Tolerance is bigotry's counterpart in keeping Muslims divided

2014-08-25 22:57:26 | Al Muslim News
Tolerance is bigotry's counterpart in keeping Muslims divided


Everyone knows the game. It’s called “asking the Muslim question”. We’ve been playing it a lot lately. Can Muslims be trusted with a mosque in Bendigo? Are Muslims who travel overseas going to fight as terrorists? Are they Australian if they are prepared to speak about “honour” killings? Yassir Morsi described this questioning as a ritualised act, eerily religious in form. The answers which are churned out time and again are a ritual too: yes, no, not all of us. Take the Bendigo mosque fiasco. What should have been a standard planning permit application became a proxy war against all things Muslim. Hysterical, unfounded accusations were made against the planned mosque. Paranoid fears about Islam were projected onto an innocuous building project. Suddenly a place to house prayer and worship becomes a focal point for discussions about terrorism, Iraq, sharia law, halal meat, burqas... This is simply the latest in a long and disturbing trend of mosque applications becoming ideological battlegrounds. But in the end, clearer heads prevail, right? If only it were so simple. The voices that inevitably come to the rescue of Muslims in cases such as the Bendigo mosque, well-meaning as they are, offer a zealotry of their own: tolerance. One tolerates their neighbour’s barking dog. One tolerates long lines at the bank or the cashier. In short, one tolerates the inconvenient and annoying. One does not tolerate a peer or equal; tolerance is by no means equality. In this bind, Muslims are always positioned as outsiders, not equal counterparts. Here, tolerance and bigotry go hand in hand. The right wishes to obliterate or banish the Muslim stain upon the nation. The left graciously tolerates, even celebrates, our otherness, our exoticism: councillor James Williams, upon voting in favour of the mosque proposal, notes “I think it’s great we celebrate other cultures”. Let’s be clear, this is not about hurt feelings and bruised sensitivities. Muslims are not concerned about being celebrated too little. There are real repercussions every time this ritual of outrage-condemnation-toleratation is performed. Every time it plays out, more conditions are added to our being tolerable. It has now become commonplace to justify mosque proposals on the basis of their being “open to all members of the public” and even being “good for business”. This is not their purpose, and it is condescending to have to justify them in such a manner. Football clubs don’t have to justify their existence by stating that they’ll be open to hockey matches, and neither should they. We shouldn’t need to defend what is our basic right – to have a place to practice our religion. Nobody should, this is the whole point of having rights. The response of Australia’s Muslim leaders to these matters is often reactionary and counter-productive, missing the boat as they speak morality to politics. For example, Aftab Malik, the scholar in residence at the Lebanese Muslim Association in Lakemba, who recently wrote in support of the Bendigo mosque, justified expanding the number of mosques in Australia on the basis that they can serve as counter-terror platforms, by employing articulate, “non-radical” Imams. Again, this first-order condemnation of terrorism accepts that Muslims simply don’t have the same rights as any other citizen to an ordinary place of worship, but must submit themselves and their case for public scrutiny and approval. Given the worrying censorship of political discussion placed upon Bendigo Mosque as a condition of planning approval, it would hardly be surprising if further down the track mosques had to demonstrate how they plan to reduce terrorism before being approved. Uthman Badar, who was embroiled in controversy earlier this year over his Festival of Dangerous Ideas talk on “honour” killings, also fell prey to the twin forces of condemnation-toleration. He made the cardinal mistake of intending to speak while Muslim, albeit irresponsibly, and within a short few hours had been publicly crucified, as has become common practice. More telling though, and frightening, was the response from some Muslim leaders who obediently performed this ritual, publicly condemning the speaker as well as the group he belonged to and in fact any and all “bad” Muslims. Every time these scenes are played out, the political space that Muslims can occupy in this country is further diminished. It happens first and foremost to those who comply by choice. As the festival’s organiser, Simon Longstaff, took pains to explain, he had admitted Badar to the discussion because when it comes to “threatening” views, “each act of censorship is a minor victory for his [Badar’s] side.” Allowing Badar to speak was still (tolerant) Longstaff versus the (suspicious) Muslim, who was permitted to speak “so as not to surrender our [liberal democratic Australia’s] moral authority”. This mutually exclusive “us” (Australian) and “them” (Muslim) permeates the left-right political spectrum, and has infected much of the Muslim leadership too, as we see demonstrated time and again. In response to the so-called Sydney riots of 2012, Muslim leaders applied a blanket ban to any form of protest or media engagement. They used similar silencing techniques in response to the recent FODI fiasco, and indeed with any Muslim controversy that hits the news. Dr. Jamal Rifi recently demonstrated this binary thinking in a tweet responding to Army Chief Peter Leahy’s call for a 100 year war on (radical) Islam:.

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