Last week a lot of us were talking about the Essential poll which showed that 49% of Australians wanted a ban on Muslim immigration. Like many, I assumed that the reason was the association of Islam with terrorism in popular thinking, but a closer look at the data suggests another story. Those who supported a ban on Muslim immigration were asked the main reason. 27% referred to Muslims as a terrorist threat. 41% said it was because “they do not integrate into Australian society” and a further 22% that “they do not share our values”. Combining those last two answers we have 63% who oppose Muslim immigration because they feel that Muslims don’t fit into Australian society.
This was backed up by a Deakin university research project that found 60% of Australians would be concerned if a relative married a Muslim, which was twice the level of any other religious group (33% had reservations about a Jew marrying into their family and 8% percent a Christian).
It appears then that what we fear is not so much violence as difference. We like the idea of a nation where we share enough in common that would feel comfortable sitting down having a beer together or sharing a cup of coffee. We don’t mind the idea of diversity, as long as it doesn’t turn into a sense of estrangement.
So what’s the answer? I think a ban is the last thing we need. That will do nothing to help us out of our fear of otherness and will succeed only in the concern about otherness being visited upon a smaller group of people. Nor will we be helped by those who welcome Muslim immigration decrying those who favour a ban. I suspect the answer lies in the 98% of Australians who are not Muslim getting to know some who are. Sharing meals, sharing stories, laughing, crying, and connecting as human beings. As we do this we will come to realise that our common humanity is far richer and more significant than our cultural difference, which will then enable us to celebrate cultural differences rather than fear them.
Pauline Hanson and One Nation are back, attracting 4.1% of Senate votes in the recent federal election. A key plank of the One Nation platform is a halt to Muslim immigration, a Royal Commission into Islam, a ban on women’s head coverings and a ban on halal product certification.
So what are the facts on Muslims in Australia?
Muslims are and will remain a small section of the Australian population
When asked about the size of the Muslim population a 2014 poll showed Australians on average estimate the Muslim population to be 18% of the Australian population. The reality? According to the 2011 Census data the proportion of the population identifying as Muslim was 2.2%. A recent Pew Forum demographic analysis has the Muslim population growing to 2.8% by 2030 and 4.7% by 2050 .
There is no contradiction between being Muslim and being Australian
The 2011 census asked people to identify their nationality. 74.1% of Muslims nominated ‘Australian’, over against the national average of 84.9%. Given recent immigrants are less likely to answer ‘Australian’, the high number answering ‘Australian’ suggests most Muslims identify strongly with being Australian. Similarly a 2009 Monash university study found that more than 90% of Muslims agreed with the statement ‘I can be a good Muslim and a good Australian.’ Surveys of Sydney Muslims conducted from 2011-2013 found that 84% of those interviewed felt they were Australian and that 90% said that it was important to them that their children be accepted as Australian. Indeed, the Resilience and Ordinariness report concluded:
Most research on Muslims living in Western countries has sampled at the deeper end of disaffection, reproducing discourses of non-integration. There is no compelling empirical evidence in Australia to support the case for widespread vulnerability to violent extremism among Muslims, nor is there any evidence to suggest widespread alienation. In fact, the results from this study into the ordinariness of the lives of Australian Muslims show the contrary. The findings suggest a very strong sense of belonging amongst the Australian Muslim community. Australian Muslims have ordinary desires and needs, ranking education and employment as the highest of their concerns. They feel comfortable identifying as both Australian and Muslim. A substantial component of the sample had high levels of religiosity (particularly the face to face sample). However, religiosity was not associated with non-belonging, the data suggest the opposite. There were statistically significant positive associations between religiosity and belonging.
Muslims are, on the whole, disadvantaged and discriminated against
Despite having educational qualifications on a par with the rest of Australians Muslims have higher unemployment rates and lower incomes than other Australians. The Muslims in Australia Report 2015 by the University of South Australia showed that
For any level of educational attainment the expected weekly income tends to be lower for Muslims and lower for migrants, and more so for Muslim migrants.
The Report also cites a 2012 research project in which:
The researchers used distinctively Anglo-Saxon, Indigenous, Italian, Chinese and Middle Eastern (Muslim) names on fictitious job applications to measure labour market discrimination in Australia. In all cases the researchers applied for entry-level jobs and submitted a CV indicating that the candidate had attended high school in Australia. The study found significant differences in call-back rates. Ethnic minority candidates needed to apply for more jobs to get the same number of interviews as Anglo-Saxon candidates. People with Middle Eastern/Muslim names faced the most discrimination. In another study Australians with Middle Eastern/Muslim backgrounds were 14% less likely to be employed than those with Australian backgrounds, compared to about 12% for Chinese and 10% for Indigenous names.
In view of these things the proposals of One Nation should be rejected as ignorant and racist ranting. When Pauline Hanson first entered the Australian Parliament in 1996 she was as avowedly against multiculturalism as she is today, only back then she identified aboriginal welfare and Asian migration as the great existential threats to our way of life.
