Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Muslim majority wants secular law

By Shahram Akbarzadeh (A Western-trained academic of Iranian origins)

The following may well be a true and reasonable account of the Muslim majority in Australia but it would help if it were backed by evidence rather than mere assertion. One would hope for better than mere assertion from an academic. He does not in any case offer any guidance to dealing with the troublesome minority. How are we expected to know which Muslims are haters and which are not? On the "precautionary principle" much-loved by the Green/Left in other contexts, we would assume that ALL Muslims are bad eggs

There is a presumption about Muslims' inability to live under secular rule that rests on the view that they live by strict Koranic codes that are incompatible with the modern way of life in Australia. This is false on two grounds.

First, most Australian Muslims are not affiliated with any religious organisation, do not attend mosque or send their children to Islamic schools. They may pray in the privacy of their homes but would not wear their religion on their sleeves. This group is best described as cultural Muslims. Islam is the religion they are born into and proud of, and anything short of this would be tantamount to rejecting their heritage. Islam is part of their identity, as is social-familial status, political affiliations and ethnic background. But Islam is not the sole pillar of identity. This group is as comfortable with the laws that govern Australia as any of their non-Muslim neighbours; that is, they drive over the speed limit on occasion and try to dodge taxes if they can.

A lot of public debate about Muslims ignores this large demographic group. Instead, the focus is often on the more religiously devout and organised sections of Australian Muslims. There is a good reason for that. Cultural Muslims are the silent majority, as they don't organise and present their case under the rubric of Islam. It is not that cultural Muslims lack organisational skills. But as far as they are concerned, why form an Islamic society when they could form an ethnic or social club? The latter is more inclusive and allows for a broader cultural appeal than religiously oriented associations.

But by going down this path, cultural Muslims have been excluded (wittingly or unwittingly) from the public debate on Islam. The Coalition government effectively ignored ethnic Muslim groups when forming the Muslim Reference Group. These communities were not seen as representing the interests of Australian Muslims. But the reality was the reverse. The appointed reference group was drawn from a small pool of religious leaders and had little authority in the ethnically diverse Muslim communities, least of all among youth. This was a critical flaw. The Rudd Government seems more sensitive towards the question of community representation, although the public debate is still confined to religious associations.

Second, devout Muslims who attend mosques and Friday prayer on a regular basis have a much more nuanced view of their place in Australia than that with which they are credited. Contrary to the views of former treasurer Peter Costello, devout Muslims do not champion the establishment of sharia law in Australia. What is important for them is no different to other groups. Education opportunities and employment prospects for themselves and their kids rates much higher than any other concerns. There is a persistent pattern of expression among devout Muslims.

Being religiously minded, ideas and views are often expressed using Islamic terminology. For example, it is common to say inshallah (God willing) if one wishes for something. This comes naturally to devout Muslims but to outsiders it could be confronting, even scary. Why invoke a foreign God when God has been pushed to the private sphere under Australia's secular rule?

Devout Muslims are comparable with other religiously devout groups. They emphasise their religious affiliations and don't shy away from expressing their religious beliefs. But this does not mean that they neglect other duties and responsibilities to their family, community and society as a whole. One may even argue that religious devotion makes Muslims more conscientious about their social duties as moral citizens.

The irony is that devout Muslims feel more comfortable living under secular rule than any other system because the Australian political and judicial system allows equal freedom to all religious and non-religious groups. Devout Muslims appreciate that and live by that rule. There is widespread acknowledgment among devout Muslims that Australia's secular laws are the best guarantee they have for practising Islam freely. To be sure, there are sporadic complaints about media representation of Islam and discrimination. But these do not negate the fundamental fact that the overwhelming majority of Islamic organisations view Australian law as their protector and appeal to it for redress.

Australian Muslims, whether cultural or devout, value the fair-go spirit of Australia. This spirit resonates with their cultural and religious beliefs. It would help us all if we paused to look at values that bind us together.


Desperation to find teachers

The article below uses the rather implausible excuse that many potential teachers would rather be miners. What they omit to mention is the unattractivesness of teaching politically correct rubbish in undisciplined classes

Before he has even finished his university degree, Michael Briggs is signed up for a six-figure salary in his new job - not as a lawyer or dentist, and not in the mines, but as a high school science teacher. Under a scholarship program unveiled by the West Australian Government, Mr Briggs will receive a $60,000 lump sum on top of his regular teaching salary. In exchange, he will teach in a country school for four years, receiving half his bonus payment now, and the rest at the end of his contract.

The bonus $60,000 is paid on top of a first-year teaching salary that is worth more than $50,000, and any other allowances, which can be worth almost $20,000 depending on the posting. The bonus can be paid in a lump sum or, as in Mr Briggs's case, as a fortnightly payment. This brings his starting salary to at least $110,000, an amount few teachers in government schools achieve. The $19million teaching scholarship program is the latest scheme launched by the state Government to attract teachers into its schools, particularly in rural and remote areas.

