Monday, September 18, 2006

COMMENT: On Culture & Security

Andrew Robb had some home-truths to tell imams on Saturday at the launch of the National Conference of Islamic Leaders. Much of what he said was elementary and unobjectionable. Imams need to learn English. As people representing mainstream Islam, they should provide pastoral care to young people and converts who might be led astray by extremist websites. They should continue to condemn extremism and do it in the English language and in a coordinated fashion. They should recognise that much media reporting isn't discrimination and does reflect community sentiment.

Sadly, many of his comments as well as the tone of his speech reflected a near absence of understanding about the roles imams play in mosques.

Mainstream Islam recognises no priestly hierarchy. Anyone can lead a service, though most mosques have a resident religious scholar known as an ‘imam’.

Robb commences his address by declaring local mosque imams to be ...
... the spiritual leaders of Australian Muslims.

Yeah, right.

The average Australian Muslim would be lucky to attend the mosque twice a year for the two feast days (each known as Eid, Hari Raya or Bayram, depending on where your family comes from). Even ones who go to their local mosque regularly will be unlikely to understand the sermon anyway. Aussie mosques are generally run along ethnic lines, leading to differences between ethnic groups on the role of mosque imams. But they are almost never regarded as spiritual leaders.

Robb then ignores the opinion of both his Attorney General and the Federal Police Commissioner (not to mention the best available evidence of suicide bomber profiling by Professor Robert Pape) by repeating the mantra that terrorism is basically an Islamic phenomenon.

And, because it is your faith that is being invoked as justification for these evil acts, it is your problem.

Actually, it isn’t just Islam being used to justify terrorism. It is generally a cocktail of wider factors including foreign occupation, Marxism (in Nepal and Sri Lanka) and other forms of nationalist and religious separatism (e.g. PKK). Yet we don’t see Robb lecturing Tamils or Kurds in the same condescending tone.

Later in his speech, Robb backtracks by suggesting:

Terrorism is not part of orthodox Islam, and it’s an obscenity for terrorists to invoke Islam as a justification for their evil acts.

There is much you can and must do to condemn their words, their actions and their blasphemy.

Er, what else can they do that they haven't already done, Mr Robb? They have already issued and signed a joint letter condemning terrorism after the London bombing.

Robb also talks about a so-called “victim mentality” being adopted by Muslims when they criticise patronising and ignorant statements made by Howard, his minstrel ministers and certain media outlets. What victim mentality? Muslims don’t see themselves as victims. They just want to be treated the same as anyone else.

Yes, there are dim witted Muslims overseas who will start a riot because of some cartoons or some veiled reference to violence by the Pope. But where do we see such activities in Australia? Which Aussie Mossies here boycotted Danish goods or burned Danish flags?

Aussie Muslims criticise their “own” all the time. Waleed Aly’s recent columns in The Oz and The Age are cases in point. Here’s how Aly describes the Muslim circus:

The first round of nonsense, sadly, came from Muslim spokespeople, some of whom responded with knee-jerk anger of the most senseless variety. Ameer Ali, who heads the Government's Muslim Community Reference Group, couldn't decide what he thought. Initially he slammed the Prime Minister, saying his inflammatory comments could incite another Cronulla. Then, speaking of inflammatory divisiveness, he told The West Australian that the "hard core" of Muslims who "are not prepared to accept" Australian values "have to adapt, otherwise they must pack up and go home". Next to these, Howard's comments seem ecumenical.

He continues …

Again, a parade of Muslim spokespeople expressed progressively increasing outrage. Unfortunately, they were likelier to complain about Islam bashing than addressing Costello's central allegation. This only made them look suspicious and gave the story life …

The Muslim pawns invariably take the bait. Seeing an opportunity to vent their frustrations publicly, they ensure these debates find resonance well beyond their worth.

Aly ends his piece by describing Muslim leaders’ responses as “a spectacular flurry, a circus of stupidity”. Doesn’t sound like victim mentality to me.

Robb does what other Howard minister (with the exception of Tony Abbott) seem to be doing. He tells Muslims who and what they are and then demands they take responsibility for things beyond their control.

Yes imams do play a role, but it isn’t for imams to guarantee Australia is free from terrorism. Ultimately it is the government’s responsibility. People like Robb and Howard and Costello and Abbott and Ruddock and others are responsible for this. All of us, Muslims and Jews and Christians and Hindus and Buddhists and Calithumpians and non-believers, pay our hard-earned money to them in the form of taxes and duties. We elect them to implement sensible policies for our protection.

So while Robb raises the bar higher than even a super-duper imam could achieve, the Australian Financial Review reported last week that the government cannot even get its act together to ensure businesses are provided with effective terrorism protection insurance. And that security on our ports has been compromised by organised crime and narcotics.

Andrew Robb has to understand that no amount of fridge magnets or monocultural rhetoric will protect Australia if his government refuses to deal with the real factors affecting our security.

I agree that imams should speak English. I agree that Muslims should continue condemning terror. I agree that migrants should try and integrate. But in all seriousness, how does chattering on and on about these things make us feel and be more secure?