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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Reclaim…

It will probably come as no surprise that this week’s blog has an Easter theme. For many years I was part of a movement known as Reclaim Easter or the Awakening Movement. We also organized marches but unlike the 16 that took place around the country on Saturday, organized by Reclaim Australia, the marches we organized were not motivated by fear of a lifestyle that some see is in danger of disappearing.

Our marches called Christians and indeed the country to a new vision, new possibilities hallmarked by peace, colour, joy connectedness, by everyone finding their place to contribute. All made possible because of the resurrection of Jesus, and the beginning of the creation made new that this event heralded.

Whilst they were hard work at the time, and I remember the cold Easter mornings blowing up balloons, setting out the march route, setting up for the festival afterwards, they were great reminders of a possible world, a glimpse of a redeemed society. Not a society redeemed for a religious dogma, but a society become alive to its possibilities, its potential.

Some will recall that my blog included reference to a march last week, I promise this won’t become a habit, however it seems many people are willing to take to the streets to make their views known. Since the start of the Abbott government there have been many such protests, again predominantly from a negative standpoint. That is in opposition to something, not a positive statement about a potential future.

Motivators such as fear can never produce a hoped or longed for future. Its like when someone goes to a politician to complain that something is wrong in their community. I always wonder what they expect the politician to do about it. Sure I agree our elected representatives are there to listen and help where they can. In fact political leaders in ancient Israel were exhorted to be at the city gates and be prepared to listen to the needs of the people, entering into dialogue with them. However I think today that when many approach out leaders its with a ‘you need to fix this mentality.’ It’s like they have divested themselves of any responsibility and expect the politician to come up with a solution.

So back to the marches on the weekend, there seemed to be a sentiment of hate coming through, despite the organisers and speakers saying it wasn’t that they hated Muslims but that they didn’t want to live under Sharia law and opposed the teachings of Islam. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-04-05/bill-shorten-condemns-reclaim-australia-fears-as-exaggerated/6371506 For many who took part in the marches I can’t help thinking that their involvement was motivated by fear. And fear is generally based on ignorance. Pastor Brad Chilcott of Welcome to Australia called for those who marched and those who were part of counter marches to put the banners down and come to the table to get to know each other and for dialogue.

Like the unhappy constituent meeting with the politician, a better way to approach a political leader is to have in mind a preferred future and present the issue and a potential way forward. At this point the politician can also begin to think creatively and together a workable solution may just be happened upon.

Unfortunately I can imagine that for many who marched with Reclaim Australia coming to the table would be the last thing they would want to do. Their solution to the issue seems to be at least in simplicity that the people they think want to promote sharia law should go home. It’s like they have divested themselves of the responsibility of finding a workable solution for our country. A solution that would ultimately see Australia becoming a place that we can all call home.

Easter is a time of hope and new possibilities, as referred to in an Easter message at Collins St Baptist, where Carolyn Francis juxtaposed the light and dark that is evidenced in our world. And I’m sure we can all think of examples where darkness coexists next to light, in our families where one moment there is harmony, the next arguments. In our communities where there is beauty like the birth of babies and the darkness of crime and isolation. In our cities where there are amazing opportunities and hope and the darkness of unmediated commercial greed.

But in all of this Easter reminds us that the door to possibility, hope and a new beginning has been opened. Ross Gittens, economic writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, quoting Tomas Sedlacek a Czech economist reminds us that Easter is primarily about forgiveness both for us as individuals and the possibility of redemption for us as a society.

http://www.theage.com.au/business/comment-and-analysis/jesus-the-great-debteliminator-20150406-1mdkxq.html We don’t have to put our hands in the air and say its all too hard. We don’t have to resign to fear of a future not of our own design. Easter is a sign of hope an ultimate eternal hope, but also a present one. I guess the challenge is will we hear the call to hope, to possibility, to new life and if we do hear the call will we respond and enter into the journey with others towards creating a new world full of possibility and potential for all.