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
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
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
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.
Ramadan Mubarak to Muslim readers