Sultana's Dream

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Sultana's Dream
August 2012


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Mad, Bad and Beyond Redemption?

Our issue this month was intended to be a pint-sized Sultana. This was a premature announcement on my part for if there is one issue that unites Australian Muslims across the board, it’s how we perceive our treatment by the media.  

Sunni or Shi’a, Sudanese, Somali, Turkish, Lebanese, Egyptian, Indonesian—or plain old Anglo – we all have something to complain about. Print or electronic, it matters not—in Muslim eyes ‘they’ are all tarred with the same brush. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?  

Perhaps it’s time, as Sherene Hassan argues in her article, for Muslims to take a more nuanced approach towards the media and drop the mantra of ‘the media is out to get us.’ Her experience at the hands of a local shock jock expands on this theme and was recorded on ABC’s Media Watch. 

Some Muslims choose coping mechanisms; they refuse to waste time on the outpourings of a vocal imbecile minority; they laugh, while gritting their teeth, and develop a healthy ‘media immune system’. Families often install satellite dishes on their rooftops, following in the footsteps of other migrant groups, like the Italians and Greeks. Al Jazeera (English or Arabic) is a firm favourite for viewers more interested in unbiased Middle East politics and indifferent to front-page stories of footie coaches swearing at young umpires.  

TV reality shows are stepping into the vacuum left by Australian TV dramas and comedies that depict Neighbour-like characters behind white picket fences, all looking the same! Watch any UK or USA comedy or drama—there are no colour bars: you find black and brown cops, psychologists, lawyers, mums and dads, doctors—and killers. Monocultural reflections of a society that existed in the 1960s don’t feature in their modern narratives. In Australia we can’t seem to get it right, sometimes it’s left to reality shows on television.

Amina Elshafei, the immensely popular contestant in Masterchef, did more to reduce social distance between Muslims and non-Muslims than a dozen documentaries; so too did the two affable ‘Mozzie fellahs’ the year before in The Amazing Race. On these shows we consistently see a slice of multicultural Australia: Australians of Indian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Greek and, of course, Anglo ancestries.  

In the world of print media, Farah Farouq provides Sultana readers with an inside view of the life of a professional journalist working for The Age. Durkhanai Ayubi brings us up to date with some surprising news of how Muslim women are flocking to the social media, while Joumana el Matrah reminds us, ‘When it comes to Muslim women, everybody in Australia is a feminist.’  

Of course the question inevitably rises: are Australian Muslim complaints valid or not? Is the notion of ‘victimhood’ too readily embraced at the drop of a hat (read hijab, burqa, turban or prayer cap if you prefer)?  

In this edition specific criticisms were levelled at certain ABC and SBS TV programs while commercial programs like A Current Affair and Today Tonight, which seem to specialise in negative media coverage on asylum seekers, Muslims and racial minorities, escaped sanction. ‘What can you expect? Commercial channels chase ratings,’ was the cynical view.  

Yes, some Muslims are tired of ‘coping’ and are taking a stand. Watching the SBS Insight program on polygamy last month, it seemed that the quietly executed, behind the scenes, Muslim boycott of the program had paid dividends. Mariam Veiszadeh’s article, ‘Lack of Insight’ outlines how this coup took place. Only three Muslims appeared on Insight that evening to give their views on polygamy in Islam; it became clear that the pickings were exceedingly slim and the spotlight turned on other members of the audience. I could imagine a collective sigh of relief echoing around the country in Muslim lounge rooms.  

It seems that lately Australian Muslims, tired of being stereotyped and vilified as terrorists, are becoming more sophisticated in their dealings with journalists. They are insisting on defining themselves, and a new generation of spokespeople is emerging including many women. Exercising influence without trying to censor the media is an ongoing challenge facing Generation Y Muslims in the years ahead. Joining the ranks of the media and becoming professional ‘insiders’ might be one solution.

Hanifa Deen

Ramadan Mubarak to Muslim readers