Immigration and Islam

I take up this topic with some trepidation. It will more than likely cause me to be labelled racist or xenophobic, but there are a few concerning issues here that we cannot continue to ignore.

With respect to migration Australia has been a generous country. After the Second World War we opened our gates to migrants, mainly European, which helped us fashion a prosperous post-war economy. In more recent times we overturned the “White Australia” policy and have welcomed Asian migrants, particularly in the wake of the Vietnam War. But we also have admitted many from the Indian subcontinent, usually because of the skills they have brought to us. And in latter times, because of compassionate responses to war, injustice and misery, we have opened our borders to those in the Middle-East and Sub-Saharan Africa.

In the developed world our contribution in resettling those who have suffered trauma by undemocratic and often sadistic regimes is second to none. And no doubt we should be proud of that fact. But there are some warning signs that we would do well to acknowledge that offering unfettered access to Australia to anyone who has the desire to come could well be problematic for us.

By and large our immigrants can be put into three major categories:

  1. Those who are seeking refuge from violence and injustice in their native countries;
  2. Those who are selected because they have skills to meet deficits impeding Australia’s economic development; and
  3. Those allowed in to enable family reunification with others already resident in Australia.

Now compared with many countries Australia is a desirable place to live. We have a tolerant, peaceful society where human rights are protected. We have generous welfare provisions, world class health services and access to education for all. As a result many from economically destitute and/or war torn countries understandably desire to reside in Australia not because they are genuine refugees but merely to have a better life for themselves and their children. Consequently, many such people portray themselves as refugees and attempt to enter Australia illegally through various means. What’s more our population is also swelled by those who overstay their visas and attempt to remain in Australia illegally.

The major political parties have by and large supported a large immigration intake. They have argued for this on various counts including our own ageing population, deficiencies in skilling and the fact that increasing population increases our GDP (but tellingly not GDP per capita which would be a better indication of our standard of living.) Because this stance has become part of the conventional wisdom, any of those arguing for reduced immigration are decried as racists and any real debate on the issue has been muted. But some polls have suggested that the population at large, if not in favour of reducing our immigration levels, is at least ambivalent on the subject. So while the elites (unconsciously or not) suppress the debate it remains only the populist figures of those like Pauline Hanson that seem prepared to challenge the orthodoxy. And this is a shame because the issue is so important it deserves an open debate to which our best minds should contribute.

This is not a small moral dilemma but is a major challenge to our cultural norms. Most of us want our country to show compassion to those less fortunate than us that live overseas. But how much are we prepared to pay in support of our compassion? If we allow unfettered access to the wrong people some of the principal elements of the Australian culture that we cherish and that make our country such a desirable place to live could well be under threat.

And our problem is exacerbated by the fact that most of our immigrants choose to live in our capital cities which not only places a strain on our physical infrastructure but strains our capacity to provide essential services in areas such as education and health.

But the two underlying questions that we need to resolve are not only how many immigrants are appropriate to allow into our society but who should those immigrants be?

In developed countries birth rates have declined. In order for a country to have a stable population it needs to have an average birth rate of around 2.1 for every two people. Across the world most developed countries, including Australia, have fallen below this rate and rely on immigration to maintain or grow their populations.

But the benefits of a growing population are by no means generally accepted. At the end of World War II, Labor’s Immigration Minister, Arthur Calwell sought to overcome Australian resistance to immigration with a rallying cry of “Populate or Perish!” Most of the immigration debate has been built on such emotional responses. Despite this, there are many voices urging that we establish a ceiling to our population and not seek a future of endless population growth.

Most of us believe it desirable that immigrants, whilst maintaining many of their own particular cultural attributes, need to assimilate and become part of the Australian community.

If we are not careful, poorly managed immigration could lead to the dilution and eventual removal of those very characteristics that make our society desirable. When we view our future it is worth remembering that the birth rates of those whom we admit from developing countries are generally much higher than the native population. Consequently unless they are quickly assimilated, they and their descendants have a greater impact on our society than might first seem obvious. This now becoming a stark problem in some areas of Europe.

