Joe Hockey: Address to the Islamic Council of Victoria

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26th April 2012

THE HON JOE HOCKEY MP

Introduction

Like many Australians with olive skin I often get asked about my heritage. And I always get a puzzled look from people when I say that my father was born in Bethlehem.

They tend to skirt around the question of what that means because they expect someone who is part Palestinian to be a Muslim.

They often don’t know how to breach the subject of faith and how to deal with the issue of cultural diversity.

This inquisitive shyness is understandable. For those of us who have grown up in culturally diverse homes it is somewhat amusing.

As a young boy, every Sunday was dedicated to our extended family get togethers.

In the morning my “Sitty” (grandmother), my aunty and my Australian mum would make kibbe, tabouli and hummus.

Over lunch – on countless occasions – when my Uncle Eddie said that he hoped one day to grow his menswear business everybody would say “insh’Allah”.

When Uncle Jack would say he hoped to be able to go on a family holiday everyone would say “insh’Allah”.

And when my father would say he hoped, one day, his children would do well at school everyone would say “insh’Allah”.

The fact that all these things became a reality is testimony to the fact that diversity in Australia is alive and well.

And I’ll let you into a secret… my father still counts in French, can talk to friends in Hebrew, and even occasionally yell at me in Arabic. I’m jealous of the seven languages he speaks.

This is the story of cultural diversity, and it is important we embrace it.

Faith and politics

When I was sworn in to Parliament in 1996 some people warned me to avoid discussing issues of religion and faith, even inside my constituency of North Sydney.

I was told that whatever you say, you will end up offending someone.

But despite this, in 1998, my second year in Parliament, I chose to tackle the combined issues of both faith and religion head on, when I took my father back to his birthplace in Bethlehem.

As you can imagine, it was an emotional journey for us both.

When he left war torn Palestine back in 1948 as a Christian educated 21 year old, he swore as he crossed the Allenby Bridge over the grand Jordan River that the land he was born in had no future for a young man.

So 50 years later as we walked amongst the refugees in Gaza and then Amman, my father sadly had his youthful anxieties confirmed. A new generation of young Arabs shared his despair that they had no hope, they had no voice, they had no freedom and so they had no future.

Of course the Arab Spring is changing this world.

We were shocked when it began with the self immolation of a young Tunisian street vendor that started the revolts which led to the toppling of Ben Ali in January last year. Tunisia is well on the way to being a successful democracy.

After Ben Ali fell, we cheered as young Christians and Muslims then took to Tahrir Square in Cairo to protest against the denial of democracy and ultimately force a long overdue regime change.

And we continue to be horrified, as I have said on a number of occasions in Parliament, when we hear reports of 12,000 Syrian deaths, caused by Bashar al-Assad’s vicious regime in Syria.

In March a video appeared on YouTube of an empty street with a lost three-year-old boy running aimlessly in search of safety, only to be shot at by Syrian snipers in a nearby building.

In a moment of courage akin to the famous defiance of a tank in Tiananmen Square, a young man ran onto the street, to create a human shield between the snipers and the toddler. A young life was saved.

This happened to a three-year-old boy – an innocent three-year-old boy.

A close observer would note there is a common narrative amongst all these movements.

Young people, motivated by their faith, were taking control of their own destiny by demanding their rights from totalitarian governments.

For me, the most powerful image of the Arab Spring was seeing young Coptic Christian protestors in Tahrir Square forming a human shield around Muslim protestors during prayer. Hours later, Muslim protestors reciprocated by guarding Christian churches during services in downtown Cairo.

I am not afraid to recognise that across the world the values of faith have made society all the more richer – and this includes the contribution Islam has made to our society here in Australia.

While I aspire to be, once again, a Minister of the State, and not of the Church, I have long argued that a secular society imbued with the values that faith engenders will be stronger not weaker.

This is because the values that the great religions teach are the burning beacon of a just, fair and compassionate society based on truth and respect for a common humanity.

We can no longer just see ourselves as citizens of a country, but we must see ourselves as citizens of the world.

The essential message of all faiths – that we should love our neighbour as we love ourselves – is contained within Islam as much as Christianity, in Judaism as it is in Buddhism.

