It is an unhappy time to be a Muslim in Australia. In parliament is a woman who likens Muslims to violent dogs and says we must take a “strong stance against Islam and its teachings and its beliefs”. She says: “We have laws here that we don’t bring in pit bull terriers because they’re a danger to our society … Pressure the government to say no more Muslims in Australia, no more Muslim refugees in Australia.”
On breakfast television is a presenter calling for a ban on Muslim immigration. She says: “I would like to see it stopped now for Australia because I want to feel safe, as all our citizens do, when they go out to celebrate Australia Day.”
Sonia Kruger was responding to a column by Andrew Bolt. For him, terrorism is maths. “Why have jihadist terrorists made France Europe’s bloodiest battlefield?” he wrote in the Murdoch press this week. “Simple answer: Because France let in the most Muslims… We are fools not to change our own immigration policies to protect ourselves.”
Bolt concedes later that Germany may have more Muslims than France, but they are from Turkey, which is “more Westernised and advanced” than the North Africa of France’s Muslims.
Bolt notes that there are half a million Muslims in Australia, and blames “Muslim refugees” for terrorist attacks in this country. “How we’ve paid for leaving our door open,” he writes.
The column finishes with an entreaty. “The mathematics is clear: The more Muslims we import, the more danger we are in,” Bolt writes. “Isn’t the next step now obvious? What will our prime minister and immigration minister do now to protect us?”
There is a sophistry to Bolt’s numbers and it is this: while France might have a large population of Muslims, it also has a deeply divided population. This is not about numbers, it is about lack of integration. It is about the ghettos in every major French city, about the unaddressed isolation of new migrants, about the mistrust that bans observances and mocks ethnicity. It is about the very segregation on which Bolt’s columns are built.
When on television and in parliament Muslims are demonised, we do not make Australia safer. When a people are considered terrorists because of their faith, we do not make Australia safer.
France has been the site of terrible atrocities, most recently in Nice. But nativism will not make it safe from these atrocities, just as it will not make Australia safe.
Nowhere are there experts calling for this approach. There are columnists who trade in fear, there are television hosts and xenophobic politicians, but no one who actually works in the fields of counterterrorism or deradicalisation.
We let run this fear because it is satisfying. It scratches the itch of insecurity. But it is not helpful. The more we divide society, the more we weaken it. Bolt and Kruger and Pauline Hanson mistake anxiety for solution. They would be better, always, to treat the anxiety.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 23, 2016 as "Wrong division". Subscribe here.