It is easy to see why our first wave of post-war migration was easier to assimilate than some of our later arrivals. European migrants came from established democracies with a long history in the Western tradition.

Whilst it is inevitable that our culture will change over time, we need to determine what are the essential characteristics of Australian society that we must preserve in order to maintain the most desirable features of the culture that we currently enjoy. Let me nominate a few:

  • Our essential freedoms viz freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and our religious freedom.
  • Our democracy so that our governments are elected by the citizens of Australia.
  • The separation of Church and State.
  • Adherence to the rule of Law.
  • Lack of discrimination based on race, gender or religion.
  • Provision of universal education.
  • Welfare services that protect our most needy.

Others might want to nominate other characteristics of our society that make it desirable – but I suspect any society that possesses these characteristics would be a good place to live.

Now most of these characteristics in some form or another exist in the developed Western world but they are relatively rare in the developing countries from which many of our more recent refugees have emanated. Western, liberal, democratic values are a novelty to them , and indeed an anathema to some of them.

So it seems to me that immigration is a two way street. We have a responsibility to ensure that our immigrants, whether refugees or otherwise, are given assistance to meld into our society. But the immigrants also need to accept (and hopefully embrace) these essential characteristics of our society. It needs to be understood that to become Australian you must do more than merely reside in our country.

Now this is not a new concept. Bassam Tibi was a Syrian academic who migrated to Germany in 1962. In the 1990’s he proposed that immigrants entering a new multi-ethnic society must be united around a common set of themes. In describing Tibi’s proposal for uniting these disparate peoples, Douglas Murray in his book The Strange Death of Europe wrote:

The most straight forward answer was that they should be united not necessarily by a dedication to precisely the same heritage but at least a unified belief in the core concepts of the modern liberal state such as the rule of law, the separation of Church and State and human rights.

But let us look specifically at the clash with those values I outlined above that those who hold radical Islamist views present.

They have little truck with our cherished freedoms. They are intolerant of other religious faiths and have an ambition that we should all someday be subject to the universal Caliphate. They have no compunction about compelling allegiance to Islam by force if necessary. They allow no criticism of Islam and even murder those whom they deem to have “insulted the Prophet Muhammad”.

They place no value on democracy and yearn for the ultimate expression of theocracy, the Caliphate. Consequently they wish to again merge Church and State.

They discriminate against women, subjugating them in many ways so that they play a vastly lesser role in their society where they have a diminished position in Sharia law. They subject women to indignities regarding what they wear and advocate female genital mutilation. They are also discriminated against with respect to whom they should marry, the weight of their evidence in court and in inheritance laws.

They do not value religious freedom and are intolerant of and often violent towards Christians and Jews.

They do not promote universal education discriminating against women in this regard as well.

It is clear that those holding such points of view are inimical to our liberal democracy and should not be allowed access to it!

Australia would do well to heed the developments in Europe in response to largely unfettered access being granted to Islamist immigrants.

As far back as 2006, in response to the rising tide of Islamic immigrants, the Dutch Justice Minister, Piet Hein Donner, suggested in an interview that if Muslims obtained a democratic majority they could change the law to Sharia if they saw fit.

In 2008, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, gave a lecture where he suggested that some elements of Sharia Law would inevitably be adopted in Britain.

This spineless capitulation to the worst of radical Islam reflects an unfortunate tendency in the West to accommodate these cultural influences rather than resist them.

The Italian author, Oriana Fallaci, has written passionately about the violence radical Islam has brought to Europe. She urges that we fight for the preservation of Western culture. Whilst acknowledging the failings and the sins of the West, Fallaci insisted:

I want to defend my culture, not theirs, and I inform you that I like Dante Aligheri and Shakespeare and Goethe and Verlaine and Walt Whitman and Leopardi much more than Omar Khayyam.

In her book The Rage and the Pride she warned that Islam would, if not checked, change the nature of European culture. She quotes a Muslim scholar who spoke at a synod at the Vatican in 1992 as saying:

By means of your democracy we shall invade you; by means of our religion we will dominate you.

The West has shied away from confronting radical Islam. Consequently it has inevitably and insidiously attacked our cultural norms.

This trend became evident in 1989 when the Supreme Leader of the Revolutionary Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against the author of The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie. Khomeini essentially sentenced Rushdie to death and called on all zealous Muslims to carry out this sentence. The book certainly had literary merit. It received positive reviews and had been shortlisted for the 1988 Booker Prize. But Khomeini condemned the book because it was seen to “insult the Muslim sanctities”. Islam began to assert its special sanctity. Despite the fact that English literature is replete with books that criticise or parody Christianity, no author of such works had in recent history been condemned to death for taking such liberties with Christianity. But Western Europe capitulated to Islam and Western theologians advocated Islam should be treated specially and every attempt made not to offend their tender sensibilities. This incident showed we were more interested in appeasing Islam than defending our right to free speech.

And things only got worse. There have been many atrocities committed in Europe by Islamist terrorists but the one that seemed to signify our greatest weakness in the face of confected Islamist victimhood was the Charlie Hebdo incident. Charlie Hebdo is a French satirical magazine published weekly which until the incident was hardly known outside France. On 7 January 2015, two brothers, Said and Cherif Kouachi, forced their way into the magazine’s offices, armed with rifles and other weapons. They killed 12 people and injured another 11. The brothers identified themselves as belonging to a Yemeni branch of the terrorist group Al-Qaeda.

Charlie Hebdo had been at the centre of controversy around its publication of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammed and its offices were firebombed in 2011. Whilst most expressed horror at the atrocity, many government officials, journalists and politicians apportioned a deal of the blame on the magazine for offending Muslims.

In the wake of this, in a classic case of blaming the victims, criticism of Islam in any way became muted. Once again Islam had succeeded in curtailing our right to free speech. We allowed no other religion such latitude. The Islamists purported that it was profane for anyone to try to create a pictorial representation of the Prophet. (Indeed, after the event, an educational body attempting to present to children the basics of mainstreams religions could not find an artist prepared to do so.) The Islamists called for the reinstitution of blasphemy in Western laws. The removal of laws relating to blasphemy has facilitated religious freedom. But of course the Islamists were not interested in any religious freedom – they wanted Islam to monopolise the religious scene and by force if necessary.

The Pew Research Centre estimates that between 2010 and 2016 the number of Muslims in Europe grew by more than 2.9 million. However these figures only included those immigrants that had been formally processed at one stage or another. The number of illegal entrants whilst unknown is thought to be substantial. Now it must be conceded that not many of these Muslims are fundamentalist activists, but those that are, are unfortunately having a disproportionate impact. They rely on the tolerance and misplaced political correctness of their hosts to advance their cause. They are steadfast and vehement about their religion. The elites of the West on the other hand only pay lip service to what should be our sustaining values and whenever conflict arises they yield to the Islamists.

Often as a result of their muscular, strident defence of their religion, the West turns a blind eye to the atrocities they commit. Despite the fact that thousands of Muslim women in the UK have been subject to female genital mutilation, in my understanding there has never been a conviction. Many of these immigrants flowing into Europe have been young Muslim males. There has been in many localities, as a result, an alarming increase in the incidence of rape. For a considerable time this was not reported to the public in order not to offend Muslims. Even in Australia, where Islamist terrorist attacks are quite low, the media has often been reluctant to associate the atrocities with Islam.

So where does this leave us?

To begin with I am ambivalent regarding the issue of the quantum of immigrants Australia should allow to enter our country. But I think it is important to have this debate devoid of the strictures of political correctness where the elites merely disdainfully shrug off the opinions of those advocating less migration as racist or xenophobic.

As well, I believe we should strenuously defend our right to assess prospective immigrants on their likelihood of being able to adopt the cultural norms I outlined earlier. The German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, as long ago as 1795, in his essay Perpetual Peace, proposed that newcomers to a country should only be allowed to settle by agreement with its inhabitants. He also stressed that such persons might only be allowed access if they agreed to abide the rule of Law of that country. It is patently evident that radical Islamists can never meet that requirement.

In Australia we have found that many of the Islamists who have initiated atrocities have been second generation immigrants. This points to a failure of assimilation. So even if the first generation of immigrants are not problematic themselves, if they don’t accept the cultural norms of our society, there are likely to be longer term consequences.

On the other hand I don’t think we should ban Muslim immigrants. The vast majority of Muslims that have settled here have been good citizens and haven’t threatened our way of life. And many of the genuine refugees are Muslim and deserve our compassion. But we can’t afford to allow access to our country to people who don’t support the values I’ve outlined above. Proponents of radical Islam not only don’t support such values but seek actively to overturn them. We must be vigilant to ensure such people do not enter our country and threaten our way of life!

4 Replies to “Immigration and Islam”

  1. Hi Ted.

    I read this a few minutes after writing an answer to a question asked on Quora.

    My answer addresses a higher level issue than you have here, but in the spirit of shared trepidation, I’d be intrigued by your response.

    Have a nice day.

    Q. what is your most controversial political viewpoint?

    A: That religious faith, in all forms, is an act of wilful insanity, and it’s an insanity that one has to work hard at to maintain.

    I’m no neurologist so I might be wrong, but I suspect that rationality is a faculty intrinsic to the human brain. The ability to deconstruct what we see with our eyes and explain it logically with our minds is I suspect, one of the great prime movers of human advancement.

    The problem with rationality is that it can’t coexist with religious faith. If that’s true, anyone who requires that we adopt their faith must suppress the rational mind in order to make room for their god.

    I don’t know what goes through the mind of a religious person when they see a tsunami wash quarter of a million people out sea. Good people, adults and children, who obediently pray to god several times a day, being ground up between logs and cars and building rubble as the ocean carries them away in pieces. But I suspect there’s a remnant of rational mind that is momentarily shocked into life on seeing that. But that flare of rational realisation is quickly extinguished by our religious training, which has imbedded in us a new and well developed faculty of denial which keeps our faith strong in the face of confronting reality.

    And this is ultimately the mechanism of faith: a learned denial that somehow overpowers reality.

    The YouTube beheadings? Yes, your god allowed this to happen. But don’t question- just accept that god is infinitely wise and infinitely good, and because you are not, you can never understand. So don’t question.

    As Stephen Fry says: “bone cancer in children? What’s that about?”

    People in a position where their best choice was jumping from the top floors of the world trade centre?

    Do not question, for you are mortal and can never know.

    Faith has built into it a mechanism that prevents it from ever being challenged – you must never question, otherwise your faith is no longer strong.

    It’s the most inspired manipulation of mind ever conceived.

    The point of all this is that it takes real work to keep at bay the momentary realities that tell us that god is bullshit – work in the form of attending church, reading scripture and uttering prayer.

    Early in life, we hand our pure, rational minds over to a priest for reprogramming in the doctrine of a church. But as we live life, we see stuff that challenges our capacity to continue believing. The path of least resistance at these moments is doing nothing. And by doing nothing, we’d become atheists.

    But instead of doing nothing, we go to work. We once again set about our religious chores – we read the Book, we attend a sermon, we getting ritually cleansed – and reality is averted once more.

    This, over a lifetime, is a large overhead in time and cognitive energy. Maybe an anthropologist could help me here: is it possible that more energy a society invests in religious practice, the less advanced it is technologically? The more murderous it is? The less equitable it is? It’s intriguing to ponder.

    Having seen the depravity inflicted on humans by humans in honour of god, I believe that all humans have a responsibility to all other humans – reclaim your rational minds by rejecting god.

    You’re adults now. Make up your own minds.

    1. Well, thank you Lee for your response. I have written extensively about religion as you will notice if you scan the titles on my blog site (including the archives). But I will try to respond to your little piece as briefly as I can.
      The major world religions, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism were largely formulated in the distant past. (I hesitate to call Buddhism a religion because its basic tenets relate to training the mind to deal with the world as it is.) Mostly they tell stories to explain how the world came to be and lay down principles that helped adherents make sense of their lives so long ago.
      Because the world has moved on, and with our exponential increase in knowledge it is not hard to make a case that much of these teachings is now irrelevant. I, myself, have written essays that bring into question the fundamental teachings of both Christianity and Islam. ( But we should acknowledge there are sages and mystics in both these traditions that have seen beyond the literal interpretations of their texts to articulate hidden truths that most traditional believers would be unaware of.)
      It would be easy to argue that in the Western world, at least, rationality has prevailed over religion. But this is of course not the case everywhere, and certainly not in the more fundamental Islamic countries. This might seem to be evidence in support of your assertion that those countries who devote themselves to religion are the least progressive in both social and economic terms.
      But there are bigger questions to answer here.
      As I have written previously, we cannot deny that humans have spiritual need – the need to have a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives. For many, their religion helped meet those needs and with the decline in religion in Western societies this has left a great void..
      Now I am a great admirer of science (being an engineer) and scientific progress, but science has two important limitations.
      Firstly it is unlikely ever to meet the spiritual needs of people.
      Secondly it will never be able to explain the universe in its totality.
      But overall science has been more dynamic than religion.
      For convenience sake we might divide the progress of science into a number of epochs:
      • Pre-Newtonian Physics,
      • Newtonian Physics,
      • Einsteinian Physics (Relativity Theory),
      • Quantum Physics.
      As an analogy, traditional religion is stuck in its Pre-Newtonian phase. In science when a theory can’t explain observable facts, scientists work to modify or replace the theory. There isn’t a comparable refining process in religion. This is largely due to the fact that the major tenets of traditional religion are treated as being “revealed” and are therefore immutable.
      But physics and cosmology which attempt to describe the Universe require a leap of faith as well. Accepting, for example, “The Big Bang Theory” as a convincing explanation of the beginning of the Universe (as I have explained in a previous essay) requires us to believe many unprovable and often fantastic theories that stretch our credibility to the utmost.
      And as I have stated above, science cannot ever provide a complete description or explanation of the universe. I don’t have the time to explain this fully to you but it is due to the fact that the main discovery technique in science is reductionism and there are also limitations in the human mind.
      So whilst I am happy to rely on science to provide a reasonable explanation of the physical universe, that is not enough for me. No human being can experience well-being unless their spiritual needs are reasonably met.
      Now even our most famous scientists have recognised this fact. People like Einstein, Bohr, Schrodinger and others have shown how the material world is affected by the mind and as result their physics led them to spiritual concerns. Despite the efforts of reductionists like Daniel Dennett, nobody has convincingly been able to conclude that the mind is somehow constructed by the neurons and synopses of the physical brain. And there lies the great challenge for spirituality. (Personally I believe that mind, not matter, is the essential stuff of the universe.)
      Whilst traditional religion has failed to provide the consolation, the meaning, and the understanding that human spirituality requires, there is little likelihood that science will provide much assistance.
      The real tragedy of life is not that we are mortal but that we put too much importance on this separate, individual, ego-based existence. That exaggerates those things you mention of “when bad things happen to good people”.
      My conclusions would therefore be that traditional religions struggle in the face of rationality, but that rationality itself has its limits. Furthermore we must acknowledge that spirituality has a place in the scheme of things and we should be open to opportunities to promote the sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. And fortunately, no matter how well our science progresses, there will always be mysteries in our universe.

  2. Ted:
    Thanks for your thoughtful and thought provoking response.

    I’d like to answer this properly – indeed take issue with a number of things you’ve said – but can only do so when my brain is online long enough to do so. I will remit in due course.

    Mine is a tired mind ….


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