Repatriation of Muslim families from Syrian camp

Oct 12, 2022
Syria, refugees, children
Image: iStock

What? Let those terrorists’ spawn and their sly “Australian” mothers sneak out of that Syrian camp, and into our country? Never!

An old White Australia-type call-to-arms is sounding yet again. Beware ‘The Other’! Peter Dutton has called the proposed repatriation a “significant risk … that can’t be mitigated”. But a few calm facts might help soothe the indignation…

For years our media has been flooded with click-bait stories of Islamist extremists and their undoubtedly seething hatred. The normal humanity of the vast Muslim majority wins only the thinnest trickle of attention. Yawn! Normality makes such boring copy…

The latest anti-Muslim trumpet-blast has let loose a tide of memories in me––and doubtless in many others who’ve spent time in Muslim lands. Memories, especially, of kindness and generosity to a stranger: a sacred duty in Islam.

When in the mid 1960s I set out on my travels, no wary Western view of Islam existed. Exactly the opposite. The sahibs of the British Raj and Empire had always felt far more relaxed with Islam than with the luxuriant mysteries of Hinduism or Buddhism. They thought it a far manlier, more muscular religion––and with so many shared beliefs, scriptural heroes and tales from the Bible, comfortably familiar. Who on earth would employ a Hindu when you could get a Muslim?

So the British in India thought it completely natural to load the scales in favour of Muslims against the Hindu majority. Believe it or not now, ‘Divide and Rule’ was the Empire policy everywhere, proclaimed and enacted without a hint of shame. And it worked a treat.

But of course it stoked resentment––most spectacularly in India. Muslims had long basked in advantage at Hindu expense. As the struggle for independence grew, fear of Hindu reprisals triggered urgent Muslim demands for their own state. When at last the British hurriedly packed up for home, they left behind a smoking landscape as India ripped itself apart, at war with newborn Islamic Pakistan.

Amazing though it seems now, Muslims were once thought fatalistic, much given to the sigh and shrugged shoulders of resignation as they accepted whatever fate threw at them. ‘Muselmänner’ was the nickname prisoners in Dachau and Buchenwald gave those who’d lost the will to survive, and had become walking corpses.

Today’s fierce Islamist brew really only bubbled up when the oil crisis of the 1970s revealed how politically powerful oil could be when religion was whisked into it. Not surprisingly, the more volatile and fiery the religion in the cocktail, the more potent the kick. And Muslims had most of the oil.

Finally, after 9/11, the deeply unjust and unwise invasion of Iraq lit a touchpaper that set the whole bonfire ablaze.

Despite what jihadis may proclaim, intolerance is in no way basic to Islam. The Qur’an clearly spells out a command to respect the religions of others; and famously, it’s as blunt as the New Testament in its prohibition against killing. ‘Anyone who takes a life takes the life of all humanity. Anyone who saves a life saves the life of all humanity.’

Here and there, however, both Qur’anic and Old Testament scriptures do put in a good word for the odd stoning or bloody slaughter of enemies. Most ‘People of The Book’ and ‘Children of Abraham’—Christians, Jews and Muslims—take these anomalies in their stride. They see such ferocity as a residue of history and ancient culture rather than the voice of God.

But religion has always made a powerfully seductive political banner to rally under. Societies of every faith have fallen into the sin of expediency and cobbled their religious shoes to fit their politics—even, if necessary, shoving and squeezing and chopping bits off to fit, like Cinderella’s ugly sisters with their toes.

So extreme fundamentalists of any religion, with their zeal for all-or-nothing drama and simplistic answers, have again and again taken literal readings as a call to righteous holy terror. Judge any religion by what its adherents have done in the name of God and surely all of us are damned. Western Christian-majority societies would have no more hope of salvation than any other. Gandhi, when asked what he thought of Western civilisation, is said to have replied with his trademark mildness, ‘I think it would be an excellent idea.’

These days it’s fanatical Islamists who’ve called down the avenging angel. Having for so long felt stereotyped, maligned and belittled, they’ve lashed out and in turn stereotyped, maligned and belittled. And worse. And so brought the world’s fear and suspicion down on everyone of their faith.

Mystifyingly, we––and presumably the fanatics themselves––have forgotten that some of the better times in the world’s sorry history have been under benign, open, liberal Muslim regimes. It was largely Islamic Golden Age passion for human knowledge that, during the long Dark Ages in Europe, inspired the preservation of Greek and Latin works of maths, science, philosophy, history and literature. How would the ancient manuscripts have survived otherwise?

At one period the Caliph of Baghdad actually paid for Greek, Roman, Persian, Indian and Chinese writings with the books’ weight in gold. Translators, scholars and scribes came to the great Islamic centres of learning from all over the known world, and were richly paid and honoured. The very first university in the world was founded in 859 AD in Fez, Morocco: the inspiration for all the universities that followed.

Without that enlightened passion for knowledge there’d have been no shoulders of giants to stand on. No Renaissance, or the cornucopia of marvels that flowed from it—and flows still…

These are the fundamental, peaceful truths about Islam that, hopefully, those repatriated Muslim children will learn at the local mosque as they grow up in Australia. “Anyone who saves a life saves the life of all humanity…”

And who knows? Our whole nation might even be prompted to remember some of Christ’s long-ignored appeals. Even, perhaps, the wildly radical “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you…”

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