I’m a bit drunk, so let’s just get this over with: I love Malcolm Turnbull. Now, hold your tomatoes, proles. I don’t love him because, like sixty-something-massive per cent of the country, he supports same-sex marriage. Back in Boston, we don’t ask more probing questions than, ‘He isn’t a Catholic, is he? Oh my’. So I’m not terribly interested in the ceremonials surrounding one man sticking his what’s-it in another’s ho-hum. Nor do I think much of Turnbull’s republicanism; and yet, middle-aged men espousing republicanism in 2015 isn’t much worse than their still telling the story of how stoned they got at that Iron Maiden concert thirty years ago. Yes, it’s embarrassing how un-cool stuff like that is today. But dads are fundamentally embarrassing creatures.
So let me say definitively that I’m not sitting pretty in the sensible centre. I’m sort of squatting in an old caravan somewhere in the ridiculous right. But that’s exactly why I’m joining the Pink Tie Brigades. Our by-jingo approach to radical Islam was deeply satisfying and heaps of fun, but it seemed rather ineffectual. Turnbull, I think, might be able to save the country from jihadists—and from right-wing nutters like me. Love him or loathe him, Turnbull takes seriously the idea that you and I might only assent to vaguely, grudgingly: that radical Islam is increasingly a societal issue. Lord knows it’s not an intellectual one. Osama bin Laden’s philosophy isn’t appreciably different to Jim Jones’s: God thinks it would be really neat if you offed yourself. In liberal democracies, they attract the same sort of people, too: the socially isolated, the mentally ill, and the generally pathetic. So, wanky as it is to say, and begrudgingly as I say it, we do have to work on preventing radicalisation, which means building a more tolerant society. I know, I know—you don’t buy the The Speccie to read fuzzy, lefty propaganda. But the results speak for themselves.
As much as we’d like to talk about Team Australia vs the Death Cult, it’s not very effective. We’re dealing with people who already hate Team Australia and/or want to belong to a death cult. So as much as we’d (rightly) just like to tear into all of the creeps, maniacs, and narcissists playing Abu Che al-Guevara, plotting to destroy the country that offered them the security and opportunity that ordinary Iraqis and Syrians could hardly dream of, it’s not enough. Which is why, strategically, the PM is probably right to stop using the phrase ‘death cult’. If nothing else, we should remember that the sick sorts of people that join groups like Isis revel in such language. The only way to counter radicalisation is to make Australian Muslims really feel welcome in this country. Personally, I haven’t the slightest clue what that entails. So when someone like Dr Jamal Rifi says that Muslims found the Abbott government’s tone ‘extremely tense and hurtful,’ I can only scratch my head. But it seems more important to acknowledge and accept that Aussie Muslims do feel this way. ‘Feelings aren’t right or wrong,’ my father, a trained hostage negotiator, always told me. ‘They’re just feelings.’ So when someone like Dr Rifi then says, ‘We are hopeful and determined to change the status quo and roll up our sleeves to work with the government to help protect Australia,’ that’s good enough for me. I’m more than happy to follow Turnbull’s example if it means preventing the sense of exclusion and isolation that breeds radicalism
Happily, Turnbull’s also refused to budge on the bottom line. I’m sure conservatives were pleasantly surprised to hear him say, ‘It is not compulsory to live in Australia. If you find Australian values are, you know, unpalatable, then there’s a big wide world out there and people have got freedom of movement.’ And I’m sure it’s no coincidence that these sentiments were finally echoed forcefully by a leader of the Muslim community—namely Neil El-Kadomi, chairman of the Parramatta mosque, who told his congregation, ‘If you don’t like Australia, leave.’
There’s just one area where the PM is at risk of coming up dangerously short. We know Turnbull is loath to repeal 18C, seeing it as counter-productive to the tolerant atmosphere he’s working to create. Any reasonable person can empathise with that. But the truth of the matter is that you can’t foster tolerance at gunpoint. You can’t create an authentic feeling of common cause by throwing all the (non-Muslim) malcontents in the slammer. It would be a gross double standard to say radical Islam is a societal issue but Islamophobia is a matter of law and order. We’re now seeing the Islamic community come forward and condemn radicalism in a big way for the first time, and that’s brilliant. Now give non-Muslim Australians the same chance. I can’t speak for the Muslim community or its impressions of the Abbott government. I can, however, speak as a white Christian. Loads of us—as well as members of other religious and racial minorities—feel that it took the Islamic community far too long to speak up meaningfully against the radical elements in their homes and mosques. So if Mr Turnbull decides to forgive certain Muslim leaders for their passivity and move forward in a more constructive relationship (which seems only reasonable), the same offer needs to go out to critics of Islam. Multiculturalism is a new and frightening idea, one rapidly losing the confidence of Aussies from all walks of life. If the PM wants to give it another whack, he ought to extend the olive branch to the sceptics and naysayers. Suppressing their right to free speech is only going to make them feel angry and marginalised—which I thought is exactly what we’re meant not to do.
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