A rather odd argument?

30 Mar

I remember without much pleasure the Paul Sheehan of a decade or so ago when I thought of him as “the thinking person’s Pauline Hanson”. What he had to say then about people like M was distinctly warped and unhelpful. In recent times he has addressed himself rather often to the topic of Muslims. You may go back two years to see what I had to say about him then: Paul Sheehan again. (There’s a bit of a connection also – tangentially – to Jim Belshaw’s recent post Saturday Morning Musings – Muslim prayer rooms and the importance of checking one’s facts.)

Today Sheehan argues that Islamophobia is a fabrication.

I’ve been considering a request from a post-graduate student who wants to do a thesis on Islamophobia in Australia. She writes: "I am researching the topic Islamophobia, and I am trying to prove whether Islamophobia is based on religion fear or cultural fear of Islam."

What about proving that Islamophobia exists at all? That would be the logical, ethical and scholarly starting point. But it appears the outcome has already been decided. This would fit the prevailing orthodoxy in academia that the default position for Muslims in Australia is victim. The jargon, "Islamophobia" is part of this ideological construct. Literally, it means fear of Muslims.

I reflected on all this while on holiday in Malaysia and the Maldives last week. This was my twelfth visit to Muslim societies because I do not "fear" Muslims and do not "fear" Islam. Yes, there is ample evidence that Australians have become uneasy about Muslims in general and hostile in specific cases, but this is about cause and effect…

This is suspiciously like “some of my best friends are Jewish” particularly when it is followed by a litany of bad news stories about Aussie thugs and crims of a generally Middle Eastern or Muslim background, the cumulative effect of which must be distrust of such groups as a whole, despite his opening disclaimer.

I would agree that terms like “Islamophobe” and “racist” are sometimes tossed around thoughtlessly, but that does not prove in any way that there isn’t a strong irrational or visceral component in the reactions of some people which can fairly be termed a phobia. Nor, when you think about it, does Sheehan pursue cause and effect very far. Cause seems to end on the Islamic or Middle Eastern side of the equation every time. Strange, that.

I am of course not denying there is a problem; neither, I would suggest, do thoughtful Muslim Australians.

Update 31 March

Irfan Yusuf has a piece in today’s Sydney Morning Herald: Australian Muslims not a monolith. It appears it is coincidental, as he addresses Rev Fred Nile’s and Andrew Bolt’s unhelpful interventions rather than Paul Sheehan’s, but the cap fits.

…On the ABC’s Q&A program on Thursday, columnist Andrew Bolt spoke of "a rejectionist strand" that made Muslim immigration experience different to the experiences of Greek and Italian migrants. Again, the underlying assumptions are based on ignorance. To speak of a recent singular wave of Muslim migration is to engage in historical revisionism. Virtually all waves of migration incorporated an element of Muslims, including Europeans from Albania and the former Yugoslavia .

Some Muslims came as refugees, others as skilled or business migrants. Some have hardly been out of an immigration detention centre for a few years. Others are descended from Afghan cameleers who married indigenous women in the 19th century.

Yet, for some reason, Australian Muslims are treated as some kind of monolith. We hear pundits and self-serving religious leaders speak of a mythical entity called the "Muslim community". The idea that Muslims define themselves primarily by their religion sounds ridiculous when one considers that membership of the Lebanese Moslems Association is limited to adult males eligible for Lebanese citizenship. Yet what happens at this Lakemba mosque is somehow a reflection of 300,000-odd Australians who feel inclined to tick the "Muslim" box on their census forms.

Are such prejudices widespread? Could they lead to violence? It’s hard to say, though some comments published on popular blogs are not promising. Bolt’s blog carries comments calling for a "Carthaginian solution" to be adopted against Muslim countries. One comment this month ended with: "Drop the bomb, kill them all." Another spoke of "a number or an above average percentage in the Lebanese/Arab/Muslim of south-west Sydney who are short-tempered, relatively thick, criminal, and fundamentally violent".

And it took a complaint from an executive member of a Muslim religious body before this remark was removed: "Bombing them, back to the stone age where their politico-religious philosophy belongs, would indeed be the only thing they understand … Islam has no such thing as a peace treaty … You don’t negotiate with that, you shoot it."…


4 responses to “A rather odd argument?

  1. Legal Eagle

    March 30, 2009 at 10:32 am

    Of course there are people who unjustly make generalizations about all Muslims – and that is “Islamophobia”. Examples? Dean Jones’ comment that South African cricketer Hashim Amla looks like a “terrorist” because he sports a long beard is Islamophobic – it infers that all Muslims are terrorists. Or Professor Raphael Israeli’s view that Muslim immigration should be limited and that Muslims are intrinsically violent.

    Similarly, I would argue that “Antisemitism” consists of unjust generalizations about all Jews. But like “Antisemitism”, the strength of “Islamophobia” is undermined when people use it too broadly, and try to stop any criticism of Islam or the practices of some Muslims. The problem is that we have to leave room to comment on unpleasant behaviour by individuals of a particular ethnicity or religion, but just because someone happens to be a Jew or a Muslim should not be taken to indicate that they are a bad person!

  2. Benjamin Solah

    March 30, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    Yeah, Paul Sheehan is a plain old racist in my book, and I am often accused of throwing the term around ‘needlessly’ but I don’t dish it out without meaning, and I mean it everytime I say it; I just happen to be a lot stricter on racism then some people.

  3. Neil

    March 30, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    I have had some occasions when I have used the term “racist” too readily, making situations worse than they need to have been, and also making it harder to get the other person or people to change their viewpoint. I am being deliberately vague, but one or two readers here may know what I am talking about. Such terms are very inflammatory. So I moderate my language nowadays, though no less anti-racist than I was before.

    The other thing, if I am to be honest, is that there have been times I have been racist or prejudiced myself — not in recent times, I might add. Experience taught me the folly of that.

    One interesting historical point is that the strong left opposition in the 1970s to Vietnamese migration — you should have heard Merv Nixon in the Illawarra in those days! — was partly political (anti-fascist) but also very racist. Malcolm Fraser in retrospect was the good guy in that case. Politics can be amusing in its way.

  4. Legal Eagle

    April 3, 2009 at 11:55 pm

    I’m careful of using the term ‘racist’ too readily – it’s a strong word. Likewise ‘fascist’ or anything like that.

    As you say, Neil, the aim is to get others to change their view or to at least admit that you have a point – you get people offside if you tell them they are racist. Often there’s a complex mix of reasons behind people’s prejudices including fear, ignorance, bad experiences. If you can unpick what some of the reasons are, you might change that.

%d bloggers like this: