On the one hand, there are the incidents of harrassment, particularly of women, which I find shameful.
On the other, there are the eternal calls from the Muslim communities in Australia for more respect and consideration and understanding.
I initially found the idea of this investigation repugnant and a waste of taxpayers' dollars, (why no reporting on Chinese Australians after the Tianenmen Square massacre, for example), but in the end, it is a valuable piece of reporting.
In a nutshell, both Arab and Muslim Australians have experienced an increase in discriminatory practices since 9/11.
However, a closer look at the report shows that there are gaping holes in the information it provides.
For example, 1475 questionnaires were distributed amongst individuals and communities in NSW and Victoria in 2003. 186, or 12%, were returned. This, surely, is not representative of Arabs and Muslims in our community. It is only representative of those who wish to participate. Of those 186, one third also agreed to follow-up interviews. Only 34 semi-structured interviews were conducted. Those are the numbers I would expect to use in a corporate situation when instituting new policies, not when investigating a specific segment of the community.
Of course, there were other initiatives taken by HREOC in the course of this investigation. 1426 people participated in 69 consultations in all states and territories. When we consider that according to the 2001 census, 281 278 Australians, or around 1.5% of the population designate themselves as muslim, 1426 is not a large cross-section. Mathematics was never my strong suit, but that looks to me to be around 0.5% of the Australian Muslim population.(I'm probably incorrect in my percentages, as I don't have a calculator so it's mental arithmetic, but in any case, it's still a minute percentage.)
Okay, we have a minute percentage of another small segment of the society providing us with a look at how they have coped since 9/11 pushed them and their religion/belief system into the limelight.
It has become harder for arab- and muslim-australians, the former because they can be mistakenly targetted as the latter, and the latter precisely because of their religion. Is this because of the lack of understanding in the wider community or does it come down to a basic incompatibility between the muslim way of life and the Aussie/Western way.
A brief overview of Islam is supplied in the report, but it is, indeed, brief:
1.2.2 Muslim Australians
The terms 'Muslim Australians' and 'Australian Muslims' denote Australians who identify themselves as followers of Islam. All Muslims who live in Australia, including those with temporary resident status, comprise this group. Islam is a major world religion with an estimated 1.2 billion followers worldwide. Muslims believe in one God (Allah who is the one, single god of Islam and is considered to be the same god as that worshipped by the Jews and the Christians) who has sent prophets and messengers, from Adam, the first prophet, to Muhammad, the last. Muslims also believe that God provided revelations in the written scriptures including the Torah and the Gospel, and that the Holy Qur'an is the final scripture from God as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. The Qur'an, together with the stories, sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad (the 'hadith'), sets out the five fundamental practices for Muslims:
* making the shahada - a declaration of belief in Allah as the one and only God and Mohammed as his final messenger
* five-times-daily prayer (salat)
* fasting during the holy month of Ramadan (sawm)
* giving charity (zakat)
* pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj).
This does not address in any way, shape or form, the basic premise of Islam being the total submission to Allah above all else.
Unlike the Christian and Jewish traditions, which it is supposed to complete, Islam is not about the Love that God has for his people. The recurring theme throughout the Qur'an is the submission to Allah and his Apostle, Mohammed.
But back to the Isma report.
We have a tiny minority facing discrimination due to the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of their religion.
This is a tiny minority of some 1.2 billion people worldwide. One fifth or so of the population, and apparently, the world's fastest growing religion.(Of course, the pagans also think that they are the world's fastest growing, as do scientologists, christians, and buddhists. I think, therefore, that that particular claim is irrelevant.)
So how are the Arab and Muslim Australians misunderstood in their religious beliefs?
If Islam is such a peaceable way of life, why are there more rioting Muslims around the world than in Australia altogether?
Why did we have to suffer 9/11 in the first place? Or Madrid, Bali (twice), London and Beslan?
Why are people dying because of cartoons?
Where is the evidence of a peaceful religion? Where are the shouts of outrage that Islam has been hijacked?
Yes, there are moderate Muslims - just as there are Christians that do not follow their Lord's commandments. This is human nature, and true of every belief. The exceptions prove the rule, as they say.
The difference is that where aberrant Christians are not supported by their co-religionists, the same does not apply to Muslims.
When moderate Muslims keep their head down waiting for the storm to pass, they are condoning the rioting, the beheadings, the shootings, the hangings, the stonings, the rapes carried out in the name of Allah and his prophet.
None of these behaviours are addressed by the Isma report; they were not in the frame of reference, although perhaps they should have been.
Another omission regarding the misunderstanding of Islam is the practice of taqqiya:
Dissimulation; lying for the sake of ones religion; concealing ones true religious beliefs for strategic reasons. Taqiyya is a lie by commission, rather than by omission, as in kitman. The concept of al-taqiyya is one historically associated with Shia Islam. This is because Sunni Muslims, who believe that Shiites are heretics, would impel them to denounce their faith, thinking this would expose them as mushrikeen when they refused to. In response, the Shia would do so, but hold true to their faith in their hearts, thus preserving their faith and their lives. Taqiyya is now used by all Muslims as a means of deceiving infidels about Islam's aims, practices, and aspirations.
Personally I don't agree with Patrick Kafir's assertion that it is practised by all Muslims; there are many who have never studied their Qur'an critically. Indeed, they are enjoined not to, and thus blinded to its inherent violence and hypocrisy.
This is where the misunderstanding comes in.
A society with a history of open and frank debate, meeting a society that does not condone such principles.
Looking at the current state of affairs, it doesn't look like the misunderstanding will be resolved any time soon.
On a hopeful note, however, Johann Hari notes that small voices are starting to be heard:
...across Britain, Muslim women are refusing to bow to fundamentalists who believe beheading is a legitimate form of literary criticism. While criticising the cartoons of Mohammed as “distasteful”, Fareena Alam, editor of the Q News, damned the protestors, demanding to know “what the parents of the child wearing the ‘I love Al-Quaeda’ cap would say had their son been on the number 30 bus that terrible day.”
Only a fierce, fighting moderate Islam can win this struggle. In France’s Muslim ghettoes, an amazing movement of Muslim women called "Ni putes ni soumises" (neither whores nor doormats) has risen up, initially to fight against the epidemic of domestic violence in their communities but increasingly to craft a liberal – even feminist – brand of Islam.
There is hope for us all, yet.