As many Muslims tell me, Muhammad spoke in his final sermon “Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you”.

I could not think of a more important lesson we can teach our children.

To judge Islam based on the actions of extremists and terrorists would be no different than judging Christianity on the actions of those who have over the centuries committed atrocities in the name of Christianity.

Whether this be the brutality of the Crusades, the destruction of Constantinople, or the defence of Apartheid by Afrikaans churches in South Africa – these are not shining moments for Christianity and those of us who are Christians would reject that these were deeds properly undertaken in the name of our religion.

I find it hard to believe that any God would call on people to stone unbelievers, invade lands to convert people to another faith, or prevent women from having the same life opportunities as men.

Yet some people throughout history have used faith to justify all of these actions.

The people that commit atrocities in the name of Islam are forgetting the fact that Islam, democracy and compassion have been linked for hundreds of years.

Bernard Lewis, Professor of Islamic History, at Princeton University recognised this when he noted that:

“The medieval Islamic world…offered vastly more freedom than any of its predecessors, its contemporaries and most of its successors”[1]

Islam led the world in promoting freedom for hundreds of years, and there is no reason Islam will not continue to be pivotal in promoting liberty in society for centuries to come.

Islam in Australia

In Australian history, Islam has had a focal place since well before Federation.

The legendary Burke and Wills, responsible for one of the most important expeditions in Australian history, were ably guided and assisted by a number of central Asian camel traders in the 1860s.

The diaries and records of the duo pay testament to the work of these camel traders, particularly Dost Mohamed a Pashtun from modern day Afghanistan. They were highly regarded because the Afghans possessed the skills to survive for long periods of time in unforgiving and harsh desert conditions.

The colonial administration in Victoria noted at the time that:

“The camels from Afghanistan would be comparatively useless unless accompanied by their native drivers.”[2]

They got that right! The camel drivers contributed more than just the skills of navigation and survival in harsh desert conditions. They are responsible for the introduction of Islam to Australia, and the construction of Mosques through Australia’s outback.

It was surprising for me to find out in a recent trip to Adelaide that Australia’s first mosque was built in 1861 at Marree in South Australia.[3]

When talking to a young man last year who was part of the Young Muslim Leadership Program in Parliament House, an annual program I take delight in addressing each year, I was told of how he was preparing to go on a ‘mosque-crawl’, visiting each and every mosque throughout Australia’s central outback.

That is no mean feat considering that over the last 150 years more than 30 mosques have been built across remote Australia.

If Islam has been able to exist in Australian society peacefully for more than one and a half centuries, I have no doubt it will continue to play a significant role into the future.

I know from the likes of Melbourne Academic Susan Carland, Australia Post Chief Executive Officer Ahmed Fahour, Richmond’s Bachar Houli, former Rugby League legend Hazem El Masri, and most recently Imam Afroz Ali, who eloquently and passionately spoke against forced marriages on the ABC Four Corners program the other night, that Islam in Australia is in safe hands.

Role of Faith

Finally tonight, I would also like to touch on the role of secularism in the modern world.

We have all seen faith used as a tool to justify repression of freedom of thought in the Islamic world, most recently in Syria.

For many years, some governments in the Middle East were propped up by the international community because they were deemed ‘secular’. But a closer examination of these states proves that authoritarian regimes are consistently brutal whether they are secular or not.

The defence of authoritarianism by secular regimes is that minority rights are protected when without the regime they would not. That is …authoritarianism may be bad but if we did not have it ethnic minorities would engage in conflict.

History is littered with conflicting stories; however in modern times there is no reason to believe that Christians, Muslims and Jews cannot successfully and peacefully live side by side in a Muslim majority country.

Modern day Australia is testimony to the fact that religious groups can live in harmony.

Secularism cannot be used as an excuse to subvert democracy and restricting the legitimate aspirations of millions of people. For using secularism as a reason to restrict democracy, in the way it has occurred in Syria, offends both the principle of secularism, and of democracy.

Instead, there is an important role of faith in any secular society, for restricting the role of faith in society is the antithesis of secular behaviour.

At the core of any secular state must be that the practice of any religion is a human right.

