Saturday, September 20, 2008

Election Musings

Well - the best (or should I say worst) made plans do not always succeed - and often for very good reasons. I had intended to run for the local elections, but missed out on registering by the barest of timelines. 2008 would have been an excellent time to run for local elections due to the impending ICAC investigations into the sale of land for Auburn Central, and the Labour party being 'on the nose' anyway due to the shenanigans of the State Party whose public appearance changes like the shuffling of a pack of cards. But the elections were heavily contested, with a number of Muslim names standing - two of whom were good friends and represented the Greens. I also had a thesis to complete, and a series of conference papers to present amongst other pressing and time consuming issues. So, hopefully, I'll not be too old to consider running at some stage in the future.
The elections though, highlighted once again the parlous state of the Muslim community in comparison to some other communities, and its inability to unite for common purpose. Although the Greens were fielding two Muslim candidates, there was little effective policy presentation that demonstrated a thorough awareness of local Muslim issues, and a struggle to man the booths despite the high profile of both members. Muslim Independents stood in opposition and campaigned actively in much the same electoral territory as the two Greens members, while both Liberal and Labor ran Muslim candidates. It seems like a classic case of divide and rule! None of the parties really appeared to consider issues that are at the heart of the Muslim community - in fact, the Muslim community itself is not that sure what the key issues are!
From my own research I see that our Muslim community (often misperceived as a single entity) can be divided into more representative groupings. Firstly, there are generally two age related divisions - if you can imagine lateral lines - according to the place of birth and education in Australia. This would initially divide up the Muslim community into those born and educated here - and that is mostly those under the age of 25-30, and those who've had partial or no education here and who are tied in various ways to their overseas origins. The under 25's who are born and bred Australians are generally in a class of their own, and as Sheik Fehmi Naji el-Imam recently stated they are part of today's global youth - interacting through Facebook and Youtube, and in many ways they are less affected by their parent's ethnicity. The only subdivision here should be according to education, as those youth who have not succeeded at school, often stay close to their ethnic roots, marry within the same community (not infrequently their cousin) and do not share in the cosmopolitanisation of their better educated peers.
The rest of the Muslim community - the older than 25-30's and not born in Australia, should be divided vertically by ethnicity and sect (Shia, Sunni, Habashi, Alawi etc) and subdivided again by socio-economic state. This would provide, I believe, a more effective division of the community according to matters of concern and needs in regard to electoral polling, provision of services and general identity.
For example, a Lebanese girl who dropped out of school at Year 10, married at 18 and lives with her mother or mother-in-law, and whose husband is most likely to be a blue collar worker or independent trader, would have a very different electoral dynamic than her school friend who went on to Uni, is struggling to finish a law degree and find meaningful work with or without a hijab and is probably unable to find a suitable partner until her late 20's. By the time she has children she is probably more than 12 years senior to the first girl, will have less children, but will probably have purchased a house and be involved in a completely different social space related more to Uni friends and work friends than just family and the ethnicity of her community. The chances of her marrying someone from a different ethnicity, thereby widening the range of her families issues, is also considerable.

So, following on from Irfan's blog bringing up the issue of elections, I would like to suggest the following:
* funding to be provided by AFIC (which generally has plenty to throw around on legal cases when they want to) for electoral polling on what are the significant areas of concern for the Muslim community - categorised by ethnicity and age.
* a series of forums be convened in different areas that initially target local areas, and work by giving generalised introductions and then - according to the comfort area of the community targetted, further attract those attending according to the following groups
a) prominent local ethnicities (remembering that a lot of Muslims by now have married outside of their own ethnicity
b) young people
c) the more cosmopolitan educated and professional group
For example, if running the Forum in Auburn, the African groups could be brought together through their various associations and attendance at mosques, relying on the support of their various community leaders; the Turkish community could be attracted through the number of mosques and local Turkish newspapers, while the youth could be attracted to a separate forum though Facebook, local newspapers, and chat forums, as well as the mosques.
These forums would have to be carefully run so that they are not just 'talkfests' and are geared to ensuring that people's concerns on housing, health, economy, education, employment, work etc are allowed to be heard, recorded and there is the avenue for private followup (in case e.g. the wife actually has a different to the husband and is shy to present it).
* the information so gained be compiled to present a clearer idea of the dynamics and concerns of the community.
* the results to be presented to each of the various political parties, who are encouraged to demonstrated how they are willing to accommodate or respond, the responses being published in local newspapers and even interviewed on Muslim radio stations.

Ideally this is the kind of work that AFIC should be supporting. However, as a largely discredited and grassroot deficient organisation, it may be sufficient to begin in one or two areas with local political activists getting together along with some necessary funding, and then see if it can be 'carbon copied' for other areas.

Personally, I have almost (but not quite) despaired of obtaining the kind of unity within even one of our ethnic Muslim communities that was so apparent with the supporters of the Unity Party. I am also concerned that the many issues that affect the Muslim community will not be dealt with unless direct and planned action is taken. I am disgusted at the ignorance of the community which can keep putting Labor candidates back into power after all of the recent poor behaviour, corruption and lack of any real sensitivity to the community (and disgusted also at the Muslims who can stand for such a party). And I am also disappointed that locally Labor and Liberal will support Muslim candidates - but not at a State or Federal level, neither the Greens, Labor or Liberal will honestly look at policies that reflect our concerns on security, the hijab (visual religion) debate or foreign policy, and the Democrats (of which I am a retiring State Secretary) which had the potential to provide real solutions - is not showing signs of any reasonable recovery from its recent and disastrous decline.

Comments please!!!


Anonymous said...

the forum idea sounds good. women especially need to be encouraged to come along.

Silma said...

(emailed by Gazza) The AUSMET guide and website is predicated on the false assumption that Muslims are some sort of monolith who will vote as a block. They actually cover all shades of the political spectrum.

At our recent council elections Labor ran a Muslim candidate who looks like getting elected to council. The Liberal candidate for mayor was also a Muslim. He has been through the Labor party and a community independent group before joining the Libs to have a go. I assume that his peselection was based on his remote chance of winning and the fact that he could organize his "tribe" to support and vote for him. There was also another group flying the independent flag that also seemed to have a mixture of Middle Eastern Christian/Muslim candidates. I suspect that they were actually pseudo-independents acting for one of the major parties trying to draw the vote away from their opposition. This is a common practice in elections for all levels of government but particularly common for local government.

I also note from the website that both the libs and labor failed to follow through on their promises to answer AUSMET's questionnaire. They have done the same thing in the past. Neither wants to commit to anything and clearly regard the "Muslim" vote as mythical. In fact the last time this was done knowing neither of these cared enough about Muslims and their vote to answer I attempted to find the answers by visiting the party websites two weeks out from the election. Now you would expect them to have the policies and views on the key issues front and centre and readily accessible. After wasting a lot of time drilling down through the rubbish all I could find was a lot of motherhood statements and no policy substance. They clearly didn't want to commit themselves to anything in writing for anybody let alone Muslims.

I agree with Irfy the important issues are not "Muslim" issues they are universal issues. We should be seeking out and working with like-minded individuals of other faiths or no faith for that matter. We need to end our isolation. That is the only way to achieve any worthwhile of result.