Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Religion in the News

While all of us were still celebrating the Eid, news began to surface of a new attack on Muslims - the banning of the hijab at the airport. I was due to be interviewed on the religion report that night and asked if they could find out about it. Sky News and other news channels had been reporting on it - but fortunately, the story did not 'get legs'. Without a strong media presence there would no point in continuing the ban, considering how complicated and difficult it might be to implement. I mean, would you then legislate against hats? How about beanies? Turbans? If the problem was the covering to the neck, then what about a tie? Would that be banned too ? And what about a combination hat and tie? Surely that would land the fashionista in trouble with Border Security!

The Religion Report went well, although I fear I had a very poor start by talking about the biological difficulties women would have in being available to lead the prayer in the local mosque. The issue became sidetracked into why women had these biological differences, and whether they should be taken into account at all Fortunately, the focus shifted to the current conflict between more liberal or feminist Christians, and those who relied on a more literal interpretation of the texts such as the 'Equal but Different' group. For once, Muslims were not the subject of ridicule and intrigue, although the issue of the role of women within the broader range of leadership and decision making of the Muslim community will continue to be a topic that is increasingly challenged and debated.

On the topic of religion and its application within society, a fascinating series of films have been associated with the role of leadership under the title of 'Why Democracy?' Information about this can be found at www.whydemocracy.net - check it out and watch the films as they are shown on SBS.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Metropolis 2007

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.