“Will you stop that?” Ita commands.

“What?” the actor replies.

“You’re sitting like me.”

“No I’m not.”

“Yes, you are .”

And then they both burst out laughing, to the blessed relief of everyone else at the table. Here – for the student of characterisation and subplot – is a delicious example  of the observed (Ita) observing the observer (Asher) and both observer and observed approving of what they see.

“Her hands were imitating where mine were – on the side of my face or under my chin,” Ita happily recalls to the Weekly now (a magazine she, herself, edited in the mid 1970s) and I have never seen anyone doing that before.” (If truth be known, Asher Keddie’s been doing it since she was a child.)

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GINA RINEHART – The Richest Woman on Earth

Fate has given Gina Rinehart both blessings and curses – unimaginable wealth and poisoned personal relationships. On her way to becoming the richest woman on the planet, writes David Leser, the “Iron Maiden” has fought numerous court cases and now finds herself in a bitter battle with three of her four children.

It’s hard to know where to start with Gina Rinehart, Australia’s richest person. Perhaps with that history-making image of her father, Lang Hancock, flying over the remote Pilbara region of Western Australia 60 years ago and discovering the world’s biggest iron ore deposit.

Or maybe the spectacular falling out between this hard-boiled, visionary prospector and his daughter nearly 30 years later when Gina realised the Filipino housekeeper she’d hired to look after her father had – ahem – assumed duties well beyond her assigned brief.

Or possibly the manner of Lang Hancock’s death in 1992 when, drowning in his own fluids from cystic kidneys and renal failure, he was then thrown into the psychological anguish of seeing his only acknowledged daughter and third wife, Rose Lacson – the aforementioned Filipino housekeeper – warring over the spoils of his vast minerals wealth?

(Lang Hancock is said to have fathered an illegitimate half-Aboriginal daughter.)

All these points of entry would take us into one of the great unwritten mini-series of our times, but they would only touch the tip of a jaw-dropping narrative that has fascinated – and appalled – Australians for decades.

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