Monday, 16 September 2013

Muslim identity politics on show on ABC TV

After last night's 1-hour blackout I managed to fix dinner and while eating it kept vociferating at the TV where the ABC's Compass program Why I'm Still Muslim was airing arguments based in the identity politics of that faith. Over the coming weeks Geraldine Doogue will host people from other faiths, including the Jewish and Catholic faiths. However, for me the case of Islam feels different to the others because currently globally we are seeing major transformations within countries where Islam predominates in terms of wealth, governance and identity such as the West has not seen since the 1960s and 70s, when identity politics exploded in the aftermath of WWII to  to establish viable minority consciousnesses and so refashion national priorities in a more inclusive way for so many people. So many people "came out" - and not just gays, by any means - that our world is now vastly different from the world my mother was born into.

Doogue's shows stand on the premise that religion is a beleaguered institution in the West - and this is true for some religions, such as Christianity and Judaism - but the same cannot be said for Islam which is, as one participant last night admitted, a "guidebook for conduct". One reason for this is that most Muslims in Australia are recent migrants, or the generation born to them - the second generation - and so their sense of self is still solidly rooted in the faith of the country of origin. But as time goes by these things will change and Muslim youths will have to find ways to both respect their parents' codes of conduct as well as locate themselves within the broader social matrix in Australia.

Here, Muslim identity politics is only occasionally a problem, and may cause public nuisance and civil disorder along lines familiar to people who watch the evening news. We are genuinely surprised when the type of street violence we see happening in Cairo appears in Sydney's CBD, and the reaction from some is to strongly censure what they see as an unwarranted intrusion of foreign ways of being into the national body politic. But violence has always been part of identity politics because it is seen as one of the only viable ways to register protest at a level equal to the perceived insult to the subject minority. Street violence was a common feature of identity politics especially in the United States 40 years ago. But of course there is also violence of a more troubling kind, and that we see in the occasional revelation of plots uncovered by our secret services and by the police.

The ABC provides a public service when it offers a way of handling the differences of viewpoint that characterise the interstice between the secular liberal world view and the Muslim one. The program I watched last night gave the participants an opportunity to voice in a very public context opinions that they are very jealous of. It also gave me an opportunity to privately voice my own opinions of those viewpoints, and this blog goes even further, allowing me to work through the attendant issues in a public manner. What I saw as hypocrisy - for example in relation to the treatment of women in Islam, which one of the participants, a convert from Christianity, also expressed strong reservations about - those on the show found no cause to disparage. The show thus provided depth to events we normally only see within the narrow confines of the newscast as identity politics refashions large swathes of this globalised world in the post-colonial era.

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