Friday, September 02, 2005

The Irreverence of Yoose

In 1985, I attended my first Muslim youth camp organised by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC). It was an amusing affair, with talks and lectures given by middle-aged men with thick accents telling us about how we should consider ourselves Aussie Muslims.

One “uncle” in particular stands out. I will never forget the laughter and ridicule with when he was greeted when he announced: “The AFIC tuck shop is now open!”. Since that time, we have been poking fun at the “t” sound he made in his Indian pronunciation of the word “tuck shop”.

On the last night of the camp, the participants traditionally did performances to entertain each other. Often we took the piss out of the group leaders and organisers. On my first camp, I manufactured a fictitious pop band called “Pak-Attack”, consisting of myself and 5 token Pakistanis. We used cricket bats as guitars and did a truly woeful rendition of the ‘80’s song “Take On Me”. But our song was really a tribute to Sheik Fehmi, our camp imam.

I also did a stand-up comedy skit which I can now admit plagiarising from a stand-up comic I saw on video. I put a tea-towel on my head and came out and said …

“Aloo! I am ze ayatollah. But Aya toldya that already. I dunno Khomeini times, Khomeini times …”

I was probably the only Anglo kid at the camp. Well, I was the closest thing to an Anglo, musically speaking. While all the ghetto-lebbos listened to George Michael and Boy George, my ghetto-blaster would blast out the sounds of U2, Midnight Oil and AC/DC. While my friends would sing and dance like Michael Jackson, I would be screaming out how “I’m on da highway to hell!”.

Then at my last AFIC camp in 1987/88, I joined my best mate Abs (as we used to refer to Abdullah) on stage. Our faces were covered in kufiyyehs and we sang a version of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”. It took us 10 minutes to adapt the lyrics to the intifadah, and a further 5 minutes to prepare.

Thankfully for AFIC, we had no further youth camps at which to perform our irreverent form of comedy. We have gone beyond that now. Abs is now managing his old buddy Anthony Mundine. I am practising law and appearing on TV every now and then.

So why were we so irreverent? What did the elders think of us? Why did they put up with us? I asked one camp imam, Shaykh Khalil Chami, about it. Shaykh Chami is now official Muslim chaplain for the NSW and Federal Police. He is one of my favourite imams.

“Bruzzer ‘Arfan, you must undirstend zat za yoose are za fiyoochar of za Muslim in za Australia. We cannot shut up to za yoose.”

He was bloody right.

Perhaps the worst form of irreverent performance was at a camp organised by Young Muslims of Australia (YMA). I was a team leader at the time. We decided to take the piss out of some of the anti-Semitic attitudes displayed by our middle-aged Indian uncles. But we also wanted to do it in style.

So we took an old Frank Sinatra song and re-wrote the lyrics. We sad it in awful Indian accents, but soon gave up on the idea. The lyrics are exceptionally offensive. But remember that this was us lampooning anti-Semitism, not being anti-Semitic. Here is an excerpt of the song …

Start killin the Jews
They’re pissin me off.
I wanna tell the lot of them
Jet out, jet out!

The phrase “jet out” is a common Pakistani-English phrase used by globe-trotting Pakistanis to boast of their favourite and expensive preferred mode of travel.

Were the organisers of the camp impressed? The imam was furious. The organiser, a Young Naqshibandi Turk from Coburg Mosque, half-jokingly said to me: “I will one day leak the video recording to the Liberal Party when you run for pre-selection”.

Later, another organiser took me aside and said:

“Listen, I got the joke. But many of these kids are young and impressionable. They won’t understand you are taking the piss out of Indians. They might think you are promoting anti-Semitism. Their parents will be furious if they find out. You’d better get up and explain yourself”.

Which I did. I got up and explained the jokes from the amended lyrics to the kids. I told them that our religion does not teach hatred of other faiths or violence. And I learnt quickly that the irreverence of “za yoose” has its limits.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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