Shepparton, City of Harmony

Tuesday, 07 September 2010 19:36 Cassandra Racism-Apartheid - Religious Apartheid

Age journalist, Geoff Strong, took a dim view of Aussies. In 2005, he berated us for our racism:

Now that the London bombings have resurrected religious suspicion to its time-honoured place in the Australian mindset, then turned the blowtorch of blame on to multiculturalism, it is worth considering the experience of Shepparton.

Listen to the outpourings from the hand-wringers and the recipe for inter-culture conflagration is simple: take an established, somewhat conservative community, pour in a large number of outsiders that look, act and think differently and whammo - distrust leading to conflict. 

 They did all that in Shepparton. But instead of conflict, they got, by any reasonable standard, harmony. The leader of the latest ethnic group to settle there goes even further, describing the situation in the flat fruit-growing town as "idyllic". What went right?
About a decade ago, this community began to be settled by Arab migrants, many of them from Iraq, refugees from the first Gulf War and followers of the Shiite strand of Islam.

Neo-conservatives like to blame teachers for most social ills, but really they are people who know the importance of social cohesion. I suspect the sight of girls wearing the hijab grates on many Australians teachers, but here the primary schools have created a sense of inclusiveness by designing hijabs in the school colours.

Every couple of weeks there seems to be an inter-faith religious service in town, but this did not impress some of the truest of the blue. Sport is holier than religion and the Iraqi kids were not into it. Once again it was teachers who drew them in - and now even hijab-covered girls can be seen kicking soccer balls around the parks.

Iraqis have bought houses and started businesses. One of them who has opened a kebab shop has gained local esteem by providing free meals to the homeless. Charity is, after all, one of the five pillars of Islam.

Then there was talkback outrage at plans to have a women-only session at the local swimming pool on Saturday nights, expressly for Muslim women.

It was a calendar that made Iraqi community president Adnan al-Ghazal feel accepted in Shepparton in a way he had never felt in his home country. He and his wife Iklas bought a house in a new estate on Shepparton's outskirts. A year or so later, the builder came around with a calendar as a gift. It had all the usual dates for Christmas, Easter and Anzac Day, but it also included Ramadan and other important dates for Muslims. 

I was interviewing students at King Khalid Islamic College in Coburg and noted they referred to themselves as "Australian Muslims". Monash University academic Dr Shahram Akbarzadeh said "In Australia over the last 20 years a different Islamic identity has been evolving where it is easy to be a devout Muslim and loyal to Australia. One of the thinkers behind this has been Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali."

He said that while all Muslims wanted the ideal of sharia law, what people such as Hilali had recognised was that most of the important elements of sharia such as freedom to practise Islam, basic safety and freedom from persecution and discrimination were already in place in the Australian legal system. He said that Australian Muslims had more freedoms and were closer to the sharia ideal than in Islamic states such as Egypt and Pakistan. (source)

Well, it’s reassuring to know we’ve already got sharia. But just to make sure, let’s emulate Shepparton and provide segregated swimming and school uniforms and Muslim-friendly calendars.


Let Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali, the granfather of Australiam multiculuralism, speak!

Five years on, Geoff is inspired by how harmoniously Muslims have blended into the community:

From the sanctuary of Shepparton, Mohommad Lashkari reacts with horror at the thought of fellow Afghan refugees being sent back to his homeland.

''… the Taliban will kill anybody who has been to Australia. It is just their attitude. They will also try to get money out of you and maybe kidnap your little sister, chop her head off and send it back to you.''

Adnan Al Ghazal, originally an Iraqi refugee, says the city's reputation as a haven of tolerance and prosperity is such that many people have it as their target before they leave home countries. ''People are talking about Shepparton in detention centres. It's known everywhere''.

Shoukat Rafiee is an Afghan welfare officer who works for the Ethnic Council of Shepparton…He laughed at the idea that Australia was a racist country.

''In Afghanistan you can be killed for racial, religious or tribal difference. Here people are good to each other; the locals have always made us feel welcome. Nobody has any desire to go back to Afghanistan.'' (source)

Well, at least the article makes it clear that the Aussies are not the racists, unlike the countries the refugees have fled from. The real danger is that Islam’s barbarity and racial and religious intolerance has come to Shepparton.

But unperturbed, Geoff writes more about this multicultural haven:

Azam Elmaz, an ethnic Albanian from Macedonia, runs a popular cafe in the main street …He and his wife Jehian are now helping set up a weekend soup kitchen for homeless people. He is also a chaplain in the prison system. A devout Muslim, he sees it as his duty to help others. ''You bloody Aussies have given me more than my fair chance and I want to give something back.''

…Jehian, Azam's wife…has an accent that would out-Strine Prime Minister Julia Gillard, yet she dresses in a hijab, the covering of a traditional Muslim woman. About 90 per cent of the cafe's customers are what the couple refer to as ''Aussies''. This is a curious label and one which Jehian, born in Kyabram to Albanian parents, could apply to herself. But by Aussies they mean Anglo-Australians.

Shepparton has become a model of how multiculturalism can work.

