Yesterday Sonia Kruger expressed her opinion that Muslim migration to Australia should be stopped. Sonia was commenting in agreement with an article written by Andrew Bolt in which he directly links the number of Muslims in a country to the number of terror attacks and thus implies that the only way to ensure our safety as a nation is to stop allowing Muslim migration.
Now this blog piece is not about denigrating Sonia or Andrew - I don't want them to lose the opportunity to express their opinions - we live in a free and open democracy and freedom of speech is central to that. However let me be clear here - freedom of religion is also a fundamental pillar of free and open democratic nations.
Andrew is quick to dismiss as a ludicrous proposition that the way Muslim people are treated could have anything to do with the number of terror attacks - He notes how terrible it is for the Muslim community to allow the Grand Mufti to speak for them because he listed some causative factors which lead to terror attacks - things which marginalise and denigrate Muslims which makes it easier for young disaffected youth especially to be radicalised.
However here is the simple truth - If you deliberately target a group of people and use hateful, abusive language towards them. If you label them all as evil, if you make broad sweeping generalisations about them and ban them from the free expression of their faith... if you do these things you simply feed the propaganda machine of the terrorists - you give them evidence of how the 'West' hates them and they show that to the vulnerable, outsiders that they target to try and radicalise - they use our own words to convince them that we hate them and that we are the enemy.
Now let me be clear here - I am not suggesting that anything Andrew or Sonia or others have said could ever justify the horrific things done in the name of terror. I am not saying that treating Muslims badly is a legitimate defence of these crimes against humanity - what I am saying is that it is entirely reasonable to point out that the extremists who have no conscience will seek to use hateful language and behaviour directed at the Muslim community as part of their propaganda.
Sonia, has apparently developed a genuine fear of the terrorists (which is of course their aim). I don't condemn her for that - however I genuinely believe that she is unwittingly falling into a trap set for us by the terrorists - by turning her fear of terror into a fear of all Muslims, and seeking to ban Muslim immigration, she becomes yet another high profile person which the terrorists can point to and say - see! they hate us! And whilst most people who hear it will reject this message from the terror recruiters - some, won't. Some will be so vulnerable, so alone, so lost and seeking answers, that they will latch onto the message of hate and they will join.
There are other straightforward reasons not to lump all Muslims in with these terrorists - for a start in our own country the last report I saw said that around 400 people are on the watch list for possible links to terrorism. That sounds like a lot doesn't it... but let's put that in perspective - there are approximately 500,000 Muslims in Australia. Now let's assume that all 400 people on the list are Muslim (which is by no means certain), That being the case we work out the percentage of Muslims currently in our nation with possible links with terrorism using some simple arithmetic - 400/500000 = 0.0008. That means that 0.08% of the Muslim population of Australia (less than one tenth of one percent!) currently have suspected links with terrorism - and that word suspected is very important because if there was solid proof they would not be on this list, they would be in gaol.
The religion of Islam, like all religions and philosophical views can be hijacked and used by people with evil intent. As a Christian, I am a member of a religious group which in it's past has been used as an excuse by those responsible for horrific crimes against humanity - think the Spanish Inquisition, think about trying to justify slavery. However I know that the only way that one could justify any sort of evil using the Christian faith would be by completely removing context from some verses of scripture, by twisting it's meaning to fit your own purpose and then convincing people who don't have a solid grounding and understanding of the faith that this is what it means. This is true also of Islam - yes there are writings within it that can be used to try and justify evil - but again only if they are removed from their historical, cultural, social and literary context - Islam and Muslims are not the problem, the problem is that there are a group of people who hate the 'West' and who have made it their mission to attack us, and these people are seeking to pervert the religion of Islam to justify their hate - we must not let them do this, we need to support the Islamic community who call out these people, and clearly tell them they are not Muslims.
Sonia responded to some of the criticism she garnered after supporting Andrew Bolt's article by posting on Twitter that 'Following the atrocities of the last week in Nice where 10 children lost their lives, as a mother, I believe it's vital in a democratic society to be able to discuss these issues without automatically being labelled racist.' . On this point I agree with her - I don't believe that Sonia is racist, I believe she is frightened - that she is afraid for the future of our nation as a safe place for children to grow and live. I believe that there are many many people like Sonia, who are fearful about our future as a nation - and they are targeting this fear at the only group they know - the Muslims.
As a father, who worries about his children just as much as Sonia does hers, I believe that we need to stop erecting barriers between us. As a father I believe that our children should grow up in a society that allows freedom of speech (as Sonia called for) but also freedom of association and freedom of religion. I want my children to grow up knowing that they live in a country that welcomes all people regardless of race, or gender, or sexuality or religious affiliation - or lack there of. I want my Children to grow in a nation of tolerance, of openness, and of welcome. I want my children to follow the advice of Jesus, who says that we are to love our neighbour as ourselves - he didn't say love the people who look like you or talk like you.
It is my great prayer that we as a nation can tear down barriers of hate and division, and rather engage with our Muslim brothers and sisters, to show them that they are not our enemy, and neither are we theirs - because the truth is, if we pour forth love, compassion and respect towards Muslims, we destroy the ability of Daesh to claim us as enemies - the great truth is that the first step to defeating hate - is to love.
Fr Daryl is an Anglican priest living in regional New South Wales Australia.