CHURCH leaders working closely with Australia’s Muslim community have called for dialogue and dignity to counter a wave of anti-Islam media commentary.
The commentary turned mainstream last week, when television personality Sonia Kruger called for an end to Muslim migration.
She said she wanted to “feel safe”. On social media, her comments went viral.
Senator-elect Pauline Hanson fuelled public debate by renewing her call for a ban on Muslim migration to Australia, a royal commission into Islam and a ban on new mosques.
She has also called for security cameras to be installed in existing mosques.
“People in Australia are in fear because they can’t walk in the streets, they’re in fear of terrorism which is happening around the world. Why? Because of Islam. Because you have the radicalisation – radicalisation is actually happening in Australia,” Ms Hanson told ABC TV’s Q&A program on July 18.
Brisbane archdiocese’s Council for Ecumenism and Inter-religious Relations chair Chris Ehler said it was important people strove to eliminate any evidence of bigotry and racism expressed in political rhetoric “which has the potential to fan anti-Muslim prejudice and fear mongering”.
“As Catholics we are guided by the Gospels in which Jesus teaches us the importance of the utmost respect for the dignity of every person,” he said. “Islam and Christianity are the two largest religions and Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population.
“Without our mutual respect for each other, a common desire to work together in building safe neighbourhoods and a commitment to justice, there can be no lasting peace in the world.”
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who is a Catholic, criticised Ms Hanson’s calls to ban Muslim immigration, saying: “What happens if we turn that on its head and start banning people because they’re Catholics or because they’re Protestants or because they’re Jewish?
“I’m not into banning people on the premise of their belief. How they see their god is completely and utterly their personal reason,” Mr Joyce told Sky News.
He also said he was opposed to Ms Hanson’s calls for security cameras in mosques.
“If you can put them in mosques, then when I go to Mass we’re going to have one in a Catholic church?” Mr Joyce said. “Every group has their ratbags, even Catholics.
“We had, in the past, the IRA (Irish Republican Army) but if someone says every Catholic is a member of the IRA, I’d say no.
“They have nothing to do with the religion that I practise. Islam at the moment also has a lunatic fringe.”
Director of the Columban Mission Institute in Sydney and co-ordinator of its Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations Columban Father Patrick McInerney said Ms Hanson’s views were “popularist, very shallow and pander to fear”.
“Australia does have a racist underbelly and it surfaces from time to time and she is just offering a channel for that,” he said.
“There is no point in vilifying Pauline Hanson … but what we need is information, education and having a chance to meet with each other.
“Awful things happened in Nice, Istanbul, Martin Place … but they are not representative of Islam; in fact are in contradiction to Muslim.”
The Australian National Imams Council said the rhetoric against Muslims and the calls for migration bans demonised an entire community based on the actions of a few.
“We call upon all fair-minded Australians to stand firm in their support for harmonious co-existence of all of Australia’s diverse peoples,” the ANIC said.
By Mark Bowling