The ongoing civil war in Syria, the unrest in the Middle East, and acts of violence in Western countries in which Muslim names have been found to be involved – all have triggered some quarters within the conservative side of politics and a small but vocal section of the community demanding Australia to ban Muslim immigration. Moreover, a poll suggests that some sections of the Australian community are worried about peace and stability in Australia because of Muslim migration. Their main argument is Muslims do not assimilate to the Australian society or for that matter Muslims do not share Western cultural values. Is it really an argument?
What is assimilation? The Merriam-Webster online dictionary states “to assimilate” is “to cause (a person or group) to become part of a different society or country; to adopt the ways of another culture; to fully become part of a different society, country, etc.” When migrants arrive in their adopted land, surely some assimilation takes effect immediately. For example, the types of food they eat, the look of the dwelling they live in, and the nature of the schools their kids attend. In many cases, their first language becomes a ‘’foreign” language over time because of its limited functionality in the adopted land. Other aspects of assimilation may be slow and may take generations. No social scientist has proclaimed a time frame within which an immigrant group could be assessed whether the group assimilated into the new society and culture.
Why should the degree of ‘assimilation’ be a condition for immigration? Surely, there are enough checks and balances in the immigration system. For example, apart from other conditions depending on visa category, all applicants for immigration visa require health check-up before their applications can be finalized. All applicants need to provide evidence that they are persons of good character, and they have no prior conviction of any criminal offense. After all of these, if any immigrant gets involved in a crime, there are laws to deal with it.
Again, how are we going to predict to what extent and at what rate the new immigrants are going to assimilate into the broader society? If all Australians look the same, eat the same food, dress up exactly in the same way and speak only English, life is going to be very boring. Surely, you do not wish to eat the same meal every day for dinner! Some variation is desirable. Diversity is not a defect; it is the strength of a society.
Now, let’s ask ourselves: Are Muslims useful to the world at all? Yes. Muslims and Arabs had their fair share of contributions to the human civilization. Next time you think of Algebra, you may wish to thank the Arabs. Next time you brush your teeth, the concept of using twigs (miswak in Arabic) to clean teeth came from the Egyptians. Next time you need to go to an optometrist, remember Muslims invented magnifying glasses and “reading stones” from which spectacles were developed. Arabs invented the concept of hospitals. Coffee, originally from Africa, was spread to the rest of world by Arab merchants.
In Australia, Muslims contributed enormously to the growth and development of early Australia. From the 1860s to the early 1900s, camels acquired from Asia and the cameleers recruited from Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Egypt, Turkey and other countries became the driving force in the exploration and development of the interior Australia. Muslims are contributing to contemporary Australia, too. Just to name a few, leading Muslims in the corporate sector include Ahmed Fahour, CEO of Australia Post, and John Ilhan, deceased founder of Crazy John’s mobile retailer. In sports, we have Fawad Ahmad, Usman Khawaja, Cory Paterson, Anthony Mundine and Carmen Marton and others. Surely, these athletes and sports personalities made all Australians proud.
What Senator Pauline Hanson is saying is nothing new. Time and again, people of non-European ethnicity faced discrimination and racism from European settlers and their descendants. For instance, the cameleers from Asia, despite their huge contribution to Australia, faced deep-rooted discrimination and racism. In many outback towns, there were segregated areas for Europeans, Aboriginals, and cameleers. Cameleers rarely had any avenue to interact with the Europeans. After the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, many cameleers were denied re-entry into Australia, and many were denied naturalization due to their Asian origin.
Senator Hanson appealed to the Muslims to go back to the country where they came from. Why? What about those who were born here? Could the First Peoples of Australia say the same thing to the European settlers? Besides, Australia became multicultural the day Europeans settled here because they did not adopt or assimilate to the Aboriginal culture. Pauline Hanson and the extreme conservatives moan that Muslims don’t assimilate, Muslims don’t fit in. Assimilate to what? Culture is not a black and white thing. Culture changes very slowly over time. Surely, the immigrants’ life style is to some extent different from what they had in their native country. They do not lead life exactly the same way they lived in their native country. Their life here is influenced by their surroundings, their neighbors, their friends, and work colleagues. Is this not assimilation? When I came to this country some 20 years ago, Bengali was my first language. Now for all practical purposes, English is my first language. Is this not assimilation?
If Australia wishes to prosper in the age of globalization, if it wishes to trade with the vast majority of countries in which English is not the first language, then there is no alternative but to embrace diversity. Banning Muslim immigration will only constrain Australia’s acceptance as a trading partner in emerging Muslim countries. A discriminatory and closed system of immigration will throw Australia only into the back waters of the global economy.
September 27, 2016