It has been reported today in the Australian that Julia Gillard is offering $20 million for high-tech security measures to protect Jewish, Muslim and other schools that are ‘at risk’. With approximately 50 Jewish and Muslim schools around Australia, this represents potentially $400,000 per school for security measures.
The Muslim community is certainly appreciative of the offer of assistance, which marks a substantial change in focus from the previous aggressive and challenging stance of much of the Howard administration. At the same time however, Muslims are very busy building bridges with the rest of the community – not fencing themselves in.
Certainly in controversial times – such as the development of a proposed school in Camden, security would be an ongoing concern in the early years, and after the kind of appalling terrorist events that have occurred with sickening frequency in recent years. But even during these times, the number of incidents that affected Muslim schools were minor or even non-existent -the occasional hastily scrawled letter “Go back where you came from!”, or rotten piece of fruit even more randomly thrown at a bus full of Muslim kids. The burning of a bus and parts of a school building in Perth was the extreme exception.
Serious security is however required in many cases for the 90% of Muslim kids who try to survive in our public system, in which there are no fences to retreat behind in protection against bullying, harassment and ongoing prejudice when those allegedly of the same faith propagate mindless brutality overseas or members of the media go on a vendetta.
It is vitally important that the Muslim community keeps its fences down, learns how to quip a good rejoinder to stupid insults, gains a comprehensive and broad education in full understanding of the rest of the faith (or atheistic) neighbourhood and has an open-door policy to genuine enquiries. Numerous Jewish schools some years ago already opted for strong security, and entering their environmens is like getting into Fort Knox. It’s also unintentionally intimidating.
Yes, Muslim schools welcome the police and the support to protect its students when trouble occurs, but we would rather invest in a broader awareness of what the Muslim community can offer and better communication with our neighbours than be locked away behind high walls.