Friday, April 15, 2011

Can Australia admit its time to dump the 'M' word?

Recently The Australian Newspaper columnist Greg Sheridan wrote an opinion piece reflecting on his time living in Belmore (a Sydney suburb adjacent to Lakemba) claiming that multiculturalism has failed because of Muslims. This is a response to his article.

I believe that Multiculturalism has failed. However, blaming it on Islam or Muslims is a long bow to draw. It is true that suburbs like Lakemba, Cabramatta and Auburn inevitably have changed over the past 15-20 years, some would argue for better than for worse. The population in 1993 was around 17 million, today its 21 million and growing. Suburbs are congested, housing is very difficult to afford and we have large concentrations of various groups across Sydney. Add to that the low socio-economic condition of many of these migrant clusters, you have a potential for criminality. Yes, crime has increased in south west Sydney, as it has in the country in general. This is evident amongst Pacific communities, amongst Vietnamese, Afghans and Lebanese, they all suffer from high unemployment.

Yes, there are some Muslims amongst these groups who do have diametrically opposed views to Fred Nile or Bronwyn Bishop but if multiculturalism has failed it is not because Muslims have failed to integrate. An important factor contributing to this perceived failure is that during the Howard years of multicultural denial, many migrant communities were left to ‘fend’ for themselves. The multicultural policy of the time was about leaving people to retain their cultural identity yet not assisting migrants with cultural acclimatisation and adjustment, such as assisting them with engagement with the broader society, promoting acceptance of them and cultivating new civic values. Instead Howard pushed down our throats simplistic values about mateship and Anzac diggers and bronzed beach surf life savers and sports loving ocker Aussies throwing another banger on the barbie. Australia unlike Canada and the States were marketing a totally different image to their migrants. Migrants, we should add, who bring billions of dollars to the labour market and raise the standard of living for every citizen of this country. That is essentially what drives immigration. Instead of Africans and Asians on our tele, we saw Lara Bingle in a bikini asking "where the bloody hell are you!". Really?

There are many migrants who, having only been in the country for a short time still dress in their cultural garbs, others cannot speak English and many hold on tightly to their cultural identity. Some of these people that Sheridan refers to, live in Lakemba because that is where there is some familiarity with their cultural links abroad; there are religious places of worship, schools, halal butchers and restaurants, grocery stores, book stores and clothing stores. But more importantly their relatives and friends are also in the vicinity, so they move into these suburbs because that's where the greatest amount of support exists. It makes sense. Take the Eastern suburbs for example, where a lot of Jews reside, because there is a community there; kosher cafes and butchers, synagogues, schools and even a Jewish club.

Here in Australia, the multicultural policy of the past decade does not seem to have worked as well as it could have, and maybe there is more analysis needed. My inclination is to begin searching for new horizons and a new direction. A society based on civic values and civic identities that everyone can relate to and one that cherishes our cosmopolitan make up but respects and upholds one national identity- Australian of course! Every one, every citizen and permanent resident can look forward to a bright future under the cosmopolitan umbrella. It is the new 'C' word. It is encumbent on the government to advance the policy and assist new migrants to engage and be accepted. No-one can take away your cultural or ethnic roots but it is inevitable that if you have permanently migrated to this country, either in your life time or your children’s, their original “culture” will be softened and eventually be integrated into the mainstream. That is the reality of migration.

So does Sheridan really seriously suggest that Muslims are the cause of the failure of multiculturalism?

Its easy to say that he lived in Belmore for 15 years and that for a whole month he studied multiculturalism in Europe and not to mention that he has been reporting in the Middle East and South East Asia for 30 years. These are strong credentials indeed. Not sure if it makes him an expert on Islam and Multiculturalism. But Greg Sheridan goes too far in his very presumptuous assertions. It is ironic that while Sheridan blames Islam for the failure of multiculturalism, Islam, more than any faith, promotes real pluralism, beyond the bounds of racism and towards tolerance and universal brotherhood and sisterhood.

I have spent 1 month in Iran, 2 months in Palestine, 2 months in Jordan, 3 months in India, 2 months in Pakistan, 2 months in Indonesia and 3 months in Malaysia not to mention 6 months in Turkey. I also spent 2 months in Europe (Germany, Holland,UK, Switzerland and France). I am no expert on European multiculturalism or on Islam for that matter. However, being a Muslim I have great deal of understanding of the Muslim mindset and the teachings of Islam. I have also worked closely with the Lebanese community in Sydney.

The fact remains that the Lebanese are one of the highest groups taking up citizenship in this country. There are over 300000 young Muslims in Australia who were born here or grew up here and are Australian in every respect. They are proud to be Australian and they are visibly Australian in their accents, their dress and mentality and in their attitude. So where is Greg Sheridan living today?

Sheridan sites examples of Muslim countries with their violations of Western liberal freedoms such as not allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia, Iranian officials beating opponents of the Mullahs, floggings and other abuses. Apparently in the name of Islam. Well, in fact, these are all acts opposed by Islam. Islam promotes human rights and essentially is a spiritual and social doctrine which protects people from oppression and exploitation. However, if countries which purport to be Islamic but in reality are just dictatorial or tyrannical regimes ruling over Muslim populations, commit human rights abuses, then this cannot be attributed to Islam. They are responsible for their unethical and in some cases criminal actions and policies.

Sheridan echoes the assumption that only in Muslim countries are these violations occurring. Just about everyone believes the propaganda that most terrorism in the world is being perpetrated by Muslims. Yet, if we were to take a very quick glance at the world, and because it usually a glance, we often miss some of the ‘other’ violations occurring in the name of the ‘other’ faiths and ideologies around the world.

Let’s take a squiz at the Americas- largely Christian governments, in the USA, Columbia or Chile. All Christian societies. So do we blame Christians for the woes of the world because Pinochet was killing his own people? Because Columbians are selling drugs to the world, killing thousands? And of course America could be described as one of the most fundamentalist Christian democracies in the world and it not only has violated human rights in Guanrtanamo Bay, in Abu Ghraib prison, but its troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and their sanctions that they imposed are responsible for the deaths of millions of people.

What about in Asia? China, a mainly Buddhist country, how many millions are suffering at the hands of the regime? The Falun Gong, the Tibetans and the Uighurs. In Burma, a mainly Buddhist country? In Sri Lanka, thousands of Tamils slaughtered by a Buddhist regime. In south Thailand Muslims being oppressed by a Thai Buddhist government. In Cambodia. In the Philippines, where a mainly Catholic country is oppressing its Muslim minority, waging a war against the Mindanaons. And in Hindu India, the Muslim Kashmiris suffer immensely as a genocide is taking place. And not to mention, the Jewish state of Israel, mercilessly oppressing Muslim and Christian Palestinians in Gaza and the West bank.

I could go on and on. The question is do we blame Hinduism for these evils? Should we blame Christianity for the evil done by America and others? Should be blame Buddhism for the atrocities carried out by Buddhist majority regimes? Do we blame Judaism for what has happened in Palestine? OF COURSE NOT GREG! So why is so convenient to assign the blame squarely on the Muslims of Lakemba?

Yes, the Muslim world is not perfect but neither is any world, any society, any religion or any ideology. And that includes Western democracy. We must for a moment stop thinking about the world from a western viewpoint. There is more to this world than just Coca-Cola, Levi Jeans, Starbucks, KFC and the Brititsh royal family. If we were to leave it to the Greg Sheridans of this world, we would see the everything through black and white coloured lenses! Next thing we will be hearing is that Greg has joined Pauline Hanson’s new political party as chief policy writer.

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