The Imam, the Pastor and the Politician: Analysis of Religion’s influence in Participatory Public Sphere: Comparing the Impact of Imams’ communication to Muslim voters in the 2017 Western Australia’s State Election and the influence of Pentecostal Churches in Nigerian Politics

Joe Anyanwu

    Research output: Other contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


    We are facing a situation similar to the 1970s Britain in which Hall et al. (1978); Hier (2011); Morgan and Poynting (2012); Simpson (1997); Poynting (2001), and many others, refer to as state of moral panic. Anti-immigration populist politicians like Nigel Farage with his Brexit success; Donald Trump with his US Presidency; resurgent Pauline Hanson’s One Nation in Australia; the extreme right wing Marine Le Pen of France, and the Dutch Geert Wilders’ PVV party, all have high jacked the global political debate. They have also victimised immigration for the failed neoliberal economic policies, which have disenfranchisement majority of the working class.

    During the almost hung parliament in Australia’s 2016 Federal, Collier (July 9, 2016), said that the unprotected sent a message to the men who wouldn’t listen. “We expressed our disappointment. We don’t have our version of Trump yet. There is, at the moment, only an angry crowd and an empty chair. It will be interesting to watch who tries to fill it”. In the analysis of Trump’s ascendency into power, Johnson (14 Nov 2016), presented some powerful statistics to demonstrate that Trump’s success was not about Trump, but about his ability to tap into a society in search of change due to widening socioeconomic inequality.

    In the lead up to the 2017 State Election in Western Australia, with widening unemployment rate, voter backlash was brewing against the Colin Barnett government. In a bid to capitalise on the populism of far right independents, the state Liberal party made a preference deal with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party, to preference One Nation ahead of the Nationals, who have been their traditional ally at the Federal level. As a consequence of the preference deal, six Imams in Western Australia, sent letters to their worshippers, warning them that any vote for the Liberals “will effectively be a vote for One Nation”, and consequently against Islam. According to Sheikh Mohammed Shakeeb, Imams are by and large apolitical, “we don’t really get involved in politics,” but due to the recent rise of political parties that advocate politics of racism, division and hatred, we thought it was in our best interests to take this stance” (Moodie, 2017).

    Similarly, in Nigeria, “current religious revival is understood in terms of the failure of modern institutions, and political rationality to take hold, and religious responses appear as simultaneously the reason for and the result of such failures” (Marshall, 2009, p. 5). According to Katenga-Kaunda (27 June 2015), the biggest draw “to this form of religious alternative, is the ‘gospel of prosperity’. Self-appointed prophets focus their sermons on prosperity for all church-goers, who live in abject poverty”.

    To analyse these issues, the paper uses and acknowledges that central to Habermasian public sphere is “the principle of universal inclusion and strict equality among members” (Charles and Fuentes-Rohwer, 2015, p. 3), however, it is cautious about the concept of publics in the public sphere (Habermas et al., 1989), being cognisant of Lewis (2001, p. 23) warning that the concept of “public” is less a signifier of democracy than a shift in power toward an educated, property-owning middle class. The paper will use the 2015 Gallup International poll (Boren, 13 April 2015), which found that wealthier people and nations, are less religious than poorer countries, to ask whether religion is an alternative public sphere for failed political systems, and whether stable socioeconomic systems are replacement for religious faith. The paper will explore religious communication and interactions as performative (Marshall, 2009, p. 4), bearing in mind that democracy resides, ultimately, with citizens who engage and talk with each other” (Dahlgren, 2005, p. 149). Performance in this regard takes a Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt (estrangement) approach to spirituality and political aesthetics. Moy et al. (2005, p. 113), identified that political performance leads to “engagement, which can manifest itself as voting, discussing politics, and other forms of participation”. Through these theoretical frameworks, I will explore how the WA Islamic performance influenced the political outcome of the state, and how the Pentecostal movement in Nigeria performs with its political system.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages2
    Publication statusPublished - 2018
    EventAustralia and New Zealand Communication Association (ANZCA) 2017 Annual Conference - University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
    Duration: 04 Jul 201707 Jul 2017 (Conference website ) (Conference website)


    ConferenceAustralia and New Zealand Communication Association (ANZCA) 2017 Annual Conference
    Abbreviated titleCommunication worlds: Access, voice, diversity, engagement
    OtherThe conference invited reflections on the worlds of communication we inhabit, create and reshape – from ancient, modern and future communication worlds through to colonial and postcolonial worlds, activist and start-up worlds, ecologies, ecosystems and environments.

    As we can see from our various encounters with the internet and social media across the globe, different types of ‘worlding’ enable and/or inhibit our access to, voice, participation in and engagement with media and communication spheres. With these four concepts in mind, ANZCA 2017 sought to explore who has access to our symbolic worlds and who is excluded from them; what knowledges, skills, resources and strategies enable us to enter these worlds; and what forms of presence these environments support, as well as what absences they suggest. Our second theme explored the concepts of voice and listening – who decides, on what terms and with what consequences, when people are given platforms to speak? How and in what contexts are they heard? Media diversity was a third theme, inviting accounts of how we might reimagine communication worlds, policies, practices and platforms for the more effective expression of cultural diversity. Engagement, our final theme asked colleagues how we might invite and recruit people to communicate in our worlds, and how we might we gauge the depth, breadth or scope of their interests, responses and contributions.
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