Wednesday, August 17, 2005

OPINION: John Stone & Why Conservatives Need to Assimilate More

Australians have an image of New Zealand as being a politically correct country. David Lange is remembered as the anti-nuclear and anti-American Prime Minister Prime Minister. While Australians struggle with the notion of saying sorry to indigenous peoples, New Zealand actively promotes and encourages indigenous cultures.

So it was with some surprise that Australians watched and read and heard from various forms of media that some four mosques across New Zealand were attacked following the London bombings. And it is with even more surprise that Australians learn of the rise and rise of Winston Peters and similar political phenomena.

We had our own female Winston Peters. Her name was Pauline Hanson. In the 1996 Federal Elections in Australia, Ms Hanson won the seat of Oxley in Queensland from the Labor Party. This seat was an ALP heartland. It was the seat of former Labor Parliamentary leader Bill Hayden. Hanson won the seat as a formerly endorsed and then disendorsed Liberal candidate.

I was an endorsed candidate for the Liberal Party in another safe Labor seat. The seat of Reid sits in the geographical heart of Sydney. The election occurred some 2 months after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Despite the ethno-religious background suggested by my name, I achieved a 5.1% swing on a two-party preferred basis. It was one of the biggest swings in NSW.

It shocks many conservative Australians to read and hear allegedly conservative types suggesting that certain ethno-religious communities need to assimilate more. This is also proving to be a rallying cry in the upcoming New Zealand elections. Yet how legitimate is this call?

Former National Party Senator John Stone wrote in The Australian newspaper recently that Muslim migrants do not know how to assimilate. His call is for Australia’s multicultural policies to be reviewed. He is typical of a growing number of conservatives.

But is Stone right? When speaking about Australians being sick of Muslim migrants, which Australians is Mr Stone referring to? Is he referring to those millions of Australians who continue to have accounts with the National Australia Bank even after a Muslim Australian was appointed as their CEO?

Or is he referring to millions of ARL and AFL fans who continue to watch the games notwithstanding the generous support given to both codes by Muslim Australian John Ilhan? Has Mr Stone read Mr Ilhan’s profile in the recent edition of the Australian Financial Review Magazine?

Ilhan is a mainstream Muslim and a mainstream Australian. The AFR Magazine writes that Ilhan ...

... carries his Islamic faith with him everyday … applying what he sees as basic
tenets of honesty and integrity to his business.

And what are these basic tenets. First, there is “asking for forgiveness”. Then there is loving one’s neighbour as one loves one’s self. He won’t open an outlet next door to a competitor he knew, even if it be a former employee or a cousin.

Stone has clearly not read much about Muslim migration to Australia. Had he done so, he would have realised that Muslims have been dealing with Australia for longer than even European settlers.

Recently published research by Professor Abdullah Saeed of the University of Melbourne and funded by the Department of Immigration confirms that Muslim fishermen traded with Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders centuries before the first Europeans discovered New Holland. Indeed, outlines of Australia appeared on Arab maps daring back to the 12th century.

Former Islamic Council of Victoria Secretary Bilal Cleland, himself an Anglo-Australian with ancestry going back to the First Fleet, has written and published a history of Muslims in Australia. Cleland’s book covers the period from the Makassan fishermen referred to above and covers the period of post-war migration that included large numbers of Albanian and (then known as) Yugoslav Muslim migrants.

Cleland deals at length with the Cypriot and Turkish Muslims who arrived during the last decades of the White Australia Policy. The Turkish communities have by far the largest number of mosques and Islamic centres across Australia, including in regional cities and country towns.

Indeed, one Turkish sufi dervish (elder), Professor Mahmud Esad Cosan, is known to have established the first sufi hospices in regional NSW. Professor Cosan was killed in a car accident in February 2001 after opening a hospice in Dubbo.

Professor Cosan’s movement is now part of the new Turkish conservative government which has proven to be the most pro-EU and pro-Western government in Turkey’s history. So much for fringe Muslim values.

Returning to politics, Australians of all backgrounds handed out election material on polling booths for the Liberal Party during my campaign. Australians of Turkish, Lebanese, Greek, Afghan, Bosnian, Serbian, Iraqi, Indian, Italian, Irish, Japanese and Anglo-Australian backgrounds.

Afghans and Iraqis opposed to mandatory detention still handed out material for me. Meanwhile, a close family friend and Aussie Muslim bureaucrat, Abdul Rizvi, continued to implement the policy of mandatory detention.

Migrants of all shapes and colours are an integral part of mainstream Australia and New Zealand. Perhaps those conservatives insistent on marginalising Muslims and other migrant groups need to wake up and assimilate into social reality. Or perhaps they just need to get out more often.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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