Thursday, July 28, 2005

Islamic ATSIC?

On Perth talkback radio, the President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) announced a proposal to fight terrorism. The announcement was made after the PM and other mainstream leaders called upon Muslim leaders to speak out about terror. The PM also signalled his willingness to involve Muslim communities in discussions on national security.

The PM is acting smartly by having all Australians involved in the discussion. He has learnt from experience that sidelining particular communities from major national debates does more harm than good to our social cohesion.

Excluding Aussie Mossies will only breed further resentment toward liberal democracy. And it is just plain illiberal to exclude people just because of their ethnic or religious background.

So you would think that AFIC’s proposal would be greeted with open arms by both governments and the Muslim communities. Think again.

Dr Ameer Ali, AFIC President, asked the Federal Government to give AFIC legislative powers and funding with a view to fighting extremism. He wanted Canberra to recognise AFIC as the official peak body and to contract out Muslim affairs to AFIC.

The response from Muslims on e-mail groups and discussion forums was swift. And the responses had one common feature – Muslim Australians don’t trust their leaders.

Many Muslim Australians (like many Australians) may not trust the PM. But they know that the PM was elected in a free and fair election. They know that there is an independent electoral commission which carries out voting.

They know that state and local government elections are also free and fair. The PM does not directly interfere or intervene in state affairs. Because if he does, there is a constitution and an independent High Court to test the legality of his intervention.

In short, Muslim Australians are aware that there are checks and balances in the system. But in the structures of Muslim organisational leadership, similar checks and balances do not exist.

In NSW, over the past 5 years, AFIC has had arguments with 5 state councils. In 3 states, it has set up dummy state councils to replace existing ones. In NSW, when AFIC had a dispute with the Islamic Council of NSW, it argued the matter in the Supreme Court. It then created another body called the “Supreme Islamic Council of NSW”.

Within 2 years, AFIC were fighting with the Supreme Council. They then set up a 3rd body to represent Muslim New South Welshmen. When Aussie Mossies got wind of this, their good humoured larrikin nature came to the fore. There was talk of the new Council being called the “Super-Supreme Islamic Council”.

Hence a new phrase in NSW Muslim circles – the “Pizza Councils”.

In the last 20 years, AFIC has not had a single female on their executive. Women make up over 50% of the Muslim communities. Further, Aussie Mossies are a young community. The largest ethnic group are Muslims born in Australia. The largest age bracket is those aged between 25 and 40. It is hard to find a single person in these categories on the AFIC executive.

In short, AFIC represents old men from overseas. Women and young people (including those disillusioned young people tempted to join terror networks) are excluded. That’s fine. But AFIC should stop trying to kid the government into thinking they are representing all Muslim Australians.

Many, if not most, Muslim Australians have even heard of AFIC. And it took AFIC 20 days to write a letter to imams telling them to condemn terrorism.

A key plank of the government’s anti-terrorism strategy is to get all Australians on board. That includes Muslim Australians. AFIC and similar peak bodies have a role to play. But AFIC and the Pizza Councils don’t represent all Muslim Australians.

AFIC should not be turned into a Muslim ATSIC.

© Irfan Yusuf

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