This opinion piece appeared in The Age newspaper of March 25, 2011
THOSE who denounce critics of Islam should allow that, like all global faiths, Islam has its detractors and a religion will be judged on what its followers say and do.
There is a debate going on about Islam. The question being asked is: Does Islam itself - not just poverty or social exclusion - provide ideological fuel for extremism and violence?
It is all too tempting to promote one-dimensional explanations of religious violence. Monash University doctoral candidate Rachel Woodlock said on this page on Wednesday that social exclusion was the root of Islamic radicalism.
On one hand, there are those who, like Woodlock, demand that critics of Islam be stigmatised as ignorant, right-wing racists. On the other hand, Islam's problems cannot be simplistically reduced to social or economic factors.
Violence in the name of Islam is well-attested in nations in which Muslims are dominant, and it is non-Muslim minorities that suffer the exclusion. It does not do to argue that religion has no relevance to such events.
In Muslim-majority Pakistan on December 3, Pakistani imam Maulana Yousuf Qureshi, in his Friday sermon, offered a $6000 bounty to anyone who would murder Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who has also been accused of "blaspheming Allah". Pakistani minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti and Punjab governor Salman Taseer were subsequently assassinated because of their opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy laws.
These laws are supported by Pakistan's Islamic elites. The killer of Salman Taseer, Mumtaz Qadri, was praised by religious leaders from mainstream schools of Pakistani Islam, and when he was being led to court on January 6, 400 Muslim lawyers showered him with rose petals, offering him their legal services free of charge.
There has also been a rush of recent assaults on Copts and their places of worship in Egypt, sparked by a wild tirade by a leading Egyptian cleric.
Closer to Australia, there have been well-publicised attacks on Ahmadiyah Muslims in Indonesia, including brutal murders. These were undoubtedly influenced by a theological belief that Ahmadiyah adherents are apostates from true Islam. Although prominent Indonesian leaders were quick to express abhorrence for the attacks, many Indonesian Muslims have called for Ahmadiyahs to be outlawed.
These events demonstrate the ugly effects of stigmatising minorities, and it would be deplorable to simple-mindedly extrapolate the religious views of Pakistani, Egyptian or Indonesian Muslims and apply them to Australia.
However, it is irrational to insist that any and everyone who seeks to expose the religious roots of such hatred must themselves be decried as haters.
All over the world, every religious belief is disliked by someone or other. Christianity has its prominent detractors, too, from Bertrand Russell to Richard Dawkins. A Google search for "Evils of Christianity" yields tens of thousands of hits.
Australians can be thankful for a culture of tolerance, which has been carefully nurtured over decades. Tolerance is strengthened when people are able to debate ideological issues freely - especially those which impact profoundly on human rights - without being shouted down.
Victorian Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey Nettle, in his findings on the case of the Islamic Council of Victoria v Catch the Fire, pointed out that criticism - or even hatred - of a religion should not be conflated with the hatred of people who hold those beliefs. It is one thing to promote tolerance, quite another to mandate it.
Perhaps the most powerful evidence against Woodlock's thesis - that it is exclusion, and not religion, that drives some Muslims to terrorism - is the fact that across the globe the most diverse religious minorities do not resort to violence, even when persecuted.
There are no Falun Gong terrorists in China, despite all the bitter persecution. The same can be said for persecuted Christians in many nations.
Even in Australia, many ethnic and religious groups have been subjected to disadvantage and exclusion, but none have produced the level of terrorist convictions of our own home-grown Islamic radicals.
It is a bitter pill for the vast majority of Australian Muslims to swallow that their faith has been linked, globally and locally, to religious violence.
Unfortunately, this link cannot be dismissed as the product of media prejudice or "Islamophobic" propaganda. It is in part an issue of some Muslims behaving very badly, and their often strident claim is that they do this in the name of religion.
Taking such claims seriously and debating them publicly must not be equated with stigmatising law-abiding and peaceable Australian Muslims.
Mark Durie is a Melbourne Anglican vicar, human rights activist, and author of The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom.