A few days ago, I had three telephone conversations, all with members of the same family.
The first call was from an old friend of mine whom I first met at a Muslim youth camp in 1987. He is a lovely chap, very sincere and with a wonderful heart. He cares for his family and loves his Muslim faith.
He castigated me for an e-mail I sent in which I suggested that certain Lebanese Muslim families in Sydney had turned Muslim organisational leadership into a Middle Eastern family affair. I suggested that his family was amongst those families. Naturally, he was most upset when the e-mail was forwarded to him. What was not forwarded to him was my subsequent apology.
Some 10 minutes later, I spoke with his brother on the phone. His brother had been president of a peak community body for as long as anyone could remember. He castigated me for what he described as unprofessional behaviour. He then passed the phone onto his sister who also repeated those remarks.
“Brother, we regard you as part of the family. You should support the family which has the best interests of the community at heart”, she told me more or less.
I immediately remembered the words of Michael Photios, former Minister for Multicultural Affairs in the Fahey Government. He invited me and other executive members of Bankstown Young Liberals.
“You guys should join the family. Only by getting with us will you get somewhere in NSW Politics”, Mr Photios said.
Of course, “the Family” he was referring to was the faction of the NSW Liberals known as “the Group”. This faction at the time controlled the NSW Young Liberals, the Liberal Party Executive and the NSW Parliamentary Party. It employed its own “Family” members as staffers and consultants. Back in 1994, when I sat in Mr Photios’ office, the Family seemed invincible.
Today, that very Family have been vanquished. Its most talented have politically prostituted themselves to their ideological opponents. What is left of the Family is a mere shell of its former self.
In 1994, I could not see the end of the Liberal Family. But in 2005, the end of the Muslim Ghetto Families seems inevitable.
The brother and sister team I spoke to are clearly rattled and nervous. They realise they and their nepotism and cronyism are now under investigation. They are under scrutiny from journalists, government officials and law enforcement agencies. The matter could reach ICAC or other corruption watchdogs. The entire edifice of ghetto Islam could be brought down.
And all this simply because this presumed royalty claims to hold exclusive right to advocate on behalf of Muslim New South Welshmen. When approached by a group of concerned Muslims seeking to have media work for this peak body delegated to a body of expert media and political spin-doctors, this incompetent bumbling family dilly-dallied and procrastinated. Now events have taken over their procrastination and threaten to render their peak body entirely irrelevant.
What these bodies especially suffer from is a kind of Ghetto Islamic mentality. They are living under a state of virtual siege, paranoid of outside mainstream influences. They blame their woes on an assortment of presumed enemies including: the Jews, Zionists, freemasons, wahhabis, sunnis, shias, sufis, habashis, liberals, Fabians, Christians and other groups.
Practitioners of Ghetto Islam in Sydney has a number of characteristics:
a. They tend to be hamstrung by cultural and tribal mentalities of little relevance to mainstream Australian life.
b. They tend to have a focus on welfare issues.
c. They tend to avoid and discourage involvement in mainstream discourse.
d. They are afraid to engage in the broader Australian community.
e. Their vision of Islam is based upon the fringe understanding of whichever foreign government or funding source is buttering their bread.
f. They discourage involvement of women.
g. They find English-speaking educated young people a threat to their activities and shun their involvement.
h. They are often manipulated by mainstream political parties for branch-stacking purposes. For instance, Tony Stewart MP made extensive use of Lebanese Muslim communities to stack branches during his pre-selection battle with Morris Iemma some years back following the redistribution. Some of these were members of Bankstown Young Liberals over which the writer presided.
i. They tend to only involve members of their extended family.
j. They are opposed to democratic reform or only partake in it grudgingly.
To give a few examples. Some years back, it was reported in Fairfax media that the Muslim Womens Association has been used to stack ALP branches for Tony Stewart. The MWA at the time had been presided by someone who held the position for over a decade. She only resigned after being offered a paid position as executive officer. A large proportion of staff working for the MWA, including on government funded projects, are relatives of hers.
The Islamic Council of NSW only recently had its chairman step down after a reign of over 20 years. He is currently Vice Chair, and is also Principal of the Rissalah College (loosely affiliated with the Council) despite not having even a higher school certificate. His sister was for years president of the MWA and also held a position in the Ethnic Affairs Commission which enabled her to make sensitive decisions on the funding of Muslim community organisations.
The transition from honorary executive to paid employee positions is a common one in Muslim community bodies. It has occurred in a number of organisations including: Islamic Council of NSW, Muslim Womens Association and Muslim Aid Australia.
In one body, Muslim Community Cooperative of Australia Limited, one member of the board of directors is also an employee of the organisation. This kind of conflict of interest is rife in Muslim Ghetto bodies. MCCA is an exception in that it has made genuine attempts to deal with actual and perceived conflicts of interest. The same cannot be said for other Muslim community bodies.
The next part in this series will deal with the problems faced by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. It will provide examples of gross mismanagement reflective of the Ghetto Islam mentality at a national level.
Following that, Part 3 will deal with the lack of accreditation of imams. One case study, the Al-Ghazzali Centre, will be provided as an example of the problems which can arise due to the unwillingness of self-proclaimed scholars to submit to rigorous inquiry and disclosure of religious qualifications.
Part 4 will deal with emerging bodies such as Mission of Hope and the challenges they face in emerging from the ghetto mentality.
Part 5 will deal with the growth of fringe extremist groups such as the Global Islamic Youth Centre and the Darul Fatwa organisation which attempt to impose foreign fringe ideologies and cults on mainstream Muslim youth and converts.
Finally, Part 6 will focus on more positive initiatives of groups such as the Daar Aisha Shariah College for Women, the Muslim Womens National Network of Australia and the ThinkIslam project. These bodies represent a genuine attempt to completely break away from ghetto Islam and to engage in the broader largely-assimilated Muslim communities who form the overwhelming majority of Muslim Australia.
(The author is a Sydney industrial lawyer who has acted for numerous peak bodies, imams, community independent schools and other entities. He is a featured columnist of Australian Islamic Review and of altmuslim.com and has also written for the Australian Financial Review, Canberra Times, Sydney Morning Herald and Daily Telegraph. He was endorsed Liberal candidate for the seat of Reid in the 2001 federal election.)
© Irfan Yusuf 2005