Tuesday, December 09, 2008

OPINION: Second Column in Crescent Times ...

The Chicago Tribune and LA Times may have gone bust, but the Perth-based Crescent Times just keeps getting published! The Second Edition of the newspaper has just been released, and you can read it online here. My first column can be read here. And in a rare act of deference to my ego, here is my second "Planet Irf" column ...


Could it really be true? Or am I just dreaming? I’m still pinching myself to make sure I’m awake.

Apparently American voters have just voted overwhelmingly for a President named ... wait for it ... Barack Hussein Obama.

Anyone who has been watching the election coverage and seen videos (some of which are on my blog) of Republican Party activists talking about Obama being Muzzlem and Ay’rab will probably share my surprise at an outcome American pollsters were saying for weeks wouldn’t be a surprise. Then again, I didn’t trust the unanimous Australian pollsters who last year predicted John Howard would not just lose the election but also his own seat.

Back at school, my Divinity teacher used to tell us that Jesus, a completely innocent man, died on the cross to pay the price for our sins. And in the US election, I expected Barack Obama to die a political death and pay the price for the prejudice and innuendo Arab and Muslim Americans have had to put up with for years. Thankfully, Obama wasn’t crucified at the polls.

But had Obama lost, I wonder what it would have been like for Americans of Arab descent and/or Islamic faith. Just as I wonder what would have happened if that honest Young Liberal campaigning in the Western Sydney seat of Lindsay had not tipped off the ALP about those nasty Alah Akba pamphlets being stuffed in voters’ letterboxes.

The innuendo Arabs and Muslims collectively faced from certain segments of the Republican Party must have made them feel like foreigners in their own country. If Obama had lost, many would have become totally disillusioned with the political process. American Arabs and Muslims in the Republican Party must have felt (and perhaps still feel) rather uncomfortable.

The question I want to address is this - how should American Muslims, indeed any Muslims living in Western democracies, respond to such prejudice?

I might have some ability to contribute to this discussion, having spent some 10 years in a relatively conservative Australian political party. This included running as a candidate in a federal seat in the House of Representatives in the months soon after the September 11 attacks. By 2003, my financial membership had lapsed.

At present, the NSW Liberal Party (of which I was once a member) seems to be following in the footsteps of the US Republicans, dominated by fringe ultra-conservative religious people. At one time, such people would have been happy for me to join precisely because I was Muslim. Some conservatives are both anti-Semitic and homophobic, and assume that someone of my background would share their prejudices.

It’s no longer trendy in far-Right circles (as it once was) to marginalise and despise gays and Jews. These days, marginalising Muslims has become the norm. The British National Party and other neo-Fascists have overnight become the biggest supporters of Israel on the planet. But their support is less about healing the wounds their ideological ancestors inflicted on the Jewish people during the Holocaust. Rather, it’s a case of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”. They assume that all Jews and/or Zionists hate Muslims.

So here’s my solution to prejudice - prove the agents of prejudice wrong. Yes, Muslims have a soft spot for the Palestinians (as indeed do many Jews, especially in Israel). But that doesn’t mean we should assume all Jews have an anti-Muslim agenda. We should leave this kind of simplistic logic to simpletons who attend Republican Party rallies or who seek to take over the NSW Liberals.

That means we should build networks with like-minded people. And under no circumstances should we tolerate any group in society to be marginalised.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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