As a result of continuous migration of people from every corner of the world for decades particularly from the Muslim States, this great continent became the multiethnic and multicultural nation. The Anglo-Saxon Australian community has emerged into a multicultural society within the last 50 years. Today Australia has around 4.5 million Muslims out of a population of 19 million people. Among the Muslim community one finds people from various ethnical backgrounds like Middle Eastern, Persian, South Asian, East Asian, East European, African and many others. During this period of gradual development The Muslims in Australia underwent many ups and downs, trials and tribulations.
While the Muslims of Australia have yet to have any influence in the political process of the country they are found more engaged in establishing mosques, schools and Islamic centres to protect their religious practice and Islamic faith. They are playing a significant role in the cultural and religious diversity of Australia. Politically they are found more influenced by the Australian Labour Party. However, the trend is diverting gradually, now they are more looked after by The Greens and the Democrats.
Australia is associated with the USA and the UK as a polity. Like other European countries, it declares its alliance with the World Order envisaged, propagated and dominated by USA. The Post 9/11 unconditional support by the present government to USA on the name of war against terrorism where Muslims are the recipient of most of the misunderstood concepts and media exploitations; Australia is under more spotlight in the world particularly the Muslim States. Australia’s Muslims, just like others, feel disheartened when they hear the vicissitudes of Muslims in other parts of the world, such as Afghanistan, Palestine and Kashmir or when they find being generalised as radicals or fanatics by the western media yet their channels of expressing their feelings and stands are limited.
After the Gulf War in 1991 by the US-led forces against Iraq, the post 9/11 war in Afghanistan by US-led forces where Australia was a frontline partner in the operation and the post Bali attack operations against Islamic groups have traumatized the Muslims in Australia. The situation heightened suspicion on the immigrants from Muslim countries and raised fears in the Muslim world about the security of Islamic faith in Australia.
Though the Muslims, by in large, still struggling to find a strong and uniform leadership which should be accepted by all Muslims ethnic groups to raise their genuine concerns; the people and the religious leaders of the Muslim community showed a great deal of sensibility and maturity in dealing with the crises in accordance with the situation as a responsible citizen of multicultural Australia. However, they are currently passing through all sorts of trials, mental tortures and emotional sufferings. There is a strong sense of suspicion about Muslims in the government agencies. The activities of Muslims as individuals and as groups are being monitored very meticulously by Australian Securities and Information Office (ASIO).
Responsively, Australian Muslims find very constructive and affirmative in building a unified and harmonious Australia. They have, evidently proved that whatsoever the situation may be against the Muslims internationally é they have to deal the situation according to the demand as one Australian nation.
The Australian Muslims have practically demonstrated their full devotion to keep the full harmony, solidarity and unity with the other Australians when in the neighbouring Indonesia the people were demonstrating on the street having the portraits of Osama Bin Laden in their hands, alighting American flags and condemning American attack on Afghanistan. Even today, when the agencies are raiding the houses and offices of Jamia Islamiah and where some exploiters are treating the entire community as part of Al-Quaeda network – the Muslims are showing their full responsibility, maturity and understanding being a loyal citizen of Australia.
The thing which agonises the Muslims, utmost, unfortunately is when the criminals are highlighted by their Muslim identity if the victims are non-Muslims é conversely it never happens when the situation is the opposite. One would agree that the words ‘ethnic crimes’, ‘Lebanese Muslims’ gangs etc which are used, regrettably, by the media and the politicians never benefit to the process of national uniformity instead it influences negatively on one of the largest religion – Islam in Australia.
Much responsibility goes to the mainstream media. There are blatant inaccuracies involved in the casual use of terms and phrases like ‘jihad‘ and ‘Islamic terrorist group‘ the precise meaning of which requires a dissertation; certainly it is being crudely misrepresented by populists (Islamic and otherwise) all round the world at the present time. Islam, like other religions, is open to various interpretations, and as such it can be used to support various ends. Scholars in the field of Islamic studies know well that most informed Quranic readings need careful scholarly analysis and explanation.
The Muslims community largely was distressed when the government took harsh and tough stand on asylum-seekers coming through boats from the Indonesian coasts é among them majority were Muslims from Afghanistan and Iraq. The Government took every possible step to stop the victimised and distorted people. Phillip Ruddock, the Immigration Minister, made every possible effort to stop them. He personally visited Indonesia and Pakistan to negotiate with officials to return them back. On the other hand he seems to be least bothered about those visitors coming every day from Europe particularly from Britain and overstay in Australia as illegal immigrants. The official statistics show that the largest illegal immigrants in Australia are the people from Europe. While calling for tolerance towards Muslims, the Government’s vilification of the character and culture of the mainly Muslim asylum-seekers continued unabated. The creation of a separate class of refugees by granting only temporary protection visas to those who have come by boat also seen in particularly in the Muslims community as act of discrimination.
However, one hopes that the present government of liberal will realize and heal the past issues and the Muslims in Australia will remain to be a proud entity of multicultural Australia. No doubt, one should appreciate the efforts of the Premier of NSW Bob Carr forming various harmonious groups, conduction close meeting with ethnic community leaders and trying his best to maintain peace and brotherhood in NSW. Much credit also goes to council for multicultural Australia and the Community Relations Commission of NSW, which is also providing great services for the rehabilitation and to maintain the harmony and unity among the ethnic communities.
In whatever way the present international crises turns and whatever decision the Australian government takes for its vested interest, the Muslims in Australia – being the remarkably fastest growing community – should remain positive and play their important role for the integrity of multicultural Australia. This is the real testing time for the Muslims of Australia. They should not be exaggerated by those who want to exploit the situation and trying to create divisions among the Australians. The Australian multicultural nation would continue to respect, celebrate the wonderful democratic values, notably egalitarianism, the fair go and mateship that not long ago underpinned the miraculous transformation from white to multicultural Australia.
The writer is a Sydney-based freelance journalist and a political analyst.