Image - "Reclaim Australia"

Image – “Reclaim Australia”

On January 11th 2014 I wrote the following as part of an article about casual racism:

“Last night, as I watched the Perth Scorchers win their T20 game against the Sydney Sixers, I reflected on the many derisive comments that I have heard in the last few years about people of Muslim faith. The generalisations about their attitudes to life, religion and others in the community have been very degrading.  And as Yasir Arafat (A man of Pakistani Muslim origin) came in to bowl the super over that allowed the Scorchers to pull off a remarkable victory, I pondered the other great statement of defence I hear in this context “Yes, but he is different”!”

Just over 12 months later I feel that I should be writing the same thing again. Of course this time Yasir Arafat managed to score one run on the very last ball to win the game for the Scorchers last night. Yet his faith adherence has not been raised by a single one of the usual detractors who were quick to attribute the actions of one person in the Sydney siege to the actions of the whole religious community.

The issue comes back to the current view of sociologists whose thinking is explained below:

“Fundamental to all of the above discussion is the current thinking in sociological circles that there is only one “race” of people and that is the “Human Race”. There is nothing about my “Indianness” or someone else’s “Greekness” that makes me or them a better or worse person than anyone else walking down the street. It is the life that I CHOOSE to lead and the behaviour that I exhibit that determines my attitude to others. We all have the capacity to do the same and influence others to follow our example.”

And before any of you leap to your defences to make the point that Islam is not a race but a religion let me emphasise that that is not the point of this discussion. There is nothing about the fact that Monis (the Sydney Siege gunman) was of Islamic faith that makes his actions that of the religious group. Likewise the actions of Yasir Arafat (the cricketer) are not those of the religion. They are the acts of one person acting in his own right.

Not long ago (November 2014) Dr Tim Soutphommassane the Race Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission addressed some of the issues around race and religion in particular with regard to Islam. Some of what he had to say is as follows:

“Race and religion

So far I have spoken of two dimensions of contemporary racism in Australia: casual racism and structural racism in the media. There is another dimension to which I now turn: that concerning religious bigotry.

There has been a noticeable rise in anti-Muslim sentiment during recent months, amid community anxiety about the threat of terrorism. There have been media reports of mosques being defaced, of Muslim Australians being abused or threatened in public places because of their religion. Many Muslim communities have made clear to me their concerns about the safety of their members, especially women who wear visible Islamic dress such as headscarves.

There have been more subtle forms of anti-Muslim hate as well. Last week, here in South Australia, the Fleurieu Milk and Yoghurt Company was targeted by a social media campaign for its Halal certification. This company has been the latest food business to be targeted for complying with Islamic dietary standards, with campaigners suggesting that fees paid for Halal certification are being used to fund terrorism. Anti-Halal campaigners have also aggressively targeted meat pie maker Four’N Twenty and the Byron Bay Cookie Company. In the cases of Four N’ Twenty and Byron Bay Cookie Company, the companies held firm and refused to drop their Halal certification – a stance that should be commended. In the case of Fluerieu, the company unfortunately chose to end its yoghurt supply deal with the Dubai-based Emirates airline, fearing adverse publicity”

It is quite clear that the whole anti Halal movement led by intellectual bankrupts such as Luke Simpkins (Member for Cowan) Senator Cory Bernardi and George Christensen are nothing more than anti Islamic bullies. The aim of the exercise is to drive a clear wedge between community groups that go to make up the Australian population. These campaigns seem to have raised their ugly heads again and groups such as the Q Society are exploiting the fear and ignorance that has been generated.

Again, Dr Soutphommasane explains the Halal issue in these terms:

“As for the certification process itself, this has no negative bearing on the ability of non-Muslims to consume different food products. Halal may be grounded in religion, but the process of Halal labelling is primarily focused on hygiene and ingredients – on ensuring, for instance, that ingredients are free from pork and that machinery involved in making food has not been cleaned with alcohol. The Australian Food and Grocery Council explains that the exercise can be best compared to vegan or gluten-free labelling.

Most Halal slaughter in Australia is also consistent with standards of animal welfare. According to the RSPCA, the vast majority of Halal slaughter in Australia complies with the national standard requiring that all animals be stunned unconscious prior to slaughter. In this respect, Halal practices in Australia differ from Halal slaughter in many other countries”

The Anti Halal campaigners currently appear to be dominating the airwaves and creating and exacerbating the Anti Islamic feeling that is evident in contemporary Australia. Campaigns such as the Reclaim Australia rally do seem to be gaining a level of momentum that is relatively frightening. The way to combat this rise in sentiment is for a programme of education to be undertaken. It is my view that racism and anti religious feelings usually stem from a level of ignorance on the part of the perpetrator. This is something that needs to be addressed as a matter of some priority. However there has to be some legislative support as well. Religious vilification legislation is desperately needed and needs to be considered by all governments in Australia.

However, another area of considerable activism that is essential is when the mainstream community also takes it upon itself to try and expose the public to the reality and truth of the situation. My friend and colleague Samantha Connor did this recently in an article in The Stringer’s pages. What is disappointing is the reaction that comes about when people like her post these articles. I have written before about the lot of advocates in this area. We cop the abuse from those people who have fairly entrenched and immovable views on these issues. Unfortunately Samantha became the subject of some hate mail as a result of that article. I know for a fact that this will only embolden her to speak out again and again on the issue. But I remind readers of these articles that this is not an uncommon and is certainly an unwelcome reaction.

Let us unite in attempting to educate each other about the issues and hopefully this will achieve the degree of harmony that we are all seeking in our community.

Let us also remember the other lines of the song that have been used for the title of this article and they are:

“You may say I’m a dreamer But I’m not the only one I hope someday you’ll join us And the world will be as one”