In 1978 I heard a leading Australian Christian thinker say that the issues we will face globally in thirty years’ time will be:
It stuck in my mind all that time, partly because it seemed so incomprehensible at the time; and yet look at where we are now.
Over the last two years I have chaired the board of a local Primary School and next year the school is celebrating its centenary. The school has a significant number of children from Moslem families, this lead to a fascinating discussion about Religious Instruction at a recent Board meeting. However, in first term we also had to deal with a ‘facebook campaign of protests about the Canteen selling halal sausage rolls; I can confidently say that the school has not had to deal with that issue before!
It reminded me of a public meeting I attended a couple of years ago in the Northam Town Hall where many people had gathered to express their concerns about an immigration detention centre being built on the site of the old army camp. There was a lot of anger and noise until an old farmer got up to speak. His farm adjoins the site where refugees from other countries have been held at least twice previously. You could have heard a pin drop when he was speaking, as no one could argue with what he was saying from his own experience. While I cannot recall the exact words, he was fundamentally talking about shared humanity. It was both moving and powerful.
Australia is a very different place to what it was 35 years ago. some politicians and some parts of the media thrive on maintaining a discourse about the ‘otherness‘ of those seeking asylum. In contrast to emphasising the otherness, we need to constantly remind people of our shared humanity,
Arun Kundnani is one of Britain’s best political writers, neither hectoring nor drily academic but compelling and sharply intelligent. His recent book The Muslims are Coming: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror is vastly more intelligent than the usual “war on terror” material, focuses on the war’s domestic edge in Britain and America. He writes: “the basic political question thrown up by multiculturalism: how can a common way of life, together with full participation from all parts of society, be created?”
The answer should be self-evident: “A strong, active and confident Muslim community enjoying its civic rights to the full.” Yet policy and politics has ended by criminalising Muslim opinion, silencing speech and increasing social division.
Australia is a very different place to what it was even 20 years ago; we need to grapple with these issues constructively and, no doubt, in some places we already are. We need to think about inclusion in a pro-active kind of way and, perhaps, this means that we will provide halal sausage rolls.