Fadi Rahman from the Independent Centre for Research's youth centre in Lidcombe, Sydney, spoke to Green Left Weekly's Emma Clancy about the impact on young Muslim Australians of the media attack on the entire Islamic community in the wake of Sheikh Taj el-Din Al Hilaly's comments about women and sexual assault.
Rahman first pointed to the hypocrisy of the media. "For instance, when Sheikh Taj el-Din's comments were made, at the same time a group of young men in Melbourne, who were Anglo-Australians, had abused and raped a young woman with disabilities. These young men recorded the attack on DVD. They were actually selling it and they were proud of what they'd done."
Yet, said Rahman, the media was not nearly as interested in devoting attention to this actual attack on a woman, and what it revealed about the attitudes of young men towards women, as it was in the sheikh's comments, "because everybody knows that Muslims are the top-selling item on the media market these days".
Rahman believes that the attacks on the sheikh by politicians such as John Howard and Peter Costello were not motivated by a genuine concern for women's safety, but were a "manoeuvre to win votes" and draw attention away from unpopular government policies. "We've seen it happen too many times. Anytime they're on the back foot over whatever issue, the first thing they do is get up and attack the Muslim community."
Rahman believes the current media onslaught — part of ongoing attacks over the last few years — aims to divide the community. "The media has increased the perception in the wider Australian community that Muslim men want to oppress women and view a woman as just a tool to get their means. This is not the case ... We need to resist this attempt to divide us."
Describing the impact of these stereotypes on the young people he works with, Rahman said: "This widens the gap between the wider Australian community and the Muslim community ... Instead of creating an inclusive community, which should be our aim, it excludes people from mainstream Australia. This is very worrying because it marginalises these young people and alienates them."
Rahman is concerned that the younger generations of Muslims is not being heard. "We've found it very difficult for young Muslims to have their voice heard within their own community, as well as in the broader community", he said. "I've been critical of the old leadership, and the most positive and constructive criticism I can give to them is to say that they need to allow young Muslim Australians to come and lead our community forward." He welcomed the sheikh's agreement to move towards the position of mufti being elected by the board of imams.
The youth centre is hosting a youth conference on November 25. "We're calling on all these politicians to come and engage with the kids on a grassroots level. We'll see if they really do care about engaging with Muslim youth like they say, or if these are just words thrown around when it's necessary."