Many new immigrant arrivals are setting themselves up in business. People have opened shops, others are self-employed tradesmen and there is an Iraqi family running a car repair and wrecking business.

…the most visibly different arrivals have been the black Africans from the Congo and Sudan, whose acceptance has surprised even the city's mayor. Cr Dobson and other observers point to the Africans' love of music and dance. The city is entranced by the Angels' Voices Band of mainly Congolese, who have emerged from the local Catholic school to gain national exposure.

This points to the one note of discord in the mayor's assessment of the city's harmony. While the Africans' love of music puts them in the public realm, he worries Iraqis and Afghans, by comparison, shut themselves away.

Many Muslims eschew music as sinful and won't let their children participate in school music programs. (source)

Hmm, a few discordant notes here. Despite being born here, Jehian does not regard herself as Australian and chooses to separate herself by wearing the hijab. Note that the problem with Islam has nothing to do with race, as she is presumably white. The non-white Christian Congolese, on the other hand, have contributed to the local community and fit in, unlike the Iraqis and Afghans, who “shut themselves away.” Rather than illustrating harmony, both articles illustrate how Islam segregates.

Lest you fear this harmony will put HREOC out of business, please don’t worry: they will always manage to conjure up discrimination. In 2003, the Shepparton Ethnic Communities Council consulted with 80 invited participants who were studying English at the TAFE:

1. What are your experiences of discrimination and vilification?

Iraqi and Turkish participants felt there had been a general rise in intolerance and discrimination towards them following 11 September 2001…A Muslim man of Turkish background explained, "People are looking at us as if we were responsible for the events that took place overseas ..."

One Iraqi refugee explained, "Before September 11 Arab and Islamic communities were treated like any other Australians. After September 11, Bali and the Iraq war we are treated like terrorists... "

At school
A young Iraqi refugee explained how he had experienced discrimination at two secondary schools in Shepparton. At the first school he was told by some students of Australian background to "go back to your country". He told his teacher who advised him to ignore the teasing…he subsequently left both schools. His father provided more detail about an incident which led to his son's suspension from high school… of how both his son and daughter were often teased with nicknames such as 'Osama'. On one occasion, his son was provoked to the point that he struck out and hit another student. The school principal suspended the young Iraqi refugee giving no punishment to the other student.

In shopping centres, banks, government offices etc

A Turkish woman told of a friend who was hit by a car while crossing the road outside K-Mart. The motorist apologised explaining that he did not see her because the sun had been in his eyes, then drove off without calling for further assistance. The friend was upset because passersby did nothing to help her; they just looked on. A Turkish man also relayed how Muslim women were treated differently by check-out operators in supermarkets following 11 September 2001.

In the street or public transport

Chair of the Shepparton Ethnic Communities Council described the feelings of humiliation and isolation that some members of the Turkish community were feeling post-September 11. Turkish women had been harassed in the street by young boys who pulled at their hijabs and said "go back to your own country because you are troublemakers."

The approximately 30 Albanian participants did not feel discriminated against because of their religion. Most felt that the wider community had been positive and welcoming toward them. The group felt no tension with other non-Muslims in Shepparton or between Muslims and non-Muslims in the Albanian community.

Participants explained that there is little contact with other non-Albanian Muslims such as the Iraqi Muslim community. Albanian Muslims do not pray with other non-Albanian Muslims. (source)

Seems to me the discrimination is purely anecdotal. Odd how Muslims are perpetual victims, even when they are the perpetrators of violence. For example, the Iraqi schoolboy who was suspended felt he was the victim. There is no denying that Islam adversely influences behaviour. One example occurred in 2004, when an abattoir worker was found guilty of manslaughter (why not murder?) for a savage and unprovoked attack:

A Somali slaughterman who fatally stabbed a fellow worker during a rampage at a northern Victorian abattoir has been sentenced to 15 years' jail.

After being acquitted on charges of murder and attempted murder, Mohammed, 26, was found guilty of the manslaughter of Peter Murphy, 47, and of intentionally causing serious injury to James Regan, 47, and Michael True, 45. Justice Kaye said the attacks at the Ovens River Abattoir had exhibited an "unacceptable and savage level of violence". He said: "I have formed the strong view that you have no remorse at all for your actions."

Justice Kaye said Mohammed had been working at the abattoir as a halal slaughterman for about five weeks before the attacks.
It was unclear what provoked him but Mohammed claimed Mr Regan called him a terrorist and threatened him with a knife.
After stabbing Mr Regan, Mohammed then fatally wounded Mr Murphy.

This was followed by an attack on Mr True, who suffered life-threatening injuries. (source)

Most Aussies are fair and decent, treating people as they would wish to be treated.
The trouble is that Islam mandates others be treated as inferiors, while they be given special privileges. This is a recipe for disaster in egalitarian Australia.

We must not lose our sense of fairness by caving in to Islamic demands.

If Muslims want to be equal citizens, that’s great, but they cannot demand superior status. If Islam can’t give up its supremacist ideology, it has no place in fair and free Australia.