In 2006…

Master and commander at last

20 MAR 2006

This is what has been exciting us here in South Sydney lately.

A RELENTLESS 12-week campaign by Peter Holmes a Court – and the dramatic last-word intervention of the actor Russell Crowe – swayed die-hard South Sydney supporters to accept a $3 million privatisation offer at an extraordinary general meeting yesterday.

The bid scraped across the line. With a 75 per cent majority required, the suitors won 75.8 per cent of the 3936 votes accepted – a margin of only 30 votes.

Ardent “no” campaigner George Piggins emerged a shattered man, declaring: “It’s over. I won’t be watching the team play. It’s a big blow but that’s life. It’s about time I wandered off.”

Why even Lord Malcolm, Sirdan, Simon H and I were discussing it over lunch at the Strawberry Hills Hotel yesterday.

Stereotypes no substitute for understanding

20 MAR 2006

There is good and bad news in Kevin Dunn’s report of several pieces of research he and others have done into the state of our knowledge of and attitudes towards Islam and Muslims. First the good news:

Research with a colleague, Jim Forrest of Macquarie University, found that 85 per cent of Australians agree it is a good thing for our society to be made up of different cultures. In other research, we found that 81 per cent of Australians are not bothered by Muslim women wearing headscarves, and only 4 per cent think they should be banned. Australian tolerance, on these measures, is far greater than in much of western Europe.

Research on the Australian bases of tolerance shows the importance the community attaches to religious freedom, individual freedom of expression, democratic freedom and an emerging commitment to multiculturalism.

These are solid foundations for religious tolerance. Understanding generates a sense of shared humanity and citizenship, to which these bases of tolerance can then apply.

And now the bad news:

The levels of ignorance are clear: when a survey by Roy Morgan Research in 2003 asked a representative selection of Australians to summarise their knowledge of Islamic beliefs, 40 per cent could give no answer at all. Half knew a little bit about Islam.

Survey comments were sprinkled with self-deprecation and honesty: “Are they the people who can’t eat cows? No. They have a God.” Among the more ludicrous answers: “They make peace rings and place them on the streets – not too sure if it’s true.”

Ignorance is fertile soil for virtually any idea to take root.

My research suggests that only one in six Australians has a good understanding of Islam and its followers. Some of what passes for knowledge of Islam is of concern. It is a mix of critical comments, as well as perceptions of core beliefs and key religious practices.

The critical comments are dominated by stereotypes: that Muslims are intolerant of other faiths and that they are fundamentalists, along with references to fanaticism, militancy and misogyny. Overall, about one-quarter of the population resorts to stereotypes as their stated knowledge of Islam. This is a poor form of “knowledge” and certainly does not promote better community relations.

When I trawled through the bookshops in Newtown the week before last I noted that the religion sections had very little, in some cases nothing, about Islam. Plenty about Buddhism and New Age, and Christianity of various types, but virtually nothing about Islam.

You will know if you read my pages I have said a lot on the subject here. Not only is this because of 9/11 and all that has followed, but also because I have one way or another encountered Muslims in my former job and in my living environment and among my friends and colleagues. I confess I was amazed by my own ignorance and set out to do something about it. We all need to do that; after all, we are talking about between 25% and 30% of the world’s population here, most of them NOT in the Middle East.

By no means would all Muslims like what I have said, though I do strive to be well-informed and accurate as far as I can be. But I have also learned that there is range and variety of opinion among Muslims too, as one really ought to expect. Some would be quite sympathetic to views close to my own, while others would find them anathema. On just one issue, see Islam and Homosexuality on the Religious Tolerance site; more generally, explore muslimyouth.net, a UK site.

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