This week six young Muslim Australians stood on the Murray Street mall in Perth wearing t-shirts which read: “I’m a Muslim, Ask Me Anything“. Lots of people took up the offer. They fielded questions for several hours.
I still can’t decide if this vignette, beautifully reported by the ABC’s Claire Nichols, is heartening or depressing – heartening, because it was obviously a well-meaning, civic-minded attempt to ease fear and promote social cohesion; or depressing, because in what moral universe should law-abiding young people be moved to stand on a street and tell passersby: “It’s cool, fellow shoppers, we don’t harbour violent hatred for you. Go in peace as you buy your fast fashion and mobile phone accessories, we are not planning a jihad.”?
Why should the victims of prejudice take it upon themselves to soothe the prejudiced?
Witness the humility of the group’s leader, Kamran Tahir – remorseful that he hadn’t done it sooner.
“I am still apologetic that we didn’t come out straight after the Manchester attacks,” he told the ABC. “But we were just in a bit of a misconception… whether we’d be allowed to come out to the CBD to do something of this sort. As soon as we got the green light, that’s when we came out.”
I watched all week to see if this group received plaudits from the sorts of commentators and politicians who insist, after every terrorist attack, that the Muslim community must come out and publicly denounce terrorism, sitting behind their keyboards like inverse, internet-age versions of King Lear, the Shakespearean potentate who made his daughters publicly declare their love for him, or else.
I didn’t see any plaudits from those people. Maybe they missed the story.
Some commentators speculate right-wing populism may have peaked in this country. But in the same week Pauline Hanson told reporters it was “disgusting” of them to ask questions about off-piste donations allegedly received by her party, she also set the political agenda when she asked the head of spy agency ASIO, Duncan Lewis, whether he believed “the threat” was being brought in from Middle Eastern refugees.
Lewis’ answer was unequivocal: “I have absolutely no evidence to suggest there is a connection between refugees and terrorism.”
But others knew better.
Off they romped, and the week’s news was dominated by the question.
The ASIO boss went on ABC radio to clarify his comments. One notable News Ltd columnist called on Lewis to retract or quit, and hammered his readers with examples of terrorists who are/were indeed refugees (notably the vile Man Haron Monis, an Iranian refugee).
Tony Abbott wrote a column arguing Australia treats terrorists with “kid gloves”, and said the problems of the Lindt café siege were “higher up the line” than the mistakes of the tactical police who eventually stormed the building.
One of those problems, the former Prime Minister said, was “politically correct fixations about a potential Islamophobic backlash”.
This was not something mentioned during evidence at the inquest into the siege.
Abbott also raised the idea of creating special courts for returning jihadis, but seemed to skip over the rule-of-law part of law.
“We need to ensure every returning jihadi can readily be charged and convicted, possibly through the creation of special courts that can hear evidence that may not normally be admissible,” he wrote.
(It should be noted Abbott was Prime Minister when the Sydney siege occurred, and made strong public statements reminding the community the enemy was religious extremism, not the Muslim community.)
Where Abbott offered a sketchy solution to the problem of home-grown terrorism, Hanson and her enablers in the media offered none.
The One Nation leader was simply trying to distract from a disastrously bad news week for her party, by reverse-engineering a justification for her policy of a ban on all Muslim immigrants, including refugees, “until we can assure the safety of Australians”
Other conservatives can’t or won’t go that far, of course, and say we simply need to stop “pussy-footing” around the problem of home-grown extremism, and have an “honest conversation” about what role Islam plays in terrorism. Nowhere is there any evidence we’re having anything but an honest conversation. This conversation is played out in the media every day.
Sadly it is often the people who rely upon individualism as a moral touchstone who also like to lump Muslim people into the same intellectually lazy rat hole as terrorists, Islamic extremists, Islamic conservatives, refugees, and – to borrow a Trumpism – other bad people.
The same voices who insist drug-addicted welfare recipients, for example, should pull themselves up by the bootstraps; the people who like to believe that personal responsibility can overcome generations of disadvantage and cultural inheritance, are the ones who seem to view Muslims as a homogenous group, responsible for each other’s sins.
I have not heard any calls for fellow Christians to denounce the religious extremism of tennis player Margaret Court, who thinks the devil is making young people gay, or that Lucifer is inviting young lesbians to parties, or something.
Maybe they’ll show up at the mall this weekend, wearing t-shirts.
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