But part of the trade-off for a tolerant and democratic secular society is the requirement that we abide by the laws. They are the laws created by the Parliament and the court. They are the only laws that mandate behaviour in our country.

So whilst custom may have its place there is no room for conflicting rules that seek to mandate or restrict behaviour in direct conflict with our Australian laws.

Whilst differences in beliefs will always exist, we must focus on the common ground of all faiths and cultures, rather than the differences.

Noted Muslim theologian and Oxford Professor Tariq Ramadan, not a usual source for me, spoke recently of the challenge that diversity poses, but offers a comprehensive solution:

“The point is not to integrate systems, values and cultures with other systems, but to determine – in human terms – spaces of intersection where we can meet on equal terms.”[4]

For the sceptics of diversity, the strongest argument is to make people aware that part of society’s many successes has been because of diversity. One of our failings over recent decades is that diversity has become such an ingrained part of Australian society that some people don’t realize that they are living in one of the most diverse societies in the world.

Of course globalisation has made diversity a more relevant part of everyday life.

Information and trade flows make diversity a way of life for more and more people.

Throughout history commerce has lowered the social barriers between people and societies.

When people have social or business relations with people of other faiths and cultures they start to realize the aspects that unite us, not divide us.

This is the power of human relationships.

For example, Australia should be taking greater advantage of the emerging insatiable demand across Asia for sophisticated financial services.

The number of High Net Worth Individuals in Indonesia, that is individuals with more than $1m in investable assets excluding property, will almost triple by 2015 to nearly 100,000. These wealthy Indonesians will hold close to $500 billion worth of wealth. This is the fastest rise in Asia.

This is a tremendous opportunity for Australian business to develop and provide a high standard range of products and services for a demanding market. By offering diverse products and Islamic banking and finance products in particular, Australia has the capacity to benefit from greater capital flows, more affordable investment and a more sophisticated and diverse financial services sector.

However, there remain regulatory obstacles, such as the issue of double taxation. The UK’s Financial Regulator, the FSA, has summarised their approach to Islamic Banking as ‘no obstacles, but no special favours’.

In Australia we should not treat Islamic Banking differently or preferentially, but we should be mindful of making Australia an attractive market for all types of financial services, provided they are in line with Australia’s high national standards and stable banking system.
At very least, it is a business opportunity available to all Australian business.

Conclusion

The role of faith in Australian society is an underestimated commodity.

Australia is made all the richer by the role that all religions play in our society.

Forming part of the rich mosaic of Australia, Islam is contributing to Australia in its own special way.

But we cannot afford to be complacent.

When it comes to diversity, the motto of the Returned Services League rings true ‘The price of liberty is eternal vigilance’.

Australia must continue to be proud of our diversity, but we also must be vigilant to protect both our diversity and our liberty.

Thank you.

References

[1] What Went Wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response, Bernard Lewis, Oxford University Press, 2002.
[2] Afghan Cameleers in Australia. http://australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/afghan-cameleers
[3] Dr Nahid Kabir (7 September 2007). “A History of Muslims in Australia”.
[4] The Quest for Meaning: Developing a philosophy of Pluralism, Tariq Ramadan, 2010. P514.

50 thoughts on “Joe Hockey: Address to the Islamic Council of Victoria

  1. I remain completely unconvinced. He’s just a bogan with an effective script writer and a finely tuned ability to deliver spin.

    • How cynical. Simply because he is a Liberal politician you are unwilling to accept that he can have similar beliefs as you when it comes to cultural diversity. That makes you as closed minded as the bogans you are so happy to criticise. Just because someone doesn’t have the same political views as you doesn’t mean they don’t share similar humanitarian beliefs. Did you ever stop to think that Mr Hockey has the potential to influence people that would never agree with members of the far left? How can you possibly criticise this article when it may lead to greater number of people being more accepting of multiculturalism in Australia?

      • Me too. Particularly about the closed minded bit.

        Kind of reminds me of one bogot I had a run-in with once who said I could show him unassailable evidence that he was wrong about asylum seekers and he would still choose to dislike them.

        I’d rather not be like that, to be honest.

