The south-western Sydney suburb (or satellite town) of Camden is a beautiful and historically significant part or our world. Lately it has been getting a lot of publicity, much of it no doubt unfair, because of a controversy surrounding a plan to build an Islamic school there. It should be pointed out that there are already several Islamic schools in Sydney. Among the leaders of the pack against the school has been the Christian Democratic Party, formerly known as The Festival of Light, led by the Reverend Fred Nile, a member of the Upper House of the NSW Parliament and a Uniting Church minister.
I will save you much clicking by repeating two recent posts from my WordPress blog.
"The Place Where We Are Right" by Yehuda Amichai I first blogged in August 2005. I read it aloud during a service around that time at South Sydney Uniting Church.
From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.
How sad I am then to read of the Reverend Fred Nile’s disgraceful exploits* at Camden. I can think of few less Christ-like things the man could have done, his ill-judged bigotry being exactly the same as the reflexive anti-Catholicism of his spiritual forbears, as ill-informed, applying to Muslims standards he would complain about if applied to him. Yes, I can understand the culture shock at Camden, and no, I am not going to be drawn into screaming about either bogans or racists. But Fred Nile has disgusted me, because he is in a church, the Uniting Church, which in general knows better than Fred that such pandering to fear, prejudice and ignorance is totally out of keeping both with the spirit of Christmas and the Holy Spirit of God.
To use your old-fashioned terminology, Fred, you sinned when you went to Camden, you sinned when you said what you did, you sinned big-time. You encouraged hate, not love, judgmentalism not forgiveness, sickness of the soul, not healing. If there is violence, then your conscience should condemn you because you will have been complicit. You may rationalise as you will on that, but before God that will stand.
Where in Sydney, Fred, would you allow an Islamic school? Anywhere? I suggest Seven Mile Beach and Gerroa would be a great place for one. What do you think?
Fred’s paranoia (along with that serial idiot Charlie Lynn) seems not to take into account that even religious schools in this state can be very closely monitored for what they teach and what they do. Yes, John Howard did make things easier for them and the Exclusive Brethren and such to have schools; I think that had something to do with "choice" and respecting parental values, didn’t it — oh, and hopefully votes, though that didn’t seem to work out. I am not so sure such schools are a totally brilliant idea socially, but they do under our law and under freedom of religion have a right to exist — even if they are Muslim. No different in that respect from a Jewish school, a Catholic school, or a crazy anti-evolutionist Christian school… They’d all better teach the same science courses as are laid down for all schools by the Board of Studies too, by the way, even if they put their own spin on them or supplement them with something else in religion classes…
Your future terrorist, Fred, has probably already been through a state school, or even a Catholic school, or for all we know through a fundamentalist Christian school. Meanwhile, whatever else may be said about Islamic schools, they have begun to make themselves apparent in the HSC results, haven’t they?
Islamic schools aren’t exactly a new idea in Sydney. The Malek Fahd Islamic school, for example, was established in 1989 in Greenacre near Bankstown in Sydney’s west with just 87 children. Now it has 1,700 students.
When the New South Wales HSC results were released yesterday, the school’s year 12 students came in ninth in the state.
Not that any of that is likely to convince many in Camden to support a new Islamic school there, if comments from some gathered outside last night’s meeting are any guide.
And to be fair to the folk at Camden:
Not everyone in Camden is against the school. But one young man says public support for it is being stifled by the council, which he says blocked his plans for a peaceful demonstration on the weekend.
"I basically just wanted to set up a store and talk about racial harmony in the area, considering the amount of unrest that we have at the moment," he said.
"Basically, I was told, due to the issue of the Muslim school, that I wasn’t to go down at all, and if I was, I would be told to leave straight away and basically told that I shouldn’t be causing trouble within Camden."
The young man asked not to be named for fear of retribution from others of the local community.
"There’s eight Catholic schools, there’s three Christian schools within the area, and if you’re talking about one Muslim school, I don’t see why there’s so much unrest. It’s quite confronting, really," he said.
He says it’s possible the community anger will erupt into violence.
"If somebody stood up and said, ‘Look, pro-Muslims, let’s go for the Muslims,’ I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if something on a smaller basis of like the Cronulla riots erupted," he said.
"Because people have so much emotional relation to this project, that, like I said, it is confronting and a little bit scary."
