Reclaiming What, For Whom?

Reclaim Australia proponents scare me. They tell us that Muslims are taking over our country, they exhort us to wake up, tell us that the Koran promotes terrorism and that halal is Sharia Law. They want to reclaim Australia for all those who hold to ‘Aussie values.’ At the same time they stand for equality at law, claim women are equal to men (which if push came to shove I bet they don’t hold to) and they tell us they want to reclaim free speech… I suspect this is a veiled way of saying let us sling off at Muslims and whoever else we want to freely. Underneath all of this for many there seems to be a fundamental faith, and so all their views get couched in absolutes (http://goo.gl/lf0rY9).

These absolutes make it very difficult to enter into a reasoned debate with people of the Reclaim Australia ilk. I realise I am being uncharacteristically uncharitable and my feelings towards those who align with Reclaim Australia are potentially shrouded by the part of me that is still becoming. However my frustration continues, if you peruse their website most of it is couched in very religious language and information tends to get lost in this language and leaves the average person scratching their head as to what they are actually about. This suggests to me that they are not interested in a civil debate and are more about raising a fanatical flag of fear. They scare me!

The reclaim marches over last weekend appear to have been poorly patronised only boosted by the involvement of The United Patriot’s Front, a nationwide movement opposing the spread of left wing treason and the spread of Islamism (http://goo.gl/7Qxm6Y). (WTF!!) The Melbourne rally saw the most unrest with police firing capsicum spray into the crowd in an effort to subdue protestors. 5 protestors were arrested in Sydney and there was a punch thrown in Canberra.

But in essence what message comes across and what is the counter message from the anti-racism side, are there any elements in either side that can helpfully lead to a better Australia, that can reclaim or recreate Australia to be a place that we can all call home?

In an article in the Conversation Irfan Ahmad from Australian Catholic University connects Liberalism with the Islamaphobia showed by reclaim Australia (http://goo.gl/j7kPuX). Liberalism put simply is a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality (Google). This concept according to Harvard’s John Trumpbour is a child of the enlightenment and as such is shot through with Islamaphobia. Ahmad points out that a key premise of Liberalism is the individual and the rights of the individual. So why are people so antagonistic towards Muslims, aren’t they people, don’t they have rights too? Ahmad rightly sees that much of contemporary liberal thought, backed by the media treats Muslims as a collective.

An example of this, Anders Breivik kills 71 people in Norway, initially it was blamed on Muslims, later it was found out that Breivik identified as a Christian, immediately he was seen as a psychopath, just an individual. Contrast Brevik with Man Haron Monis who was responsible for the Lindt Café siege towards the end of last year. It took a long time for the media to recognise him as an individual. It may still be labelled an act of terror, where in fact again it was a lone gunman with a history of mental instability. So when there is extreme behaviour by a section of the Islamic community, the whole community is tarred with the same brush. Ahmad is right that the media has not really helped us understand the actors on either side of the police blockade. The focus has been on the clashes with the public left in the hands of the radio talk back community to draw their conclusions.

A case in point is included in Reclaim Australia’s 9 demands, demand 8 is to ban female genital mutilation (FGM). They are claiming it to be a Muslim act against women. However religious scholars such as Tariq Ramadan and Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad make it clear that FGM is a local custom and in some places is practiced by Christians as well as Muslims, this is not a particularly religious issue. While I am certainly not in favour of FGM, its causes need to be properly understood, not assumed.

Like Reclaim Australia, the anti-racism protestors have also for the most part come from a negative base, knowing what they are against, but not helping us understand what could be. One of the organisers of the anti-racist demonstration, Mel Gregson, lamented both major political parties are using Islamophobic rhetoric in order to demonise refugees and justify the invasion of countries in the Middle East (http://goo.gl/EjLATJ). Whether this is true or not, it doesn’t really lead us anywhere.

The president of the Australian Islamic Research and Education Academy, Waseem Razvi talking with RT (http://goo.gl/EjLATJ) refutes the claim that Islam is taking over Australia, stating that Muslims represent a 2% minority in Australia. Helpfully he sets a new tone for a patriot, seeing them as someone who would walk with minorities and respect the multicultural spirit of Australia. However he sees Muslims as scapegoats.

The sides are definitely set, the teams chosen and the game of culture clash is in full play. As you would have picked up by my opening comments I have a leaning towards the left and would more readily support the anti-racism position. However with the sides locked in conflict, I’m not sure that either can lead us anywhere. I’m challenged by a Facebook post from Jarrod McKenna, who very clearly states that he believes in transformation and is empathetic with people from both extremes, believing that if their story was his story he may very well react in the same way.

