In recent days, and especially in the last 24 hours as pressure has mounted on the government to do much more to assist Syrian refugees, there have been calls within and outside Parliament to “prioritise” Syrian Christians.

To do so would be an act of religious bigotry and would play into the hands of Islamic State.

Should Australia take 10,000 Syrian refugees, or 50,000, or even more, we would still have to decide who comes here — millions of Syrians need assistance, far more than Australia could help. But to skew that selection process in favour of one group because of a perceived religious affinity would be a throwback to the kind of thinking that drove the White Australia Policy, an act of open and public bigotry at odds with our non-discriminatory immigration, social and economic policies.

It would also feed into the mindset that Islamic State uses to radicalise and recruit westerners to their ranks: that the West does nothing but bomb, kill and oppress Muslims, and that fighting the West and its proxies is the only legitimate response to that violence. Australia helping only Christian Syrians would reinforce that narrative.

Instead, in welcoming Syrian refugees no matter their religion, Australia would send a potent signal: that we are better than that. That unlike IS, which engages in the most barbaric sectarian violence even against other Muslims let alone other faiths, we are prepared to live our values of compassion, liberty and non-discrimination — not just talk about them.

Peter Fray

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