If you really were any kind of a Christian at all, Fred, if there were even the slightest resemblance between you and Jesus Christ — in your handling of this matter at least, you would have been in there supporting young men like that instead of adding poison to an already poisoned atmosphere. I am truly sickened. I will certainly be raising the matter at church on Sunday…
There was far more true Christianity in tonight’s episode of East West 101, especially that beautiful baptism scene near the end with the Muslim cop sitting up the back, as true to life as my seeing Muslim (and Hindu, and Jewish, and atheist) youth in the congregation at St James Hyde Park earlier this year for Phil Day’s funeral.
I am yet to feel seriously threatened, I should add, by having lived within a hundred metres of so of a mosque for the past fifteen years…
* RIGHT SAID FRED…
This morning’s AM has Fred Nile’s pin-headed theology recorded for posterity:
MICHAEL VINCENT: But Reverend Fred Nile says he was not inciting fear nor encouraging any physical reactions to the project.
He spoke to media after the meeting and quoted from a passage in the Quran.
FRED NILE: "Christians say the Messiah is the son of God. That is the utterance of their mouths conforming with the unbelievers before them. God assail them, how they are perverted."
So that means all the Aussies are celebrating Carols by Candlelight this week all over Australia, millions of Australians, are condemned by the Quran. And sincere Moslems are supposed to believe this book, the Quran, as the word of God. The word of their God, Allah.
REPORTER: Do you take everything that’s in the Bible literally?
FRED NILE: Many Moslems take this literally, more than they take, than we take the Bible. I believe the Bible’s the word of God, but Moslems have greater belief in the Quran than Christians have in the Bible. This is literally the word of God.
So Christians needn’t worry about this then:
Deuteronomy 21:18 If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:
21:19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;
21:20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.
21:21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
Though apparently they should take literally what Leviticus says on matters Fred trots out every Mardi Gras…
The more Fred says the deeper the hole!
2. Yesterday: interim post updated Christmas Eve 2007
South Sydney Uniting Church was interesting today, given recent activities in Camden. What happened was that I raised the matter of Fred Nile and Camden during the intercessionary prayer part of the service in terms not dissimilar to Christmas poem #4: “The Place Where We Are Right” — dedicated to Fred Nile and his like… I have to admit to being a bit hesitant about that, but I need not have worried as I encountered total agreement.*
Islam is not, however, entirely or even mostly a violent religion. The largest Muslim-population country in the world is Indonesia. There, most people were converted to Islam by traders from abroad, traders who preferred mysticism to market-forces and bartering to battering. Even when Islam has countenanced and practiced violence, its scholars have, for the most part, emphasized defensive struggle rather than aggressive and offensive wars.
Of course, Muslims fear Christian militarism, too. The crusades are but one example, when violent, oversexed, landless and fanatical soldiers of faith set off to rescue the Christian Holy Land from infidel Muslims, and killed lots of Jews and different sorts of Christians before ever they reached the Middle East and saw a Muslim. That’s one sort of Christianity, but let’s not go there, for God’s sake.
For the sake of God: not, let me underline, for the sake of religion. Contrary to much popular opinion, religions, the one or the many, are not God. They are human creations, attempting to map out as best they can, in mortal life, the ways of the immortal God among his creatures. At their best: religions are porous to the divine presence, they provide us with homes within which the human spirit can flourish, and help us grow in holiness. At their worst: well, think of the Aztecs who, for all their remarkable accomplishments, raided other nations for youngsters to kill as human sacrifices. They would hold up the still beating heart of their victim as an offering to God.
The prophet Muhammad made choices from his religious past. He rejected polytheism, the worship of many gods, and, building on the belief in one God that a few Arabs followed, he brought Islam to people. Islam means submitting to the one God and, in submitting, finding peace and meaning. Jesus also made choices from his religious past. He said: ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy”. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’.
Muhammad and Jesus made choices from the religion of their day, rejecting some things and accepting others. So, also, like all people, whether we admit it or not, like it or hate it, we have to choose elements from our religious heritage upon which to construct our life. On what basis do we make our choices? No doubt, personal factors come into play, but I reckon it’s best done on the basis of what the majority of the evidence seems to suggest. Remarkably, most religions argue, suggest or just assume that Transcendent reality presses down upon us, beckons us, allures us into hearing and following what he has to say. In other words, God reveals himself to us: not always with the clarity we would like; but I guess that’s a deliberate attempt to get us thinking about and engaging with what she desires for our good.
