josh rosner

Posts Tagged ‘Muslim’


In Book Review on April 27, 2011 at 2:32 am

Below my review in last Saturday’s Canberra Times of a new collection of six essays – each on muslims and multiculturalism, as the title implies – written by some of Australia’s greatest thinkers. The collection is edited by Raimond Gaita and I commend it to you. As I say in my conclusion, we need more books that discuss this difficult topic, not less. We need more conversations, as a nation, about these issues, not less. Read it, enjoy it, learn from it.

Essays on Muslims and Multiculturalism. Edited by Raimond Gaita. Text Publishing. 232pp. $26.95

My first reaction when this book landed on my desk for review was to wonder whether we really need yet more words written about the consequences of September 11, 2001..

It’s been 10 years since the entire world was touched by an act of terrorism so significant that nobody – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or atheist – was immune from its consequences.

While it is true that many words have been written about immigration, religion and terror since 2001, this collection of six essays could not have arrived at a more important time.

The Coalition spent almost twelve years in government using immigration as the catalyst for a fear campaign and a – mostly – successful wedge against Labor under John Howard’s leadership and now no longer in government the Liberal’s have their man in Scott Morrison, the Opposition’s immigration spokesperson.

With the Coalition  – and Labor, for that matter – seemingly incapable of learning history’s lessons, and immigration placed centre-stage at the last federal election, and no doubt at the next, this collection of essays edited by one of Australia’s foremost thinkers, Raimond Gaita, has a sense of urgency about it.

Geoffrey Brahm Levy kicks of the collection with an insightful analysis of the link (or lack thereof, as Brahm Levy sees it) between multiculturalism and the problem of global terrorism.

He writes, “There is a global terrorism problem, and it is foolish to deny its association with certain quarters of Islam. But despite the media’s quick equations, the role of multiculturalism in this is anything but clear. One can point to a number of more obvious factors behind global terrorism.” He names the long unresolved conflict between Israel and Palestine as one example.

Brahm Levy begins his essay with an outline of the argument for a link between multiculturalism and the promotion of terror – “Western democracies have failed to stand up for their own core values and institutions” – citing public commentators like Janet Albrechtsen. He then proceeds to systematically debunk their arguments with a measured, reasoned and calm approach that is often absent from those same public commentators.

Monash University’s Waleed Aly takes up the baton next with a discourse on the myths that surround Islam and multiculturalism. Aly takes issue with socio-political narratives that are a consequence of the media’s framing of Muslims. Aly says, “In a sense, these fictional stories exist because a particular conspiratorial worldview, present among some commentators and newspaper editors, demands they do.” Alas, unlike some of the other essayists, Aly declines to name the perpetrators. But his point is a valid one and it perfectly highlights the dramatic decline in quality journalism in Australia which seems, perhaps not coincidentally, to have occurred since September 11, 2001. He goes on, “I do not mean to convey that every such news report is imagined or exaggerated. Many are not. But the social discourses that feast so gleefully on this news have now gained such momentum that they generate their own grist.”

Shakira Hussein’s essay explores the impact immigration policy has had on our cultural landscape under successive Australian government’s. Hussein discussed the election of John Howard and his coalition government in 1996 which brought with it the rise of Pauline Hanson. Hussein points out that in 1996 Hanson’s inflammatory rhetoric centred on the danger of Australia being ‘swamped by Asians’. Ten years later, although no longer in parliament, Hanson’s explicit racialised dogma had shifted from Asians – that is, predominantly those of South-East Asians decent – to Muslims. The target changed, but the dog-whistle politics remained.

Graeme Davison, Sir John Monash Distinguished Professor at Monash University, writes on the farce that was the Howard Government’s introduction of a citizenship test in 2007. The Howard Government minister at the time, Kevin Andrews, used an election year to play the immigration card. Davison writes, “Minister Andrews boasted of Australians’ pride in their nation and in the stability of their democracy; yet implicit in his proposal, and in the subtext of his speech, was an anxiety that unnamed forces could sap that pride, dilute the nation’s identity and endanger its stability.”

Ghassan Hage, Future Generation Professor of Anthropology and Social Theory at the University of Melbourne, writes in his essay, ‘Multiculturalism and the Ungovernable Muslim’, that, “the problem that arises with seriously religious Muslims is that what they see as their laws are nothing short of the Laws of God. These are not equivalent to minor laws such as the rules of a specific national cuisine or even the ethno-specific laws of marriage and kinship. The idea that you can have a space where you can speak your language, eat your food and follow your rituals for as long as you understand that this is a space offered to you, so to speak, by the dominant language, the dominant mode of eating, etc, is relatively unproblematic. But the idea of having the laws of a nation offer a space for the Laws of God is sacrilegious. Indeed, for people who take their religion seriously, the situation is reversed. It is the Laws of God that are all-encompassing ones and the national laws of the host nation, or any other nation for that matter, that are the minor ones.”

Hage argues, as he did brilliantly in his 1998 book White Nation, that multiculturalism is generally not an effective antidote to racism. Multiculturalism – certainly as it is practiced in Australia – has at its heart the propensity to argue for white Europeans’ entitlement to the nation. And so, Hage argues, it is more likely to be the second generation of immigrants, not the first, who take such drastic and devastating actions as exploding bombs on trains. Why? Hage explains that it is often that case the first generation immigrants expect the racism that is directed towards them, but it is the second generation who has experienced the racism from an early age, using their own language and culture as weapons. Consequently, it is the second generation who become, as Hage puts it, ‘over-assimilated’. It is the second generation who holds a sense of entitlement not to be discriminated against.

The final essay in this collection comes from Raimond Gaita, author of Romulus, My Father and The Philosopher’s Dog. He explores the idea that “successful multiculturalism must undermine an attachment to nation that goes deeper than dutiful citizenship, an attachment that at its best and deepest deserves to be called love of country.” Gaita offers food-for-thought that, I imagine, most Australians have never seriously considered. That is, even if no immigrant had ever arrived on our shores, we Australians would still have unanswered and unsettling questions about national identity and the injustices committed against Aboriginals.

Gaita’s argument is that if we accept the diversity of cultures and the people who inhabit them as a fundamental aspect of humanity, then we must also accept that the conduct of nations is answerable to the universal principles of justice.

Successive Australian government’s use – and abuse – of multiculturalism has left us with a sense that experiences imported from other lands are little more than pollution. The word multiculturalism has now become associated with fear of Islam. As such, what we have done as a nation is devalue everything that has already been achieved.

Do we really need yet more words written about the consequences of September 11, 2001? The answer to that question lies within the pages of Essays on Muslims and Multiculturalism. We need more words, not less. We need more debate, not less. We need more thinkers like these six essayists to contribute to this important topic of national debate.