Flat White

We need to talk (sensibly) about Islam

17 February 2017

1:35 PM

17 February 2017

1:35 PM

The unedifying spectacle between self-styled Muslim feminist Yassmin Abdel-Magied and Jacqui Lambie on Monday night’s Q&A was a master class in everything that’s wrong with how fringe dwellers on both the left and the right talk about Islam.

On one side of the panel we had Abdel-Magied insist without blinking that Islam is the most feminist religion in the world and that when it comes to how its practitioners treat women, her faith has no case to answer.

On the other end, we had Jacqui Lambie exhorting that the imposition of sharia law threatens to upend the very fabric of Australia’s secular, liberal society.

Both panellists were long on emotion, but short on reason.

Lambie’s pitch echoes the doomsday conspirators found in the Q Society, the unironically titled ‘Australian Liberty Alliance’ and One Nation that argue Muslims should be banned from entering Australia, halal certification funds terrorism and Islam is an existential threat to western civilization.

It’s a worldview that positions us on an unavoidable collision course with Islam, tainting anything or anyone connected to the youngest of the world’s Abrahamic faiths as an enemy of the public peace. The problem with Lambie and her ilk is that the broad net they cast obscures the many shades of grey that make up the Islamic world.

As it stands, there are at least 476,000 Muslims currently live in Australia, the very vast majority of which quietly go about their lives working, paying taxes and raising children without any affront to the ‘Real Australia’ Lambie believes is gravely imperilled. This is no coincidence. Our immigration system selects people for permanent residency largely on their capacity to contribute and function to Australia, often by filling skills shortages or utilising an existing skill valued by our workforce.

Drumming up a rhetorical clash of civilisations between Fair Dinkum Aussies and these otherwise law-abiding people who pay homage at a mosque not only stokes prejudice. It lends credence to the Muslim victim complex so bemoaned by Lambie and myriad commentators on the right.

Of course, there’s also the fact that far wiser national security minds than Jacqui and I widely agree a Muslim ban or Donald Trump’s tapered down executive order won’t make us a jot safer.

The claims from some in this cabal that a wholesale Muslim ban is justifiable partly because a swathe of Islamic countries impose similar discriminatory policies on Israeli’s, for instance, only underscores their pigheaded hypocrisy. The lack of religious test for entry into Australia and our Anglospheric counterparts is one of the defining features that separate the west from the sectarian tribalism that pervades much of the Middle East and North Africa. The notion that Australia, which rightly touts itself as the most successful immigrant society in the world, should pull up the drawbridge on visitors based on who they call God is less a defence than a bastardization of the values Jacqui Lambie is so intent on protecting.

Equally bizarre was Yassim’s claim that Islam is the ‘most feminist religion,’ based on a slew of historical factoids like the fact women in Islam keep their surname which bear no connection with the reality of life in many of the world’s major Muslim countries.

From the vantage point of Yassim’s south east Queensland upbringing, it’s fair to assume her view that Islam was a medieval forerunner to first wave feminism has received no serious challenge. Sadly, the same cannot be said about the lives of the more than one hundred million women living in the Middle East and North Africa.

Yassim’s insistence that sharia law being enforced by the might of the state is not ‘Islam’ ignores the inconvenient truth that the separation between church and state has never enjoyed the same esteem in the Muslim world as it has in the West. Whereas Jesus said Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,’ more than a dozen Muslim majority countries use the might of the state to enforce sharia law.

There is something unbecoming, even egotistical, about middle class Muslims who go on television and with a straight face deny that Islam has anything to do with the barbarism sanctioned by law in much of the Islamic world.

Yassim tried to tell Lambie that she was confusing culture with religion, but the two are not readily separable. Indeed, from the standpoint of those who live under the thumb of Islamist Theocracies like Saudi Arabia or Iran, whether an educated Muslim living in Australia thinks their country is practicing a perversion of the ‘true Islamic faith is a moot point. Far more consequential is the inescapable reality that women who live in countries that explicitly predicate their law on Islamic doctrine are often treated with less dignity than Australian law provides for household pets.

The wilful ignorance of this fact by those who would rather kneel at the altar of cultural relativism is a betrayal of their plight.

The public can sense the cognitive dissonance of those who fashion themselves as a feminist torchbearer, yet feverishly denounce anyone who is less than complimentary about how Islam is practiced in certain quarters of the world.

Contrary to the prevailing zeitgeist of the ABC and Fairfax opinion pages, most Australians don’t spin the globe and see a panoply of different cultures that aren’t good or bad – just different. They understand that our core values inherited from the enlightenment like equal dignity before the law, freedom of speech and a government whose laws operate independently of religious teaching are more than a happenstance of history.

Denying people the right to criticize religious practices that sit uncomfortably with these ideals under the flimsy guise of ‘freedom of religion’ or even worse, Islamophobia, is its own ugly form of bigotry. It’s a bizarre kind of doublethink that only feeds the appeal of One Nation, Jacqui Lambie and other fear mongering alarmists.

Growing rates of child brides being married off by Muftis, estimates that as many as 83,000 women and girls in Australia have been subject to female genital mutilation and calls from Islamic groups to include religion alongside race under s18C suggests there are conversations about Islam in Australia worth having.

Those who would rather see these conversations left closed in the name of ‘tolerance’ should open their eyes to the world beyond our shorelines. A breed of tolerance which turns a blind eye to barbarity because it is sanctioned by religion has more in common with the received learning of Baghdad and Tehran than anything you’ll find in the free and open societies of the West.

John Slater is Executive Director of the HR Nicholls Society

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