By Mohamed Tabbaa
Originally published June 5 2015, here.
Last night I was on a panel discussing racism and activism, organised by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society who were generous enough to host the panel of five.
Held at a synagogue with a broad range of speakers, the panel was the first of its kind for me and raised a number of questions about the potentials and struggles of strategic alliances and networking across various groups. Some excellent questions were posed from the audience on this particular topic, which were both challenging and encouraging; challenging because the questions are difficult to address and require much sensitivity given they are discussing interactions amongst various groups experiencing (sometimes different forms of) racism; and encouraging because — particularly from my engagement with Muslim politics in this country — it symbolises a fresher politics that is unsatisfied with the insufficiency of Australian Muslim politics to date, and dares to imagine new directions.
I’ve been pondering this question of inter-group engagements for a little while now: after more than 10 years of working closely with various Muslim groups in Victoria, and especially after my resignation from the ICV last year, I can’t help but feel that for the most part, Muslim groups here are not very committed to a universal cause of justice. We need to look elsewhere.
Depressing as this fact may be, it is also a cause for pause and even celebration. The disillusionment that many of us feel towards the state of Muslim politics in this country should not have us resigning to the status quo or abandoning our responsibilities towards justice. In fact, the fact that some of us abandon the cause on the back of these experiences seems to demonstrate that we still maintain an intrinsic hope in the ability or potential for these organisations and groups to address the problems that we face. Such a hope is ultimately misplaced, I believe. Perhaps in our misunderstanding of the precise nature of the problems that we face, we’ve failed to realise that many of these groups represent parts of the problems we’re seeking to overcome, and that as such they will often be our first impediment and even barrier to success rather than leaders or supporters of a shared cause. This is I believe true in both an obvious sense (many Muslim groups colluding with police authorities on the War on Terror project) as well as in a vaguer and more difficult sense (the corporate logic that underpins certain organisations, particularly as they increasingly mix servicing religious needs with the pursuance of profit).
If we reorient our understanding of the current landscape of Muslim organisations in this manner, we can engage with them strategically according to particular projects of justice: sometimes as leaders, friends, allies, other times as irrelevant, impediments or even opponents. In this way, we might feel less betrayed when they inevitably take undesirable stances, but come to expect it as part of the political struggle, adapting our projects accordingly rather than imagining that these projects are failing because such and such group or leader buckled under pressure.
Not only might this help some of us deal with the hurt we’ve experienced which can discourage us from further engagements, importantly it can help (sometimes force) us to establish new links and even renegotiate the way we understand community. This was my experience. The depressing situation of Muslim politics has presented itself as an opportunity to forge links with movements I had overlooked in the past due to focusing solely on Muslims, and especially on looking up towards someone who would lead the way for us. I now recognise the importance of no longer solely looking up, but also looking around. There are many different groups around us who share similar and not-so-similar struggles. We can learn from and lean on each other, and we need to if we’re going to survive the monstrosity of racism. It’s a long, slow, uphill battle, and we do ourselves no favours when we remain isolated.
For my own part, I’m not interested in being part of a community of Muslims if that community continuously sides with injustice. I’m much more interested in being part of a community of justice that tackles injustice regardless of who is on the receiving end; a community that recognises that although violence against different groups might take different forms, they will often share similar foundations and so cooperation and networking is crucial.
This will be a difficult and delicate task, no doubt. But the signs are encouraging.
I look forward to the day when more Muslims are able to say #BlackLivesMatter without affixing, and Muslim Lives Too; when we stand against Aboriginal deaths in custody as Muslims rather than as a way of bringing attention to Muslims.
When we learn to fight injustice because it is unjust and nothing more.
Read more about the AJDS’ 2015 Racism Panel.