Features Australia

Tolerating Islam

Muslim leaders must not hide beneath the deceptive robes of ‘hard’ multiculturalism

24 October 2015

9:00 AM

24 October 2015

9:00 AM

Our politicians are struggling to explain just what has brought us to the point where counter-terrorism control orders must be applied to children as young as 14. They are convulsed by the recent slaying in Parramatta of police accountant Curtis Cheng by a teenage gunman. How to explain what is going on in our society without being accused of mongering fear or race hatred?

But bending over backwards to avoid offending or upsetting people is getting the pollies nowhere. Speculating that Farhad Jabar was motivated by politics rather than religion, or that his lone attack should be thought of as a gun crime rather than terrorism, is foolish. The issue we have to face is the changing impact of Islam on contemporary Australia.

We know Muslims comprise just 2.2 per cent of the population — around 476,00 in the 2011 census — and we know just a small portion of that poses a serious threat. These are not big numbers in the scheme of things, and, for the most part, Muslims are well-integrated in Australia, enjoying life in a society that is broadly very supportive of multiculturalism.

But instead of Muslim community leaders sharing their concern with the broader community and addressing the problem, they are pre-occupied with what the majority of the population allegedly thinks about Islam. They have convinced themselves the real problem is racism and Islamophobia rather than the threat to our society posed by the seductive allure of – dare I say it? – the ‘death cult’ of Isis.

We know the Australian multicultural project has been one of the most successful in the world. We have a long history of successfully integrating new migrants and of tolerating religious and cultural differences, forging a society built around a series of core institutions and values. Most of us agree multiculturalism has been good for Australia.

But a new report on Australian attitudes to immigration released by the Australian Institute for Progress suggests our enthusiasm for multiculturalism is waning. While most voters continue to support high levels of immigration in general, the report found that increased immigration from Muslim countries is provoking new levels of concern in the community, with 48 per cent of respondents opposed.

It won’t do just to dismiss almost one in two respondents as bigots or racists and hope the issue goes away. The report found anxiety about Muslim immigration is driven by real concerns that: Islam is antagonistic to western culture, Islamic and western values do not coincide, and it is very hard for Muslims to integrate into Australian society. Concerns about suspected differences in the conception of citizenship or the willingness of Muslim migrants to integrate with mainstream culture are held sincerely; but the extent to which they are actually borne out by evidence — that is, the extent to which they are true — has yet to be tested.

The report also leaves to future enquiry just how important the factor of Islam is to the identity of migrants. Nonetheless, the survey suggests the Australian multicultural project is in danger of veering off course. Muslim leaders need to understand why this is happening; they also need to understand why the Australian public is demanding more from Islamic leadership than is currently being offered. Sadly, there is little indication of any forthcoming change either in understanding or in action on the part of Muslim leaders. For a start, they have condemned the Turnbull government’s move to allow security agencies to monitor terrorism suspects who are school children. Extending control orders to 14 year olds, they say, will serve only to alienate young people even further and do nothing to keep Australia safe. Sydney-based school chaplain Sheik Wesam Charkawi says the proposed measures will be ‘counter-productive’ and that the government needs ‘to start from a completely different perspective’.

But the Parramatta assassin was aged just 15, so it surely makes sense for security agencies to seek to monitor the activities of teenagers. After all, you don’t find Jewish or Christian or Hindu kids gunning down people on our streets.

And when Charkawi spoke on Q&A recently, he dismissed the wider community’s concern about Muslims as ‘paranoia’. But paranoia is a delusional disorder; there is nothing delusional about the community’s response to Curtis Cheng’s murder. Rather, it is a rational, well-founded fear that a small proportion of a small minority group is now posing the deadliest of threats to society.

It is in the interests of all Australians to ensure multiculturalism remains a story of success. This can’t, however, be the ‘hard’ multiculturalism pre-occupied with promoting diversity and cultural difference in the name of tolerance and anti-racism. It has, instead, to be the ‘soft’ multiculturalism that refuses to treat the nation as a collection of separate ethnic groups, yet insists on the peaceful co-existence of all citizens within a single political culture.

