Friday, November 04, 2005

COMMENT: Muslim apathy makes passing terror laws that much easier ...

If you believe what you read in many newspapers, Australian Muslims are up in arms about the new anti-terror laws. Yet solid evidence on the ground is thin. Further, the leaders of most peak Muslim bodies have been silent on the laws in recent weeks.

Around a week ago, I received an e-mail from a non-Muslim Australian of libertarian tendencies. He was complaining about the complete apathy of Muslim leaders and the general Muslim community on the proposed terror laws.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. On the evening of 4 November 2005, SBS World News reported the views of 2 young Australian Muslims.

Kurandar Seyit, Executive Director of the Forum of Australia’s Islamic Relations (FAIR), told the SBS reporter that he has received calls from numerous individuals expressing fears of participation in protest marches.

Dr Waleed Kadous of the Australian Muslim Civil Rights & Advocacy Network (AMCRAN) also spoke of fears amongst people he had spoke to.

Both Messrs Seyit and Kadous have been active in the debate on the proposed terror laws. They have been joined by Waleed Aly and other executive members of the Islamic Council of Victoria.

However, apart from these voices, there have been few articulate noises made by prominent Muslim leaders on the terror laws.

Dr Ameer Ali, president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) and Chair of the Government’s Muslim Community Reference Group, has been unable to provide any real leadership on the issue. After initially agreeing to “sell” the proposed laws to his community (before even a sentence of the Bill had been drafted), Dr Ali was pressured to back peddle.

New South Wales has three organisations claiming status as peak representative bodies. The original Islamic Council of New South Wales has been unable to even set up a proper media response unit. Its website is proof of the Prime Minister’s criticism that Muslim leaders were not quick enough to condemn the London terror attacks.

The Supreme Islamic Council of New South Wales (often jokingly referred to by Muslim New South Welshmen as “the Pizza Council”) has also been virtually silent on the matter. As for the AFIC-endorsed Muslim Council of NSW, their e-mail address is invalid and their telephone number rings out without anyone answering.

AFIC recently published an edition of its “Australian Muslim News” after some 3 years hiatus. The entire edition was devoted to the devotional aspects of Ramadan. It was as if the pangs of hunger were more important than the loss of civil liberties.

The imams have also displayed little leadership. Imam Hilali, appointed by AFIC as the Mufti of Australia without being provided resources or a job description, made some incoherent noises. First he offered to go to gaol if he was proven wrong about there being no home-grown terror threat. This routine was followed up with his call for a fringe sect known as “al-Ahbash” to be investigated for links to the assassination of the former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri.

As for the other imams, one cannot expect much from them. Most imams cannot speak English, and have little knowledge or even interest in public affairs.

Recently a group of Muslim lawyers called a meeting to discuss the new laws and prepare a campaign. Some four persons turned up.

Compare this to the hundreds that filled the Sydney Town Hall some weeks back for the launch of the New Matilda campaign for a Human Rights Bill. Compare this also to the articulate voices being heard from former Prime Ministers, Civil Rights activists and writers of letters to the editor.

In the ACT, Chief Minister Jon Stanhope released the first Draft Anti-Terrorism Bill after discussions with the articulate and well-connected Canberra Muslim community. In NSW, the Premier is also the Member for Lakemba, a veritable Muslim heartland. Yet one wonders whether any of the dozen or so Muslim groups in Lakemba pressured Mr Iemma concerning his stance on the proposed Bill.

Sydney has more mosques and Muslims than any city in Australia. Yet Sydney Muslims have shown an amazing degree of apathy concerning the passing of laws that, according to the President of the Police Federation of Australia, can only be enforced using ethno-religious profiling.

Some will suggest that it has only been Muslim leaders who have been silent. Yet I have seen little evidence of ordinary Muslims assisting those few Muslim groups like AMCRAN and FAIR whose resources are already over-stretched.

The apathy of Muslim leaders reflects the apathy of ordinary Muslims. The Prophet Muhammad said: “You get the leaders you deserve from amongst yourselves”. It appears his prophecy has come true yet again. Unless concerned Muslims take control of their peak bodies, apathy will prevail. But where are the concerned Muslims?