NO Islam; NO Sharia; No Halal! These were the slogans on one side of yesterday’s demonstrations.
Ignorance breeds racism. Australia welcomes all. These slogans were shouted back.
There’s real pressure on us to take sides. We have beliefs about our friends’ beliefs, about our fellow-tertiaries’ strong opinions, about our fellow-Christians’ ideas, and our default position is to follow what we think they think!
Of course we do. We are social animals. I want to go to Perth and stand with Christians who welcome refugees and embrace Muslims. I can argue the case for inclusion with vigour and clarity. But therein lies a problem. To be a vigorous advocate at the moment risks creating divisions and fomenting hatred in the community.
Rather than practising my lines bolstering my ‘side’ of the current arguments, I should be walking in the shoes of people who have different views.
One exercise in our training for non-violence involved splitting into two sides at opposite ends of the room and emphasising the differences in the two groups. Then individuals crossed the line in the middle and looked at the issue from the point of view of the other group. These actions brought the group back together.
I’ve studied Islam, and rather than shout at people with hateful catchphrases like ‘NO Sharia!’ I should acknowledge that there is real fear in the community. People look at societies like Saudi Arabia or Pakistan and see the punishments certain Muslim governments mete out. We would not stand for the way women are banned from driving. We are outraged that people are put to death – often in barbaric ways – for converting from Islam. Rather than shouting back at those who shout ‘NO Sharia!’ I should agree. I fear a Muslim government that treats its citizens like that.
I don’t think Halal certification of meat costs the average shopper. I do know that certification provides a livelihood for ordinary Australian family farmers who sell livestock to the abattoirs in Katanning. I agree that the certifying most foods for sale is unnecessary and confusing and worth resisting. It’s more complex than saying either ‘No Halal’ or all certification is good. A conversation where there is more trust and less fear would benefit all.
Australia is not going to become a Muslim country overnight. At the 2006 Census, 63.9% of Australians claimed to be Christians as against 1.7% Muslims. The 2011 numbers have not been analysed yet, and, while it is true that the proportion of Muslims has grown, the size of the Muslim community is still a tiny minority. We are a strong community. We can handle that much diversity. But we must take care, as a settler society, to make changes slowly.
So I admit to being tempted to man the barricades, to take a stand on one side of this debate, and imagine that will make society more inclusive. I need to resist that temptation and find ways of healing division, of understanding legitimate fears and concerns and creating harmony. That seems to be the Franciscan way, the way of Christ for me.