Tameem Moslih (Hekmat Herawi)
To the informed observer, the proliferation of Associations within the Afghan Australian community in the last decade or so stands out as an achievement of sorts. Across the main states in Australia, there are numerous Associations. Some of these include the following: Hazara Association in Victoria, Nawaei Farhang, Afghan Australian Association of Victoria, Australian Afghan Hassanian Youth Association (NSW), Afghan Australian Rehabilitation and Development Organization, Afghan Fajar Association Inc (NSW), Afghan Community Support Association of NSW Australia (ACSA), Afghan Australian Youth Association, Hume Afghan Association, Queensland Afghan Community Association, and Swinburne Afghan Students Association. This list is by no means exhaustive. Although a multiplicity of Associations focusing on different needs can have some potential benefits, it is important that there is an overarching coherency in the vision that form their ultimate goal.
Whether the effectiveness of the numerous Associations across this State (Victoria) and other major cities is notable can only be ascertained through a painstaking, detailed analysis of their various goals, mission statements, agendas, practical achievements on the ground, and different circumstances and challenges faced by each. However, a few key questions can be, and should be, raised. For example, what is the common position of various Afghan Associations on the issue of asylum seekers? What is the ‘big picture’ agenda that they are all ultimately pursuing. Are Associations working in cooperation across their various areas of interest and responsibilities? Can the Associations come to a consensus on any of the other major issues that face Afghan Australians, such as youth disengagement, problem gambling, access to services, youth suicide, domestic violence, maintenance of cultural heritage such as languages, etc.?
To argue that associations should merely focus on cultural activities and avoid political goals is naïve in the extreme. The personal is political, and so is the social and the cultural. Currently, we are witness to the sudden surge in the demonization of Australians of African descent in the State of Victoria. This is a worrying trend in this the most multicultural of Australian States. With the Victorian State election due soon, conservative media outlets are out in force with a blatantly racist agenda for pure political purposes. Surely, as a counter to such politicization, people need to organize themselves politically, too. The problem seems to be that at least within the Afghan community/communities (?), our elite mostly lack political skills. There is also the tendency to seek to appease the establishment by avoiding all that is political. There have been notable exceptions, with the Victorian local elections seeing Afghan Australian candidates running for office.
Ultimately, our elite need to re-evaluate their simplistic faith in the establishment’s promotion of “multiculturalism”. Although this brief piece cannot expand on the point here, it is sufficient to note that in Australia’s modern consumer society, cultures are promoted for as long as their liberating aspects are neutralized and their remaining dimensions commodified! Our Associations should seek to resist this trend and provide Afghan Australians with a real and effective voice as both progressive citizens of this social democracy and the broader global community. In the medium term, what is most urgently needed is a strategic rethink on the role and architecture of Associations. The current state of affairs seems to be one of Associations working largely in an ad hoc fashion, fragmented and disassociated from the long term challenges faced by Afghan Australians. The good intention and hard work of hundreds of volunteers working in numerous Associations can bear even greater, better and long-lasting fruit if such a strategic rethink is undertaken.