‘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
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
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’.
First published in Herald Sun 6 April 2011