Saturday, February 27, 2010

Are Muslims A Threat To Australia?

Judging by the number of emails I receive either making fun of Muslims, or warning what a threat they are to Australia, and even the world, it appears many Australians are worried (to be fair, Christianity is also sometimes the butt of email jokes). Considering that there are one billion Muslims in the world, and we live just next door to the largest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia, this is not something I can just dismiss out of hand without serious consideration. In Europe there’s also a lot of turmoil and many concerned about a “Muslim takeover”.

The best way to approach this is not with emotion-charged and possibly premature warnings which only incite prejudice, but trying to look a little more objectively at the facts. Several basic points need to be considered, which I’ll expand on later. The first is that, yes, Islam has not always been the most peaceful religion, but neither has Christianity. Both have been “conquering” and colonising religions in the past. Second, this is not the Middle Ages, and hopefully we are all a little more “enlightened” than we were several hundred years ago, and all of us, that is, the majority, want to live in a more peaceful world. Third, Muslims make up a paltry 1.7% of the Australian population. The fastest growing category in the five-yearly census is not Muslims, but those opting for “no religion”. Religious belief and church attendance are clearly continuing to decline in Australia. Fourth, Australia is a nominal Christian country, with Christian foundations and is a secular democracy. We have had atheist governors-general and prime ministers, something most Americans would balk at. Fifth, the Muslim community is the most ethnically and racially diverse in Australia, so when you think “Muslim”, don’t think of a unified body of believers. They don’t just come from the Middle East, but India, Pakistan, many other parts of Asia, Africa and Europe, and from vastly different cultures. In Turkey 99% of the population is nominally Muslim, and Turkey is governed by a secular democracy, and most of our Turkish immigrants are Muslim. Although Iran has practiced a rather draconian and literal form of Islam, they are by no means representative of the majority. I’d be the first to agree that some rather brutal forms of Islam have been enforced in some countries, but let’s limit this discussion to the title of the post.

Muslims came to Australia with the First Fleet arrivals, albeit a small minority as labourers and navigators, but through the 19th century many more arrived from Asia and even Afghanistan. The first mosque was built in 1882 in South Australia (1). My association has largely been with Muslims from Lebanon, Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.

Unfortunately, some Muslim leaders like Taj El-Din Hilaly have at times created tensions between Australians and Muslims (one should also bear in mind that many Muslims of the younger generation are Australian born), particularly when he gave his 2006 speech regarding “western” dress and rape, and allegations of his links to Hezbollah. According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald in June 2007, most Muslims were uncomfortable with Hilaly, and welcomed his decision to stand down. My direct experience with Muslims I interact with produced some colourful adjectives when describing Hilaly.

As I mentioned earlier, we live next door to the largest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia. Now first let me indulge in a bit of anecdotal reflection. I have never been to Indonesia, but I’ve talked to many people who have, and I’m told it’s a very peaceful place, certainly more peaceful than many parts of Australia, where we are besieged by drunkenness, drugs, crime, vandalism and violence, especially on weekend nights. Radical Muslims in Indonesia do not have widespread support, and again the diversity of Islam is a barrier to lumping Muslims into one category. Moderate voices prevail, and hopefully it will remain so. Indonesia is not a secular democracy, and the State philosophy is as follows:

Pancasila is the philosophic fundamentals of the state. The word “Pancasila” is derived from two Sanskrit words, “panca” which means five, and “sila” which means principle. Pancasila consists of five principles that are interrelated and inseparable, namely:

1. The belief in one God
2. A just and civilized humanism
3. Unity of Indonesia
4. Democratic citizenship lead by wise guidance born of representative consultation
5. Social just for all the people of Indonesia

Indonesia is a democratic country that applies a presidential system and Pancasila is the soul of the Indonesian democracy. Indonesia adopts a democracy that is based on the 5 principles known as the Pancasila Democracy. These state fundamentals were proclaimed by President Soekarno (the first President of Indonesia) on the Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Indonesia on 17 August 1945.

Only one province in Indonesia employs Shari’a Law, the territory of Aceh, and this law applies only to Muslims, and it has stated that it would not apply criminal sanctions for violation of Shari’a, nor strictly enforce it, but apply it as “codification” of Islamic values. I suppose this could be compared to Mormon religious jurisprudence, which is not enforced as law, but based on the principles of Mormonism alone. Someone excommunicated from the Mormon Church cannot be criminally charged for violation of Mormon moral teachings, unless of course such excommunications also included criminal violation of US laws.

