Australian treasurer makes “extremely divisive” comments
Friday, February 24, 2006
Australian Federal treasurer Peter Costello, next in line for Prime Minister, has called for Muslim extremists to be stripped of their citizenship. In a speech to the Sydney Institute on the 23rd February, he described multiculturalism as “mushy and misguided”.
Politicians from all sides have spoken out at the remarks and many from the Islamic community say they’re offended by Mr Costello’s comments, with Muslim leaders saying that it is “extremely divisive” and a blight on Australia’s international reputation.
Mr Costello particularly singled out Muslims in his remarks, saying extremists should move to countries where they feel more comfortable. Mr Costello’s comments targeting Muslim extremists, won support from Prime Minister John Howard, and controversial ex-politician Pauline Hanson.
“Before entering a mosque visitors are asked to take off their shoes,” Mr Costello said. “This is a sign of respect. If you have a strong objection to walking in your socks don’t enter the mosque. Before becoming an Australian you will be asked to subscribe to certain values. If you have strong objection to those values don’t come to Australia.”
Abdul El Ayoubi, a director of the Lebanese Muslim Association said, “it’s upsetting to hear such comments, especially when you consider that the majority of Muslims have accepted the Australian way of life and Australian values.”
45 per cent of Australia’s population are from culturally diverse backgrounds. The Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria (ECCV) has called for tolerance rather than division. “Peter Costello’s comments are divisive, arrogant, provocative and do nothing to unite the nation at a time when responsible leadership on this issue is called for,” ECCV chairman Phong Nguyen said.
“To have the leaders of our nation, such at the Prime Minister and Treasurer, making gratuitous comments about race and religion based on ill-founded perceptions rather than facts, is extremely divisive and will harm Australia nationally and internationally,” he said.
Mr Nguyen said Mr Costello appeared to be aligning himself with the “now discredited argument of his colleague Danna Vale – that Australia is in danger of becoming a Muslim nation”.
In his speech Mr Costello made a public call for Muslims who want to live under sharia law to find another country, while also referring to “mushy multiculturalism”.
Justin Li, vice chair of the NSW Ethnic Communities’ Council, said Mr Costello’s comments had deliberately and unfairly targeted Muslims.
“Obviously nobody supports violent people in our society, but what we don’t understand is why allegedly violent Muslims are any different from any violent people of other cultures or religions,” he said. “What about deporting the people who participated in riots in Cronulla last year? Those people did not exhibit any Australian values in their actions.”
Mr Li added the comments were “political point scoring” made to sit well with sections of the community which do not support multiculturalism. “Our political leaders think that there is advantage to be gained making comments against our Muslim Australians at this stage in time,” he said.
Malcolm Thomas from the Islamic Foundation of Victoria says it’s the fact that Mr Costello singled out Muslims. “If you remove the word Muslim from what he said, well then I totally agree with Peter. Yeah, I’m prepared, just as much as Peter, to be as intolerant to anyone who wants to attack Australia and the Australian values, irrespective of their race or religion or ethnicity,” said Mr Thomas. “Language is everything. The words are marginalising a segment of our community and creating division within the community.”
Mr Thomas also points out that the suggestion to strip people of citizenship has limited potential, given that a third of Muslims living here were born here. “Australian Muslims are Australian. We can’t differentiate that. And I think people need to keep that in mind.” he said.
Another Muslim community leader said Costello is promoting division and Islamophobia and should be censured. Keysar Trad, president of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia, has said he genuinely hoped the Prime Minister would censure Mr Costello.
Mr Trad said nobody was protesting Australia’s secular laws through any other means than the normal democratic process. “We have not asked for sharia law to be imposed. I don’t know anyone in this country who is asking for sharia law to be imposed and I don’t known anyone in this country who has rejected the rule of law,” he told ABC radio. “Rather than try to promote understanding and harmony in this society, his comments are highly divisive and he is stirring up Islamophobia, and these comments should really be beneath any decent politician.”
In his speech, Mr Costello said where there was reason to believe people were not truthfully or honestly meeting their citizenship test, there was every right for them to be denied citizenship.
“If by subsequent conduct they show that they don’t meet the test then we could invite them to forfeit their Australian citizenship,” he said. “Now you can only do this if they have another citizenship.”
But Mr El Ayoubi said: “If you’ve come to this country, you’ve come to this country to live under a democratic system and you’ve come into this country to abide by the rules, the principles and the values of this country, and you should do that.”
Mr Costello emphasised that Australia is a secular state under which the freedom of all religions is protected. “But there is not a separate stream of law derived from religious sources that competes with or supplants Australian law in governing our civil society,” he said. “The source of our law is the democratically elected legislature. If a person wants to live under sharia law these are countries where they might feel at ease. But not Australia.”
Mr Costello said there were some beliefs and values which were so central to Australian society that those who refused to accept them refused to accept the nature of Australian society.
“If someone cannot honestly make the citizenship pledge, they cannot honestly take out citizenship,” he said. “If they have taken it out already they should not be able to keep it where they have citizenship in some other country.”
His comments follow Prime Minister John Howard’s claims this week that a fragment of the Islamic community is “utterly antagonistic to our kind of society”. Last week Liberal backbencher Danna Vale said that Australia could become a Muslim nation within 50 years because “we are aborting ourselves almost out of existence”.
Mr Costello said he had attended an Australia day citizenship ceremony at the Stonnington Town Hall in his electorate of Higgins during which a state MP “extolled the virtues of multiculturalism”. He said the MP said becoming an Australian did not mean giving up one’s culture or language or religion — and it certainly did not mean giving up the love of their country of birth.
“The longer he went on about how important it was not to give up anything to become an Australian, the more it seemed to me that, in his view, becoming an Australian didn’t seem to mean very much at all, other than getting a new passport.”
Islamic Council of Victoria president Malcolm Thomas said he was disappointed at Mr Costello’s speech. “We have had the uninformed comments of Danna Vale, we have had the comments made by the Prime Minister and now we have these comments — all they do is reinforce a stereotype which doesn’t exist.” Mr Thomas said that singling out Muslims was pandering to a conspiracy that Muslims wanted to overtake Australia.
“Australian Muslims are Australians first,” he said. “They abide by the law and they want to live here in peace and harmony. They are not interested in taking over the country. They are not interested in creating a theocracy”.
Ikebal Patel, an executive member of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, said the comments were “inflammatory”. “Islam law teaches that when you go into a country you embrace the laws of that country,” Mr Patel said. “I hope we are not going away from multiculturalism as the founding stone of our immigration policy.”
Mr Patel said the timing of the comments smacked of an attempt by the Government to deflect attention from the AWB scandal.
Mr Costello said Muslims who did not like the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad in newspapers should recognise this does not justify violence.