Sultana's Dream

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Sultana's Dream
May 2011

SOCIETY


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‘Walk the Walk’ says Tasneem Chopra

THE portrayal of Muslims as the "Islamist bogeyman" is getting old and boring.

And while some may regard the recent report about Muslim enclaves as groundbreaking journalism, it falsely represents the majority of Muslims as a monolithic entity forced to congregate en masse for fear of not fitting into society.

     While there are suburbs across Melbourne that attract significant communities of Muslims, their attractions are borne of a variety of reasons. These may include economic wellbeing, housing affordability, access to health and welfare services and proximity to one's workplace or schools of choice.

     The presence of communities with identical or similar cultural backgrounds living in that suburb may certainly be a factor, but it's never the sole driver. And to this extent such logic could be applied to any Australian family, whether they be migrant or fourth generation.

     The tireless depiction of "Muslims plus burqa equals the face of Australian Islam" is as irrelevant as a bishop in robes representing the "average Christian". This use of imagery to invoke fear in readers does nothing to educate them about the realities of thousands across Melbourne, from diverse cultural, professional and ethnic backgrounds, who identify themselves as Australian Muslims.

     The variance in appearance, levels of religious practice and socio-economic status within this community is enormous. And yet the prevailing stereotype almost always reflects an absence of fact and an excess of sensation. Surely, this denigrates the intelligence of the target audience.

     The success story of Muslim integration in Australia doesn't get the media attention it deserves. This is extremely disappointing, given the hundreds of stories there are to tell, from those working in protective services to those in arts and entertainment, from barristers and surgeons to executives and authors and academics - to name but a few avenues into which Muslims have entered with great success.

     The ethic of working hard and giving back to the society in which they live is not an alien concept for Muslims. It is, in fact, an ethic compatible with both Islamic and Australian values.

     I am not for a minute discounting the reality of problems that do affect Muslims in this society including, for some, a sense of ostracism following negative media portrayals and racist outbursts from opportunistic MPs. I'm simply arguing that the portrayal of Muslims here needs to be reasoned.

     That is to say, there are elements of good and bad in every society, but dwelling mainly upon the negative aspects seriously undermines the capacity for successful integration. Criticism of an entire community on account of the behaviour of a few is problematic. But for some, it is a mindless knee-jerk reaction to how they see the world.

     We need to return some perspective to this discussion, because Muslims are stepping up to the table to demonstrate they're not victims, but citizens.

     The concept of an Australian Muslim is not an oxymoron, any more than is Australian Christian, Australian Jew, or Australian atheist. Both mindsets can co-exist without conflict. Multiculturalism leads the way in showing how pluralistic societies live in harmony. We are the example to others of how this works. It's time the cynics stopped talking the talk and ‘walked the walk’.


Tasneem Chopra
First published in Herald Sun 6 April 2011

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