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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

It's Australian values and rights « Previous | |Next »
May 3, 2006

The op.ed by Abdullah Saeed in today's Australian is an important contribution to the ongoing public debate around both integration and Australian values and the citizenship test proposed by Andrew Robb, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, in his speech to the Sydney Institute.

Saeed rightly says that there is a widely held belief among Australians that Muslims as a group are the most reluctant to integrate into Australian society:

...the perception persists that it is only Muslims who do not want to integrate or are reluctant to commit to Australia's fundamental values. This view has a lot to do with the simplistic notion that Muslims are a homogeneous group of people who are on the whole unemployed, who form ghettos, detest our freedoms, want to live under sharia law and cannot accept our fundamental values such as democracy, rule of law, equality of the sexes and religious and intellectual freedom.

Saeed shows that this perception does not accord with reality and that it is only that a small minority of Muslims who adopt a position of not wanting to integrate or are reluctant to commit to Australia's fundamental values. He says that the vast majority of Muslims who call Australia home have adopted fundamental Australian values, argues that Islam both affirms this acceptance and supports a legal legal system based on justice, fairness, equity and non-discrimination.

These points have been made before in public debates---repeatedly and consistently. So why all the current fuss about integration and a commitment to Australian values? What's going on here?

Saeed highlights a key issue:

Doubts about Muslim commitment to Australian fundamental values have arisen also partly as a result of some Islamic religio-cultural practices; for example, the hijab, which an increasing number of Muslim women wear. For such women, it has nothing to do with a failure to commit to Australian values. Rather, they are enjoying the freedom available for them to wear any type of clothes they want, just like other Australians. Similarly, other practices related to food, dress, hairstyles and coverings, religious affiliation and worship have nothing to do with fundamental Australian values.

It is a key issue as it goes to the heart of Australia's secular liberal democracy--the freedom of citizens to practice their religion. It is here that there should be a priority of individual right over the collective interest, as these religious practices do not infringe on the rights of others or offend against the constitutional order or public morals. Fundamental Australian values include religious freedom, this freedom is understood to be a fundamental right, and only "compelling interests" are sufficient to justify infringements of the right to religious freedom.

Saeed's argument is that Muslims should accepts the citizenship test as this means that Muslims will help change the perception that they do not support fundamental Australian values. Fine. What is "missing from this is a contribution from the government --they need to affirm the right to religious freedom by Australian citizens, and to clearly distinquish the policy concern for integration from assimilation. Since Andrew Robb did the latter, not the former, the suspicion remains that the Howard Governmet is willing to sacrifice the religious freedom of Australian Muslims to enhance the general welfare (upholding public order and security).

I appreciate that 'rights' stick in the throat of many Benthamite act utilitarians causing them to choke on the nonsense on stilts; but rights are 'shields' providing strong protections against demands made by the political community dealing with war on terrorism. Something protected as a matter of right--religious freedom--means that it may not be overridden by ordinary considerations of public policy justified in the name of general welfare of the nation. The problem with the utilitarian's consequentionalist conception of the general welfare is that it rides roughshod over individual freedom. This is a flaw in terms of substantive political justice in a liberal democracy--and a well known one.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:47 AM | | Comments (16)


Gary. So here we go again the Muslim debate. I can't believe it. This whole debate is nothing but cheap political oportunism of the highest order. What is going on here is the same method of madness used by Downer on his propaganda lesson on history.

I don't need a diploma in psychology to nut out what is going on here, I can already tell the differance between shit and clay.This whole excercise is to appeal to the base racism that is found in, (if we are honest) in most of us. They being the hawks, Howard, Downer, Rudd et al are trying to share the guilt trip on the rest of the community who don't share their veiw on how to fight their war on terrorism. Because of all the innocents who have been caught up in this fiasco, I know!!!!!!lets pay out on the Muslim community at home to justify what we have done.

You do not have to get into a big philosophical debate about what clothes they wear,what they eat, who they worship and what they think it is to be Australian. Before 9/11 none of this was an issue in our country, sorry excuse me I may be lying, maybe in a shearing shed full of red necks.