Now the point I’m building up to here is, if radical Islam is no direct threat to a “take over” in Indonesia, how will 1.7% of the diverse Muslim population in Australia constitute a threat here? If someone has good reasoning to prove my point wrong, or offer alternative information, I welcome it. I realise that the situation is somewhat more complex in parts of Europe. So not wanting to close my eyes and shut my ears to the concerns of ordinary Australians, I think it’s worth posting the following You Tube video:

Society, sane society that is, relies heavily on people like Ed Husain to expose and try to stop all forms of extremism. Note carefully what he said, that his duty to humanity is greater than his duty to Islam. That will no doubt ruffle a few feathers among his fellow Muslims, but I believe that in reality most moderate Muslims feel the same way, and I believe they are the majority. Islam phobia in Australia, I think, is largely due to cultural differences. We are still not yet used to seeing men and women in the traditional “Muslim garb”. Mixing more with Muslims can reduce this xenophobia (a word Pauline Hanson now surely understands). We must remember, too, that for Muslims migrating to Australia, the sight of scantily-clad young women and the open consumption of alcohol in the streets is somewhat of a shock to them, and this is why perhaps many Muslims had some sympathy with parts of Hilaly’s speech, as otherwise crude, silly and insensitive as it was.

From my point of view, I feel certain that what most Muslims in Australia want is peace (especially since many of them come from war-torn countries), to be gainfully employed, and to contribute to the betterment of Australia. Sure, they don’t worship the Christian God, but in their tradition Jesus is honoured as a prophet, and that must be some kind of plus even if they don’t go the whole hog and accept Jesus as divine. Most significant is the younger generation of Australian Muslims born here, and this will continue to grow the longer Muslims are here. They are everyday Aussies you’d never be able to distinguish from other Australians – unless they told you they are Muslim.

The other problem, in my opinion, is that the most hostility to Muslims comes not from the population-at-large, but devout Christians. Many of them feel threatened by the religion started by Muhammad, who “worships a different God”, and not “the Saviour of Mankind”.

This is where it really gets problematical, and I’d go as far as to say that these Christians invoke the “jealous God” concept. Muslims are actually fine with Abraham (who was the father of Ishmael) and all the other prophets, and have some common bonding with Christians in that sense – up to the New Testament, where according to Christian tradition, Jesus becomes God-incarnate. This is where both traditions part company. So Christians tend to feel more threatened by Muslims than “secular” Australians (they entertain a whole lot of other prejudices against Muslims). I don’t agree that Christian traditions (such as Christmas and Easter, which ironically both originate from pagan traditions) should be compromised to appease Muslims, or anyone else, any more than I think Saudi Arabia should start celebrating Jesus. However, we already have home grown “renegades” who reject these traditions – Jehovah’s Witnesses. On a lighter note, I wouldn’t shed too many tears to see the commercialism of Christmas disappear, and it’s perhaps the one time of year I envy Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Finally, and this is purely anecdotal and perhaps like saying, in the eyes of some, “I talked to a few Martians”, if you take the really cynical view. Every Muslim I have asked this troubling question: “Do Muslims eventually want to rule Australia?” The instant retort has always been, without exception: “Rubbish!”. “Total bunk!” Now perhaps I’m naïve, and maybe some outspoken reader might offer some concrete evidence to the contrary, but so far, I see virtually no reasons to fear Muslims in Australia. Perhaps another point of the “jealousy factor” is that Muslims, unlike many nominal Christians, even when they no longer adhere to all the tenets of Islam, never lose respect for their inherited religious tradition.

Have you ever heard a Muslim take the name of Muhammad in vain? Even a lapsed Muslim? Maybe I dwell in some nebulous North Pole igloo, and maybe Salman Rushdie could prove the exception, but my general experience is that even lapsed Muslims retain a healthy respect for the tradition from whence they came, and most of them will still observe the Ramadan tradition. Now once again, I must emphasise that I do not support extreme Iranian fatwas against free speech, and I doubt moderate Muslims in the West would either.

I am not a believer, in God-incarnates, or end-time prophets, and no one should ever mistake this blog post as a “defence of Islam”. If I am “defending” anything – it is our common humanity, and our right to believe and live as we choose, as long as we don’t try to coerce or hurt others.

(1) Most of this information comes from Wikipedia.

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