It’s a scorching 30 degree day in the northern Victoria city of Bendigo and two groups of opposing ideologies gather under the shade of gum trees in a town park. Disrupting the harmonious late Spring day are the United Patriots Front and the Rally for Diversity groups, both claiming about 200 protesters on their respective sides.
The ‘patriots’, flying several dozen Australian flags and nationalistic iconography chant across the thin line of state police officers to the pro-diversity side. “Aussie, Aussie. Aussie, Oi Oi Oi” and “No mosque” taunt the opposition to respond with the counter-chants “Nazi Scum off our streets” and “Muslims are welcome, racists are not”; soon after…
The two sides, as suggested in the chants of the UPF, had gathered to trade blows over the somehow controversial development of a mosque which is, for Muslims, the primary place of prayer.
Australia is facing an identity crisis between two contradicting ideologies which hold drastically different views on Islam. On the one hand many Australians still subscribe to the belief that Australia is the most successful melting pot in the world which is, at its heart, a nation of immigrants and welcoming of all races and all religions. This view is shared by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who says “None of us can look in the mirror and say “All Australians look like me.””
“Australians look like every race, like every culture, like every ethnic group in the world.” Mr Turnbull said in a statement, strongly separating himself from the conservative and pro-Abbott firebrands which still hold a large stake in his own party; “Every religion, every faith, every moral doctrine understands the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So if we want to be respected, if we want our faith, our cultural background to be respected, then we have to respect others. That is a fundamental part of the Australian project.”
Earlier this year the Greens and Labor strongly criticized a Liberal National Party politician and Abbott loyalist for attending a white supremacist rally in Queensland. The same MP had previously drawn controversy for tweeting alleged Islamophobic content during the Sydney siege.
The antithesis of this liberal approach to immigration and multiculturalism is one built both out of the rational fear of extremism and the misunderstanding of difference. Australian Muslims make for just 2.2% of the total population of Australia, far outweighed my Australia’s massive Christian population which accounts for 61.1% of the population (2011). However, unbeknown to many, Muslim immigration and visiting to Australia actually predates white immigration by a few decades. Islamic Australians have resided on the great southern land ever since.
Australia’s earliest mosque (19th century) – rural New South Wales.
Australia only witnessed its first example of extremist Islamic terror during the Sydney siege. Out of this disaster, which it was feared would spark racial tension between Australia’s European and Islamic communities, emerged the reassuring “#illridewithyou” trend which offered an olive branch to Australian Muslims feeling like outcasts in their own country following the attacks.
What must undoubtedly happen from here is the reluctance to throw all Australian Muslims into one category of ‘potentially dangerous’. It must be accepted the actions of various terror groups, acting thousands of miles away in vastly different cultures and societal conditions are not at all representative of the Muslims who have lived in Australia, in some cases for generations. The difficulty of assimilating and finding your place in a new country can be testing for many and it is not improved by judgmental and negative understanding (or lack of) from the Australian people. Terror groups do not represent all Muslims in the same way the United Patriot Front certainly does not represent all Australian patriots. Not only does racial and Islamophobic hostility leave Muslims as outcasts; it also potentially creates the required conditions for racial tension which can, unintentionally, lead to the terror attacks we have seen across the globe all too often in the past year.
All Australians should have the right to worship in peace in their communities and connect with their God however and wherever they might find him. May peace be upon Bendigo.
Photographic content: Sydney Morning Herald.