Strangers on a Train

burqa trainFor all the wrong reasons, Islamists hog the headlines. Numbers of this hateful crew recently drowned their fellow Christian asylum seekers. How low can you get?  What’s behind their barbarity, their terrorism, their intolerance, their hateful preaching? Is it post-colonial resentment, alienation, disadvantage, unemployment? Be not confused; it comes straight from their holy scriptural playbook.

Those living in liberal democracies have different levels of concern. Some are mostly concerned about ‘Islamophobia’. And they have evidence. Recall Tony Abbott suggesting that we should back Team Australia. The hide of the man!

As ignoble as it seems, others are mostly concerned about people being beheaded or burnt alive or being forced into obeisance to a bunch of religious nut jobs. Regrettably, sometimes this does lead to ill-mannered behaviour. I want to try to put this into perspective without at all excusing it.

I start with a case covered on the ABC’s 7.30 program. A young Muslim couple was verbally hassled on a suburban train. They were obviously Muslim. He had a full beard. She was dressed in a black jilhab (full body covering) and hijab (headscarf). I don’t want to comment further on the particulars of this case. However, as matter of civility and good manners, people minding their own business on public transport should not be hassled by others. Life would be insufferable otherwise.

But, there is no getting away from it, a woman dressed from head to toe in black, enveloping robes, without a hint of style or shape, is confronting. Or, at least, to many it is confronting. I suggest two legitimate bases for this reaction. Neither is rooted in bigotry.

One is a perception that the clothing is an outward sign of an intolerant and oppressive movement, with designs on expansion. Wearing a brown shirt in Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s is an historical example. The other is a perception that numbers of women are being coerced into dressing in this ‘unflattering’ way.

These two separate perceptions come together as one when a particular characteristic of an oppressive and intolerant religious movement is the subjugation of women.

At issue is how an open society should tackle such a religious movement which is suspected of harbouring ambitions to overturn its values.

Switch to the UK and Liverpool football club.

A supporter recently ‘tweeted’ a picture of two Muslim men praying at half-time at the bottom of a stairwell at Liverpool’s Anfield stadium. He captioned the picture with the one word ‘disgraceful’. Someone complained. The police were called – it’s 2015. They referred the matter back to the club. It is “determining the appropriate action to take” against the supporter in question. It’s 1984 and Room 101 awaits the miscreant?

In the meantime, the club reminded “its supporters that it does not tolerate any form of discrimination and is committed to ensuring that the club and Anfield provides a welcoming and safe environment for all fans regardless of race, religion, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation”. Of course, Jews, gays and lesbians, and short-skirted women are welcome at Anfield. Yes, indeed, but would the religion of those praying at the bottom of the stairwell be so welcoming of the aforementioned groups; if it were ever to have the final say?

Someone asked whether the supporter would have taken equal offence at Christians praying at the bottom of the stairwell. I doubt it; but then seeing a prayer mat replete with two prostrate men in the middle of a football match when you’re buying your pork pie (get one while you can) may be more aesthetically confronting than seeing someone signing the cross or bowing their head? Not that anyone has yet reported seeing that at the bottom of the stairwell.

Aesthetics aside, two Muslim men praying may be the thin end of the wedge. Next there might be more men praying. Next demands for a prayer room – already in place the MCG and other sporting stadiums. And next, given time, the segregation of men and (modestly attired) women. After all, something of the kind has already happened at public swimming pools.

What is absolutely clear to me – from the two examples I have cited – is that ordinary people going about their daily affairs should not let their legitimate concerns affect the way they deal with other people who by their dress or actions heighten those concerns. Expressions of concern are understandable – so let’s not get too self-righteously condemnatory – but good manners dictate that we live and let live. The issue has to be dealt with at a political level.

It should start at the start. ‘When in Rome’ should be a mandatory tutorial for those applying to move from Muslim societies to those based on liberal-democratic values. Let’s not be mealy-mouthed about it. Migrants are not pouring out of Islamic countries because they are desirable places to be. We don’t want to become like them by allowing their patently intolerant and impoverishing values to make inroads.

How about this for a ‘radical’ prescription? Only migrants willing to uphold liberal-democratic values should be admitted. Those who subsequently fail to support them should be deported. The application of religious law to secular matters should be proscribed. Women’s right to absolute equality should be vigorously prosecuted within Muslim enclaves. Promoting liberal-democratic values should be mandatory in all schools receiving public funding. Muslim cultural and religious sensitivities should not be imposed on the way of life of mainstream society.

The question is whether the political class will ease legitimate community concerns by staring down charges of ‘Islamophobia’ and taking appropriate action to protect our way of life? By the way, the answer to the question is ‘no’. The political class are MIA. Where does that leave us? Presently up the creek with milksop leaders. Better leaders are bound to emerge? Inshallah!

  • gcheyne@bigpond.net.au

    Tell like it is, Pete. We need to accept that the philosophy of a religion that condones lying and killing anyone who doesn’t have the same fantasies, is not acceptable in our community.
    As an atheist, I don’t feel threatened by athletes crossing themselves before running on the field or diving into the pool (I just think they are being silly)
    But I do feel threatened by having immigrants who have a totally different set of values to those we hold dear.