I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians. Between 1984 and 1995, 40 per cent of all migrants coming into this country were of Asian origin. They have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate. Of course, I will be called racist but, if I can invite whom I want into my home, then I should have the right to have a say in who comes into my country. A truly multicultural country can never be strong or united. The world is full of failed and tragic examples, ranging from Ireland to Bosnia to Africa and, closer to home, Papua New Guinea. America and Great Britain are currently paying the price. (Pauline Hanson’s maiden speech)
With the failure of aboriginal welfare and Asian migration to destroy our society it seems Ms Hansen has now swapped them out for Muslims. It’s like reading a John Grisham novel – the names and backgrounds of the characters change but the plot remains the same. The whole thing strikes me as quite bizarre. We live in the nation with the highest level of per capita wealth in the world; we have an extraordinarily peaceful multi-cultural society; and report high levels of personal satisfaction and well-being. Yet populist parties such as One Nation would have us believe it’s all about to come toppling down, that the “way of life” we enjoy is under threat. They allow anybody who has a grievance, who feels that life has done them badly, a target for blame. No need for the work of personal introspection, careful analysis of the underlying causes, or for recognising that sometimes life is difficult and there is no one to blame.
What Pauline Hanson and One Nation offer is nothing less then ill informed, racist bile. Wherever and whenever raises its ugly head it should be exposed for what it is, lest it gain a veneer of respectability.
I have a friend who is a pastor in one of the most fundamentally Islamic parts of Indonesia. A few years back he was in Australia for a conference when news broke of an outbreak of violence against Christians in his hometown. Churches were being burned to the ground and an angry mob was bent on destruction. My friend, worried for the safety of his wife and newborn child, was about to set off for the airport when he received a phone call. It was a neighbour from up the road, a Muslim neighbour. She had good news for my friend. She and her husband were staying with my friend’s family to protect them and the local Imam had promised that if the violence escalated he would shelter the Christians in the mosque. In the years since, my friend said there had been many episodes where Muslim leaders acted to protect Christians from violence. “But you never hear these stories in Australia” he commented. “All you hear are the bad stories.”
Over the last 18 months I have spoken in churches across the country about Australia’s response to refugees and one of the recurring things I encounter are people suspicious and frightened of Muslims. Rarely do they know a Muslim and not one has recounted a story of a violent or abusive encounter with a Muslim, yet they are terrified by the thought that increasing numbers of the population are Muslim. They experience aggression or violence in their own community and recognise it as an aberration, but they hear of aggression or violence in Muslim communities and regard it as the norm.
Reinforcing their fears are false and misleading rumours. This week I was forwarded an email that claimed 1/3 of all ration packs the Australian army served its soldiers are halal, a sure and certain sing that we are becoming islamicised. Yet a cursory look as the sources made it clear that the data had been misread. The document the author cited as his smoking gun identified 12 types of ration pack, four of which were halal certified. It said nothing about the quantity of packs ordered.
We’ve got to stop peddling these fear-creating falsehoods. Rather, we non-Muslims need to tell positive stories of our encounters with Muslim people.It matters because the shape of our future and the future of Muslim/non-muslim relationships in this country will be strongly influenced by the narratives we tell. If all we have are narratives that breed fear, suspicion and loathing, we will see our communities divided rather than uniting around mutual respect. So if you have a good story to tell I invite you to share it in the comments section below.
In Tuesday’s mail I received a nine page typed critique of a sermon I preached recently on refugees and asylum seekers. It was clear that my critic was very unhappy with a number of things, including my assertion that we had nothing to fear from Muslim immigrants. Islam, he strongly implied, was inherently violent, a claim I often hear.
Now any of us can selectively quote the Koran to demonstrate either that Islam is a religion of violence or conversely that it is a religion of peace. The real issue is not what this or that verse says, but what adherents of Islam understand the Koran to say. And here there is considerable diversity, with the Islamic faith being appropriated by groups such as Al Quaeda and ISIS to justify violence and by others to promote peace. So it would appear that when it comes to how the Islamic faith is understood by its own adherents it is not necessarily nor inherently given to violence.
But what of the fact that most of the world’s violent conflicts are occurring in countries where Islamic populations are in the majority? Does this not suggest Islam is inherently violent? A little perspective helps.If we broaden our historical perspective to consider the entire period from 1946 to 2013 it becomes clear that violent conflict has occurred across all religious boundaries. The table below, sourced from a paper by Peace Research Institute Oslo, shows the incidence of internal armed conflict between 1946 and 2013 according to the dominant religion of the country where the conflict occurred.
||No. countries in Conflict
||% countries in conflict
This suggests that either all religions are likely to produce violence or that violence is explained by factors other than religion. Both the Peace Research Institute Oslo and the Institute for Economics And Peace have explored these questions and concluded that religion is not the driving force behind the presence of conflict. PRIO state “Islam did not make a significant contribution to explaining the frequent incidents of conflict in the Middle East once regime type, level of development, and other variables had been accounted for.” (Gleditsch & Rudolfsen, “Are Muslim Countries More War Prone?” 2015)
A paper by the Institute for Economics and Peace looked at conflict zones across the world in 2013 and found that there was no significant correlation between religion and war. Of the 35 conflicts in 2013 almost all had multiple drivers, such as the desire for a change of government, identity politics, competition for control of resources, conflict over territory, et cetera. 40% of conflicts had a religious dimension but not a single conflict had religion as the sole dimension. Moreover the authors note that “when parties to a conflict are divided on religious adherents, the conflict often becomes framed as religious even though the parties have originally fought over other issues.”
