It seems that a sizable proportion of Australia’s non-Anglo Celtic communities in key Labor electorates voted ‘No’ in the Marriage Equality survey. As did many traditional Australians living in these electorates. Now a perilous narrative is arising that Muslim Australians were all opposed to Marriage Equality.
Nail Aykan, the executive director of the Islamic Council of Victoria, tells Daily Review there is a “misconception that the Muslim community is homogenous and that they all voted ‘No’”.
“There is a good proportion, around 40 per cent that voted ‘Yes’, and from anecdotal evidence, overwhelmingly young Muslim women voted ‘Yes’,” Aykan says.
Some of my peers on the Left, especially those from Western Sydney, are handwringing either in surprise or shame. But why? Don’t they know their own communities?
What makes some progressive peers think that immigrant communities are less conservative than other Australians? Class, education, faith, age and family background have much to do with a citizen’s position on social issues. And the pattern shows that most largely immigrant and traditional working class seats in the outer suburbs had a higher ‘No’ vote than most inner-city and more socially and politically progressive seats.
Andrew Jakubowicz, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Technology Sydney, points to the successful anti-Safe Schools campaign by the ‘No’ coalition that targeted communities with traditional cultural and religious mores.
Many immigrant background Australians have low English language skills and settled here as poor rural immigrants. This group of immigrants are very different to the young Spanish, Greek, and Italian professional immigrants arriving here after the EU’s financial crisis. This latter group includes middle class Middle Eastern, Iranian and Afghani refugees who have resettled here.
Western Sydney’s ‘No’ vote reflected similar patterns in Melbourne. This shouldn’t be a surprise to activists, especially those who ‘engage with communities’.
Jakubowicz wrote in The Conversation that “in localities where there are strong communities built around Eastern Orthodoxy, Islam, Eastern Catholicism, African Christianities, Asian Christianities (from Catholic to Evangelical), and even in other areas with pockets of Orthodox Judaism, there were singular funnels of information presented in cultural and moral terms.”
“I don’t know why there is a focus now on the Muslim community…. we do not hold that much weight.” – Nail Aykan.
There was little information in social or traditional ethnic media from the ‘Yes’ campaigners. The absence of multicultural communications is a continual issue in Australian political life and evident across the Republican Movement, Marriage Equality and audience development for the arts.
Aykan re-emphasises that not all the 600,000 Muslims in Australia voted no, but those who did: “Like the Christians who voted ‘No’, may not be homophobic, they just did not feel that the marriage act should change”.
Muslims are only 2.6% of the population he reminds me. “This is a small percentage of the overall electorate and an even smaller proportion of the Australian electorate which voted ‘No’”.
“If you breakdown it down, one per cent of the 2.6 per cent voted ‘Yes,’” says Aykan.
“I don’t know why there is a focus now on the Muslim community…. we do not hold that much weight,” he adds.
Importantly, the Muslim leadership were not vocal in either the Yes or No campaign.
“We in the ICV did not take a position. We felt people are free to chose according to either their own beliefs and values, be they progressive or conservative,” Aykan says.
Communities, like all communities, have a strong element of conservatism.
Many times have I have heard: ‘You Greeks in Australia are more Greek than the Greeks in Greece’.
In fact, we are not. Emeritus Professor Ian Harry Burnley pointed out 37 years ago that immigrant communities undergo an ‘institutional completeness’. This means the development of our own language schools, places of worship, dance and music groups, ethnic media, lawyers, accountants and grocers in our new country. Such communities create great photo opportunities for city tourism promotions or ministerial reports on the success of multiculturalism.
This wholeness requires cultural maintenance by tradition bearers. So, the assumption by some that immigrant communities should be natural allies to liberal social causes reveals a lack of understating and deeper engagement by these activists. It exposes a commitment to engaging only with ideological peers, not the whole community.
Aykan says Australians should be proud of the way it expressed its views in such a respectful campaign and that now its “up to the Parliament to legislate for Marriage Equality”.
Aykan is surprised “as an Australian citizen who follows political affairs at the reaction of some ‘Yes’ campaigners that 38 per cent of Australia did not vote their way”.
“Come on, 61 per cent is a great result particularly when reflecting that in 2004 only 30 per cent were in favour of Marriage Equality,” he says.
The support for Marriage Equality doubled in the overall population he says. “That’s an “amazing victory so why this focus on the 38 per cent?”
Aykan says that Australians should be proud of the way it expressed its views in such a respectful campaign and that now its “up to the Parliament to legislate for Marriage Equality”.
Being communitarian on economic issues, as were the large Irish- Catholic rump of the Labor Party by the 1950s, does not mean one naturally tilts to left-liberal social mores.
Haranguing Muslims, or any immigrant community, for not voting ‘Yes’ in higher numbers is akin to dangerous populism.
I told Aykan how one crazy Greek Orthodox priest in Melbourne said he’d take out his shotgun and kill any one from the LGBTIQ community seeking to marry in his church. Aykan laughed, “Imagine a Muslim cleric saying that, we’d have the Federal Police fully armed around the mosque”.