Thursday, January 10, 2008

Don’t Fence Us In!

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.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Recent Media

Link to Today interview about the Camden Islamic School protest

Link to Muslim school articles in the Telegraph today -,22049,23025860-5007132,00.html

Please note important corrections: I did not say that:
a) I was the consultant for the Camden Islamic school - I consult generally on Islamic education
b) I did not say that 3 more schools are planned, only that there is a capacity for about another 3 Muslim schools

Isolated Muslim schools?

A common cry from commentators is the isolation of the Muslim community and its unwillingness to ‘integrate’. Isolation occurs in many parts of Australian society far less than in the Muslim community. The good folks of Camden are determined to remain isolated from a multicultural community and to decide ‘who lives here’. They are deliberately choosing to remain isolated and to segregate themselves from the rest of Australian society. Muslim schools are incorrectly regarded as being isolated, despite the extensive amount of time that they spend in other schools debating, competing in sport, and engaging in a wide range of academic and social activities. Under the Howard government Muslim schools were subjected to intense scrutiny of their values, religious teachings and demonstrated interaction with wider society.
Other schools however, can choose to remain isolated whether they are in the public or the private system. There are many public schools located in wealthy northern or eastern parts of Sydney that have very limited exposure to other cultures, religions or ways of life, particularly the lives of the less well off. Students in these areas sometimes represent a monoculture holding a prejudicial attitude towards Aboriginies, Muslims, and migrants in general. Probably the greatest sense of isolation though exists between urban and rural schools - and communication between these would certainly be challenging.