Funny Guy of the Year


Fellow Australians, lend me your ears. For I bring you glad tidings and great news. Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali has just won his second election.

This man’s man among male men of the cloth has been elected to a high position by the second Australian men’s magazine in a row. It all started some weeks back when Ralph magazine elected Sheik Hilali Funny Guy of the Year, beating such eminent comedians as the Melbourne toilet cleaner Kenny and the allegedly Kazakhstani sex symbol Borat for the award.


Ralph ‘s editors wanted to pay tribute to the Sheik’s ‘absurdist comedy,’ claiming his comparison of immodestly dressed women to uncovered meat had been misinterpreted as a ‘sexist rant.’ ‘One day, we’ll translate his comic observations properly and recognise him as the Islamic Seinfeld he really is,’ the magazine wrote.

Now, Zoo Weekly has elected Hilali to the post of un-Australian of the Year. Hilali beat such legends as Germaine Greer for her funeral-pooping comments about Steve Irwin and Lara Bingle for failing to bloody invite more bloody foreigners to bloody visit bloody Australia.

But it seems that winning two elections in a space of a few weeks isn’t enough for our erstwhile Mufti. Sheik Hilali now wants to start his own election ticket maybe even his own Party. He wants to knock off ALP members Morris Iemma, Tony Stewart and Barbara Perry from their respective seats of Lakemba, Bankstown and Auburn.

Time will tell whether Hilali’s move represents throwing a cat or a piece of dead fish among the pigeons. Still, I’ve had some experience with the Sheik in various elections which I might as well share with you. I’ve already expressed my views on Hilali’s election chances and some not-so-ancient history here and here. But there’s one incident which illustrates dramatically why neither Hilali nor any other Australian religious leader has the ability to deliver votes.

Thanks to Sean Leahy

On a September Saturday morning in 2001, four days before the devastating attacks on New York and Washington, the people of the NSW State seat of Auburn went to the polls to decide who would replace their long-time MP Peter Nagle.

The campaign had been a short one. Both the ALP and the Libs had pre-selected women, and both had knocked back the possible pre-selection of high-profile lawyers who just happened to have some kind of Muslim heritage.

In the ALP’s case, it was a simple matter of Barbara Perry winning the pre-selection over Talal Yassine.

In the Liberal Party’s case, it was a matter of:

The Party receiving one valid nomination by closing time;

That nomination coming from me, for me;

The Auburn Libs Branch President (a Lebanese-Palestinian marriage celebrant) not liking me;

NSW Opposition Leader Kerry Chikarovski (or ‘Chika’, as we used to call her) allegedly asking me to withdraw my nomination through her State Director;

Me saying, ‘No way’;

David Clarke and Charlie Lynn telling me to fight Chika all the way;

Chika’s State Director, Scott Morrison, and I exchanging some interesting words on the phone;

Me telling Morrison: ‘I won’t believe what you say. If the Leader wants me to pull out, she can ring me herself!’;

Chika ringing me up herself and saying: ‘Yusuf, we’ve found an Anglo female candidate. I’d like you to pull out.’

Me responding: ‘And what’s in it for me?’

Chika replaying: ‘I don’t do deals, Yusuf’;

Me responding: ‘The name is Irfan. Yusuf is my surname. Is that clear, Chikarovski? I’ll consider what you are saying and make a decision’;

The endorsement process commencing over the phone with Party President Chris McDiven asking me about Middle Eastern politics;

Me saying to McDiven: ‘I just thought I should remind you that foreign policy is not a State matter’;

McDiven answering me with: ‘Irfan, we have a lot of Jewish supporters in the Party, and we need to know where you stand on Israel, Palestine and Lebanon’;

Me responding: ‘Chris, my parents come from India, not the Middle East. And last time I checked, Auburn wasn’t exactly a Jewish community hub’;

Piers Akerman mis-spelling my name in a column before declaring his preference for a candidate who once stood up in a Gladesville Liberal meeting and claimed to be Jewish (none of us, not even the Jews, believed him);

Me finally agreeing to stand aside on the basis of being mentioned in the press release as being the sole valid nominee (the final wording was watered down).

The Liberal campaign was lots of fun to watch. Imagine all the blue-rinse-set North Shore MPs walking around Auburn Road trying to shake hands with conservative Muslim Somali and Afghan women. Most of these guys had never been to Auburn in their lives. Thankfully, most had drivers.

Anyway, Hilali was damned furious that the ALP had not pre-selected Yassine. After talking to his politically savvy advisers, Hilali was convinced that deep dark Anglo-Jewish forces were at work, depriving Yassine of the spot.

And so there was only one thing to do. Hilali’s men contacted Chika and invited her and her team to the Imam Ali ben Abi Taleb Mosque in Lakemba. One of Chika’s colleagues spoke to me later about it and said: ‘See, Irfan. We didn’t need your help to get the Mufti’s endorsement. Now I reckon we should get a swing of at least 10 per cent after the Mufti gives us a Liberal fatwa.’

What could I say? These buggers think they know everything. Let them find out the hard way.

And find out they did! The Turks were furious at Chika not seeking special endorsement from their Imam (not that their Imam would have been stupid enough to provide it). The anti-Hilali Lebs weren’t impressed either. The Afghans, Pakistanis and others were fairly ambivalent.

I walked in late to the campaign headquarters in Lidcombe (the premises are now being used as an Islamic youth centre). A young Liberal guy came up to me and said: ‘Irfan, where’s the Mufti? Didn’t you bring him with you? Keysar said the Mufti would be coming two hours ago, and half the Shadow Cabinet are here waiting to thank him.’

But as more and more results came in from big booths, it was clear the Shadow Cabinet really had nothing to thank the Mufti about. Thankfully, he never showed up. Despite losing, the Liberals still put on brave faces.

A few months later, I put my hat into the ring to run for the Federal seat of Reid (which takes in most of Auburn). I actively sought and obtained the Mufti’s endorsement for just about any and every candidate except me. It wasn’t hard I had acted as a lawyer for a school which sacked a sibling of one of his closest advisers, and that adviser was still livid.

That Federal election turned out to be my Mufti
-day. I managed a 5.1 per cent swing on a two-Party-preferred basis. I was also at the top of the ballot paper, while my opponent (Laurie Ferguson) was last on the ballot paper. So I even had donkeys voting for me!

Still, donkeys aside, the moral of this story is one that all major political Parties should remember. If you want to win, pray to Allah, God, Krishna, Buddha and anyone else you might fancy that Sheik Hilali gives a political endorsement. And pray real hard it’s given to your opponent, not you!

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.