Friday, August 26, 2005

POLITICS/COMMENT: Community Leadership & the Dr Nelson Hysteria

The other night I became so angry at a headline that I rang the editor of a major Sydney paper. I told him that headlines like “Muslims to learn Aussie values” and “Aussie values for Muslims” were offensive and racist. I told him these headlines incited hatred toward anyone presumed to be Muslim. I told him I would hold him personally responsible in case my mother gets attacked at the shopping centre.

The editor listened to my tirade. He then patiently tried to explain. He said that he headlines reflected the government line. “Don’t blame us. Blame the government!” was his alibi.

I thought this excuse was a cop-out. I simply didn’t believe him. But then, I had to look at the situation outside my own parameters. I had to place my mind inside his emotional and intellectual universe. I had to get beyond the natural hysteria.

He claimed to be parroting the tough words of government ministers. These ministers were speaking the language which their research and polls suggested they should say, words which their voters wanted them to say.

And when I listen carefully to the emotions behind the words and put myself in their shoes, it is hard to blame them. And lest anyone accuse me of being a “house nigger”, I have to be honest and admit that many Muslim voters would agree with the sentiments also.

So what has caused these tough words to be used? What has generated these difficult emotions? Who is to blame? Who should be point the finger at?

Someone once told me that when you point the finger at someone, three fingers point back at you. What we regard as anti-Islamic rhetoric is in fact the result of anti-Islamic actions and inactions of Muslims themselves.

Muslim Australians have allowed their leadership and their peak bodies to fall into a state of disrepair. Muslim Australians have been so busy making money and being mainstream that they have allowed religious institutions to fall into the hands of the inept and corrupt.

Aussie Mossies are too busy paying off their mortgage or running their business or saving up for the next holiday to Noosa that they don’t bother about whether the new imam at the mosque speaks English or uses anti-Western rhetoric.

But in the eyes of many, when we fail to act, our inaction condemns us. When we fail to condemn and to speak out, our silence condemns us. When we fail to make our leaders and representatives accountable, we end up looking stupid in the eyes of the rest of the nation.

Let’s look at our cousins. Abraham had 2 kids. We are the spiritual descendants of Ishmael. Our Jewish cousins are the spiritual descendants of Isaac. Both men were prophets of God.

Now let’s compare the people running Jewish institutions with those running Muslim institutions. The Jewish community puts its best and brightest forward to speak publicly, to manage institutions, to manage the media and to lobby politicians.

You see top barristers, academics, business people and professionals representing Jewish interests. These are mainstream Aussie Jews, and their representation turns Jewish issues into mainstream Australian issues.

Now let’s compare this to Muslim leadership. Who speaks for us in the media? Who talks to politicians? Who are our public faces and public voices? Who leads us? Who do we follow?

When a crazy mullah gets up and says Islam does not tolerate other faiths, which prominent Muslim business people stand up and condemn him? Which prominent Muslim lawyers or doctors or surgeons or academics stick their necks out and tell other Australians that the mullah is just a goose?

When Muslim peak bodies take 20 days to condemn the London bombings, which prominent Muslims stand up and make them accountable? How many Muslims get together to counter a situation where one or two families can dominate a peak body for decades?

Which prominent Muslims have thought about the proposals being put forward by Dr Nelson? How many of us can honestly say that our imams understand Australian values? How many of us are prepared to say that most imams in Australia can even speak English?

How many imams are able to understand and address important issues like superannuation, proposed changes to unfair dismissal laws and the clash of civilisations? How many Muslim organisational leaders know and understand the political structures in Australia?

When was the last time a Muslim body organised a census or survey of Muslim Australians, their ethnic and gender and age composition and their views on social and political issues? When was the last time we proposed this to our leaders? When was the last time we attended the Annual General Meeting of our local mosque? When was the last time we took an interest in our Muslim neighbours?

When Dr Nelson talks about values and donkeys and other nonsensical stuff, it is easy to react hysterically. But let’s be honest – we say the same things in our living rooms and to our family members and friends at dinner parties.

If Dr Nelson says hysterical things, it is because government polling shows most Aussies are saying ad thinking these things. And that happens because something is rotten in the state of Australian Islam. If we sit back and do nothing, the rot will set in and eventually become a stain.

Before we get hysterical about Dr Nelson’s comments, let’s search our hearts and be honest with ourselves. Unless Muslim Australians take back control of their leaders and their imams, they will continue to be marginalised.

Our silence and inaction will lead to more hysterical words and actions. The longer this continues, the closer we will get to a stage where we will have outlived our welcome.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf