Religious Tolerance

Today I received in my mailbox a brochure entitled “Do you want your children to grow up in a Muslim Australia? The brochure quotes selective verses of the Koran, and comments “Islam is primarily a religion of the Arab race and culture – one that is now spreading throughout the Third world – and its principles and way of life should not be pushed upon Australia.” 

The item was released by the Australian Protectionist Party of Dianella, and lists its websites as www.protectionists.org and www.protectionist.net. 

When I read this item there were no mixed emotions.  My immediate reaction was, what if I were to replace the word Arab with Jew, replace the word Islam with Judaism, and replace the quotes of the Koran with some obscure verses of Tanach.  The impact is quite frightening.  I would not want to see anti-Jewish vitriol of this nature circulated in the mailboxes of my neighbourhood. 

Organisations such as the Bnai Brith anti-defamation commission are keen to comment on racial discrimination within the Australian community.  They do a good job (if not sometimes too over the top), so I will leave the political side of the matter to them.   

I did however want to contrast this communication to a wonderful letter that was published earlier this week in the West Australian.  Here is the letter:

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Some interesting points are raised.  Often generalisations are made about religions, and Judaism is thrown into the same arena as other religions for comparative purposes. 

Recently I saw a publication about the Islamic faith.  It was supposedly moderate, but clearly put the position forward that Islam believes everyone has to submit to the will of Allah.  The position was not militant, but did define non-muslims as infidels.  The situation here is very clear – all people have to convert as there is no room for alternative faith and belief.

Judaism is very different.  Whilst there are elements of Judasim that claim theolgical superiority, there is a universal religious pluralism associated with Judaism.  Jews do not require everyone to subscribe to its way of life, either action or belief (in that deliberate order, because Rabbinic precept provides the path towards faith as an experential journey).  What Judaism requires of non-Jews is that their society is predicated on the 7 Noachide laws, which are basic moral precepts.  The religions of Christianity and Islam grew out of Judasim and share common values.  However there are many points of departure.  Judaism will not condemn a person to eternal damnation, nor instigate a Jihad should the community around them not subscibe to their beliefs.  Jews will respect that there are many forms of spirituality, and that they all serve a purpose in the world.

The traverse of Jewish history shows that often Jewish communities have bedded into their psyche a complex of – “let me be”.   The message is that we just want to be left alone to practice our own culture, and in turn respect others to be left alone to practice theirs.  We can all get on.

Sadly, it is not always that simple.  On the one hand I am deeply offended by the Protectionist position that is racially intolerant, and promulgates ethnic cleansing as the solution to keeping Sharia law from Australia.  On the other hand, I am aware enough to know that indeed the agenda of Islamism is coercion towards accepting their belief and converting.   

All things considered, Sharia law is not a threat to Australian nationalism, and is unlikely to impose itself as such in the forseeable future.  There can only be one sustainable solution to the perceived threat.  If you are expecting me to say that this is interfaith communication, then you are wrong, because theologically speaking, the position put forward has no room for compromise and when it comes to religion, nobody is likely to change their mind.  The solution is however the rule of law.  Islamic subscription to religious law, as per Jewish subscription to halacha does not need to be incompatible with Civil law.  In fact, Judaism hold a principle called “Dinai Malchut Dinai” that recognises the prioritisation of civil legal systems over its own traditions and customs.

Australian nationalism and ethnic diversity are an integrated and compatible ethos.  They have to be.  Those who try and set them against each other only achieve racial disharmony.  However with multiculturalism, the missing factor is that of Civil control.  We need to strenthen the secular political and legal system that allows all cultural practices, including religious courts and remedies to operate within its framework.  At the point where the freedom or liberty of others is put at risk by a subservient cultural practice, or where people are offended, harmed or threatened, the national legal system needs to be strong enough to override any activity that sits under it.

Sharia law and Islamic practice need not conflict with Australiana, however this is an area of sociology that needs to be studied with great intellectual honesty.  At the moment, it is sadly confined by political correctness and intellectual conformity. 

Jews in Perth will always be happy that their Christian brethren are celebrating their faith, and whist not accepting the same religious beliefs, will remain tolerant and accepting of our differences.  The comparative Islamic position may need to be further tested.  The first point is that this needs to happen, and the second point is that it needs to happen in a respectful way without resorting to religious bigotry. 

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