Thursday, November 10, 2005

COMMENT: Prove Piers Wrong

Some leaders of Muslim peak bodies have recently asked the government to deal with rednecks and hostile media following the recent terror-related raids in Sydney and Melbourne.

The leaders seem to allege that the government has a responsibility to protect Muslims from negative publicity. With all due respect, the leaders are wrong.

I suggest these leaders go and take a holiday up at Byron Bay. While they are there, they might learn some tips in good PR from Byron’s Mayor. What do I mean? Read on.

We live in a liberal democracy. We pay taxes and our government provides certain services. These include limited social welfare, courts, domestic security and universities. The government provides lots of things. But good PR for ethno-religious minorities is generally not regarded as a government matter.

The reality for good decent PR lies with the peak bodies themselves. We don’t see the government defending the Catholic Church over allegations of cover-ups in relation to child sexual assault. Nor do we see the government defending the people of Byron Bay when their youth accused of being rowdy and violent.

When the holiday town of Byron Bay was being lambasted in the media, Mayor Jan Barham stood up and defended the town. She spoke flawless English, addressed the facts and was well-prepared and well-briefed. She put on a polished performance.

When Muslims or Islam is attacked, who stands up and talks? What role do peak bodies and their leaders play? What messages do they send out?

In the aftermath of the terror raids, a non-English-speaking imam gets up and declares that rioting similar to that in France may result if the government isn’t careful. This same imam was quoted as saying that the gang-rapists did what they did because of the influence of Australian culture.

Following the first meeting of the Muslim Community Reference Group, the President of a peak body stood up and said in a thick accent that he would sell the new laws. He now stands up and repeats in the same accent that the government should stop Muslims being victimised by rednecks.

Yet it is these leaders and their irresponsible statements who give the rednecks good cause to say what they say and write what they write. And it is peak bodies that spend more money on litigating against each other than on decent PR that are largely to blame for the bad image Muslims have.

Piers Akerman and other writers can write columns about all members of the Muslim community being ignorant and resentful toward their host societies. But even Piers has a point.

Sheikh Fehmi El-Imam, of Melbourne's Preston mosque - which was attended by some of the accused - says the men are generally good people but sometimes young people have their own thoughts.

"Islam is a peaceful religion - let us be peaceful with everybody, peaceful in this country, make it a peaceful country for ourself and others at the same time," he said.

Well, don't just say it. Show it.

The appalling level of ignorance and unemployment among members of the Muslim community is a reflection of its lack of real leadership.

Yet peak bodies have spent little time and money showing it. In New South Wales alone, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) and the Islamic Council of NSW have squandered hundreds of thousands of dollars on frivolous litigation. The lawyers grew fat and the community suffered.

Imagine how far those hundreds of thousands of dollars could have gone. AFIC and other peak bodies could have spent money educating imams in English language courses so that kids didn’t have to go to radical thick-Sheiks whose only virtue was passable English skills.

AFIC could have spent the money on hiring a public relations firm and an advertising agency to help sell the reality of a peaceful and law-abiding community. AFIC could have set up a proper media response team and published a regular newspaper and newsletter. AFIC could have hired a professional public affairs and lobbying firm to advise and assist it in relation to the new anti-terror laws.

Instead, what we hear from AFIC are nonsensical remarks from their appointed mufti (who also happens to be … wait for it … their adviser on youth affairs!) and mixed signals from the President and the CEO. Meanwhile, non-Muslim Australians of goodwill are doing the work the peak bodies are paid to do but never care about ... until it's too late!

The various “pizza councils” in NSW haven’t been much better. The only groups to have had any impact are those relying on shoestring budgets and superbly talented individuals – AMCRAN, the Islamic Council of Victoria and the various Canberra Muslim bodies. FAIR does its best, but its publications and comments look more suited to the Green Left Weekly or the Marxism 2005 conference than a professional PR firm. Still, at least they are doing something.

This state of affairs will continue so long as ordinary Muslims keep thinking this is all somebody else’s business. Unless the quiet mainstream majority stands up and does something, we will continue to be misrepresented by the thick-Sheiks and the even thicker peak body presidents.

In short, get off your lazy bums and get involved in some sort of communitarian activity. I don’t care if it’s the Salvos. Just do something. Show the nation that we aren’t all a bunch of wackos.

Go on. Prove Piers wrong. Don’t just say it. Show it.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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