Australian Muslims have a cagey relationship with progressive political parties, it is inevitable then that Aussie Muslims will seek a place in the conservative fold.
I’m always amazed at how quickly political progressives switch from talk of diversity and tolerance to stigmatizing the Islamic community. As I’ve argued elsewhere, progressives all too easily embrace Islamophobia when Muslim beliefs come into conflict with LGBTI rights. Progressives across the world are split on a burka ban for Muslim women, sometimes supporting it, sometimes opposing it. I recently had a very informative discussion with a progressive friend about Islamic schools. My friend said that all Christian schools with traditional views of sexuality should lose state funding and be forcibly closed if they did not change their views. I asked him if he would do the same thing to Islamic schools. He paused for a moment, looked at me blankly, and I could see the mental gears churning away in his mind. He knew that he either had to concede the point or else accept his own progressive logic. “Close them,” he said, “a Muslim bigot is still a bigot.”
Progressives have a weird relationship with Muslims. On the one hand, they adopt a paternalistic and protective relationship with them because of Islamophobia. But on the other hand, progressives absolutely detest so much of the Muslim religion and Middle Eastern culture.
Ali Kadri, a spokesman for the Islamic Council of Queensland and the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, told ABC’s The Drum that the reason why Muslims were so silent during the same-sex marriage campaign was “We are afraid if we come out with our opinion then the left may abandon us for going against their view and we can’t be friendly with the conservatives because they have been bashing us for 15, 20 years every chance they get … and that includes some Christian sects as well.”
Kadri is right to be fearful of being caught in a cross-fire. In Europe, Islamophobia is energized by a peculiar coalition of conservative and progressive groups, and the same could happen here.
To deal with this paradox the progressive left has an unspoken social contract with Muslim communities in Australia to this effect:
As long as you are perceived as victims, we will protect you from Islamophobia. In return, we expect your obedience to the progressive cause which means abandoning elements of your detestable religion, your backwards culture, and your disgustingly heteronormative ideas of family. Forget your Islamic Councils and Association of Imams, we have appointed progressive Muslims like Waleed Aly and Yassmine Abdel-Magied as your representatives, when they speak, you nod. Your brown-skin looks great in our photo-ops, but please don’t spoil it by speaking.
When we want a Muslim opinion, well, Waleed and Yasmine are on our speed dial. I think you’ll find those to be very generous terms, and FYI, they are non-negotiable terms. If you do not like them, if you refuse them, or G-d help you, if you oppose them, then we will do to you what Napoleon did to Egypt. We will bring our European leftist boot on the neck of you and your family. Of course, this shouldn’t be a problem for you, after all, Islam is the religion of submission, and mark my word, you will submit to us. At the end of the day, we can protect you against the anti-immigration parties of the right, or else we will give you reasons to fear us far more than them. Oh, I almost forgot to say, thank you for your contribution to a diverse, tolerant, and inclusive Australian society.
In light of that, I urge my Muslim friends to remember that political progressives are not pluralists. While progressives believe in ethnic diversity and sexual diversity, they most definitely do not believe in ideological diversity. They believe anything other than the progressive position must be shamed into submission, or else silenced until it lurches into the shadows. And that applies especially to Muslims whose views of family, politics, and religion deviates from progressive values. Progressives take to Islamophobia and xenophobia with gusto and ferocity when the occasion suits them. The most progressives will offer Muslims is begrudging toleration or tokenistic inclusion.
To my Muslim friends, I am not a Muslim, but I am a person of faith, and a fellow immigrant and you deserve better treatment. I urge Aussie Muslims to consider whether you want to accept Dhimmitude under the progressive left, live with the constant threat of a secular crusade launched against your schools and charities, and reflect on whether you are willing to exchange silence for safety in a social contract with the Greens or the ALP’s left-wing. You should consider whether conservative political parties might be a better option for ensuring your security in Australian society and for supporting your own pro-family Islamic values as indigenized into the Australian context.
Could Muslims turn to conservatives parties en masse? I believe so. For a start, the fact that western Sydney, full of migrants, voted overwhelmingly “no” in the same-sex marriage vote, indicates that social conservatism has clear and obvious traction in this region. The voting statistics disheartened leftist commentators when they realized that “westies” are not subservient to inner-city progressive leaders (see here and here). But if conservatives are to court the Muslim vote, then they must get their own house in order.
Conservatives must champion political pluralism, affirm that diversity means the right to be different without fear of reprisal, and foster an inclusive brand of multi-culturalism. It means, also, pruning the conservative movement of the xenophobia, Islamophobia, and anti-immigration sentiments that have burgeoned in recent years. Instead of pandering to Australia’s alt-right, they must stand-up for the virtues of the fair-go for everyone. It does not mean abandoning responsible immigration policy, refusing to take a hard line against global Jihadism or challenging views of LGBTI people and women in some cultures. Reaching out to Muslims only means affirming them as partners in the quest for a better Australia and supporting them in the pursuit of their own happiness.
Nothing I have said deviates from classic conservative principles. Conservatives need to remember that it was the Holt liberal government that ended the White Australia policy. It was the Fraser liberal government that accepted refugees from Lebanon and boat people from Vietnam. It was the Howard Liberal government that accepted refugees from Sudan. The Liberals have traditionally – notwithstanding off-shore processing –been the party of compassionate and orderly immigration, promoted multi-culturalism, and embraced freedom and pluralism as the distinguishing marks of Australian democracy. To this, they must return.
Conservatives must offer Muslims not condescending patronage, but real partnership in political conversation. Conservatives should encourage Muslims not to settle for being victims, but to find their voice, especially against progressive prejudices. Conservatives must give Muslims a place at the table, not as progressive pets, but as equals in a multi-cultural Australia. Conservatives must run candidates who are Muslim, Maronite, and of Middle Eastern heritage in western Sydney. They can break the red wall of western Sydney through the appeal of simple conservative principles.
I submit that Aussie Muslims are de facto conservatives, they may not know it yet, but liberal conservatism is their only hope if their families and communities are to escape punitive actions at the hands of the progressives left. The question is will the conservatives open the doors to them?
Rev Dr Michael F. Bird is Lecturer in Theology at Ridley College, in Melbourne, Australia.
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