While all states and territories are suffering from a shortage of teachers, the problem is worse in Western Australia, with prospective and even practising teachers giving up school-work for the big salaries in mining.

Mr Briggs, 32, said his decision to enter teaching was prompted by having children and wanting a secure career and job satisfaction rather than the enticement of extra money. "I could have done a six-week course and become a crane driver or similar on six figures in the mines but it is just not challenging intellectually," he said. "This is the job I want to do. I would be doing it anyway, without the extra money." ...

State Education Minister Mark McGowan said the teacher scholarship program had received 346 applications to date, with 32 signing up for country service and the $60,000 bonus. Mr McGowan said the scholarships were designed to attract final-year teaching students to regional schools and to attract teachers into areas of serious shortages, such as maths, science, design and technology.


A rare display of spine from an Anglican archbishop

Though expressed in a suitably Anglican way, of course. If he had been a North American Anglican bishop he would probably have been ogling the boys concerned by now

The head of the Anglican Church has backed a Brisbane school's decision to turn down the request of gay students to bring male partners to a school dance, as Queensland Premier Anna Bligh welcomed debate on the issue. Several of the Anglican Church Grammar School's 215 Year 12 students want to take their gay partners to their end-of-year dance on June 19. However, under current policy, the young men may only attend the ball with a female partner.

Headmaster Jonathan Hensman said the policy had never been challenged and it had always been the tradition that boys took girls to their matriculation dance. However, Mr Hensman said he was open to discussing the matter with students and encouraged those concerned to raise the issue in writing so he could refer it to the school council for debate. No complaint has yet been lodged with Queensland's Anti-Discrimination Commission.

Anglican Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, who is president of the school council, said he supported the headmaster's decision. "I have no personal objection to a school deciding to allow boys to take friends who are boys or girls to take friends who are girls to school formals," Dr Aspinall told ABC Radio. "But I understand in this particular instance the school has decided that its approach is to emphasise the interaction of young men and young women and providing them with an opportunity to do that in this kind of formal setting. "And I have no objection to that either. I think that's a reasonable and legitimate approach." Dr Aspinall said all students should be treated with respect and care.

Ms Bligh said she supported the school's decision to discuss the issue within its community. "These are very difficult issues for schools to manage and I can understand why it's not a clear-cut matter," Ms Bligh told reporters in Brisbane today. "Parents will inevitably have strong views, both ways. "I can certainly say that as (a past) education minister I'm aware that many teachers and many guidance officers and school support staff face the reality of talking to young people about their sexuality. "We can't put our head in the sand on this. "As young people develop from their early teenage years through to young adulthood the question of sexuality will emerge and it will arise."


Another negligent and uncaring public hospital in NSW

Amy and Jo, daughters of the journalist Mike Willesee, were sure their mother was not depressed but that she was suffering from a serious undiagnosed medical condition. But Nepean Hospital medical staff failed to take a history from the women, despite their mother Carol, an accomplished stage actress, being in such a state she was unable to communicate, they told the Special Commission of Inquiry into acute care services in NSW yesterday. Carol Willesee had gone from a healthy active woman in June 2006, to within four months not being able to walk unassisted. She died in December 2006, aged 59, of the extremely rare neurological Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Doctors had previously determined her problems were psychosomatic. Her daughters took her to a private psychiatric hospital in Richmond at the end of October 2006. "At that point we felt lost in the system because we had nowhere to go . plus we had the absolute terror that something was significantly wrong with her. She appeared to us to be dying," Amy Willesee said. Within days that hospital sent her by ambulance to Nepean Hospital's emergency department.

Amy Willesee told the inquiry the family became increasingly distressed during their mother's four-week stay at Nepean because they felt ignored by medical staff who did not speak to them at all about what their mother might be suffering from or what tests they were organising. She said she suspected that because her mother had come from a psychiatric hospital her condition was not being treated as medical. She had suspected her mother had the disease after researching her symptoms on the internet, but it was not until weeks after Carol was admitted that the doctors said they were investigating the possibility of CJD despite medical notes revealing later that it had been initially raised in emergency.

She said her mother was not adequately treated while at Nepean and the neurological team did not document many of the "frightening" symptoms she had witnessed, such as her arm being straight up in the air so stiff she could not pull it down. "It meant that Mum's pain and distress was never treated until she was diagnosed which was 23 days after her admission." The family never got to speak with her treating neurologist despite several requests and the junior doctor gave them scant information, she said. "Every day we would attempt to make contact with the specialist," she said. "We didn't ever meet the specialist."

She said family were not told of any tests being conducted and were not given the opportunity to ask questions. "We felt that she was just lying there dying," she said. Outside the inquiry she said: "At no time did any of the doctors at that hospital talk to us about what might be wrong with Mum".


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