Friday, October 21, 2005

COMMENT: Stanhope for Emir

If for some crazy reason Muslims in Australia decided to form their own separate state, I know who would be my pick to lead them.

It would not be our non-English Speaking Mufti. It would not be the majority of Imams who refuse to learn English and who have no understanding of our culture, politics or values.

It would not be the incompetent Uncle Letmesplaynyoo’s that rule the roost of any Muslim peak bodies. It would not be the heads of any of the three pizza councils or Lebanese royal families that claim to represent Muslims across New South Wales.

My pick for Emir would be the Chief Minister of the ACT, Jon Stanhope. Why?

Well, for a start, Mr Stanhope actually believes in consulting ordinary Muslims. He has shown that all along in his dealings with the two major Islamic groups in Canberra – the Islamic Society of the ACT and the Canberra Islamic Centre.

Following a meeting with ordinary Canberra Muslims, Mr Stanhope took the unprecedented step of releasing on his website the draft Anti-Terrorism Bill 2005. Mr Stanhope wanted all Australians to know how their rights were being affected.

Mr Stanhope’s actions generated sufficient debate to force the Prime Minister and the “house nigger” ALP Premiers to agree to further debate on the laws. Prior to that, it appeared some of our state premiers were happy to throw out their ALP membership cards on issues pertaining to national security.

Compare Mr Stanhope’s preparedness to consult with people to Dr Ameer Ali and Mr Shafiq Rahman, the two Uncle Letmesplaynyoo’s of the community. Following a meeting of the Muslim Community Reference Group (MCRG), Uncle Ameer decided to endorse the PM’s proposed amendments without even having read them.

As for Uncle Shafiq, when he isn’t taking orders from the Royal Family, he is too busy inviting the Attorney General to dine at his house.

The pair penned a document dated 27 July 2005 condemning extremism and terror. The letter was addressed to a whole bunch of religious and organisational leaders and … wait for it … “Prominent Muslims”.

And who are the “prominent” among us? Who knows? Who cares? Uncle Ameer and his executive don’t. When the writer recently contacted him to ask some questions, he was told by Uncle that he was only accountable to members of the AFIC Federal Council.

And who is the Federal Council? It is the chairs of the various state councils. Three of these are dummy councils AFIC recently set up. The Muslim Council of NSW has an e-mail address of, and its phone number (Ph: (02) 9648 1070) always rings out without anyone answering.

Another good reason to have John Stanhope as our Emir is that he can actually speak English. Further, he knows something about legal, political and public policy matters. John also knows something about the media.

Compare this to AFIC. Their press release dated 2 October 2005 was a good lesson in how NOT to write a press release. The second paragraph commenced with …

“Conference being held at the Novotel Hotel in Darling Harbour …”

Now call me picky, but I honestly believe that correct grammar in press releases and correspondence is an important indicator of an organisation’s professionalism and their advocacy abilities.

Further, none of AFIC’s recent press releases have included any discussion of the serious issues surrounding the latest round of anti-terror laws. Nor have AFIC made public any meetings they have had with Backbenchers, Ministers or Shadow Ministers and the State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers.

Further, we have absolutely no idea of what is going on at any of the meetings of the Reference Group. For all we know, they could have agreed for all Muslims to convert to Buddhism by Christmas. Apart from the website of the Minister for Citizenship, we have no idea what the MCRG are telling the government.

So there you have it. We have on the one side our middle-aged Sub-Continental and Arab first generation migrant men (and in the MCRG, a few token women) that dominate peak bodies. Men who cannot speak or write proper English. Men who refuse to consult with the people they claim to represent.

A final reason to have Jon Stanhope as our Emir is that he is properly resourced and has staff to assist him in research, speech writing, media and policy development. Mr Stanhope is always on top of the issues affecting his Territory and the nation.

On the other hand, unless you have experience in halal meat or are related to someone high up in the organisation, don’t expect to any of our peak bodies to employ you. Since K.S. Seyit’s departure, AFIC has not employed any media officer.

As for the Islamic Council of NSW, they have established a media committee of one. She holds meetings with herself on Thursday mornings at 10am in Lakemba. Perfect timing to attend a meeting if you don’t have a job or a life.

Basically our peak bodies are our worst advocates. In the past 2 weeks, I have published op-ed pieces in Brisbane, Canberra and New Zealand. I have also addressed the Australian Institute of International Affairs. AMCRAN has issued numerous press releases and a plain-English summary of the new Anti-Terrorism Bill. The Islamic Council of Victoria and FAIR have issued numerous press releases and appeared in the media.

As for the Indian and Arab Uncles’ Clubs, the AFIC and Councils and Societies, their sad attempts at advocacy (where they exist) have been about as effective as a hijab made of gladwrap.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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