I believe the key to the future resolution of these clashes could be in his sentiments. I am a fallen creature, evidenced by my opening lines in this blog, I too believe in the possibility of transformation. I am transformed and continue to be transformed. Part of this transformation is beginning to see with new eyes, when I can look at a Reclaim Australia proponent through the eyes of love or an extreme Muslim and recognise them as the same as me, then and only then can I begin to act as a peace maker and begin with them the long and arduous journey of reclaiming or perhaps recreating Australia into the place that we can all call home.

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A Measure of the Future

I was reading an article on Friday that stated a question like, what type of Australia do we want to live in? I thought great an article about values, human rights charter, creating the nation that we can all call home, inclusion, hope for the marginalised. To my initial chargrin the article referred to the impending release of the 4th Intergenerational Report (IGR) http://goo.gl/XUW3yg These reports have taken place on average every 3 – 5 years, starting in 2002 and seek to project our economy 40 years into the future. They are essentially a treasury report focusing on whether we can expect to be financially better or worse off in the future, based on current Government policy projections.

Key issues relate to the 3 P’s of population, participation in the work force and productivity. Population obviously refers to the amount of people living in the country, their ages as well as their relative needs. Of course one of the key concerns raised in the report is the amount of ageing Australians vs the amount of people in the work force to pay for their pensions and increased health bills due to longer life expectancy. Participation refers to the number of people in the workforce between the ages of 15-64. Productivity refers to our ability to work more efficiently or produce better quality goods and services with the same level of resources.

The report shows how each of these factors play into what the future will be like in 2055. By then the population is estimated to be at 37.9 million, with 2 million Australians aged 85 or over, we currently have only 80,000 in that demographic bracket. The report predicts that in 2055 the participation rates for people over 15 will fall slightly, however the rate of people aged over 65 in the workforce will increase to 17.3%. This, according to the IGR will give us the opportunity to learn from the wisdom and experience of the older generation. Couple of issues here, one we’ve got to want to learn and two, the older generation has to want to teach. I see plenty of reluctance on both ends of the scale.

According to an article in the Conversation, http://goo.gl/rsrHMD whilst focusing on the contribution of the older generation, the report lacks a focus on the younger, which is where the future of work is really headed. It states that unemployment of young people with tertiary qualifications is up, whilst those without yr 12 are doing slightly better comparatively. Authors, Churchill and Denny conclude that this suggests education – workforce transition is more complex than originally thought. According to Brotherhood St Laurence CEO Tony Nicholson, youth unemployment is a key intergenerational issue and needs to be addressed in order to secure future economic prosperity.

However is future economic prosperity the benchmark or sign of a healthy nation? Or could it be the by-product or outworking of a set of values that we adopt and live by as a nation. A set of values that inform policy at all levels of government, helps structure business, provides a guideline for media reporting, sets an agenda for social services, incorporates the highest good of religion and promotes human flourishing?

Can you imagine an Australia with a values statement? A statement that incorporates the best of who we are. Not a statement that is then enshrined in law, but something that’s aspirational, that gives freedom for people to grow and flex. A statement that is open to interpretation but is geared towards the common good.

Richard Eckersley an Australian sociologist and researcher into youth issues believes that young people are the canary in the mine shaft for a nation. For those not familiar with the metaphor, in Britain in the early days of coal mining the miners would send a canary into the shaft. If it survived they believed there was enough oxygen in the shaft for the miners to survive. Similar if young people are able to thrive and flourish in a nation it is doing ok. Eckersley sees that reports like the IGR and for the most part the wellbeing indicators look at the economic health of the country, whilst there are concerning aspects, for the most part that comes out ok. But if you look at indicators like youth suicide, young people’s sense of the future, their sense of wellbeing, the lack of relationship with significant adults, connection to meaning and purpose, then there is room for concern.

One thing the IGR does is help to lift the political gaze beyond the news cycle and even the next election, but does it help politicians focus on what’s really important for our nation? If we look at young people as part of those who are vulnerable in our communities then we can include them in the ancient adage that says a test of a nation is how it cares for the orphan, the widow and the stranger. How would we go on that scorecard?

Could we establish a set of values that guides us as a nation to create a truly great place for generations to come to call home? If we can then there is work for all of us to do. Are you prepared to dream a little, move outside the box of the expected economic norms and begin to live as if there is another way. Australia was seen as the place of the fair go for the battler, could we recapture that for today’s battler, today’s vulnerable and include them in the conversation towards creating an even better community.