Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull addressed a roundtable at the Islamic Council of Victoria yesterday, 7 March 2016. Within his address he said:

“Now I want to emphasise to each and every one of you that the Australian Muslim community is respected and valued. And we do not consider or talk about or contemplate the Muslim community solely through the prism of security.”

This remark is interesting considering that:

  • The address opened with mention of the Paris terror attacks.
  • He mentioned “extremism” five times.
  • ISIS was inevitably thrown into the mix.
  • He implies that Muslims must be involved in the fight against terror because it is Islam that has been “hijacked”.

If a short address at a roundtable meeting is punctuated so consistently by matters of security, then how can it be assumed that Muslim community is viewed through anything other than that lens?

Turnbull used his empty catch phrase “mutual respect” eight times, almost as hollow, equally politicised, as Abbott’s “Team Australia”. It is one thing to repeat the phrase over and over, and it is another when Muslims see anything but “mutual respect” in practice.

What “mutual respect” is there in employing the full forces of law, policing, intelligence and security against an already embattled community? What “mutual respect” is there is cancelling the passport of Oliver Bridgeman (a Muslim who is engaged in humanitarian work in Syria) and issuing a warrant for his arrest when others (e.g. Ashley Dyball) who have fought in Syria and yet walked free on return? The instances where “mutual respect” has been trampled upon in favour of outright oppression are many, and the Muslim community knows all too well the hollowness of the Prime Minister’s preferred empty rhetoric.

Further, Mr. Turnbull said:

“You know, what a great, remarkable country we have that nobody can look in the mirror and say ‘I don’t look like an Australian’ because Australians look like every race, every culture, every religion.”

The delusion in this statement would be laughable if the implications of the reality, being precisely the opposite, weren’t so serious. The irresponsibility of media and government in demonising Muslims has led to a rise in Islamophobia and blatantly racist attitudes and even attacks. The emerging prominence of far right groups is simply an extension of government antagonism. The imagery of the mirror is appropriate, as Muslims are forced before society’s mirror into to be viewed, inspected and judged for not just their appearance, their hijabs and their beards, but also for their practices, their beliefs, their values, their allegiances and even their dietary requirements.

PM Turnbull also provided a “tafsir” of a Qur’anic verse in a sly attempt to promote his political agenda, trying to convince Muslims that they should not define themselves by Islam but by the secular, liberal political values of Australia,

“We are not defined by religion or race, we are defined by a commitment to common political values, democracy, freedom, the rule of law, inherent in which, underpinning that which is of course mutual respect.”

This is, of course, a dangerous idea communicated through superficially appealing terms. For the Muslim, Islam is the point of reference for our self-definition and identity and it stands in judgment of, not to, man-made political values.

Overall, the Prime Minister’s visit to the ICV was one of political opportunism where he attempted to placate Muslims with talk of cooperation, harmony and respect with the omnipresent Muslim threat of terrorism lurking in the background. By the grace of Allah, the Muslim community is sufficiently aware not be fooled by empty words from the same source from which all she receives are much louder hostile actions.