The issue of Muslims living in Australia is part of a bigger, broader debate about such things as multiculturalism, immigration, Australian values, the war on terror, social cohesion, and so on. The thoughts presented here largely spring from the context of my own Christian beliefs, but are also based on other considerations.
Several specific issues have arisen as part of this general debate. One is the question as to whether there might be the need for a moratorium on Muslim immigration to Australia. As a subset of this are issues such as allowing exclusively Muslim education, such as the large Muslim school in Camden, NSW, to go ahead, and how to think about religious dress and symbols.
Some Christian leaders are arguing for a moratorium on Muslims for several reasons: connections with terrorism, the undermining of a Christian nation and identity, and the lack of real social integration, and so on. Each of these concerns could take pages to elaborate upon, but I can offer at least a few brief thoughts here.
There is certainly a terrorism connection. Perhaps the majority of terrorism acts around the world today are carried out by Muslims. Christians are simply not flying airplanes into buildings. Yet one might make the case that many Muslims – maybe even the majority of Muslims- do not support such terrorism, and simply want to live quiet and peaceful lives.
But the minority who do support violent jihad and the war against the West may comprise 15 per cent of all Muslims: the so-called Islamists. While the percentage is small, with over a billion Muslims, the numbers are large, and this is a very real concern indeed, one which should not be minimised.
Coupled with this is a genuine concern about Muslims seeking to establish a universal Caliphate, with everyone submitting to Allah and sharia law. A global reign of sharia law is in no way compatible with freedom and democracy. This is a very real war indeed, and we must never minimise the threat such Muslims are to a free and democratic West.
Concerning the idea of Australia being a Christian nation, just a few short remarks. Of course in one sense no nation can ever be Christian – only individuals can be. And while Australia had a substantial and significant Christian heritage, it does not quite compare to the very clear Christian founding of America. But certainly the majority of Australians identify themselves as Christian, and in that sense one might speak of the Judeo-Christian heritage that so defines this nation.
Thus the question arises of allowing large numbers of non-Christians – who also tend to reproduce at a much greater rate than Christians – to continue to increase in the West, and the implications thereof. Indeed, if current demographic trends continue, some Western nations could have a Muslim majority later this century. Australia still has a quite small population of Muslims, so this is not a pressing concern at the moment. But the poor condition of Christians living in dhimmitude in Muslim-majority nations makes considerations about Muslim immigration a valid issue, not just for believers but for policy makers and politicians.
But another way of looking at the arrival of large numbers of Muslims into Australia is missiological. It can rightly be argued that Christians in the West have not been very good at fulfilling the mandate of global evangelisation, especially amongst Muslims. Thus there is every possibility that God has graciously allowed Muslims to pour into the West, so that this evangelisation can in fact take place. It is certainly much easier than going overseas to hostile nations.
As to social cohesion, that too is a legitimate concern. Many Muslims unfortunately do not integrate very well into Australian society and culture. Some cannot even speak English, even though living here for a number of years. No nation can long survive without social cohesion cemented by common values, beliefs, concerns and language.
The issue of Islamic schools – such as the one in Camden – is related to the above concerns. Obviously a major fear is what will be taught and how. If these schools become a cover for radical Muslims who want to breed anti-Western sentiment in their students, then such schools must be opposed.
But even if they do not, there are still important considerations. Indeed, they actually cut both ways, and affect Christians as well. Along with the issue of religious garb and symbols, this is in one sense a religious freedom issue. The general rule of thumb is this: when religious freedom is curtailed or threatened in one place, it tends to be threatened elsewhere. With an increasingly secular ruling class uncomfortable with anything smacking of religion, the danger is that any clampdown on Islamic activities will also extend to Christian activities.
Thus to oppose an Islamic school for fears of non-integration into Australia, security and terrorism concerns, etc. is to put Christian schools at equal threat. That is, secularists will be quite happy to apply the same arguments to all religious schools, including Christian ones. They will argue – I think wrongly – that Christian schools are also socially divisive and a threat to the Australian way of life.
Indeed, the top advisor to Education Minister Julia Gillard said exactly that recently, complaining about independent religious schools leading to a lack of social cohesion. Thus Christians need to be careful in their attacks on Muslim schools. As mentioned, a threat to the religious freedom of some can become a threat to all.
Related to this is the issue of religious clothing, symbols and practices. Not long after September 11, France decided to ban Muslim students from wearing traditional Islamic coverings. One Christian political leader here applauded the move. I must admit, I was of two minds at the time. Again, the issue cuts both ways.
Some concerns raised by the leader were quite right. In a climate of Islamic terrorism, where the militants do not identify themselves with military uniforms, the idea of a jihadist being strapped with explosives under a head to toe robe is a real fear. Muslim terrorists are both male and female, and valid security concerns can be raised here.
But the French law also affected Christians wearing crosses, or Jews wearing the Star of David. When one religious group is impacted by such legislation, all of them tend to be. So we need to think these issues through quite carefully. Often there is not one clear answer to such complex discussions.
All of these reflections need to be seen in the light of the greater war that we are in. The defining conflict of the 21st century may well be that of militant Islam versus the free West. This is a crucial battle that is likely to determine the fate of humanity.
It is in this light that the other considerations must be assessed. As mentioned, hopefully the majority of Muslims want to live in peace, and in fact enjoy what the West has to offer. But many do not, and are at war with everything we hold near and dear. It is this reality that must influence how we decide the leading policy issues of the day, be it immigration, multiculturalism, and so on.
We cannot be naive about the threat of jihadist expansionism. Nor can we minimise what is happening in places like Europe, where we can rightly speak of the continent becoming Eurabia, or of cities going the way of Londonistan.
Western civilisation happens to be Christian civilisation. The two are inextricably intertwined. To allow the de-Christianisation of the West is effectively to allow the de-civilisation of the West, if I can put it that way. Thus what we do with growing Muslim populations in the West is a pressing concern, one that we must not take lightly.
But how we proceed on individual public policy questions can be complex and difficult to determine. We must think carefully and prayerfully about such issues, because so very much is at stake. Wrong moves in the decades to come may have negative consequences for centuries to come.