A question of representation

There’s no moral panic quite like an Islamic panic

The Insiders panel yesterday was very focused on one thing: the importance of always using one’s inside voice.

“Do you think they need to change their name though?” asked David Speers of the panel.

He was referring to the group The Muslim Vote, hitherto obscure but catapulted to the attention of the Canberra press gallery because Senator Fatima Payman met with the group before resigning from the Labor Party.

The Muslim Vote is not a political party and has no candidates for public office. It does interest itself in issues of concern to Muslim Australians, and the potential for their collective voice to be actually heard.

The AFR’s Phil Coorey answered first, expressing his concern for the potential “backlash” the Muslim community might suffer if a “Muslim” party were to exist. Strike one.

The Guardian’s Amy Remeikis pushed back: “Nobody ever argued the Christian Democrats needed to change their name”.

“I know”, said Coorey, “but it wasn’t as inflammatory”. Strike two.

Remeikis: “…but saying that because Australia is xenophobic, a group should not name themselves…”

Coorey: “Okay, knock yourself out. It’s just the reality you’ve gotta deal with.” Strike three and out.

Speers moved on to his interview with Greens deputy leader Mehreen Faruqi, which has been duly reported by the media highlighting the two least important things she said: that what happens to Hamas should be a matter for the Palestinian people, within the exercise of sovereign rights they would have once their statehood has been recognised; and that she would prefer it if she didn’t have to sit through the Lord’s Prayer at the start of every day in her workplace, the Senate.

Largely unreported is the point she repeatedly tried to make in the face of Speers’ polite determination to get her to admit that Australia’s much-loved “social cohesion” is being placed at risk not by what’s happening in Gaza but by the people – like her – who keep insisting on complaining about it in impolite terms.

Three times Speers asked Faruqi “how self-determination would work” in the Palestinian context, and he seemed genuinely perplexed by the question. The problem, as he apparently sees it, is that the continuing existence of Hamas and its political control of Gaza’s remaining population, precludes statehood for the Palestinian people.

Faruqi’s point was that self-determination is a human right, not a gift to be conferred by others. First, she said, the genocide has to stop. Second, statehood must be recognised. Then the Palestinians can decide for themselves what their state will look like.

She might have gone on to explain the difference between statehood and government. Nobody is calling for Australia to recognise Hamas as anything but a terrorist organisation; nobody has ever suggested Australia should cease recognising the statehood of Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Saudi Arabia or any other country (most of them) governed by terrorist or terrifying regimes.

Why exactly is it so hard for our media and political class to get its head around the fact that there is a very large group of people indigenous to Palestine who have been denied statehood since the land on which they live ceased to be governed by United Nations mandate and became practically a subject territory of the state of Israel?

Recognising their existence in legal terms would say nothing more than that. Hamas, as Faruqi tried to explain, has nothing to do with Palestinian statehood.

Speers would not be diverted, because he had bigger concerns. Raising the protest action at Parliament House last week when activists got on to the roof and unfurled Pro-Palestinian banners, he asked “but a security breach – you’re a senator – is that something you want to encourage?”

It’s like we’re watching the same kabuki play every day, with a revolving cast of characters. Payman and Faruqi are just the latest players to threaten our social cohesion, with their demands that we pay attention to something the media agree we can’t do anything about.

Thus the word “sectarian” enters the room for the first time – attached, strangely enough, only to Muslims. I lost count of how many times it was said on Insiders.

Still, final word to the panel, who could agree on one thing: Payman’s “issue [Gaza] is far more important to voters in Western Sydney than it is to voters in Western Australia”.

And they called it an “irony”. Which, I guess, it was.

Michael Bradley is a writer and managing partner at Marque Lawyers.

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