CANBERRA, February 24, 2006 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies) – Australian Muslims criticized on Friday, February 24, Federal Treasurer Peter Costello for re-stereotyping the Muslim minority, saying that his remarks would only fan Islamophobia.
"…to continually single out the Muslim community like this is very unhelpful, it’s very divisive and it does stir up Islamophobia," Keysar Trad, president of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia, told Reuters. "We’re proud to be Australian and our religion strongly stipulates that if you make an oath, whether it’s an oath of citizenship or any other oath, that you honor it, abide by it."
Costello reiterated on Thursday, February 23, that Muslims must cope with Australian values if they wanted to live in the country and those who wanted to abide by Shari`ah were not welcome any longer.
"Before entering a mosque visitors are asked to take off their shoes. This is a sign of respect. If you have a strong objection to walking in your socks, don’t enter the mosque," Costello told The Sydney Institute thinktank.
"Before becoming an Australian, you will be asked to subscribe to certain values. If you have strong objections to those values, don’t come to Australia," he said, echoing similar statements he made in August of last year.
Prime Minister John Howard stood by his heir apparent, defending the treasurer’s comments as fundamentally accurate and calling for people to "take a deep breath" and calm down.
Howard drew scathing criticism on Monday, February 19, from Muslim leaders for criticizing Muslim immigrants as people who do not fit into Australian society and expressing concerns about "extremist" Muslim immigrants bent on jihad because they were antagonistic towards Australian society.
Ameer Ali, president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, said that he agreed with Costello that people who do not want to accept Australian values should not live in the country.
But he said Costello was "ignorant" when he talked about Shari`ah.
"There are already Shari`ah laws in this country because the majority of Australian laws have no contradiction with the Shari`ah laws," Ali told Reuters.
"The government is gradually setting the stage to back away from its commitment to multiculturalism and go back to the days of the white Australian policy. That seems to be the ulterior motive behind all these attacks."
Muslims in many European countries only wanted Sharia`h applied in resolving their social problems as divorce, child custody and inheritance, but were equally committed to greater participation in European societies.
Canada was the first country in the West to allow its Muslim minority to file their civil legal disputes in courts according to Shari`ah.
Muslims have been in Australia for about 200 years and make up 1.5 percent of the multi-cultural 20 million population.
They already feels under siege in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and recent Sydney race riots against Lebanese-Australian youths.
In September, e-mail and mobile phone messages urged White residents to beat-up “Lebs and wogs” — racial slurs for people of Lebanese and Middle Eastern origin.
They moved after Lebanese youths had beaten a beach guard for snatching the hijab of a Muslim beachgoer.
Most Australian Muslims blame Howard for fostering an image of the minority as the enemy within through his hard-line policies.
Rights groups condemned as draconian Howard’s new anti-terror law while pundits have blamed the law for creating an atmosphere of fear toward the Muslim minority.
Former veterans affairs minister and MP Danna Vale claimed earlier in the month Australia could become a Muslim nation within 50 years because "we are aborting ourselves almost out of existence."
She later apologized for the remarks after she was harshly criticized by MPs and Australian Muslim leaders.
Thousands of Australians in Sydney and Newcastle rallied in December against "hidden" racism in the country.