Wednesday, 18 April 2007

in response to Fred Nile's "No More Muslims"

Last month prominent conservative Christian politician Fred Nile issued a press release with these words emblazoned across the top: “No More Muslims”. In the release Mr Nile called for an immediate moratorium of all Islamic immigration, claiming instead that Australia should provide refuge for Christians who were being persecuted across the world at the hands of Islamist nations. He also stated that within New South Wales, Islamic communities were places where “Aussie values were despised (CDP, March 11).

While reading the release, I was reminded of an incident which happened a couple of years ago, when I was a journalist with my local newspaper. At the time I was covering the police rounds, which meant every Monday I would sit with a senior police officer, trawl through the week’s worth of crimes and note down any which were considered newsworthy. One morning we had flicked through 30 or so crimes when we came across a crime that had been committed by a young Aboriginal man. The police officer turned to me and said, “See, you let them in and they just cause trouble.”

I found this remark astounding – not merely because of the officer’s rank and position – but mostly because of how completely groundless his observation was. We had just finished sifting through more than 30 crimes, most of which had been committed by white men. In the past few months I had covered police stories, I couldn’t remember another single one which had been committed by an Indigenous person – certainly, no serious crime that had been worthy of a newspaper’s attention. It seemed to me that if we were to seek out who was really causing the trouble, it was white men between the ages of 25 and 30. And yet, in this police officer’s mind, the incident had merely confirmed his deeply-held belief – the Aboriginal population was what was wrong with the local area.

Humans need a victim. In his brilliant article “Violence and the Scapegoat”, ex-CEO of World Vision, Phillip Hunt quotes French Catholic academic Rene Girard. Girard states, “Violence in a society is resolved by blaming a victim. A victim is identified. They are accused as being responsible for the violence in society.” (Hunt,Violence and the Scapegoat). Hunt explains that when a victim is identified, something amazing happens – the community can be of one mind. There is a common purpose and social cohesion, as a community bands together against a common threat. Anyone’s who’s read “1984” can identify with this – while there is a simple, common enemy, society can rest easy.

This “victim” changes according to the current age, and specific society. It has been communists, Hindus, Buddhists and black Americans. Once, it was the Jews. Martin Luther, the father of Protestantism, had this advice in how to deal with the Jewish people, “…set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them.(reference)” Luther’s words were later used by Nazi Germany to justify their extermination of the Jewish people.

Now, right across the western world, it seems the Muslims have taken the place of “victim”. One example is Professor Raphael Israeli, from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, currently traversing the globe claiming Muslims make life untenable. No one would disagree that Islamic extremism is dangerous, nor that controversial Sheik Alhilali’s comments about Jews, women and the west are ignorant, racist and unhelpful. However, to condemn an entirety of people because of the extremism of a minority is ridiculous. Are all pro-life activists to be judged because of James Charles Kopp, who murdered Dr. Barnett Slepian because he performed abortions? Are Indian Christians to be judged because the Christian terrorists of the National Liberation Front of Tripura gunned down more than forty non-Christians in 2005?

Not only does Mr Nile vilify an entire group of people with his comments, he also makes a remarkable suggestion that Australia should deny clemency to refugees based on their religious affiliation. This, to me, sits at odds with Jesus’ claim, “Love your neighbour.” There are no qualifications to Christ’s claim. Love your neighbour…if they believe what you believe. Love your neighbour…if they belong to a group pf people who share the same values as you do. Love your neighbour…if they haven’t done anything to upset you. No. Christ’s call is simply this: “Love your neighbour as yourself”. It’s as startling now as it was 2000 years ago, because it makes no sense to the world, and it’s pretty tricky to achieve.

In his article, Hunt also quotes Gil Bailie, who sums up the Gospel in these words, “The Gospels tell a perfectly typical story of victimisation with astonishing insight into the role of religious zeal and mob psychology played in it…the story is told from the point of view of the victim.” Christ has always sided with the oppressed and the victimsed. Mr Nile’s assertions that Muslims should not be let loose in Australia does two things: it undermines the truth of the gospel, and it creates an “Us and Them” mentality based on fear and distortion of the truth. How can mainstream Muslims assimilate into society when they are accused of “despising Aussie values” based on nothing more than they are Muslims? It closes the door of acceptance in their face, and if Christians honestly believe they want to “convert” Muslims, insulting them seems a strange way to go about it. We all want open discussion and productive dialogue, and we want to find ways of living together. But this press release seems to do nothing but incite more contempt and misunderstanding. Is this what “Christian politics” has sunk to in our country? Cheap points scored with a society desperate for a victim on the basis of fear and hatred? Again, the commandment to “Love your neighbour” seems so distant.

Still, there are pockets of hope: inter-faith dialogue being one. For example, the National Council of Churches and the South Australian Jewish Community Council have received significant government and community support to genuinely engage in discussions between Muslims, Jews and Christians. On a more populist note, the recent U2 concerts across the globe saw Bono wearing a “co-exist” sign, featuring a crescent moon, a Jewish star and a cross. Hunt closes his argument with another Bailie quote, “empathy for the victim and the needs for our rituals of victimization are incompatible”. (reference). I hope that as Christians we would chose to identify with Christ, with the victim, and not become part of the victimizing culture that leads nowhere, except to more violence.

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