Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Carrying the electoral cross ...

Nadia Jamal has written a thoughtful piece in the Sydney Morning Herald today about the enormous cross which the first MP in the NSW parliament will have to carry.

ANU sociologist Shakira Hussein also penned a piece some weeks back in The Oz, specifically on Sheik Hilaly’s attempts to endorse candidates. My own experience in the Auburn by-election and as a candidate in other Liberal election campaigns suggests that endorsement by Sheik Hilaly is something to be avoided at all costs.

And in the current environment, one doubts if the NSW branches of either major party will run candidates of Muslim background or heritage in a winnable seat. The Liberals have 25 year old Ned Manoun running in Liverpool. Like many Western Suburbs Libs, Ned is a former ALP member. He ran as an independent in the 2005 Werriwa by-election that followed Mark Latham’s retirement.

One important issue Jamal raises is the expectation that Muslim MP’s will always have definitive answer for “Muslim” issues. When they do this, they end up copping flack from overly sensitive Muslims and/or from sectarian fruitloops.

New Zealand Labour MP Ashraf Chaudhury has found himself in hot water for expressing somewhat homophobic sentiments. Similarly, when Choudhary abstained from a vote on liberalising New Zealand’s prostitution laws (thus allowing the bill to pass), he was criticised by Muslims for abandoning their religious principles.

Indeed, it will be interesting to see how newly elected Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison (the first Muslim to be elected to Congress) will be received in his own community after he visits Israel in the near future. He has also been criticised by the looney-Right for using the Koran (albeit Thomas Jefferson’s personal copy) at his swearing-in ceremony and even for “allowing” some of his Muslim campaign workers to shout the generic Arabic religious phrase “Allahu Akbar” (meaning “God is always greater”).

Yet the advantage of having at least one Muslim MP is that s/he can speak their mind on inter-communal matters from a genuinely non-partisan and non-communalist perspective. In this respect, British MP Shahid Malik criticism of a Muslim umbrella body for its exceptionally inconsiderate and infantile boycott of a Holocaust memorial commemoration is timely. Sometimes religious leaders won’t budge until secular ones give them a decent push.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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