Last month, Camden in south-western Sydney hit the headlines when its council refused an application to build an Islamic school on planning grounds. The ruling brought forth both cringeworthy Aussie nationalism and criticism of narrow-minded rednecks displaying cringeworthy Aussie nationalism. When you consider that Sydney is coming to a virtual standstill — at taxpayers’ expense — for the pope’s visit in July, this kind of double standard when it comes to religion seems to smack of the most awful hypocrisy.
And yet a certain level of apprehension regarding Islam and Islamic fundamentalism (often the same thing in the minds of some people) is …understandable. Remember that Australia’s most famous (or infamous) Muslim is Sheikh Tajeddin al-Hilaly, a controversial cleric who once likened women to “uncovered meat” and told Egyptian television:
“Anglo-Saxons came to Australia in chains, while we paid our way and came in freedom. We are more Australian than them. Australia is not an Anglo-Saxon country — Islam has deep roots in Australian soil that were there before the English arrived.”
Then there was the letter I read in the Sun-Herald over the weekend:
Most religions want to expand their membership. Islam is no exception. We have a dream that one day Australia will be a Muslim country but what is wrong with that?
Islam is the one true religion. Sharia law comes from the Qur’an and so it is Allah’s law. Women have more rights and respect in Islam than Christianity gives them. Islamic values are different but many countries have adopted them.
The blocking of the Islamic school in Camden will only prevent Aussie children from receiving a good education, even though it will have an Islamic emphasis. The locals are objecting but that is what Christian schools have been doing for 200 years in Australia.
Perhaps Sayed Daid of Auburn could have written a more effective endorsement of the cause of Kate McCulloch and her Aussie Aussie Aussie ilk if he’d tried harder, but still, respeck. He completely undermines a perfectly valid point about Christian schools by telling the officially secular, multifaith and historically Christian society in which he lives that he and his co-believers hope to change it. (Through massive immigration? Converting all those pesky Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and atheists en masse? Mr Daid does not elaborate.)
He can’t see what is wrong with dreaming of an Islamic Australia, but many others would. To express such a sentiment is just plain rude. For Muslims to move to Australia and expect to live under sharia law, and everyone else to do the same, in the best of all possible worlds, is a bit like the South Africans who packed for Perth in the aftermath of February 1990 assuming that they could continue to live with Precious the maid and Jabulani the gardener who had to use enamel mugs because black germs were of a lower order than white germs. It just doesn’t work that way: you emigrate to a new country — a country that presumably offers opportunities or advantages lacking in the place you currently call home — and you live according to its laws.
To put such a point of view into perspective, imagine if a Catholic, a charismatic Christian or — heaven forbid — a Scientologist had written that. Can you imagine the outrage at the cheek of it?
It’s not about Islam per se — though, despite what Mr Daid says about women’s rights, I am not convinced — but the sheer presumptuousness of religions that proselytise as a matter of course. Where do they get off anyway? (Preferably, the end of the nearest short pier.) I still harbour traumatic memories from my varsity days of being waylaid by Happy Clappies with crazed expressions, asking me if I was Saved. The thought of any religion attempting to convert the heathen and establishing itself as the official hotline to the deity in a country in which church and state are officially separated is horrible, utterly horrible.
That there are nutcases of every religious persuasion is par for the course; what matters is whether they ever plan to act on their pipe dreams. I can only hope that moderate Muslims will speak out and put the Sayed Daids of this world in their place. As long as (some) Muslims assume that there is nothing wrong with expressing views utterly at odds with the society in which they live, the society in which they live will continue to regard them with suspicion.