The wash-up … “the violent protest provides yet more evidence that multiculturalism – after a promising start – has failed.” Photo: James Brickwood
There was much intimidation and considerable violence to and from the Muslim demonstration outside the United States consulate in Sydney on Saturday. The banners included such messages as ”Behead Those Who Insult Islam!!!” and ”Obama, Obama, We Love Osama!!!”. But what was of particular interest was the destination.
Perhaps it is understandable angry Muslims in the Middle East or Africa would demonstrate outside American diplomatic missions against the apparent circulation of a YouTube video mocking the Prophet Muhammad by a person based in the US. There is no such excuse for Australian Muslims.
Citizens and residents of Australia know we live in a democratic society in which the government does not, and mostly cannot, engage in acts of political and religious censorship. That’s why Americans have not been able to get the cheap film deleted from the web. And that’s why footage of beheadings of non-believers by Islamist extremists remain on the web.
Some Muslim leaders in Australia have condemned Saturday’s violent demonstration in which several members of the NSW Police were injured. Others have not. Whatever the response of Muslims, the incident provides yet more evidence that multiculturalism – after a promising start – has failed. If some Australian Muslims do not understand how democracy works, it’s time for a rethink.
Some contributors to the debate ran the familiar left-liberal line that, when a small minority get violent, it is not entirely their own fault. Yesterday the Monash University academic Waleed Aly criticised the demonstrators but then went on to refer to the plight of a ”humiliated people” who are angry about ”the West’s disrespect for Islam”.
Last year, Aly made a similar point about al-Qaeda’s attacks on the US on September 11, 2001. Writing in The Sun-Herald on the 10th anniversary, Aly commented that ”it is worth considering how we got sucked into contributing to the process”.
Get it? Somehow or other, the West contributed to al-Qaeda’s attacks on the US in which Christians, Jews, Hindus and Muslims died. Even though this occurred before the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Interviewed about Saturday’s demonstration on ABC Radio 702 yesterday, Aly criticised only one person by name: Tony Abbott. No surprise there – since Aly is on record as claiming the Opposition Leader ”embraces a reactionary form of monoculturalism”. If Aly were just another leftist academic, this would not matter much. It’s just that he presents the influential ABC RN Drive program.
Paolo Totaro, the foundation chairman of the NSW Ethnic Affairs Commission, weighed in with a not dissimilar rationalisation. According to Totaro, ”if we have children in the streets calling for beheadings, the fault is not of multiculturalism, but of those – all of us – who have not taught, in enough depth, the democratic values of multiculturalism”. In other words, don’t blame the advocates of arbitrary beheadings. Blame us all, instead.
Mohammed El-leissy, the Melbourne-based Muslim community worker, had a somewhat different take. He told the ABC Breakfast program yesterday: ”When I looked at the footage coming out of Sydney, I didn’t really see young Muslims. I saw a lot of angry men from Lakemba … I don’t believe in the argument that multiculturalism has failed; I certainly believe that Lakemba has failed”. He called for more services.
Most Muslims have settled well in Australia. The notable exception involves some of the Muslim Lebanese who were given special privileges by Malcolm Fraser to settle in Australia around 1976 under what was called the ”Lebanon Concession”, and their descendants. Much of this group is based in Lakemba. As El-leissy has pointed out, ”quite a lot of them have very low employment and a huge lack of education”. Some other Muslims identify with this group’s alienation.
Where El-leissy’s analysis falls down is his solutions. All Muslims in Australia came here voluntarily and/or were born here. All have experienced the generous education, health and welfare benefits available to Australians. The rest of the country are not responsible for any alienation that they feel. Such anger will not be dissipated by the provision of more taxpayer-funded services.
It doesn’t matter if the disaffected in a democracy are Catholic-born members of the Irish Republican Army or Muslim-born supporters of bin Laden. If a radicalised group in a Western society does not accept democracy and engages in terrorism or violence, there is only one response. It’s over to the police to enforce the law with the assistance, where necessary, of the intelligence services. Then it’s up to the judicial system.
Australia is a viable democracy in which virtually all groups have prospered, including the vast majority of Muslims. If last Saturday’s demonstrators don’t appreciate this, tough. It is not our fault.
Gerard Henderson is executive director of The Sydney Institute.