At Large

Muslims and Assimilation

Islamic immigrants down under are being instructed to conform to Australian values -- which are quite pleasant, incidentally.

By 9.6.06

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I have written previously on British moderate Muslims who have warned that Britain faces further Muslim extremism unless its government meets Muslim demands in domestic and foreign policy, including, according to some, instituting Sharia Law.

In Australia, Prime Minister John Howard said on talk-back radio recently that Muslim migrants needed to conform to Australian values by learning English and treating women with respect.

Anyone who has not been following recent developments would think such comments unexceptional. However, some Muslim community leaders are reported to be "infuriated." The head of the government's new Muslim advisory committee, Dr. Ameer Ali, warned of trouble unless the Prime Minister backed down, claiming: "When you antagonize the younger generation, younger group, they are bound to react."

Howard replied: "There's a small section of the Islamic population which is unwilling to integrate, and I have said, generally, all migrants have to integrate, and that means speaking English as quickly as possible, it means embracing Australian values and it also means making sure that no matter what the culture of the country from which they come might have been, Australia requires women to be treated fairly and equally and in the same fashion as men.

"And if any migrants that come into this country have a different view, they better get rid of that view very quickly."

The Prime Minister was basically repeating views he had expressed several times earlier, particularly after serious riots and fighting between Australians and Lebanese Muslims in Cronulla near Sydney a few months ago after a series of racially-motivated rapes and other attacks on Australian women: "There is within some sections of the Islamic community an attitude towards women which is out of line with mainstream Australian society. It needs to be dealt with by the broader community, including Islamic Australia. There is really not much point in pretending it doesn't exist."

Former Federal Treasury Secretary and Senator John Stone has written: "We have seen, among many other such developments, the revelations over the gang-raping of 'white Aussie sluts' by young Muslim men of Pakistani origin; the increasing Muslim lawlessness in south-western Sydney; and the concerted raids on some eastern suburbs by car-load convoys of young Muslim men 'responding,' so they said, to the Cronulla riot of December 11, 2005. Incidentally, while I do not condone that riot, it is worth remembering that it was clearly provoked by the mounting anger over the behavior of similar young Muslim men at Cronulla and other beaches for some years previously."

The Islamic Council of NSW spokesman said of Howard's earlier statement: "Within any pluralist society such obscene voices exist. Within Australia we have seen Captain Francis De Groot and the New Guard, then the League of Rights and the Australian Nationalists Party and more recently the rise and fall of Pauline Hanson and her One Nation party."

This is undoubtedly true. However, compared to the serious concerns aroused by the Cronulla riots -- the first of their kind in modern Australia -- and other matters, this is invoking straw men. Australia has about 300,000 Muslims, or about 1.5% of the population. Only 1% of these need be attracted to extremism to mean big trouble. (According to the British Daily Mail of August, 7, almost a quarter of Britain's Muslims -- 370,000 of 1.6 million -- believe the 7/7 London bombings were justified because of British support for the War on Terror. Another poll indicated more than 80% consider themselves Muslims rather than British.)

By comparison to the potentials here, the League of Rights and the Australian Nationalist Party are unpleasant but politically insignificant groupsicles. The League of Rights is unlikely to long survive the recent demise of its founder, Eric Butler. It mainly gives out cranky pamphlets about Fabianism. The One Nation Party, whose concerns combined immigration restriction, high protectionism and agrarian socialism, is also on its last legs. Its founder and former leader, Pauline Hanson, was previously the proprietress of a fish-and-chip shop who got into Federal Parliament by a fluke. Despite press hysteria it was never a significant political force and quickly imploded. Neither the League of Rights nor One Nation have used or advocated violence (though One Nation was the victim of repeated leftist disruptions of its meetings).

What of the New Guard and Captain De Groot? Here it is necessary to know a little Australian history. The New Guard was a group planning to fight any communist takeover of Australia in the 1920s and 1930s. However, there was never any occasion for it to actually do anything as Australia remained a peaceful parliamentary democracy. Captain de Groot was its one member who achieved a modest place in Australian popular history.

In the 1930s the Premier (that is, the political head) of the State of New South Wales was Jack Lang, a populist of fiery rhetoric who wished to repudiate the state's international debt.

He was opposed by many people, including those who feared that repudiation would make future borrowing impossible. Lang was eventually dismissed by the state governor (the Queen's representative in the Australian system), who called an election after the federal government cut off funds to New South Wales and the state could no longer function. In typical Australian fashion, despite some feverish rhetoric, there was no bloodshed. Lang went peacefully, and lived to a great age, somewhat mellowed and regarded as an icon of Australian rambunctiousness -- a sincere if mistaken patriot.

De Groot was an ex-soldier of Irish birth who, mounted on a horse and wearing an old army uniform, mingled with the honor guard at the opening of Sydney Harbour Bridge on March 19, 1932. Just before Lang, as premier, was due to cut the ceremonial ribbon, De Groot galloped up, and cutting the ribbon with his sword, said: "I declare this bridge open in the name of the decent and respectable people of New South Wales!" Lang was infuriated. Other people laughed.

De Groot was a friend of Australia's first Jewish governor-general, Sir Isaac Isaacs, for whom he made a ceremonial chair. He said his action was a protest against Sir Isaac not being invited to the ceremony. He was fined five pounds (about US$20) and his sword, presented to him for gallantry in the Great War, was confiscated but later returned.

To invoke De Groot -- remembered now like Lang with amused affection in Australia -- to imply that Australia has had its own tradition of political extremism only emphasizes how very little extremism or communal strife Australia has actually experienced up till now, despite the fact its entire non-Aboriginal population is made up of settlers (including some convicts) from different countries who have arrived since 1788. It also suggests a very strange view of Australian history: why is such unreal hyperbole being put by Muslim leaders as serious argument?

If Muslims in Australia wish to come up with a convincing rejoinder to Mr. Howard's and John Stone's comments they are, in the Australian phrase, going to have to lift their game.

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About the Author

Hal G.P. Colebatch, a lawyer and author, has lectured in International Law and International Relations at Notre Dame University and Edith Cowan University in Western Australia and worked on the staff of two Australian Federal Ministers.