        I really don’t like Hockey and never have, but this was a good speech. And I’m not even bothered that it was probably half written by, or heavily edited by, a speech writer… because that can be said of all addresses by all politicians. He stood up in public and said it, even though a proportion of his political supporters would not want to hear it. And hats off to that.

        • I don’t like his speech – not because I’m closed minded; not because of his political leanings… But because of what it says. Sure, he has a great spin, but I disagree with his views on secularism (he makes it sound dangerous – when in fact, I feel the opposite – that a society which revolves around religion is problematic). And I feel I’m entitled to that view without being labelled “closed minded”.

        • You’re response to Valentine’s comment,

          “I remain completely unconvinced. He’s just a bogan with an effective script writer and a finely tuned ability to deliver spin.”

          Hardly makes that clear wordwitter. If you in fact explained your objection to Mr Hockey’s speech on, what could be considered a reasonable objection rather than just re-enforcing the view that he is just a Bogan because of him being a Liberal Party minister then I wouldn’t have pigeon holed you with Valentine.

        • GAMA: I think that Hockey’s actions in the past (his presumptions and ignorances with regards to women, economics, etc) means that he leans more on the “bogan” side for me, than he does on the “exemplary racism crusader” side. While the speech on the whole may have contained a few good points, as I said – I don’t agree with his views on secularism; and I don’t think this speech redeeems him from “bogan status” really – he has a long way to go for that.

          As for pigeon holing me with Valentine – well, you can, because I agree that he does have an effective script writer with a fine spin. Her view is no different to mine really; HOWEVER – you’re assuming that we are saying this because he is a Liberal – rather than accepting that we have a different opinion than your own and calling us “closed minded”. There is really no reason to be so agressive.

        • I wasn’t being aggressive at all, just suggesting that if you explain your views then I wouldn’t have assumed you were viewing the post with a closed mind. I give credit to Hockey for promoting tolerance and acceptance. Something which is rarely seen from his colleagues within the Liberal party. I think that too often those people who believe in inclusion and understanding as well being conservative are labelled as a Bogan or intolerant.
          As for assuming you were judging him on his political affiliation, I apologise however it is an easy thing to do with this site seeing as generally any political type of post comes with the usual LNP bashing.

    • now we really know you twits have totally lost the meaning of the word bogan, FFS just what lofty left wing heights do you have to reach to not be a bogan? If Joe Hockey is a bogan then I must be a fucking neanderthal punk rock anarchist, you lot are a waste of space on here, 1666 followers hahaha piss weak.

  2. The potential gain from this has to be less than the potential loss of bogan support.

    All power to him on this particular occasion, it was a great read.

  3. I was very touched by this article. It’s nice to know that cultural diversity has champions in many corners, at least.

  4. You seem to be attracting the pond scum of society to the site lately. You haven’t had to do much to point out how fucking idiotic Bogans are, they are doing it all for you!

    • no we is not dog, why you hating on us fucking carnt bogans anyway, youse all fags yeah, like me, I love the cock, I want yours GAMA, are you a gamer as in computer games, or a gamer as in a player with the ladies (or dudes)? or are you just a black carnt with a really unpronounceable mouthful of a name?

    • Trolling is all these idiots have… i mean, they obviously haven’t the smarts to engage in rational debate.

    • I agree – it is important to see the opinions of the trolls too – However, is there not an option to block offensive words, maybe?

      Personally, I occasionally discuss things posted on this site with other (younger) relatives/friends; and I’d rather avoid them seeing comments like that of “felcherrimjob”.

      Not a criticism MMU, just wondering… 🙂

      • Apologies. But allowing the trolls their freedom of speech is important here for several reasons:

        1. If we didn’t, they’d cry their eyes out and bitch about it elsewhere;
        2. Allowing them engagement attracts them here, where we can capture their comments and details;
        3. Every now and then one of them makes the mistake of overstepping the legal line, and we save all correspondence for any necessary authority contact.

      • I like brainwashing the cute kiddies, why don’t you let them see and learn for themselves in the real world, not this backwater page tucked away in the anonymous section of the interwebz

  5. While I wouldn’t question Joe’s sincerity, it would be too much to hope that this speech gets the coverage it deserves or is accorded any status by other members of the Coalition. But it may provide a useful safety net for them.

    Abbott and the others will enthusiastically continue their dog-whistling and bogan-attracting media grabs, going as hard and as extreme as they dare. However, if they overstep the mark at some point, they will quickly drag this speech out and present it as evidence that they really are inclusive and multiculturalist at heart.

    Perhaps the one to feel sorry for is Joe himself. He has to keep his mouth shut while surrounded by such hypocrisy, even to the extent of being an apologist for it.

  6. Hockey is a soft cock.

    Hockey is also of Armenian background & should know better than blowing gas about Islam, pretending this is a benign religion.

    The Ottomans genocided 1.5M of his ancestors F*****ing moron

  7. Duh, Burke and Wills perished in the outback, so much for their brilliant Afghan camel guides. Hockey is a naive suck hole. He Anglicized his surname that’s how proud he is of his wog heritage. He is an economic illiterate a bear of very little brain and nearly got the nod to become opposition leader! Incredible. His partner in crime Abbott sucks up to the coloreds and destroyed One Nation. You haven’t seen anything yet, Abbott will really bring about a colored invasion. We have been invaded. Go to any capital city campus as an indigenous White and you will experience what is in store for your children as minority’s in their own land. What is occurring is not a game called ‘spot the aussie’ it is white genocide and it is TREASONOUS. We were robbed of our fundamental democratic right to a referendum over the White Australia policy, it was foisted upon us. Rammed down our throats by the TRAITORS Whitlam and Fraser, the latter openly supported Pol Pot and Mugabe. Speaking of Blacks turning everywhere they congregate in numbers into SHIT HOLES and DESPOTIC MURDEROUS dictatorships.South Africa is going the way of Zimbabwe, hey Joe? I suppose you think that’s a positive outcome of ending Apartheid. You idiot, you fool, you NONG. The genocide Hockey actively supports is occurring across the Western Liberal democratic world. London is now Londonstan. Europe has been overrun. China for Chinks, Japan for Japs, Asia for Asians, Israel for Jews, Africa for Blacks. The West? it’s for any piece of colored detritus flotsam or jetsam. Canada and the U.S. have been virtually wrecked, places where indigenous whites will be soon a minority. Multiculturalism or more correctly multiracial is White genocide, even more so any one who supports it is TREASONOUS. Hockey is not only a multiculti diversityphile traitor he is dangerous. I would hang him by his miserable neck along with Abbott and every Federal LibLab pro multicultural treasonous politician we’ve suffered during the past 5 decades from the nearest lamp post and regard it as an act of patriotism and national salvation.

    • I know you’re not going to respond (Part of the reason you replied to an ancient post, isn’t it?), but here we go with the standard quesitons for any white genocide theorists:

      1. What exactly is stopping you or any other white person from having as man babies as you want with other white people? Please note, that if you’re answer is “nothing” then it’s not genocide.

      2. You say that Canada and thE US have been wrecked. In what ways have they been wrecked?

      3. How exactly have you been directly harmed by multicutluralism? Please be specific.

      4. Define “white” person. Are Jews White people? Are Italians and Greeks? If a person has 75% of their ancestry from europe, but 25% from say Africa, are they white? What’s the specific line between White and non-white?

      5. You do realise that Australia has always and will always be multicultural, right? If you want Australia to be of one race, what do you propose to do with the Aborigines?

  8. I have attend the Mosque prayers in several places in North Sydney (including Artarmon Musallah) and quite often, in particular for the very early Faijr (and sometimes Sunrise) I have had the pleasure to see Joe there. He is very fervent and should be proud of his Islamic origins back in Palestine – rather than keep quiet on the subject. After prayers we call him by his real name: “Yusuf”.

    We are proud of our Yusuf and know that he will be the next Australian Treasurer.

    Mohammed

    • Wouldn’t be too sure about that. He may be a good son of Palestine but he is Orthodox Christian (Maronite/Chaldean), not Muslim and his family always has been, though like most Christian families from the Middle East he probably has Muslim relatives.

      And he’s a solicitor, not an economist. He is not a good economist.

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