Twenty years ago, such a conference would have been unthinkable. Muslims weren't regarded then as a monolithic entity. Today's dangerous jihadists were bankrolled by the US to fight communism. Saddam Hussein was provided with WMD, including chemical and biological weapons, by the West to use on Iran.
Now, Muslims are no longer regarded a complex phenomenon but a giant blob of monolithic cancer ready to engulf the planet.
The weekend's deliberative poll saw Australia First Party representative Denis McCormack cast aspersions on the Jewish heritage of another speaker, claiming she was part of a multiculturalist cabal. He was rightly condemned by the audience.
The same audience was almost silent when Pastor Daniel Scott told delegates that all Muslims represented a threat to Australia and that Muslim spokespeople were deliberately sugar-coating their message to hide the violent reality of their intentions.
This kind of conspiratorial thinking can also be found in the latest book of British tabloid columnist Melanie Phillips entitled Londonistan: How Britain is Creating a Terror State Within. Phillips recently concluded a short Australian tour to promote the book she describes as
an attempt to piece together this complex jigsaw puzzle, the deadly fusion of an aggressive ideology and a society that has lost its way.
Phillips argues the British elite have wrongfully abandoned the dominant Judeo-Christian monocultural heritage in favour of a rampant multiculturalism that bends over backwards for ethnic, religious and even sexual minorities. This has allowed jihadi Islamism and Muslim “clerical fascism” to infiltrate British society, manifesting itself in the London bombings of July 7, 2005.
Phillips suggests jihadi Islamism has become today the “dominant strain” within the Muslim world, as well as in Western Muslim communities. This absurd claim contrasts with the enormous variety of religion practised by nominal Muslims across the planet. Hence, Javanese Muslims have culturally and linguistically more in common with Balinese Hindus than with Bosnian Muslims, who have more in common with Serbian Orthodox or Croatian Catholics.
Indeed, Phillips' insistence of “minorities accepting the terms on which minorities must relate to the majority culture in a liberal democracy” would have little application in the new European states, many of which are comprised completely of minorities.
In 1992, the people of the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina voted in favour of independence. Bosnia was to be a multi-ethnic and multireligious state consisting of a number of religious minorities, including Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Catholics and Jews.
Within months of independence, the country was plunged into a war characterised by genocide, concentration camps, ethnic cleansing and mass rape. Some 100,000 Bosnians (mainly Muslims) were killed and more than a million were displaced. The International Court of Justice recently ruled that genocide occurred in Bosnia.
Today, Canberra plays host to two senior religious figures who witnessed much of the carnage. Dr Mustafa Ceric is Reis al-Ulama (chairman of the Council of Religious Scholars) for Bosnia- Herzegovina. He is also mufti of Croatia, Slovenia and the Sanjak region bordering Serbia and Montenegro. Ceric is accompanied by the mufti of the Bosnian city of Mostar.
Ceric also sees a crisis of values engulfing Europe. He warns Europeans not to become complacent about sectarian hatred. He told BBC at the weekend that Europe promised “never again” after the Holocaust, only to sit back and watch as genocide was perpetrated against Muslims in his nation.
I wish that Islamaphobia that is now [in place] in Europe and in the West will not result in a Muslim Holocaust. Europe must start speaking with Muslims and hear what they have to say and help them to make their place in society that is responsible, respectable and future- looking.
Ceric says Muslims in Europe also have a role to play, that Muslim migrants must stop behaving like tribal entities and adopt European values like democracy and pluralism.
If the Muslims do not accept the fact that they have to learn about democracy not only within the larger context of the European community but within their own community... then I think the Muslims will be in a position to fear what will happen in their future.
Ceric singles out the United States and Australia for praise as nations more accepting of migrants than Europe. Ceric speaks from experience, having completed his PhD and acted as imam of a major Chicago mosque.
Ceric personifies indigenous European Islam whose culture and values have sat comfortably (apart from the occasional externally imposed genocide) within Europe for centuries. Melanie Phillips, on the other hand, personifies the type of sectarian paranoia and hysteria that for centuries poisoned relations between European Christians and Jews and now threatens to use the pretext of cultic jihadi extremism to poison relations between the West and the rest.
Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer and writer. This article was first published in the Canberra Times on 7 March 2007.
© Irfan Yusuf 2007