Sunday, September 21, 2008

COMMENT: Muslim minorities and democratic politics - some contentions ...

At the last Australian federal election, a small group of Muslim communitarian and civil rights activists got together to (re-)form the Australian Muslim Electoral Taskforce (AustMET). The group produced a website and a guide setting out certain considerations Muslims should follow in voting. AustMET made it clear that these were only recommendations, and that AustMET's recommendations carried no religious or theological force or weight. In other words, those reading the guide were free to make their own choices.

It might be useful to re-visit some of the issues and discussions that arose during that process. It's important that this discussion take place NOW as opposed to a few weeks or months out of an election. In NSW, this is particularly crucial given that we have a state election coming up and have just had Local Government elections.

The purpose of this post isn't to attack or criticise the efforts of the people at AustMET, who were well-meaning in their efforts. Rather, the purpose is to generate a broader discussion of how Muslim religious and ethno-religious communities engage with democratic politics at all levels in Australia.

In this discussion, where I use the term "Muslim" (singular or plural), I refer to people who will tick the "Muslim" box on their census forms or who would tick it if it were a compulsory question.

So here goes ...

[01] The AustMET brochure referred to "Muslim electorates", giving examples of federal seats with substantial Muslim populations e.g. Blaxland and Watson. To describe these as "Muslim electorates" was ill-conceived and reflects an almost complete absence of any understanding of the political process. There will always be a large number of marginal seats where Muslim voters have sufficient numbers to unseat the sitting member.

[02] To describe certain issues as "Muslim" issues is ill-conceived. In what manner do we determine certain issues as 'Muslim issues'? Do we engage in some scientific polling or demographic surveys? Or do we assume we know what Muslims think about a range of domestic and foreign policy issues? For instance, do all Muslims support withdrawal of coalition troops from Afghanistan and/or Afghanistan?

[03] The AustMET material included various fatawa (plural of 'fatwa' or authoritative non-binding opinion under Islamic sacred law) from various religious authorities. All authorities cited were Sunni or Wahhabi/Salafi, with no Shia authorities cited. But more importantly, the citation of fatawa presupposes that Muslims always seek advice from religious authorities in such issues. Is this really the case? What proportion of Muslims really have religious objections to voting and participation in democratic politics?

[04] Instead of standing up for 'Muslim' issues, we should be seeking issues in which we can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Australians of all faiths and no faith in particular. Our faith and heritage require us to stand for justice, even if it be against the interests of our families, our wealth and ourselves. This is both a religious and civic imperative. We should stand for justice and truth.

Any thoughts?

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Silma said...

I agree with most of your comments Irfan. It is a common misperception amongst the Australian community that the Muslim community is a single entity. There is little awareness of its diversity in respect to - ethnicity, gender, age, education and socio-economic related issues. The same misperception is often applied within the Muslim community.
I was very impressed with the Chinese focussed Unity Party which effectively marketed to their community and polled well - certainly in local elections. Although they characterise themselves as multicultural, their targetted issues and attraction to a specific slice of the ethnic community has yielded electoral success. The Muslim community faces more difficulties in getting united though, due its diversity. It also faces another problem electorally - that none of the major players in the political scene are willing to give Muslims any real presence within their parties.
More discussion on this on my blog shortly -

Phil said...

Irfan i think you have an issue when the traditionalists/Orthodox inclined people make initiatives that are in line with their views. also something you seem to ignore is that those people who tick the muslim box might have other 'layers' of labor/lib voting.