Australia's first Muslim political party launched

Published 17.11.2015 16:19

Australia's first Islamic faith political party launched in Sydney on Tuesday to a mixed response.

While supporters say it will act as a voice for disenfranchised youth, opponents are concerned it could alienate the country's Muslims from mainstream society.

Kuranda Seyit, a spokesperson for the Islamic Council of Victoria, told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday that he has reservations as to exactly what role the new Australian Muslim Party (AMP) will play.

"I'm concerned that it could send the wrong message. It could imply that Muslims are trying to separate themselves from the rest of the community," Seyit said.

He also questioned whether another platform for Muslims is needed, pointing out that there are already a multitude of Muslim voices in the community, including numerous Islamic Councils.

Yet to officially register, the AMP says it plans to submit candidates in every state at the next federal election in the hope of winning a Senate seat.

To do this, it needs 500 members to allow it to register for the ballot paper.

Founder Diaa Mohamed is confident the AMP will achieve this, particularly with the specific aim of giving Muslims a platform and "providing disenfranchised [Muslim] youth with a voice".

"Young Australian kids need to know that Muslims are legitimate," Mohamed told Anadolu Agency in a phone interview Tuesday. "They need to know they have a political party and a voice."

"Many feel illegitimate and disenfranchised. They're Australian but they don't feel Australian," he added.

The new party is not, however, the first to seek to grant Muslims a voice in the Australian parliament.

The Labor Party's Ed Husic was the first Muslim MP elected to the federal parliament in 2010, and Pakistani-born Mehreen Saeed Faruqi has been a Greens MP in the New South Wales Legislative Council since June 2013.

On Tuesday, Dr. Jamal Rifi, a high profile Australian Lebanese Muslim GP and community leader, disagreed with Islamic Council spokesperson Seyit, saying the formation of the new party will extend the Muslim voice, not hamper it.

"I have always encouraged our young people to be part of the decision-making process in this country through membership of Labor, Liberals and the Greens. Now we have one extra party from which they can choose," Rifi said.

"This is an inclusive not an exclusive move and it is part of establishing their national identity as Australians."

For some opponents the issue is not so much Islam, but religious faith as a whole.

Opposition Labor Party leader Bill Shorten underlined Tuesday that everyone should have a right to a democratic voice, but he was "not in favor of the introduction of a lot of religion into politics".

"I think the two should be broadly separate. I don't necessarily want to see religion being a lightning rod for people being for and against a particular party," he told reporters on Tuesday during a doorstop interview in Cairns, Queensland.

"I don't think that's ultimately going to help the debate about inclusion and multiculturalism."

The AMP is not the country's only faith based-party -- the Australian Christians and the Christian Democratic Party are two "Christian" parties registered with the Australian Electoral Commission.

It is, however, the first set up to counter the anti-Islam rhetoric by such groups as the Australian Liberty Alliance (ALA), which had Geert Wilders, the leader of the right-wing Netherlands' Party, as a guest at its launch and states stopping the "Islamisation of Australia" as one of its key policies.

AMP founder Mohamed, a 34-year-old businessman from western Sydney, told Anadolu Agency that one of the main reasons he established the party was to counter a recent rise in anti-immigration and anti-Islam parties.

There are now six such parties in Australia.

"[Parties such as the ALA are] either uneducated or they're naive," he underlined.

"I'm happy to educate them... I guarantee if you asked them what Sharia or Halal is they wouldn't have any idea."

With the party's launch occurring just four days after Daesh terrorists claimed responsibility for a wave of shootings and bomb blasts in France that killed 129 people, Mohamed said he'd contemplated calling off the launch but decided postponing it would be "insincere".

"Unless you're blaming all Muslims directly for what happened... then it shouldn't sound insensitive at all," he said.

He told the ABC that the AMP would never support the invasion of a Muslim country, however, in response to such attacks.

"Let's look at how well that's worked in the past. We've invaded Afghanistan ? we've invaded Iraq, and we're in the mess we're in right now," he said.

"So would I support something that's never worked in the past? No."

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