Australian politicians, these days, are a fairly bland bunch. Think Dutch cuisine or a Jeffrey Archer novel and you have some idea as to what is on offer. There are, however, two that stand out: Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott. Turnbull for his willingness to think outside of the box, such as his attempt to address the tax system in this country and Abbott for his principled stance on many issues, particularly with regards to Muslims and Islam.
For example, last week, Mr Abbott addressed a public forum in Lidcome, NSW entitled, “Towards a Cohesive Australia”. Whilst Muslims will undoubtedly disagree with some of what he has said, there is a gaping chasm between his approach and style, and the style of some of his more bellicose colleagues.
The war on terror doesn’t mean we can ignore the ordinary challenges of creating a strong economy and building a just society. Neither do the obvious imperfections of Western societies mean we can ignore this challenge to their existence.
Combating terrorism means facing up to all the ways in which Western societies fall short of their professed ideals. How can alienated Muslim males be expected to respect women, for instance, when this city’s bookstands, billboards and TV shows proclaim that women are sex objects?
How can devout Muslims be expected to regard Western societies as the flowering of civilisation when so much of modern music, art and writing is obsessed with the banal and the degrading? How can people be expected to take our professed respect for human life seriously, when they constantly see footage of the innocent victims of Anglo-American and Israeli air strikes?
Although we might not agree with all of Abbott’s proscriptions, his comments offer an interesting contrast to those of the treasurer, Peter Costello. Costello, who evidently sees himself as the heir apparent to the Prime Minister, delivered a speech to the Australian Christian Lobby today. The Australian have published part of his speech. In it, Mr Costello suggests that the model Muslim society is Turkey and that Muslims should follow the path taken by Kemal Ataturk.
This does not mean there is no experience of a secular state separate from the religious domain in the Muslim world. The most outstanding example would be the establishment of modern Turkey out of the old Ottoman Empire. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, well known in Australia as the commander of the Turkish victory at Gallipoli in 1915, went on to found modern Turkey as a secular state: a path he believed would lead to modernity. In my opinion, he is one of the great leaders of the 20th century. He should be held out as a model of leadership for the modern Islamic world.
Unfortunately, Ataturk seems to be worshiped as much in Western secular democratic circles as he is within Turkey — a state where people can be thrown in jail for chewing gum before a statue of Ataturk and where Muslim women suffer discrimination at the hands of the state. The totalitarian, statist impulses that lie at the heart of Kemalist ideology are part of the problem in the Muslim world and certainly don’t have any role to play in the solution.
At various times, Abbott has been put forward as a possible contender for the Prime Minister’s role when John Howard retires. From what I have seen so far, I think Abbott would make a good Prime Minister; certainly, a more nuanced and understanding one than Peter Costello whose frequent, brash and seemingly ill-thought comments on Islam and Muslims have left even this most jaded of political observers amazed. And certainly a better one than what the increasingly absurd Australian Labor Party have to offer.