OPINION by Jeffry Babb News Weekly
Language is the core of our civilised society
, October 25, 2014
The Left, broadly defined, has taken up cudgels for Islamic terrorists seeking to destabilise both the Middle East and liberal societies like Australia which host large Muslim populations. This is no accident.
Some 500,000 Muslims live in Australia. They are from Somalia, Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan and a host of other countries. Muslim community leaders argue that they are all defined by their culture as much as they are defined by their religion, but their religious leaders expect them to conform to certain norms of behaviour.
Rita Panahi recently wrote: “The Muslim community must shake off the cosy cloak of victimhood and acknowledge that it has a significant problem. One that threatens to turn inclusive Australians into frightened xenophobes as talk of beheadings and homegrown terrorism causes reasonable people to ask why we’ve imported these seething hatreds into a peaceful, cohesive country” (Herald Sun, Melbourne, September 29, 2014).
As Pauline Hanson once famously replied, when asked if she was xenophobic: “Please explain.”
Xenophobia is a fear or hatred of foreigners. Talk of Australians being xenophobic is just silly. From the time of the Victorian gold rushes in the 1850s, when Melbourne was truly marvellous, Australia has welcomed immigrants from all over the world with a minimum of fuss.
Arthur Calwell, minister for immigration in the Chifley Labor government, set in train a comprehensive immigration policy that has never slackened. Australians of all backgrounds have rubbed along together. For a successful immigration policy, it is not necessary to love your neighbour, merely to get along with him.
For Australia to be harmonious and cohesive, we must know what we are talking about. Confucius said a harmonious society depends on the “rectification of names”. The aim of the rectification of names is to create the “great commonwealth”.
In other words, if we are to have a peaceful and cohesive society, we must understand our terms of reference. As George Orwell wrote in a famous 1946 essay: “Our English language … becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible.”
Australia has, for example, a written constitution. As a document, it is a nuts-and-bolts outline about how to run a government. We have no Bill of Rights, and for the defence of our rights we rely on the common law — that is, judge-made law.
For this reason, attempting to rectify the historic injustices suffered by Australia’s indigenous peoples through the Constitution is not only wrong, but foolish. The Constitution can only be amended by a referendum that achieves a majority of votes in a majority of states. A referendum to acknowledge a place for Australia’s First Peoples will not succeed. A failed referendum will be far worse than the current silence.
So, when we discuss our various ethnic communities, we must be very careful about the language we use, because words are important. When we talk about terrorists, we are talking of people who wish to harm not only Australians, but Australia.
A decline in civility, such as equating all Muslims with terrorists, will only alienate moderate Muslims and gratify the Left. Some commentators believe that “moderate Muslim” is an oxymoron, but that is not the case. Muslims who do not support terrorism deserve our support.
Being part of an ethnic minority is challenging. As a resident in Asian societies for over 10 years, I can attest that it is difficult being a “foreigner”. As a “foreigner” I was lumped together in one group as a “foreigner” with everyone from Nigerians to Koreans. This may sound silly — and it is silly — but not much more silly than lumping all Muslims together as one impenetrable and monolithic mass.
Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie of the Palmer United Party was probably not deliberately chasing votes when she advocated banning sharia law. She did not know what sharia law was or how it evolved. For the record, sharia law is composed of materials from the Koran, which Muslims believe is a revelation from Allah; the Hadith, which is a collection of Mohamed’s sayings; and traditional law. Senator Lambie did not know what she was saying. If she is to avoid gaining a reputation as the Pauline Hanson of the 21st century, she should at least define her terms.
Australia cannot prevent sharia law, or parts of it, from governing community behaviour; but it should never be held superior to Australian law in any conflict of jurisdictions. In the meantime, we should encourage moderate Muslims — and that is the majority — to speak out for civility and against barbarism both at home and abroad. The popular press should also expunge anti-Muslim sensationalism from the front page.
Without civility, what are we left with?
As Irish poet W.B. Yeats wrote:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
Jeffry Babb is a Melbourne-based writer.