22 January 2007

Muslims in Australian politics

There are about a quarter of a million Muslims in Australia. There are about the same numbers of people living on the NSW Central Coast, or Hobart. If you can accept that people in those physical locations exert a modest impact on Australian politics, then it's clear that Muslim Australians will exert an influence on Australian politics going forward.

Al Hilaly may or may ot nominate for Lakemba against Morris Iemma. Both major parties have been courting Keysar Trad. I think there is a Muslim of Turkish descent in the Victorian upper house. It is only a matter of time before the Libs put Irfan Yusuf into parliament.

Yusuf is more likely into an upper house than a lower. Most members of upper houses are political hacks who would never, never get a paid career in politics if they had to come up against actual voters. One of the amazing things about being involved in party politics is watching people who are sought after and deferred to in party circles, who secure election to high forums and can marshal votes on the floor of State Council - yet when these titans secure preselection and are confronted by actual voters, they go to water.

That's not to say Irfan is that much of a power player: he isn't. Given the amount of money and effort applied to marginal seats, Liberal powerbrokers do not have the guts to put him into a marginal seat. If he set his cap at a safe Liberal seat he'd be trampled in the rush. He has done what you need to do in helping candidates from the party's right, and is Owed. He has built a public profile and hasn't used it to dump on the Liberal Party. He's tougher and smarter than Ibrahim Constantin; Clarke forced Constantin to change his name and has appeared to be brittle under the sort of pressure that is routine in public life. By contrast, Yusuf's "falling out" with David Clarke is not that serious, and next time Clarke lets some nasty race-based comment slip he will publicly embrace Yusuf as part of readjusting the masque. Yusuf will be a rightwing candidate for an upper house: he may even run against Senator Marise Payne. Otherwise, he'll go for state politics: not at the top of the ticket, not even at the top of the right wing ticket, but winnable enough to enable them to say: how can we be considered racists and Christian fundamentalists when we're endorsing a Pakistan-born Muslim for Parliament?

For all that, these toe-holds will translate eventually into a Muslim element in Australian politics. Look how the Greens have advanced a political agenda far greater than the numbers suporting it, with a combination of hype and backroom smarts. I wouldn't be surprised if there is an environmentalist reading of the Qu'ran. I would bet that now-jarring combination (collision?) becomes important at some stage, and others besides. It has massive implications for progressive causes (e.g. same-sex relationships or reproductive rights) and conservative ones (e.g. the notion of a single authorised Australian history or a Western canon, or rights to free speech). In the next economic downturn, look for publicity on Muslim economics over the harder-hearted version we know today. Is there a Muslim position on workplace relations? Find out! Is that compatable with non-family childcare and women in the workforce? If you think that debate is complex now, wait until this additional factor goes into the mix.

A balance of power situation, the diverting of crucial preferences in a crucial seat at a crucial election ("al-Killen, you are maginificent, praise Allah!"), it's hard to tell from this angle. Al Hilaly may be a joke and Trad a lickspittle, but a Muslim presence in Australian politics is coming.

People who believe that Islam=terrorism and thus Muslims in Australian politics funding organisations at war with the wider society also tend to believe that Australian troops should be put in harm's way for no good reason. There's no helping such people.

1 comment: