MAXINE MCKEW: Greg Hoy reporting there. The question of Australian
identity has always been a contestable issue, but it now seems that
both major political parties are trying to outdo each other in the
values debate. Prime Minister John Howard kicked things off with his
recent suggestion that some members of the Muslim community should make
a bigger effort to learn English and fit in with the rest of society.
Opposition Leader Kim Beazley went one better, saying that even
visitors to this country should sign a pledge to uphold national
values. Of course, it's not a debate that's isolated to this country.
Around the world, certainly since the attacks of September 11, western
nations with Muslim minorities are grappling with similar issues. But a
new wave of younger Australian born and bred Muslims are speaking out
to counter what they see as massive misconceptions about their faith
and the way they live their lives. Christopher Zinn reports.
KILANI: I don't see any conflict between my Muslim religion and me
being an Australian. I see myself as a proud Australian who is a Muslim
and the values don't clash at all.
ALAA ALASSADI: Some people
obviously seeing me as a Muslim come up to me and ask me questions and
I can clear some of the misunderstandings. That's pretty rare compared
to the other negative.
CHRISTOPHER ZINN: They're about 2 per
cent of the country's population but Australia's Muslim community has
rarely been under such scrutiny.
TONY ABBOTT: We know that it's possible to be an Australian and a Muslim rather than an Australian, or a Muslim.
ZINN: This forum in the melting pot Sydney suburb of Lidcombe is a
microcosm of a wider debate raging around the country and, indeed, the
TONY ABBOTT: It would be easier for Australians to
appreciate Islam if more Islamic leaders seemed readier to condemn
terrorism rather than explain how the West might in some way have
contributed to that.
CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Tony Abbott doesn't shy
away from the Government's line on assimilation, Australian values and
speaking English. Sheikh Taj el-Din Al Hilaly, one of the spiritual
leaders of Australia's Muslims, voices his support - ironically, in
SHEIKH TAJ EL-DIN AL HILALY: I agree with the minister that everyone who is living in Australia should speak English.
ZINN: Australia's 300,000 Muslims hail from 100 different countries and
well over a third were born here. It's a young community, almost half
are aged under 25.
ALAA ALASSADI: I consider myself having
more of Aussie values than I do just because I wear a scarf it doesn't
mean I'm like different or think differently or anything. I was raised
here and that's how a lot of my friends are and a lot of the Muslims I
know are like this. That's why I don't understand why they always have
to depreciate and cause this division.
CHRISTOPHER ZINN: A
bachelor of science student at the University of NSW, Alaa Alassadi was
born in Iran but migrated here. Out of faith she wears the hijab, but
sometimes it works against her.
ALAA ALASSADI: I've had someone
walk past me and swear at me and call me a terrorist. It's not really
easy having a job interview when they see you straight away and they
see the scarf. Obviously I find that your chances get less likely when
they see you wearing the scarf.
CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Alaa Alassadi
works hard to build bridges between the two communities, but admits the
behaviour of a small minority of Muslims, especially overseas, does not
make it easy, as with the storm over the Pope's comments on Islam.
ALASSADI: They shot a nun. I think that is completely wrong and I
really, really don't think that was the actual appropriate action to
take and obviously I mean when they do some things like that it's going
to be on the news and they're going to get a backlash from the other
ASSOC PROF STEPHEN ALOMES: It worries me that the clash
of civilisations might become a self fulfilling prophecy. If you go
around and stigmatise and label a group as outsiders they will develop
an identity as outsiders.
CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Dr Stephen Alomes
has studied citizenship issues here and overseas. He's just returned
from Europe, which is experiencing a very similar debate on the
assimilation of Muslim migrants.
STEPHEN ALOMES: The first
generation is often slow to move towards citizenship. Think of the
Greeks, the Greeks did not intermarry for sort of 20 or 30 years, which
they now do. Because we live in anxious times we're getting a little
jumpier about this question.
CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Here in
Australia, younger Muslims are using more modern means than the mosque
to replace what they see as outdated stereotypes.
We've got young Aussie Muslims writing books now about growing up in
Australia. We've got next month a bunch of stand up comics from the
United States performing a comedy show called 'Allah made me funny', so
Muslims are taking the piss out of themselves. What could be more
Australian than that?
CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Irfan Yusef is a lawyer,
commentator and blogger pushing an alternative view. He claims many
Muslims are inhibited from going public.
IRFAN YUSEF: I think
ordinary Muslims need to come out. Your average Joe Blow Muslim who is
a suburban solicitor or an accountant or a doctor or whatever. These
you're your ordinary Joe Blow Aussie mozzies, as we like to call
CHRISTOPHER ZINN: One who makes it his business to
speak out is this man who runs the Muslim Village site, which he is
promoting as Australia's first halal trade expo, in Melbourne.
KILANI: Unfortunately for us our leadership is inadequate and
unrepresentative of the true Muslim community which is people like
myself who were born here who are integrated so well that we don't need
to come out and have special treatment and set up reference committees
and things. We're going about doing our business.
CHRISTOPHER ZINN: But there's no denying the small minority of Muslims have raised serious concerns.
BAKAR: I am telling you that my religion doesn't tolerate other
religion, it doesn't tolerate. The only one law which needs to spread
can be here. Anywhere else has to be Islam.
Since this interview last year Algerian born Abu Bakar, the alleged
leader of a Melbourne terror group, has been committed for trial with
10 other men. Despite this and other high profile terrorist cases Ahmed
Kilami argues they involve a tiny minority who don't reflect the values
of the wider Muslim community.
AHMED KILANI: It's all about
living in harmony and respecting others, not forcing others to do
anything that's against their will. Respecting the laws of the country
this is all Islamic values that one must do. What I say to Australian
Muslims that don't like this, if you don't like it, don't live here.
ZINN: At the best of times issues such as citizenship, identity and
values can be hot button topics. But given events overseas such as the
storm over the Pope's comments and calls by politicians here for more
assimilation, it suddenly seems that everything Islamic is centre stage.
DUNN: There is a lot of community fear about Islam and when we compare
people's attitudes to Muslims, compared to their attitudes, say, to
Asian Australians or Indigenous Australians and other so called "out
groups" you do find that right now it's Muslims who suffer the highest
degrees of intolerance.
KEVIN DUNN: Now Redfern mosque was a Turkish mosque as was the Erskineville mosque...
ZINN: Kevin Dunn is a geographer who studies racism. He's concerned
about the focus on Muslims in this whole debate, which suggests
Australia isn't the secular society many may have thought.
DUNN: If you're saying that Muslims don't fit, then what is it you're
saying they don't fit? The default category there is Christian and I
don't think we really should be anticipating returning to assimilation
times where we expect people to come to Australia and become
WALEED KADOUS: If you want us to participate in
the Melbourne Cup and put a bob each way and have a few drinks, that's
not what we're about, it's not what we're interested in and we should
be free to do that.
CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Waleed Kadous is another
of the new vocal generation of Australian Muslims. He's convenor of the
Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network and says there's no
Aussie monopoly on values such as a fair go.
WALEED KADOUS: It's
hard to understand what Australian values really mean if they just mean
to be a good bloke and I mean, Muslims try their best to be that, it's
part of our faith to be good people.
CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Alaa Alassadi doesn't have all the answers but she has some simple advice for both camps.
ALASSADI: Muslims, practice Islam the proper way and try, please, try
to mingle more with non Muslims and to the non Muslim community, please
see it from our perspective. Try to mingle, we really need to have more
Reporter: Christopher Zinn
Australian Broadcasting Corporation - 7.30 report