To condemn or not to condemn

Following on from the Prime Minister’s call for “a minority of Muslims” to learn English, the treasurer Peter Costello turns the rhetoric up a notch by calling on Muslims, yet again, to condemn terrorism.

“This is where we really need the Islamic leadership of this country to stand up and contend unequivocally that terrorism, no matter who it is perpetrated by, is never justified under the cover of religion and to make it clear to would-be converts when you join this religion, you do not join a radical political ideology.

The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer made similar comments but, at least, made some effort not to appear to be targeting Muslims.

“Australian Muslims, Australian Christians, Australian Jews, whatever they happen to be, Australian atheists, they should all be out there as one denouncing terrorism,” he said.

Mr Downer also urged Muslim migrants to learn English.

“Migrants who come here and aren’t able to learn the language are going to end up becoming alienated from the mainstream of society,” he said.

The demand that Muslims must “do more” to denounce terrorism is a frequent request of politicians, op-ed writers and assorted hecklers throughout the world. The fact is that Muslims have issued press release after press release condemning terrorism, denouncing terrorist attacks and distancing themselves from terrorist groups and ideologies. The idea, implied by Costello, that Muslims are not doing just that suggests that he either hasn’t being paying attention, doesn’t care, or he seems to be pursuing of a policy of taking whatever the Prime Minister says and trying to outdo it.

Why do Muslims in Australia have any obligation to repeatedly denounce terrorism anyway? Whatever atrocities may have been committed by our co-religionists have nothing to do with us and were not the result of anything that Australian Muslims have said, done or written. There is also little evidence to suggest that were Australian Muslims to be aware of any terrorism being planned in our midst, that we wouldn’t react as any other Australian would react.

We do have an interesting contradiction emerging here though: on the one hand politicians are demanding that we integrate and that the distinctions between Muslims and other Australians are collapsed; and, on the other hand, they are grouping all Muslims together and hanging on us some accountability or responsibility for the behaviour of others simply because both groups share the same religion. The first call demands that Muslims see themselves as Australians first; and the second call contradicts this by demanding that we see ourselves primarily as Muslims that must take responsibility for the actions of other Muslims abroad.