“Muslims feel cut off, left isolated by fear” reports today’s SMH.
Initial results of a national fear survey conducted by Professor Mark Balnaves and Anne Aly of Edith Cowan University show that “[w]here non-Muslim Australians may have a fear of travel on planes, Muslims had a fear of going out of the house, of going out into the community”.
Post-Haneef, this is certainly the case. A friend of mine recently started work in the regional office of his employer. He knows nobody in town, and tells me he’s too scared to ring up the local university campus’ international student office or the SRC to make contact with any Muslim students.
What happens if a student he meets is accused of terror-related offences? What if his name and photo ends up on the front pages of the tabloids? How will this affect his job, his family and his reputation? The fear isn’t limited to Muslims either.
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Over the weekend, I attended the 6 th Annual Abraham Conference, a joint effort of Jewish, Muslim and Christian organisations and the NSW Community Relations Commission. A young Sydney rabbi was talking about his visit to Darwin schools with his colleague, a young Sydney imam.
Guess who was treated with more interest by airport staff? One teacher at a Jewish school reported of one of her female students saying words to the following effect: “I’m too scared to leave home. Muslims look like us and everyone seems to hate them” (perhaps alluding to the fact that many orthodox Jewish women also wear head scarves).
The Balnaves/Aly study also warns: “There is a fear of government … and the [consequent] closure of the [Muslim] community is quite worrying”.
Virtually all Muslim terror suspects currently awaiting trial were arrested as a result of information provided to authorities from sources within Muslim communities. What happens when these communities feel the cultural and religious backgrounds (as opposed to the alleged terror plots) of terror suspects become political and media footballs?
The study reported Muslim communities fearing media and governments were in cahoots, not trusting either. Some of our politicians love to bang on about security issues by identifying particular groups in Australia who refuse to ‘integrate’ and adopt ‘our values’.
We’ve also heard a lot about “”udeo-Christian values”. In his recent address to the Australian Christian Lobby, Mr Howard made clear his commitment to ensuring Christianity remained the “predominant religious culture in our society.
Meanwhile, Alexander Downer, Philip Ruddock and Julia Gillard are quite prepared to make time to see an American psychiatrist who regards Islam as purely a political ideology and argues that “the West has to monitor the majority of Muslims because you don’t know when they’re ready to be activated. Because they share the same basic belief, that’s the problem”.
During his entire period in Parliament, Downer is not known to have been to a single Aussie Muslim function or met with a single Aussie Muslim delegation to discuss foreign policy matters. Yet he’s happy to make time for someone with such hysterical views. Is it any wonder so many Muslims hold such fears? Is it any wonder they feel marginalised?
Yet our politicians are happy using (and giving audience to those who use) cultural and even theological wedges in an effort to make “us” feel more secure from “them”.
The long term effect of this is to make more of “us” be deemed to fall into the “them” category. National security requires social cohesion. Wedge politics makes no one secure in the long run.