The Institute for Economics And Peace paper found that the greatest factors influencing peace were political. Countries with low levels of corruption, well-functioning governments and good relations with neighbours were much more likely to be peaceful than those without. It seems then that it is not religion that is inherently violent, but that corruption, poor government and poor external relations can give rise to violence. In this respect it is notable that 70% of Muslim majority countries are authoritarian regimes, there are only three flawed democracies and no full democracies. There are many reasons for this, including the legacy of colonialism and global geopolitics. It is reasonable to assume that as more Islamic dominated countries become politically liberal, as poverty levels decrease and respect for human rights increases, the incidence of violent conflict will substantially decline.
Fear of the other has always marked human society. In response to this I frequently hear calls for us to be “tolerant” of those who are different. I don’t think tolerance is capable of overcoming fear. To tolerate something suggests that it is distasteful, that I’ll keep myself as far removed from it is possible but put up with it for the sake of maintaining some greater good. What we need is not more toleration but understanding.
In year 11 I attended a sport and rec camp with other students from my school, Sylvania High. Also attending were students from year 11 at Mount Druitt High Schoo. My image of Mount Druitt high was shaped by the white, Anglo mythologies that abounded in the Sutherland Shire, confirmed by TV news reports just some weeks before camp that showed rioting at Mount Druitt, and fuelled by my reading of The Cross And The Switchblade, David Wilkerson’s account of gang life in the United States. It wasn’t hard to imagine the students from Mount Druitt as a potentially dangerous “other”. I got to camp and discovered that they weren’t a bunch of gang members with flick knives ready to assault me at the slightest provocation. There were just a bunch of teenagers like me.
I see this pattern repeated over and over. The person who is afraid of refugees has a refugee move in next door and all of a sudden discovers they’re fears were misplaced. The person who insists Moslems will never integrate into Australian society, then has Muslims move into their neighbourhood and gets to know them because their kids attend the same school. Instead of fearing the stereotypes they discover that their Muslim friends are generous, kind, and that their faith embodies admirable values.
This is what I mean by understanding. Understanding comes when we engage with the other, when we share meals, tell stories, and open our hearts. Understanding collapses the distance between me and the “other” and turns them from an object of suspicion or fear into a friend. Understanding is built on the backbone of relationship, that interpersonal dynamic that binds us to the other and allows us to see the differences between us not as a threat but as something to be celebrated.
Toleration can’t do any of this and it won’t build a cohesive and harmonious society because fear will always triumph over it. But in understanding built on relationship fear strikes a much more resilient opponent. This is why don’t want to live in a tolerant society. Give me a society built on mutual understanding.
For some time I have heard assertions that fees paid for halal certification on food are being used to fund terrorism. The ABC recently ran a fact check that exposed this as untrue.
Muslim diets require that certain foods be prepared in certain ways. Halal certification identifies food products that meet these requirements. This benefits Muslims by helping them easily identify foods they can consume and benefits farmers and other food producers by providing markets for their produce. One-fifth of the world’s food market is Muslim, so that represents a very large customer base.
Certification is provided by a number of private businesses that are recognised by Muslim communities. These businesses confirm a product is prepared in accord with halal guidelines, conduct regular inspections to ensure halal standards are being maintained, and charge a fee for this service. In other words they do what every business does – they provide a product or service that they charge for.
Like every privately owned business, what the owners do with their profit, as long as it is legal, is up to them. If they want to support the spread of Islam, fund Islamic schools, buy homes, pay for holidays, that’s their free choice to make.
There is simply no evidence that certification businesses are channelling funds to terrorists. This is a serious crime for which specialist audit and law enforcement agencies exist and these agencies, namely the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (the government body that monitors money laundering and terrorism) and the Australian Crime Commission, have publicly stated there is no systemic problem with halal certification businesses. Those who suggest otherwise are peddling falsehoods.
So it seems to boil down to this: the anti-halal certification campaign is saying “We don’t like Muslims. We don’t think they should be free to practise their religion. We don’t think they should have the right to use income they have earned to promote their religion. We are prepared to peddle lies to make people afraid of Muslims and to smear Muslims.”
I am a card carrying Christian, and I believe Muslims should be as free to practise and promote their religion as I am. It is not well known, but the first call made in the English language for religious freedom for Muslims came over 400 years ago from the founder of the Baptist church. Tomas Helwys argued that every person is responsible for his/her own faith and that no one should interfere with this, whether bishop or king, and whether or not I believe their religious convictions are right or wrong. I am proud to continue this tradition. If halal certification helps Muslims practise their faith it is something to be welcomed.