Essays on Muslims and Multiculturalism

Now that really attracted my attention in this morning’s “Review” section of The Weekend Australian. Clever title too for this review of Raymond Gaita’s new compilation (Text Publishing, 232pp, $32): “Islam, immigration and the great dividing rage.” I am so glad this has been published as it appears its various contributions support much that I have been thinking myself about the current discussion of Australian multiculturalism: that it has been polluted by alien experiences from other countries; that it is code for fear of Islam; that we are seriously under-rating what we have achieved here.

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Muslim girls training to be lifesavers on Sydney’s Cronulla Beach. Picture: Jeremy Piper Source: The Australian

I really must get this book – and so should you.

September 11 2001 marked a change in Australian attitudes towards immigrants. The spotlight was on Muslims.

This collection of thought-provoking essays looks at multiculturalism’s successes and failures in providing a secure, well-integrated, free and fair Australia.

Philosopher and writer Raimond Gaita has gathered some of Australia’s leading writers in the field to examine an issue that goes to the heart of Australia’s identity.

Author and lawyer Waleed Aly examines the role that the media has played in anti-Islamic myth-making in popular Western culture. Writer and researcher Shakira Hussein looks at how Australia’s immigration policy has changed the cultural landscape. Geoffrey Brahm Levey writes on multiculturalism and terror and Raimond Gaita on ‘the war on terror’.

According to Peter Kirkwood in today’s Oz:

…There is so much overheated rhetoric in this debate that this book, with its considered opinion and learned reflection, is most welcome. Its contributors, all prominent academics and public intellectuals, are ably corralled by editor Raimond Gaita, professor of philosophy at King’s College London and the University of Melbourne. Gaita writes the book’s introduction and its concluding essay, Multiculturalism, Love of Country and Responses to Terrorism. In the latter he argues that the 1970s government policy of multiculturalism formalised a pre-existing grassroots movement that "emerged in Australia from the 1960s onwards, partly in response to a growing revulsion against racism" (this mood also saw off the White Australia policy), and "to the growing awareness of the wrongs inflicted by colonial regimes on their subject peoples".

Gaita espouses "an assimilationist ideal of multiculturalism" requiring that migrants uphold the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, and the pre-eminence of Australia’s Anglo-Celtic tradition, while the host culture should enter dialogue with new arrivals about what it means to be Australian, recognising "that genuine conversation must be open to the unforeseeable".

On the terrorist threat that drives much of the fear of multiculturalism, Gaita writes that "most migrants have no connection to terrorism", and that "we in Australia have reason to fear only the murderous ambitions of a handful of radical Muslims driven by a religion based on totalitarian politics"…

[Waleed Aly]  admits to being "sympathetic to multiculturalism", but adds that his essay, Monoculturalism, Muslims and Myth Making, "is not a defence (or even an evaluation) of multiculturalism". Rather he incisively explores what the present anti-multicultural rhetoric reveals about the needs and anxieties of the dominant mainstream culture.

He argues that the globalised era is also an age of extreme uncertainty: "In a world of rapid migration flows and instantaneous information flows, identities, values and cultures are subject to contestation and deconstruction with greater force than ever. The advent of terrorism in Western societies greatly exacerbates the sense of uncertainty. What was once thought to be solid is now fluid."

Aly argues that in an effort to regain a sense of solidity and certainty, to shore up a loss of cultural identity, it is a cultural constant that groups look for a scapegoat, what he calls "folk devils" against which the dominant culture can define itself. Muslims and Islam are the latest folk devils…

Aly is careful to acknowledge that with the advent of Muslim extremism and terrorism there is a basis for fear of Muslims, but he believes this is blown out of proportion in the service of creating the myth of a safe and secure Western monoculture that excludes Muslims…

Among many interesting observations, [Ghassan Hage] points out that usually it is not newly arrived migrants who are problematic but their children: "The second generation is likely to experience not only a different but also a more intense sense of injury from racism than the first generation."

In the light of this basic insight, he then presents an intriguing analysis of the Cronulla riots, with useful reflections on the protagonists on both sides.

That this incident, with its outbreak of mob violence, is so exceptional supports Gaita’s sanguine assertion in his introduction: unlike in Germany and Britain, the Australian version of multiculturalism seems to work: "Sometimes they [Australians] welcome it; sometimes it makes them anxious. Most of them accept it most of the time. That is why Australians and foreigners believe that Australia is a highly successful multicultural nation."

See for comparative purposes:

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One thought on “Essays on Muslims and Multiculturalism

  1. Interesting post, Neil. As you know, I come from a different position on the culture wars and on multiculturalism as an ism. Yet if we put the word wrapping aside, we actually seem to end up at broadly the same point!

    Tomorrow I want to complete my post on Bolt et al. I will then do a compnaion post to this one.

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