September 11, 2001 is seen as the beginning of a new (and very heated) Cold War. Writing in The Australian on August 11, Dr Tanveer Ahmed described politicised Islamic extremism as the new Marxism, an apparently monolithic force at war with an allegedly monolithic West.
Ahmed’s description of politicised Islamic extremism has been broadened by more jaundiced commentators. Addressing a dinner hosted by Quadrant magazine, former “Joh-for-PM” campaigner John Stone referred to “Australia’s Muslim problem” and “the Islamic cancer in our body politic”.
Perhaps more subtly, Canadian theatre critic Mark Steyn warned Sydney-siders in August of the dangers of “resurgent Islam”. He even suggested that the best antidote to conversion was convincing potential converts that it’s better to be Australian or American or British “or even French” than to be Muslim. As if being Western and Muslim were mutually exclusive categories.
More than September 11, it was last years July 7 London bombings that brought home the real possibility of terrorist threats from home-grown sources. Sadly, such security threats are still used as an excuse to wage a cultural revolutionary war which seeks to replace decades of liberal democratic multi-cultural consensus with an illiberal, almost Soviet-style government-enforced mono-cultural experiment.
All this raises a number of questions. Does the existence of multiple cultures affect national security? If so, to what extent? If integration is an ideal, how should it be implemented? Should governments implement culture? Will the complete integration of all minority groups ensure security risks are minimised?
For the likes of Steyn and Stone, any multiculturalism involving nominally Muslim migrants necessarily represents a security risk. Their generally crude analysis seeks to identify common features allegedly forming an essential part of a monolithic Muslim culture.
Such simplistic formulations are not supported by even anecdotal evidence. In January I witnessed Indonesian Muslim artists perform the Ramayana ballet to a largely Muslim audience in an ancient Hindu temple complex located in the city of Yogyakarta, the cultural heartland of Javanese Islam. Such a performance by Muslims would be deemed sacrilegious in the Indian sub-Continent.
To speak of a single monolithic Muslim culture, whether in Australia or elsewhere, is as absurd as to speak of a single Christian culture. Brazilian Catholics have more in common with Brazilian Muslims than with Lithuanian Catholics. Lebanese Muslims have more in common with Lebanese Maronites than with South African Muslims.
If culture and terror were related, security officials should keep close watch on a range of communities. Writing in the Canberra Times on September 9, ANU Researcher Clive Williams provides a litany of terrorist incidents going back to 1868 when a Victorian Irishman belonging to a predecessor organisation to the IRA shot the visiting Duke of Edinburgh.
Recent incidents include the 1980 assassination of the Turkish Consul-General and his bodyguard by Armenian extremists believed to be protected by local Armenians. The same group struck again about six years later in Melbourne.
Other groups believed to be responsible for terrorist attacks include the Ananda Marga sect and the Croatian Revolutionary Brotherhood. Muslim involvement in terrorist incidents includes deportation of Mohammad Hassanein in 1996 for attempting to attack local Jewish community targets.
Terrorism is hardly a mono-cultural affair, either in Australia or elsewhere. Hence, simplistic remarks by the Prime Minister about some Muslims refusing to integrate display a profound ignorance of the history, politics and motivations of terrorist groups.
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