Such peaceful co-existence within a unitary political culture has long been the backdrop to Australia’s social reality: that people from different backgrounds assimilate into our society in their own way and at their own pace while respecting our political, cultural and legal conventions. The leaders of Australia’s Muslims need to get serious in showing the rest of society they grasp this fundamental point.

If they persist in blaming governments, in dismissing the concerns of non-Muslim neighbours, or in perpetuating the myth that Muslims are always victims of the intolerance and bigotry of others — whether it’s the police, the press, or the public — Australians will stop listening. For the issue is not what the bulk of Australians think about Muslims; it’s what a segment of the population, who are capable of perpetrating real harm, think of us.

There is a lot of goodwill towards the Australian Muslim community. Jewish and Christian leaders are spearheading efforts to strengthen ties and minimise misunderstanding between different faith groups, thereby helping to build a common life within which cultural diversity, grounded in the norms and values of modern Australian society, is not only accepted but respected. None of us want to live in a divided, fractious and fearful country.

But while Muslim leaders demand tolerance and understanding from non-Muslims in the name of multiculturalism, they will be disappointed and frustrated unless they can show themselves capable of addressing the allegiances and pathologies of a small but significant portion of the Muslim population.

Peter Kurti is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies

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Show comments
  • RopeableOfRowville

    Why should we tolerate the intolerable?
    THEY came here, THEY must fit in.
    I don’t really care what a man’s religion is – it’s his own business and no one else’s.
    I only care how he behaves in civil society.

    • Sue Smith


  • James David Lockhart Nelson

    This discussion is at primary school level. All Muslims participate in the very ancient Semitic culture at least 8,000 years old. Even in the time of Abraham it was largely barbaric. City of Rome was largely barbaric. The colosseum ceased to function only about 515 AD. Muslims should wake up to their own condition. The Jews have. The Muslims have little excuse to continue barbaris. The silence of most Muslim leaders is an election to continue their barbarism. If this is wrong let us hear them. Sensible people know we never will. They want to reverse the verdict of the Battle of Poitiers in the 8th century. The Muslims occupied a large part of the Balklins until about 1912. We are being led by Noe-Marxist historical ignoramuses.

    • John Tait

      Excellent analysis James. Peter Kurti’s article in The Spectator was first class. I hope that “those in power” read and digest it. Appeasers such as the ABC and the Fairfax press are unable to state the truth that Muslims must adhere to the laws of Australia and assimilate into our society.

  • Davedeparis

    I can support multi-culturalism “lite” or multi-racialism, that is, people of different races and origins living together under the arch of Australian values. In this model new migrants gently change and enrich Australian society but in the manner of adding herbs to stew that has already been made. The state ideology of Multi-culturalism however is a form of radical social engineering based upon extreme moral relativism that maintains that all cultures are always equal except traditional Australian culture which it holds to be a priori irredeemably wicked.

    • Sue Smith

      Absolutely agree with you!! Multiculturalism has been a disaster and only the extremists cling onto the notion of it being a success; most Australian are fed up with it and want it gone.

      And now an Australian school has permitted Muslim students leaving the room when “Advance Australia Fair” is being played. This is APARTHEID.

      • Davedeparis

        Thanks. I did not know that but it is disgraceful and truly dangerous that that is happening. Here in France the reaction against the Charlie Hebdo murders from the educated middle classes was a frank acceptance that things had gone too far and a determination to crack down on that nonsense in schools. They have the advantage though that the third Republic built up the idea that schools should be the building block of the nation.

  • Pioneer

    Does the author think multiculturalism and integration are the same thing ?

  • sarah

    Very good article. Hit the nail the on the head. Being a Muslim does not mean you are a terrorist. However, being a Muslim does not mean you have become a fully integrated, supporter of Western culture and active member of society. There is trouble in all groups in our culture, Islam is not on its own there. But its the minority of nutters in Islam who pose the greatest threat to the rest of us and these Mufti’s and Sheik’s and what not – are only continuing to widen the divide between us and them and expand the confusion surrounding what is right and what is wrong.

  • John Tait

    Really excellent article Peter. I do hope “those in authority” read this. Have you sent the essay to anyone for comment?

  • E.I.Cronin

    ”None of us want to live in a divided, fractious and fearful country”
    Too late.