Sunday, 7 December 2008

Islam in Australia

Straight from the pages of Moral Panic for Dummies come the stories about the Brisbane Islamic Schools. In the first story, a proposal to put a new Islamic School on the Gold Coast, near a Christian Church has received vocal opposition from some locals. In the second story, barely a week later, a Brisbane Islamic School apparently banned the singing of Advance Australia Fair in the school.

For the first story, the sheer hypocrisy of the protestors beggars belief. On the principle that, "It's segregation, not integration," (Tony Doherty) this school should be opposed, and yet a Catholic school is "the same as us" and should not be opposed. The problems with this are many, and here are just a few. First, the proportion of Australians who are Catholic is not great, and yet they are over-represented in the schooling system. Second, the Islamic schools of Australia need to follow the same guidelines as any other private school, including the use of government curricula and the problems of integration (boys schools, girls schools, Catholic schools, pentecostal schools...). Thirdly, the "same as us" argument smacks of discrimination on the basis of the Other. Anyone who is not ostensibly "the same as us" should be denied opportunity to be different from us. If Australia is to be the secular liberal democracy that grants certain freedoms, then it cannot oppose the different but must promote that which is the same between Muslims, Christians, atheists and so on. Lastly, the original religion of Australia is not Christianity, it is the aboriginal religion. Christianity is an import to this land. If one was to rely on tradition and geography to identify the Australian religion, Christianity is the incorrect result.

For all these reasons and more, the protest against the Islamic School is wrong on the ground of discrimination.

In the second story, the school that allegedly banned - note the inflammatory introduction of the word "ban" by the news outlets - singing the national anthem at assemblies is more interesting. The Islamic Scool, wishing to teach Islamic values in the midst of a secular liberal democracy, is trying to assert itself as a minority. It is attempting to identify itself as different in the wider community of Australians but is doing so from a position of fear, and therefore will not succeed. Zizek might suggest that they aren't being "violent" enough (in the Zizek sense of violence, not in the normal sense). In other words, if they truly want to be different then they will assert Islamic values, regardless of the wider community. However, such is the state of play that they will probably continue to press on with "safe" Islam, being "safe" in the midst of a culture which fears and loathes the different Other.

This is the predicament of the different in the midst of the prevailing order. To assert this difference is to generate opposition. It is a sad case of affairs that although Australia is quite secular and irreligious, Christian actions are not opposed in the media because of how flavourless we Christians are. Kierkegaard's situation has not changed. In this regard, Australia may as well be the Denmark of 200 years ago.
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