Friday, February 18, 2011

CRIKEY: The media pigeonholing Muslims is not helping any cause

Scribes used to talk about “the Muslim community” and ascribe to this monolithic blob the views of several religious talking heads from fellafel land. Rarely would they bother with the vast majority of people who felt inclined to tick the “Muslim” box on their census forms. In fact, the average punter for whom Islamic religion was just one layer of their identity was left out of the discussion.

Then one day an unelected and unpopular mufti made some comments about catmeat and suddenly every media outlet in town was alleging that his word was gospel for everyone from a Malay factory worker in Port Headland to an overweight South Asian solicitor in northern Sydney. It was about this time that a whole bunch of us decided that we were sick of being typecast by religious wackos. And journalists began recognising very familiar diversity where they once only saw an alien blob.

But reading the reports in Fairfax and Murdoch press in recent days, again I’m getting the feeling that we’re going back to the future. Sally Neighbour focuses on people from one of two Arabic-speaking ethnic groups, citing one or two new faces and the usual talking heads of self-appointed ethnic leaders.

Neighbour managed to find a Lebanese medical student. Gee. I’m impressed. She might come along to a gathering of Aussies of Pakistani or Bangladeshi or Egyptian or Palestinian origin (or indeed a different group of Lebanese) and find dozens of students studying medicine, law, dentistry, engineering, mass communications, etc. Many of them are females, with and without head covering.

She might have gone to ANU and had a chat to the Foundation Professor of Medicine Dr Mohamad Khadra, who happens to be of Lebanese heritage and a former president of a campus Muslim students association.

Then The Oz editorial pompously lectures again about what “Muslim leaders” and “the Muslim community” needs to do. It says that ...

... we cannot simply ignore reports of behavioural problems among young, unemployed and disaffected Muslim men in the outer suburbs of Sydney … The difficulties among largely Lebanese Muslims are mirrored in some Pacific Islander groups in the same areas …

Yes, them Samoan imams need to get their butts kicked.

How wonderful it would be if the next generation of Lebanese-Australian kids held as their models the successful chief executives and footballers from their communities, rather than drug barons and nightclub owners.

Yes, and how wonderful it would be if you stopped giving space for ridiculous sheiks and their interpreters and started interviewing and allowing on your pages the voices of the huge array of academics, business people, CEOs, professionals who happened to be Muslim. And if you started realising that:

  • Writing editorials that sound like something authored by Glenn Beck doesn’t do much to improve your poor circulation.
  • Being Muslim is not the same as being Lebanese and vice versa.
  • Most nightclubs are not owned by Muslims or vice versa.
  • Most drug barons are not Muslims or vice versa.
  • You choose to create this perception of Muslims by focusing on their religious identity rather than anything else.

Yes, there’s a lot that all ethnic and religious communities in Auburn and Lakemba community need to do, but to assume that gangland is defined purely by one religion is just ridiculous. Last time I checked, the Morans weren’t praying five times a day.

If journalists and editors and pundits and politicians self-appointed Muslim talking heads would just allow Muslims to get on with their working lives, and stop trying to define them as some kind of monolith, common sense might prevail and the haters might stop hating.