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Friday, March 25, 2011

Muslim violence a fact, not prejudice

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.


  1. At last ! Some honest, intelligent discussion on this important subject. The evils of this world are principally the result of ignorant conservatives at either end of the social and political spectrum. It is a very volatile mix when combined with some God-given impramateur (aka religious worship) - the frequent resort of such individuals. These individuals appear to have an inability to progress to a more enlightened state of mind. They are deluded, deep, and very narrow. Those who promote the excesses of any religion or belief system(by no means confined exclusively to Muslims, but certainly the latter are seriously over-represented) need to be exposed and condemned. This should be possible without fear of condemnation and retribution, and being superficially labeled as bigoted. We need to tell it as it is, including self-criticism where required.

  2. crusades/inquisitions/catlick-vs-proddy/war in iraq :

    "it is a bitter pill for the vast majority of Australian christianists to swallow that their cult has been linked, globally and locally, to religious violence."

    kettle black, pot?

  3. Dear "Did someone say ignorant-right-wing-racist?"
    your handle is quite a mouthful!
    Of course it is painful to Australian Christians when people do violence and abuse others in the name of the Christian faith. As a Christian pastor I have to endure the reality that people link clergy with pedophilia, for example. Now I wonder why they do that?? I have absolutely no objection to people speaking about Christian abuses in public fora. Your 'tu quoque' objection just reinforces my point. As I said, people have to live with the fact that others will judge their religion based upon what their fellow believers do and say.
    So no, it is not the pot calling the kettle black, but more like a black pot saying to the black kettle - "Well mate if you don't want people to call you black, you shouldn't be hanging about over the fire. Get used to it."

  4. The best solution to the problem would be to reclassify Islam as a 'political group', like communism, and not a religion. There are already many arguments to back this up, ie that Islam does not value human transcendence, divine love and personal growth, unlike Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism or Zoroastrianism, . Accoring to Bynum's book "Allah is Dead", Islam has no other objective than to expand itself. Islam is a political group disguised as a religion. Just because it has a 'holy book', a prophet, prayer does not automatically make it a religion. Communism had its 'holy book', its prophets, and its 'prayer' (worship of communism).

    Once Islam is reclassified and defined as it really is, we will have won a 1400 year old battle. This time without guns or swords, but ideologically.

  5. Dare we say that all religions are not equal, and some some lead to more flourishing civilisations than others ?

    No western government has as yet. However looking at the OIC countries, they lag western countries on just about every metric we value. Longevity, infant morality rates, patents registered, GDP per person, poverty, universities in the top 500,...

    Now perhaps colonialism has had some affect on some of these countries, but when you see a statistic such as the entire Arab world translates fewer books in a year than Spain does, you wonder what is holding them back.

    The belief that the Koran is the inerrant work of god doesn't leave much room for inquiry or criticism....

    Dhimmitude, martyrdom, Jiazya, taqiyya, polygamy are only a few poisonous doctrines that need changing....

    I cant see this changing. Only solution I see, is not letting any more into Australia, we dont want the problem that Netherlands, Austria, Germany, France and UK have.

  6. Hi Mark,
    I found out about you after listening to your interview on ABCRN's Counterpoint program.

    I agree with everything you said in that interview, but have been unable to put these points across in any discussion I have.

    The situation with public debate on Islam in western countries is very hostile to anyone who is critical of this set of beliefs.

    Criticism is not permitted by the majority. Critics are accused of racism and ignorance, even if it their statements are based on hard study and demonstrable facts.

    Yet the western apologists for Islam who claim it to be a 'religion of peace' make such bland assertions without feeling any need to justify where they get such 'knowledge' from.




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