Friday, September 07, 2007

CRIKEY: The Middle Eastern Gerard Henderson?


Imagine writing a monograph on Islam in Australia: Democratic bipartisanship in action including interviews with prominent players in law enforcement and politics but without interviewing a single Muslim, and launching the monograph in ... of all places ... the United Kingdom!

I was a little sceptical yesterday when I was forwarded an e-mail announcing the launch of Gerard Henderson’s monograph published by UK conservative thinktank Policy Exchange.

Especially when the study claimed that Australia actually had a "model" to "approach its Muslim population". (I feel so special knowing Dr Henderson has identified a special model to approach me!) Yet only four of the eight points in the model actually mention Islam or Muslims.

The first three points deal with security and the fourth tackles the end (well, sort of) of multiculturalism. Muslims are only involved to the extent that they do not

... fail to uphold core Australian values of citizenship ...
and
... it is not enough for self-appointed Muslim community leaders to oppose violent and aggressive jihad in Australia whilst supporting it beyond the shores of the Commonwealth.
In short, Muslims are a security threat to be managed. They aren’t people to be consulted or involved or even understood.

I felt it important to show Henderson the respect he failed to show the subjects of his monograph. I telephoned Henderson to ask about his study. He told me the original title was Islam and Democracy: The Australian Experience.

When I asked him whether there was any reason for not interviewing Muslims (or at least Reference Group members), Henderson became rather Middle Eastern.
Are you lecturing me? Who are you to tell me what I should write? What sort of question is that? This is most unprofessional.
Henderson claims the first Muslims to emigrate to Australia were Afghan cameleers. For someone with a PhD in history, this is a serious error. Indeed, Henderson need only look back to the speech delivered at his thinktank by West Australian author Dr Nahid Kabir.

Still, that’s neither here nor there. What is strange is that Henderson, a fellow with no serious knowledge of Australia’s Muslim communities only cites Kabir once. He doesn’t cite any other scholar on Muslim communities. I don’t expect Henderson to cite sycophantic non-critical writers. But Policy Exchange describes itself as taking an

... evidence-based approach to policy development … in partnership with academics and other experts.
Henderson is no expert on the topic, and he reaches questionable conclusions without citing experts. For instance, Henderson makes claims concerning Lebanese Muslims without citing a shred of evidence. He claims (on p10) that many of Australia’s Lebanese Muslims live in south west Sydney and that ...
... [n]o other Muslim group is so concentrated in a specific area.
He obviously hasn’t been to Auburn (known to many as "little Istanbul") or Coburg. Henderson’s ignorance of Australia’s Muslim organisational landscape especially became evident when he claimed (on p24) that ...

... the Howard government consciously chose not to consult with existing Muslim groups ... Instead the Prime Minister set up the Muslim Community Reference Group.
I’m sure many on the MCRG would find such claims amusing. If anything, the Group was deliberately stacked with existing religious organisational heads and stereotypical imams (like Hilaly). Among those invited by the PM to his Muslim leaders’ summit was Shafiq Khan, a prominent Saudi financier. In fact, Henderson feels quite able to write about the MCRG without even interviewing a single member of the group.

Further, his claim that

... the criticisms which John Howard ... levelled at al-Hilali’s January 2007 outburst created a climate in which Muslim Australians felt freer to state their own views than would otherwise have been the case.

So Aussie Mossies weren’t criticising religious leaders before January? Which planet has Henderson been living on? And as if we needed Howard’s blowing of the dog whistle to release us from our shackles!

If anything, Muslim critics of Hilaly were wishing Howard would shut up and let them deal with the issue. Howard’s interventions made things only more difficult. The study includes interviews with law enforcement, intelligence and political leaders. Instead of asking Muslims in Lakemba for their thoughts, Henderson interviews Bob Carr and Tony Burke (MP for Watson). Instead of asking anyone from the MCRG how they viewed the process, Henderson asks Andrew Robb.

Henderson suggested I "go and write a rant for The Age or the Canberra Times" before hanging up.

He may well find Aussie Muslims aren’t as rude. Assuming, of course, he bothers to talk with them and not just at or about them.

An edited version of this was first published in the Crikey daily alert on Thursday 6 September 2007.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf


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2 comments:

irving said...

What a sad fellow Henderson is, the weight of his ego and agenda bending his back under the strain. Glad you put it to him.

Marcus, London said...

Well written and witty blog. Love the reference to Henderson's "middle eastern" reaction. Honestly, when will the natives learn?