  • bemartin39@bigpond.com

    The reason for unsavoury incidents like when the Muslim couple were verbally abused on the train is the growing frustration of regular, every-day Australians with the ever growing range of special concessions, privileges and allowances granted to muslims, and only to Muslims, by authorities; coupled with the fact that it is all but prohibited to question or, heaven forbid, condemn anything to do with Islam. People know that the prevailing situation is “not right” and it is getting worse, yet nobody is doing anything about it and they are not even allowed to complain without being labeled an islamophobe. That said, the aforementioned incident is to be decisively condemned.

    Bill Martin.

  • IainC

    This is an incredibly complex issue constructed of numerous interlocking social, moral, ethical and legal minefields, and really needs an essay-length response. However, a few point-form opinions, from a centre-right, atheist-but-Christianity/Judaism-admiring perspective.
    1. Use the language and argument structures of the Left against them.
    2. Don’t focus on Islamic dress codes. Women are the victims, not the instigators, of violence and oppression within Islam. Their position is one of lower status and powerlessness. Feminists have abandoned them, and we need to support them. “We support your right to wear what you choose, although we understand it is forced on you by centuries of patriarchal domination. We are with you until liberation!”
    3. Don’t focus on ordinary Muslims. They are not the instigators of violence and oppression within Islam either. Most are just ordinary schmucks (or whatever the Arabic equivalent is) observing the diet restrictions and feast days and rocking up to the occasional sermon on Friday. Support them. “We support your right to practice Islam and worship Allah, although we understand it is forced on you by centuries of social pressure and has not yet adapted to modern social behaviours. We are with you until liberation!”
    4. Focus on Islamic theology itself, and the hate preachers sowing discord and calumny in its name. “We disown and defy the oppressors and powerful within Islam who pervert and distort its message! We reject the hate speech from these far-Right demagogues. Ordinary Muslims, rise up and replace them with dealers of love and peace!”
    5. Call literal Islamic theology out for what it is – politically and socially far-Right, misogynistic, homophobic, regressive and reactionary. Condemn the Left for abandoning 1.5 billion Muslim victims of oppression and declare that we are fully supportive of a moderate interpretation of Islam that speaks of love and friendship. Condemn the gay rights lobbies for abandoning Muslim gays to hell on earth. Condemn Feminists for abandoning women to live under ancient and unacceptable discrimination. In other words, throw the issue back at the Left and dare them to support you.
    6. Don’t get sucked in to the “racist, Islamophobe” trump card. Read the Koran. State ” I have read the Koran and yes, I am afraid of literal Islam. I am a progressive, modernist, tolerant moderate. Why do you support a far-Right, misogynistic, homophobic, regressive and reactionary ideology?”

    Islam needs its Reformation. The question is, who will break ranks first?

  • mvgalak@bigpond.com

    There are two fundamental questions, waiting to be addressed.
    First – why do we bring immigrants in Australia? To me it is, mostly about the creation of an economy of scale and an enlargement of a tax base. Surely, these immigrants, which do not pay tax do not increase the affordability of a social security services and, indeed, become active recipients of such services themselves. Therefore, there is no economic reason/s to bring such immigrants here.
    Second – Meddle East is falling apart. Do we understand the reason/s for such a calamity? What if we are in the midst of the so-called “youth bulge” explosion(See Gunnar Johanssen’s work) and the resultant war amongst the superfluous angry males, who have no chance for a place within their respective societies? The main reason for such a calamity is women’s oppression and the refusal to cede the control of the reproductive functions to a woman by the oppressive religion, ideology etc. This refusal leads to an excess of population, excess of angry young males and an uncontrollable aggression. The necessity to avoid the development of the “youth bulge” in Australia means an empowerment of immigrant women, strict adherence to a principle of monogamy and, last but not least, ensure the free and effective access to a contraception.

  • Jody

    How conveniently people have forgotten that the Jews – all of them Europeans – were not wanted in many countries where they sought asylum during WW2. Some actually languised, thirsty and hungry – on overcrowded boats in some country’s ports. Such was the lack of a “welcome” mat for these people It’s the direct reverse of how we feel sorry for Muslims and how “minorityism” (as I’ve coined it) has run rampant in the west and over-turned a lot of our values.

    Also, I have my own theories about why young Muslim men become “radicalized” when in the western countries. I have travelled Europe in the last 18 months and am currently living in Vienna where there are lots of Muslims now. The behaviour of male Muslim children is truly appalling. Undisciplined and treated like little emperors, while their sisters have lots of responsibilities and are expected to be small women, the boys run riot, scream, shout, tantrum and are feral. You can see that they are lionized by their parents and it’s pretty obvious to even the casual observer that boys are important in Islam. When they arrive in the West these prized boys are run of the mill, one of the millions and no more or less significant than anybody else; probably less so. I believe that radicalization is an attempt to regain that status and importance accorded to boys in Islam which is no longer valid in the West. It’s the one way they have to regain their ‘pride’ and ‘importance’. Islam is the problem and the Muslims must solve it themselves. How about starting with gender equity?

  • acarroll

    Here’s an out-there theory (I better be careful, I hear conspiracy theories are on the list for outlawing in the EU and tend to follow, or is that just a conspiracy theory?).

    Perhaps flooding the West with replacement level immigration is one way to ensure that the global population of the Earth will collapse through inability to feed itself and horrendous ethnic/racial conflict, under the assumption of course that the formerly homogeneous nations of the West are propping up the bulk of the world’s population through modern technology (agricultural, medicine, etc…) and economic demand for material rubbish? See Agenda 21… 😉

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