Labor politician fingers Lebanese Muslims as a problem group

Guess why the Sydney police have a "Middle-Eastern crime squad"?

RETIRING Labor MP Tony Stewart has attacked the powerful Lebanese Muslim Association (LMA), branding it "backward and medieval" and claiming it wants to run pro-Muslim candidates in the state election.

Mr Stewart used his final speech to State Parliament to slam the Lakemba-based LMA and its chairman Samier Dandan, claiming Dandan wanted Muslims to be "recognised and treated differently" to other Australians because of their faith. "To use religious background as a political focus is a backward and medieval approach," he said.

Mr Stewart said he was responding to reports Mr Dandan had told more than 5000 Muslims at its November Eid al-Adha festival Muslim people should have their say, and the LMA planned to run candidates in a number of seats, including Bankstown, at the March election.

"If there is any marginalisation of Australian Muslims, it is occurring because of people who seem to be suffering from a siege mentality syndrome," he told parliament. Mr Stewart said government in Australia had always represented the community rather than religious faiths.

But Mr Dandan hit back at the member for Bankstown, saying he should have got his facts straight before he used his last parliamentary speech to bag the entire Muslim community. Mr Dandan said the LMA had no intention of running candidates in the state election.

Mr Stewart later told The Sunday Telegraph he stood by his comments and said mixing religion with politics was "not the Australian way". "Religion should not be involved in politics. We only have to look at the Middle East to see the political problems caused by faith being part of the political process," he said. "It can lead us to growing extremism and the idea of jihad and so on."

Mr Dandan said if the outgoing MP had read his speech online, he would have discovered he was urging Muslims to stand up for their political rights, "which have been taken for granted by Labor in western Sydney for 16 years".

"What is wrong with Muslims voicing their concerns? My speech was stating that the Muslim community is a little more intelligent than it was 20 or 30 years ago and we are going to express our voices," he said. "That's what democracy is all about."


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