Sunday, July 24, 2005

COMMENT: Howard Should Think Twice Before Listening To Muslim Peak Bodies

Muslim community governance mirrors that of Australian government. Just as we have local councils, Muslims have local mosque societies. These come together to form state and territory councils, similar to our state and territory governments. These councils there come together to form the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC).

Every catholic has heard of Cardinal Pell. Every Anglican has heard of the Jensen’s. But take a walk down Auburn Road in Auburn. Ask the average Muslim whether he or she has heard of AFIC.

Huh? AFIC? Is that some kind of new chocolate ice cream? Cadbury Afic – creamy chocolate filled with extra nuts.

AFIC’s meetings are closed to ordinary Muslims. Further, in NSW, AFIC has made it a practice to create its own rotten borough Islamic councils when it disagrees with existing ones. Already, within a space of 5 years, it has created 3 Islamic councils.

In 2001, it established the Supreme Islamic Council of NSW to replace the Islamic Council of NSW. Then, when it fell out with the Supreme Council, Muslims were already cracking jokes about its replacement and predicted it would be the Super-Supreme Council.

AFIC now has eyes on closing down the Islamic Council of Victoria, one of the few bodies that have acted constructively in relation to the London bombings. AFIC is attempting to find legal loopholes to replace ICV with a Victorian pizza council.

As a result, Muslim New South Welshmen refer to their peak bodies as “the 3 pizza councils”. It all makes for good after-dinner humour. But with the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent in legal fees in Supreme Court battles, few Muslims are now finding it a laughing matter.

AFIC projects itself to governments as the voice of Muslim Australia. Yet it rarely if ever consults with Muslim Australians. The extent to which it is out of touch with Muslim Australia was illustrated after the terrorist attack on Istanbul.

Turkish Australians are perhaps the largest and most established ethnic group in the Australian Muslim communities. Turks control more mosques than any other community, including in rural and regional areas. But when Istanbul was the subject of a terrorist attack, AFIC described the attack as one on the capital of Turkey.

All AFIC had to do was ask one of 200,000 Aussie Turks what the capital of Turkey was. Even “Crazy” John Ilhan knows the answer to that question. Then again, at least they issued a press release on the Istanbul bombing. AFIC’s website has no release over the London bombing.

Believe it or not, the Department of Immigration awarded AFIC a large grant under its “Living in Harmony” project some years back. AFIC spent the money on hiring a media adviser and publishing a few issues of a newspaper. When the grant moneys finished, so did the paper.

AFIC has no idea of who it is representing. It has never conducted any survey or study on Muslim needs or attitudes or social trends. Before the Iraq war, AFIC claimed Muslims as a whole were against the war. And on what basis did they reach this conclusion? Who knows.

Among AFIC’s more controversial decisions was the creation of the position of “mufti” as a means of securing permanent residency for Sheik Taj Hilali. The Sheik’s appointment was particularly controversial given his inability to speak fluent English and his being imam of a mosque whose executive only allows Lebanese to be full members.

Now it seems that AFIC will be representing Muslim Australians at a proposed terror summit. And what steps has AFIC take to consult with local Muslims on the matter? What surveys or structured consultations has AFIC held with mosque congregations, university students, academics, business people and professionals that make up this dynamic and upwardly mobile faith-community?

Mr Howard needs to involve Muslim Australians in national security issues. Muslim Australians have a knowledge and understanding of terror groups which will prove invaluable to fighting this scourge. But Mr Howard and other mainstream leaders should think twice before taking the representative capacity of bodies like AFIC for granted.

Like their Jewish cousins, Muslims are not fond of consuming pork. But for many Muslims, pigs will sooner fly into the mosque to lead the Friday prayer before they will feel AFIC is representing them.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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