When you are as old as I am, I have seen all of this before. If it wasn't the italians, it was the Greeks, if not the Greeks it was the Irish, if not the Irish it was the English, if not the English the Asians. And where did most of this racism come from? Well not the University's and places of learning or the church hierachy or other enlightened courses, but from the propganda spread by governments who want the plebs to carry out their policy by stealth.


you are dead right about the history. This time around the hosility and fear of the stranger is connected to terrorism. That makes a big difference to the politics of fear.

We should give credit where credit is due. Andrew Robb's speech acknowledges this history:

These achievements [by migrants] have been possible because we have been hugely successful at integrating people from diverse backgrounds because, in the main, we have embraced and drawn from the wealth of that diversity, and we are all the richer for it.

Robb endeavours to ensure that this history continues:
Australians long ago came to realise that persistent plurality is here to stay. And so we became very good at bringing people to our shores and helping them to integrate into our society. It's a great strength. It is always important to leverage our strengths. As a nation, we should use this strength to draw confidence and boldness from it.

He says that 'Muslim communities in Australia have been stigmatised unfairly. That’s the way of the world, it is unfortunate, but we’ve got to deal with it and manage it.' Have a read of the speech, if you have a moment. It's a good one.

Personally I don't think that a citizenship test is such a big deal. I agree with Abdullah Saeed's argument that it would help change the negative perceptions that Muslims do not want to integrate or commit to Australian values. As he points out For Muslims in Australia, a citizenship test is quite in line with Muslim understanding, both past and present, of entering into a contract with a welcoming country and its people.

But the freedom of Muslim-Australians to practice their religion does need protection in the form of a shield. In utilitarian Australia the consequentialist considerations of terrorism tend to focus on the illegality of a violent act and its direction towards the state and its institutions. Its core concerns are policy concerns relating to upholding public order and security, not individual freedom. Public order and security require integration, if not assimilation.

A commitment to a right to religious freedom is in a utilitarian society is a big deal. The shift to rights, as understood by political liberalism, is a big cultural shift and it is going to take a long struggle to do achieve that shift.

It's easy to forget the most important reason why true democracy demands a separation of church and state. When Christianity held the reigns in western society it controlled education 1100-1200's. At this time the Crusades against a far more educationally and scientifically advanced 'Muslim' world were engaged. It's strange when I look at the Islamic calander where the comparison is Christian is now at 2006 AD and Islam is at 1200 After Mohamed.

Yes.The separation of church and state in liberal democracy is crucial as it presupposes individual freedom of citizens to practise their religion.

The basic idea underlying political liberalism is that when the government acts in a way that detrimentally effects the interests of individual citizens, those acts have to be justifiable in terms that take that individual seriously. All you need in order to make a rights claim is an interest that is sufficient to establish a duty in public institutions to take account of it.

Moral reasoning then helps assess whether the
commitment to take individuals seriously was honored by public institutions in a particular case.

Andrew Robb says that Muslim-Australians have been unfairly treated in Australia since 9/11. Establishing an Islamic Centre--though good in itself-- does not sufficiently address the way that government acts have detrimentally effects the interests of an individual Australian Muslims.

The Howard government's policy concerns are on the general welfare of integration at the expense of the rights of law-abiding Australian-Muslim citizens to practice their religion, and in a way they see fit.

Is Australia’s multicultural policy relevant for today’s society? what could be changed? what is wrong with it?

Andrew Robb, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, argued that Australia is a multicultural society and that ethnic plurality is here to stay.

For some answers to your other questions you could do no better than read Andrew Robb's speech, which was delivered at the Sydney Institute on April 27th 2006.

It is entitled 'Australian Migrant Integration---Past Successes, Future Challenges' and it is well worth reading.

The Anglican head in Sydney (Jensen) said that Islam and Chrisitanity don't mesh at all, Muslims do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God and many others differences that cannot be rectified,. So, how can we all possibly get on in peace when only the one religion can be right and the other wrong he said.

To add to this the USA has had millions of people come from Mexico and other nations across the border, bringing multiculturalism to absolute confusion as most don't speak English and 40 different nationalites invaded Denver GA the kids go to school and don't understand the language, laws, rules, culture, religions, or anything which the USA is ignoring as it is out of control.

