Response from Muslim organisations and community members to the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils’ (AFIC’s) press release dated 10 September 2020 and meeting with One Nation’s Mark Latham
Assalamu Alaykum Dr Rateb Jneid
We write to you as a collective of Muslim community members and organisations to express our deep concern and dismay at the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils’ (AFIC) press release dated 10 September 2020 and the content of AFIC’s meeting with One Nation’s Mark Latham (the meeting).
As you are aware, many in Australia have been the target of One Nation’s divisive, racist and hate-driven agenda for the last 23 years. One Nation has targeted many groups, including (but not limited to) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the Asian community, the African community, the Muslim community and asylum seekers.
Our collective experience as Australian Muslims is of a political landscape where One Nation’s presence has led to increased hostility and Islamophobic attacks towards our community, particularly Muslim women.
AFIC would no doubt be aware of One Nation’s current policies to ban the halal food industry, the ‘burqa’ and the building of mosques and Islamic schools ‘until an inquiry is held into Islam, to determine whether it is a religion or totalitarian political ideology undermining our democracy and way of life.’ One Nation’s current official policy is that Islam is not a religion.
You would also be aware of Mark Latham’s previous comments that Western Sydney had a ‘Muslim problem,’ his accusation that Osman Faruqi was ‘aiding and abetting Islamic terrorism’ and his vilification of poets from the Bankstown Poetry Slam (BPS), which ultimately led to the need to hire security for the BPS.
We were dismayed by AFIC’s most recent press release and related social media posts (including a 40-minute video of your meeting with Mark Latham and later posing for photos with him). This conduct by AFIC is nothing but disrespectful to our community. AFIC’s actions directly undermine the significant community work and advocacy many have undertaken to combat racism and religious discrimination over the years.
AFIC’s Media Statement dated 10 September 2020 and social media activity
AFIC’s media statement dated 10 September reads as an advertisement for both Mark Latham and One Nation. It provides unequivocal support for the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020 (the Bill) and contains quotes from several AFIC members praising Mark Latham. It states that Mark Latham “joined One Nation as an anti-discrimination party and this Bill in the NSW Parliament proves that the party is serious about treating all communities fairly, offering protections from discrimination.”
We are outraged that AFIC could form such a position.
This statement is directly contradicted by official One Nation policy which does not even consider Islam to be a religion. It is inconceivable that anyone, particularly a Muslim organisation, could form such a view.
We are embarrassed by AFIC’s conduct. It is clear that AFIC are not politically astute. It is also clear that your organisation has not engaged in any useful analysis of the Bill and whether it adequately provides for the religious freedoms that Mark Latham claims. AFIC have failed to notice that this Bill does not provide any protection against religious hate speech or other issues, including the fact that secularism would meet the definition of a ‘religious belief’ under the Bill. This would not only allow Muslim organisations to discriminate against non-Muslims, but also secular organisations to discriminate against faith-based people, including Muslims. AFIC made no attempt, either in the meeting or in their press release, to address the inadequacies of the Bill with Mark Latham.
AFIC did not question Mark Latham on One Nation’s policies on Islam nor did it demand change. It was particularly embarrassing when all members at the meeting readily agreed with Latham when he stated: “I’m moving an Anti-discrimination bill, I can’t be part of a party that discriminates.” Any basic level of research into One Nation’s policy before the meeting would have revealed the falsity of this statement. This should have been challenged.
To add further insult to injury, AFIC posted a video of the meeting and photographs of AFIC’s executive posing happily with Mark Latham on your Facebook page. When criticisms were made, the defence provided by AFIC was that it was dawah. It should be understood: we have no objection to you providing dawah to anyone, should you wish. However, this was not dawah – this was a political meeting with a political agenda.
Undertaking political advocacy on behalf of the Muslim community is an amanah. You must ensure that you have the requisite expertise, skills and knowledge to engage in such advocacy, as well as conduct appropriate community consultation. AFIC have proven that they do not meet a basic level of competency required to engage in any political advocacy. AFIC have also proven that they are disconnected from the concerns and lived experiences of Australian Muslim communities.
We do not believe that you are fit to represent us at any level. We pray that you have the community’s best interests at heart, will hear this message and act accordingly.
We do not consider AFIC to be representative of Australian Muslim communities. We therefore request that AFIC:
- Withdraw the AFIC press release and related social media posts;
- Do not claim or attempt to represent the Muslim community; and
- Desist in engaging in any further political advocacy until your organisation attains the requisite skills, knowledge, and experience necessary, and is willing to conduct appropriate community consultation.
 Islamophobia in Australia report 2014-2016 (https://www.islamophobia.com.au/Islamophobia-in-Australia-ISRA-Academic-Report.pdf) and Islamophobia in Australia – II (2016-2017) (http://www.islamophobia.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Islamophobia-Report-2019LOW-Res.pdf)
 https://nsw.onenation.org.au/policies/halal-certification-and-islam/ Accessed 13 September 2020