Thursday, October 05, 2006

CRIKEY: Petro's spot-on when it comes to citizenship

Whatever you think of Petro Georgiou’s form of wet liberalism, his logic on citizenship issues is faultless. There is bugger-all evidence of chronic integration problems with migrants of any background. Indeed, the apparent problems cited are the same which have been levelled at virtually all migrants at some time or other.

Here's how Petro put it ...

By any standard, we are an exemplar of unity and respect for our multicultural diversity. We have brought together peoples of diverse nations, religions and cultures. Migrants have worked hard and committed themselves to this country. Through their efforts and initiative they have profoundly enriched the nation.

Until a few weeks ago, this was an article of faith on the part of every politician. Now we are told we need to make significant policy changes to address weaknesses in our citizenship laws.

What are the societal malfunctions that justify these changes?

I have looked closely at the Federal Government's discussion paper Australian Citizenship: much more than just a ceremony, and I can find no detailed, robust analysis of a problem, and no evidence of how the new measures would resolve a problem that has not been demonstrated.
Today, those accused of failing to integrate are Muslim Australians. The PM has made various confused and confusing references to Muslim integration. At one stage, he argued that Muslims were a new group, separate from post-war European and more recent Asian arrivals.

This, of course, is nonsense. A few nights back, I met a Bosnian developer who is heavily involved in the management of 2 Canberra mosques. He arrived in Australia during the mid-1960’s. One of Howard’s most senior immigration bureaucrats is the son of an Indian Muslim historian who had been teaching at ANU since at least the late 1950’s.

One Bosnian Imam I know based in Sydney is married to a lady I used to attend Muslim youth camps with back in the mid-1980’s. Her ultra-conservative father arrived in Australia in the same wave as other Croatian migrants.

It seems strange that a Prime Minister so concerned about accuracy in history teaching should make such fundamental errors about Australia’s first century.

At other times, Howard has suggested that the lack of integration only exists in (at most) 1% of Muslim migrants. Muslims make of 2% of the total population, numbering around 350,000. The number of problem Muslims numbers around 3,500.

In the world of fiction that is talkback radio and tabloid blogging (something I too can be accused of engaging in), some 3,500 non-integrating Muslims are a national security risk. Alternately, they tend to gang-rape Aussie girls or bash up surf lifesavers. Yet there are at least 20,000 members of the Exclusive Brethren whose leaders have been accused of being party to a host of illegal activities including: Centrelink fraud, breaching Family Court orders, engaging in schemes designed to avoid paying tax etc.

The PM’s formula on integration is based on poor information and a fundamental misunderstanding of the true relationship between culture, integration and national security. As Peter Costello rightly observed in his Sydney Institute address on citizenship, it isn’t people having the wrong culture that is the problem. Rather, it’s kids living

... in a twilight zone where the values of their parents old country have been lost but the values of the new country not fully embraced.
With all this nonsensical attempt by the Howard governments to regulate culture and legislate integration, it won’t just be Muslims finding themselves in a twilight zone.

(First published in Crikey! on 5 October 2006.)

Words © 2006 Irfan Yusuf

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