Teachers are resigning en masse and costs are high with USA wanting a stop to all borders of Canada and Mexico removed to bring in the NWO of making one nation out of the three.

This is deliberate just as is Australia and the UK who want all to believe the one religion under a NWO dictator and EU all as one.

Believing this will bring peace and harmony .
Maybe we should call it genetic engineering of the masses.

though it is true that Islam and Chrisitanity don't mesh Jensen's assumption that Australia is a Christian nation is wrong. Church and state are seperate Christianity is the religion of a particular group of people in Australia.

It is their personal beliefs--same with Islam. Both Christians and Muslims have the freedom to practice their religion in a liberal democracy. So the key is religious freedom and tolerance of different religions.

Of course fundamentalists do not accept this.

Jensen's intervention is no different to the comment from the Housing Association about the effect of the interest rate rise: vested interests. Mind you, getting a good informed non-partisan view is bloody hard - maybe except for here :-)

I'm not in favour of a values test because I believe it will either be ineffectual or very discriminatory. Those checks can be built in to the immigration system and in fact they are.

Phil with a blog
re the values test--yes that sure is the danger. And it recalls the old language tests that supported, and upheld, the White Australia policy.

While it may be true the majority of Moslems are moderate and integrate well into Australian society.

There is an element of defiance even amongst the moderates.For example, I believe there is a tendency for some -who are perhaps not even "orthodox" Moslems, and who would not have normally worn the veil, to wear it almost as an act of rebellion (as if it was a gang/tribal totem).

Further when you hear Moslems (even moderates) discussing injustice.They are very outspoken about the suffering of Moslems in Palestine, Iraq & Australia, but they are never forthcoming about the injustices meted out to non-Moslem minorities in Islamic societies (the implication being they are not committed to the principle of justice & fairness -only the betterment of their group)

I also a remember an article I read about a European family living in Iran up until the revolution. They got on well with their Iranian neighbours and considered them close friends.
When the revolution came the same neighbour became reborn as fundamentalist and did all they could to damage them-how quickly people change given the right/wrong circumstances.

I would have thought that what you call 'defiance even amongst the moderates' is an expression of religious freedom. You say:

For example, I believe there is a tendency for some -who are perhaps not even "orthodox" Moslems, and who would not have normally worn the veil, to wear it almost as an act of rebellion (as if it was a gang/tribal totem).

If we allow Jews to wear their special caps in a liberal democracy-- because this is important for them in terms of their religion--- then why not allow Muslims to wear the veil.

Of course, you could argue against the idea of religious freedom, but then you would be arguing against a core tenet of liberalism.

Gary you need to hear what I am saying:

I am not arguing that anyone should be barred from wearing anything.What I am saying is that in a number of people, what is being presented as an expression of religiuosness is actually something else.

It is a means by which they thumb their nose at the western establishment. If it wasn't religious dress it would be something else.

I recall some of the 9/11 conspirators were seen to frequent bars & drink alcohol -Hardly orthodox muslims.

In seems their hatred of the west was greater than their adherence to "islamic priciples".

okay you accept religious freedom. We have common ground. You say that what you are referring to is that Muslims wearing certain clothing

is a means by which they thumb their nose at the western establishment. If it wasn't religious dress it would be something else.

So did the punks
Thumbing your nose at the establishment is fredom of expression in a liberal polity.

So did the punks-yes
And so do many rebellious teenagers who are not punks.

But it is not an act of pious religious devotion.
(for many)

And it's an intereting observation that they should choose this as their mode of defiance.

Likewise, the young anglos who take up the cause to fight for the Taliban. In a earlier time they may have joined the French Foreign Legion or as George Orwell did went off to fight for the repubilcans in Spain.

okay, so we come back to religious freedom in a liberal polity.You say that you accept this kind of freedom. So I cannot see what the problem is.

What you describe as:

pious religious devotion (for many)... that they should choose this as their mode of defiance

is seen by others as enjoying the freedom available for them to wear any type of clothes they want, just like other Australians.

Freedom in a utilitarian Australia is doing what you want provided that you don't harm others. Moderate Muslims are not doing harm to others by wearing the hijab.