Here is a fact that is sure to bend a lot of people’s noses out of shape: Australian Muslims are not going anywhere and they are part and parcel of the Australian society. In fact the Australian Muslim population increased from 150,000 in 1991 to over 300,000 today. This increase comes despite the criminal events carelessly attributed to all Muslims worldwide and the resulting negative stereotyping of Muslims from the media and politicians.
Now that we got that out of the way, here is another fact: unless John Howard and the so-called Muslim leaders change their approach in tackling this divisive issue, the result will be an Australian society that is hurling itself into an abyss of intolerance and potential violence.
You would have thought that the riots in Cronulla would stun Howard into realising that his “Us and Them” approach is failing dismally. But his continuous rhetoric to the Australian Muslim community to solve their problems or face the consequences is not only further marginalising Muslims, but it is also pushing away the moderate voices that the government needs to use to solve this crisis.
Make no mistake; this issue is not merely a “Muslim problem” - it is an Australian national issue. Unless it is viewed within that framework, we continue to be blind to what is at stake and a repeat of Cronulla or Parisian-style riots can be safely predicted.
It seems that the French educational elite have already reached a similar deduction. In the wash up to the Paris riots, Dr Laurent Pech, a university lecturer in European Law, published an analysis that criticised the French Government’s handling of the civil unrest.
In his report published in the legal journal Jurist, Dr Pech rubbished French politicians claims that the rioters were disenfranchised Muslims. “The riots have absolutely nothing to do with religious freedom or about the place of Islam in French society” he argued. “They rather represent the nihilist elements of a generation of unemployed and discriminated-against young men of foreign descent.”
As recently as three years ago the Brisbane Institute published a paper titled “Muslims in Australia: the new disadvantaged?” In this important document, researchers Nahid Kabir and Clive Moore stated that despite the rise of the Muslim population in Australia, Muslims remain “one of the nation’s most underprivileged in the economic, political and social arenas”.
While politicians are busy scoring points on the back of Sheikh Hilali’s recent statements, no one has attempted to roll up their sleeves and address the abnormally high youth unemployment rate that continues to infest Hilali’s hometown of Lakemba in south-western Sydney.
While Howard continually bemoans the lack of moderate Muslim leaders in Australia, his government has continuously failed in creating an atmosphere conducive enough to attract the leaders he requires.
The Australian Muslim community also deserves a fair share of the blame for their problems. Australian Muslims need to involve themselves wholeheartedly in mainstream society. Unlike the Vietnamese and Chinese communities, Muslims are not effectively involved in the political and community life of mainstream Australia.
In order to achieve this, Australian Muslims must be more proactive in conveying to the government and an increasingly sceptical public the many advantages that come with a more robust and active Muslim community. Muslim participation provides Australia with a wide array of talents, skills, and expertise in dealing with international trade, diplomacy and the war on terror.
With such a great degree of benefits right under our own fingertips it seems absolutely senseless to destroy this vast pool of talent by alienating communities. Politicians and Muslim leaders should be uniting and strengthening these desperate communities through honest communications, planning initiatives and taking action.
Fortunately, one such initiative is already in development with the Ansar Mentorship Program for Muslim Youth. A scheme devised by the child protection group White Lion, this program brings respected role models and troubled youth from the Muslim community together in order to create much needed discussion among each other.
Schemes such as “Ansar” are vital and need political and media support, for they go a long way in rebuilding shattered Muslim communities and more importantly, to instil hope in a people who every day are navigating that tricky minefield of being a Muslim in Australia.
Without a concentrated effort by both political, business, Muslim leaders and mainstream society, Australia’s many Muslim communities will instead become failed communities, a result that is guaranteed to be nothing short of calamitous for all Australians.