When some idiot sub-Christian tells us that September 11 was God’s wake-up call to America, commanding us to get rid of gays, new agers, Muslims, feminists or whomever, I remind myself that it’s more important to attempt to hear God’s word than the damnable drivel of one of his self-appointed spokespersons who, instead of listening to God, project onto him all their unpleasant stuff. That fascinating conversation between Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson told me more about them and their hang-ups than about God; far more about them, indeed, than I ever wanted to know.
Compass is also something I hope many of us, Fred Nile perhaps especially, watch on Christmas night, though I suspect it won’t penetrate his prejudices:
Did you know that Muslims celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas? In this made for Christmas special episode Compass explores what followers of the three Abrahamic faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam, do during the festive season. We follow a Catholic family rehearsing a nativity play; a Jewish family celebrating Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights; and, an Islamic family which doesn’t celebrate Christmas but honours Jesus as a prophet too.
Speaking after church about Fred to a couple of my fellow-parishioners, we agreed that he has his good points. As a parliamentarian for many years he has been conspicuously honest and hard-working. He has been an asset when it comes to dealing with matters like corruption. However, when certain of his buttons are pushed he becomes a terrifying automaton quite oblivious to the damage he in fact does.
SEE ALSO: Joy to the world of non-Middle Eastern appearance by Irfan Yusuf.
Foreign un-Australian ragger from Lakemba nurses the wounds of her son after he got smashed by patriotic Aussies acting on the orders of Hon Rev Fred Nile MLC.
Now I’m off to have lunch with Sirdan and Simon H.
Very pleasant it was too, but led to a degree of overindulgence that I regret a little…
* from the other humans present.
3. Update: today in the Sun-Herald: new content
This story deserves the space the Sun-Herald has devoted to it. Let’s hope it strengthens the hand of those seeking understanding and harmony in Camden:
Sowing seeds of peace … Shyama Williamson and Jameela Ahmed inspect the site of a proposed Muslim school in Camden that sparked uproar Story by Helen Nezdropa Photo: Helen Nezdropa
STANDING in a field not far from home, Muslim convert Jameela Ahmed dreams of the day when peace will settle again over rural Camden.
The historic town has been torn apart by racism since plans were announced for a Muslim school in neighbouring Cawdor.
Mrs Ahmed, 55, is helping to sow the seeds of peace by planning a forum to dispel some of the misconceptions and fears about Islam.
"I think there is a lot of ignorance because many people think that Islamic schools will be teaching violence and hate," she said of the Quranic Society’s proposal to build an Islamic school for 1200 students on Burragorang Road.
"As a result of what is happening we are trying to organise a forum for both sides to come together so we can dispel some of these issues and educate the locals about Islam.
"We just want to educate and calm the situation."…
Mrs Ahmed said the recent backlash against the proposed school – emotion-charged public rallies, a pig’s head hurled into a paddock, incendiary pamphlet drops and statements of opposition from leading political figures – was a reminder of the problems Muslims faced more than 10 years ago when they tried to build a mosque at Minto.
"It was like a colony of Martians were moving in," she said.
While the mother of five wears a hijab, she said many Muslims in the area were afraid to reveal their religion publicly.
She said Muslims did not want to impose their laws and way of life on the wider community.
"Many people think if Muslims move into the community that means that locals won’t be able to have bacon on their burgers. That’s the sort of psychology we are dealing with," she said.
Mrs Ahmed said it would be the children who would suffer if the opponents of the school succeeded. Islamic schools gave Muslim children an opportunity to study Arabic, which was crucial to understanding their faith.
"They need to move out of the areas that are wholly Muslim because they don’t get the Aussie values as well as they would get them here," she said.
While she tries to ease public tensions, Mrs Ahmed endures a personal struggle. The daughter of a Christian couple, she is at odds with her parents, who are working with the Christian Democratic Party leader the Reverend Fred Nile, who has campaigned against the school.
Where do you think Jesus is in this situation?
"You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
An anonymous comment appeared on the Blogspot version of this post 12 May 2008:
Great thoughts but a minor correction.
Fred Nile is not a Uniting Church minister. He was a minister in the Congregational church before the Uniting Church was formed so he was recognised as a minister by the Uniting Church (as were all Congegrational ministers). However he never had a position as a minister within the Uniting Church and a number of years ago he resigned his membership of the Uniting Church. He is now a member of the very small remnant of the Congregational Church which did not go into union.
The Uniting church has its faults but Fred is no longer one of them.