In early October 2007, the International Metropolis 2007 conference was held in Melbourne, and i was fortunate to be there. over 750 delegates discussed, questioned and listened to papers about Immigration, diversity and social cohesion. Delegates and speakers came from Europe, Canada, Britain and New Zealand, not to mention a considerable contingent of our own fine speakers from Australia. Academics, policy makers and community representatives participated in more than 60 workshops over 4 days, presenting a remarkable range of research about the movement of people across continents due to economic and political pressures, and the huge challenge that this is presenting to governments around the world.
The elephant in the room that was occasionally identified and sometimes highlighted, was as usual, the Muslim community, Islam and security. As with so many other conferences that I have attended in recent months, there continues to exist an almost total vacancy in representation from the Muslim community itself. Statements are made about the motives of the community, beliefs, actions, threats and solutions including virtually no direct engagement with the community being discussed.
For example, a speaker from Europe in the presentation on Faith and Social Cohesion, referred to the legislation taken by France and currently under consideration by Germany, on removing the oppression of Muslim women through the banning of the hijab. Firstly, from the audience I requested enlightenment on what oppression I was currently suffering from, and secondly I suggested that the choice of clothing and identification was a personal one, but that perhaps the males in the audience needed freedom from oppression as virtually all of them felt it necessary to wear a suit and tie - they seemed to have little choice in their own attire!
An aspect of the conference I found particularly troubling was the emphasis on economic grounds for the assessment of policy and consideration of matters that affect so many humans around the world. While economic management is essential to the effective running of any human situation, the welfare of humans should not be subject to it - surely economic management is there to benefit humanity, not vice versa. We have forgotten that wealth is not an end in itself, but what we as humans can create and develop as part of our contribution to the civilisation of humankind. It seems that so many of our leaders and policy makers see an over-riding concern in ensuring that wealth increases in order for us to consume ever more products regardless of their effect on our health, happiness or future.
It is vitally important that we return our focus to realistically meeting our needs, not our greed.