by Mitchell Frost
Most of you will have read about the controversy of plans in Bendigo to erect a mosque. The debate started as a local one, but as the opposition became more heated and discriminatory, the entire nation started to watch these small town events unfold and provide their own commentary.
The debate has spiraled from support for and against construction of the mosque, to a larger debate surrounding Australian society and Islam. Enough hypothetical blood has been spilt on these topics. Both the supporters and opposition of the mosque have been throwing their own independent research around the internet, and one always has a new link or article to counter the other.
It is time to bring this debate back to the conceptual. It is not the first fight of its kind, and sadly, it will not be the last. Multiculturalism, racism, patriotism, terrorism, extremism… What are they and what is their role in this debate?
Multiculturalism refers to the concept that a community should have a diverse range of cultures, and is also used to describe the policies that support such a community. Racism is the belief that each race possesses distinct qualities and characteristics that distinguishes it from any other race, alongside the subsequent belief that a race can be inferior or superior to another race. Patriotism is the quality of fiercely supporting and showing pride in one’s country. Terrorism is the unauthorised use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims. Extremism describes actions or views that are an immoderate uncompromising manifestation of an ideal or ideology contrary to or beyond the norm of that ideal or ideology. Knowing these terms in those contexts is important to participating in a debate surrounding the implementation of anything associated with religion in Australia. It is also important to bear in mind the various laws associated with religion in Australia. Our Constitution enshrines the right to freedom of religion. There are also a variety of laws surrounding discrimination.
Bearing all of those things in mind, it is important to acknowledge some of the defining lines between the arguments that have been carelessly advocated. This carelessness comes from a mixture of passion and fear from both sides.
BUILD THE MOSQUE
It must be stated that, from what is available to the public in the media and online generally, those supporting the building of a mosque are not committing as many logical fallacies as those who oppose the mosque. That being said, there are still a few. It is argued that any attempt to stop the construction of a mosque undermines multiculturalism. This is false. Granted, it endangers the future of multiculturalism, but Bendigo and many towns like it in Australia already have a diverse population. The issue is that of supporting and promoting multiculturalism, it is somewhat condescending to assume that without a mosque Muslim people will not be able to or cease to practice their religion. It is also argued that all those opposing the mosque for religious reasons are racists. This is also false, and unhelpful. Islam is a religion, therefore it is discriminatory, not racist, and unfortunately just adds fuel to the technicality fire, which puts a pause on an otherwise crucial debate. It is argued that Islam is a peaceful religion. Whilst this is not false, it is unhelpful. Islam is a religion. Religions, by their nature and as documented in history, have a tendency to fuel war, terrorism and intolerance themselves. However, religion has been used as a convenient scapegoat for those things and it is drawing the blame elsewhere that should be the focus. Until education can better address the misconceptions surrounding Islam, most who argue on that point will find themselves talking to a brick wall. It should also be noted that not all those who oppose the mosque are doing so on grounds of religion, and it is hard for those with legitimate planning objections to speak up for fear of being lumped with those who are motivated by objections to do with Islam specifically. We must respect and encourage these objections.
STOP THE MOSQUE
People calling for action to stop the mosque are far more panicked than those supporting it, and many ‘crimes of passion’ within the logic communicated have been committed on their side of the debate. It is argued that Islam will destroy Australia’s laws and society. This is based on the logic that because Islam has been associated with terrorism and extremism, any support of anything related to Islam will incite extremism and terrorism. This is false. It is akin to suggesting that because chocolate makes people fat, and obesity can cause premature death, any product involving or imitating chocolate should be banned. Those opposing attempt to disprove this fallacy with evidence of acts of terror and countries struggling with people who practice Islam. This does nothing for the argument, risk based conclusions are still risk based conclusions if the evidence does not holistically prove that Islam is always bad. It is argued that Islam is just not compatible with Australia. As it stands, this too is false. Any religion, whatever the written imperatives, is compatible with Australia as we have enshrined freedom of religion in our Constitution. Islam is not the place to point the finger, Islam has a legitimate home in Australia should it wish to bunk with our many other religions. Those opposing should reassign the blame to our Constitution instead of discriminating against those who have a valid and legal right to be here and have access to places of worship.
So why is the world so interested in the small town manifestation of these arguments? For years there has been a build up of people thinking the worst of Islam and Muslim people. These debates are a place where such opposition can really stick the knife in and often the cause gets lost in the crossfire. Whilst free speech is not an express right that we as Australians possess, it is a right we all hold dear. However, when patriotism becomes the same extremism that it is opposing, this free speech can only do more harm than good. It is important to remain vigilant and know the roots of your beliefs, as well as the way in which you can (legally) and should (morally) pursue such change. There is more at stake than a block of land near an airport, but by the same token, all that is being proposed is a building on a block of land near an airport and this must be remembered as well. Any surrounding issues should be directed at different people, channels and pursuits so that debate can encourage either change or education rather than simply hate speech and discrimination.