On the night of 25 July, I did something I (and probably most Australians) rarely do. I switched my TV onto SBS. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself halfway through a wonderful documentary Veiled Ambition.
It tells the story of a typical young Aussie couple. Albert is a sports promoter building a dream home for his family. Frida is a small business woman running her own wedding shop and wants to have her own fashion design label. They’re about to have their first child.
I know literally dozens of couples like Albert and Frida. They represent Australia’s emerging class of young people aiming for a home, a small business and a family. There’s just one problem. To use a popular Aussie Muslim slang, Frida "covers".
Some of our commentators like to define this sector as one monolithic entity full of taxi drivers who refuse passengers with guide dogs and radical thick-Sheiks manipulating young kiddies.
I knock The Australian newspaper a lot for their coverage of Australia’s (if not Planet Earth’s) 21st century Muslim realities. But let’s give credit where it’s due. Their coverage of the Haneef case, an area where you’d expect their perceived editorial prejudices to trump over accuracy, has been second-to-none.
Yesterday, the Opinion page ran a super piece about democratic changes in Pakistan and Turkey. Entitled A watershed in Islamic History, the piece gave a positive (or rather, realistic) take on recent developments in Pakistan and Turkey.
On Saturday in Pakistan, the Supreme Court demonstrated true judicial independence virtually for the first time in the country's 60-year history when it reinstated Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, nemesis of Pakistan's "progressive" military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf.
Then on Sunday, Turks delivered the biggest electoral triumph in 50 years to the Justice and Development Party, a political movement that demonstrates the possibility of transcending the apparent tension between being devoutly Muslim in private and progressive and democratic in politics.
These two events mark a watershed in the modern history of the Islamic world: both are principled popular rebellions against military elites whose will has traditionally gone unchallenged. The rebellions could hardly have been more promising or have occurred in more important places.
Yet there remains a certain inertia, an ongoing insistence in some circles to define the 300,000-odd Aussies of all different backgrounds who tick the "Muslim" box on their census forms are somehow only defined by beedy-eyed dudes screaming “jihad jihad, jerka jerka”. Dudes looking like the chap on my left.
It was appropriate, therefore, that I first noticed my old buddy Richard Kerbaj’s latest tabloid offering at the Daily Telegraph website. Entitled "Radical sheik phones home for sermons", the story talks about how a Liverpool thick-Sheik "continued to influence young Muslim minds by delivering sermons by phone from overseas to a select group of his followers in Australia".
So Sydney’s Muslim kids are engaged in some kind of dial-a jihad operation? Er, not quite. The reality is that the Global Islamic Youth Centre gets a dozen or so kids together twice a week to ask questions of Feiz Mohamed.
And what do they talk about? The latest in suicide vest fashions? New methodologies in sleeper cell management? Nope. Just lots of
Tawheed (monotheism) ... intended to advance our understanding of this concept and to help us to understand the importance of unifying God in all of our acts of worship.In other words, how to believe in and worship one God to the exclusion of all other false (according to Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs and other monotheists) gods. So while SBS TV and The Oz’s Opinion page (and even their Review page) are finding exciting and interesting things to say about Muslims, Kerbaj can’t keep away from reporting for Team America.
First published in the Crikey alert for 26 July 2007.
Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf