“Closest to the believers in love and affection are the Christians”(from the Qu’ran, Chapter 5 verse 82).
As an Australian citizen of African heritage, I wanted to attend the Understanding Islam series as I am acutely aware of how conversations regarding the ‘other’ are framed. Africans, like Muslim men and women, Asians and southern Europeans are readily identifiable as being different.
This makes conversations about their place in Australian society pertinent as we seek to create a harmonious culture. White Australia, as a government policy, was abolished and replaced by multiculturalism. But what does multiculturalism mean in this day and age? Is it the Cronulla Riots, the Reclaim Australia rallies or the #iWillRideWithYou campaign?
While some may disagree with holding the Understanding Islam series in a Uniting Church, I believe it is important for these topics to be discussed openly and freely. They are happening in the community and we as a church owe it to ourselves to facilitate them. The alternative is the melee that was the Reclaim Australia rallies.
It is important for people in the middle to hear different viewpoints and then begin the individual journey of understanding. Therefore, my main criticism of the series was it did not afford Muslim scholars equal opportunity to speak about Islam.
The first night did not have any Muslim representatives.
This stilted the conversation and built a framework under which counter-arguments, for example that Islam is not a religion of violence and Australia is not about to be overrun, could not be properly made. It seemed the Q and A session was primed for a ‘gotcha’ moment, instead of facilitating an honest discussion about a serious issue.
“So that is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.”
This quote, by renowned Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie, highlights how hearing a single story about a culture, person or place is pernicious to our understanding of others. In the same way Africa’s story is often told as one of catastrophe and suffering, the current narrative of Islam is being simplified to terrorism and burqas.
We are all guilty of this, being part of a voyeuristic mob, spurred on by stories of beheadings, child-brides and ‘Islamisation’. We are guilty for not seeking an alternative narrative; mainstream media only serves us what we rabidly consume. They reflect us.
It is in this atmosphere that phantasmagoric theories abound, patently false myths are propagated: Halal certification (like Kosher, and the Heart Foundation tick) is not a creeping tax and there is no evidence linking the sale of approved products to terrorism; Sharia Law is not being surreptitiously introduced across the world; there is no clash of civilisations occurring in Australia or the Western world; Muslims make up 2.2 per cent of the Australian population according to the 2011 census.
What we have are extremists of all stripes who band together and use selective or narrow interpretations of religious texts as evidence of their warped hypotheses.
While some commentators and politicians deride Muslim leaders for not actively promoting Islam’s peaceful virtues, when they do the mainstream media ignores them. They are there after every terrorist incident reminding us the perpetrators do not represent them.
Yet another reminder that we, the public, only hear what we want to hear.
According to a Pew Research study, there are approximately 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, compared to 2.1 billion Christians. However, while we remain fixated on the spectre of the Muslim Terrorist, actual figures paint a different picture:
– According to Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, less than 2 per cent of all terrorist attacks in the EU between 2010 and 2015 have been religiously motivated. This is all religions, not just Islam.
– In 2013, there were 152 violent acts, two religiously motivated compared to 84 ethno-nationalistic or separatist motivated.
– In 1995 Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, killed 168 people, including 19 children and injured over 600.
– In America since September 11 2001, 190,000 murders in total, only 37 committed by Muslim terrorists.