A firestorm erupted on Social Media last week.
Sonia Kruger, Channel Nine TV show personality, made provocative comments about Islamic Immigration and terrorism:
There is a correlation between the number of people in a country who are Muslim and the number of terrorist attacks…Personally, I would like to see [Islamic immigration] stop now for Australia. I want to feel safe…” [emphasis added].
Unsurprisingly, social media went into meltdown.
Even PM Malcolm Turnbull got drawn into the debate.
The Project’s Waleed Aly, eloquent as always, chimed in and his response went viral. Speaking of the hate that Sonia received for her comments, Waleed said:
Sonia Kruger isn’t evil. She’s scared and she’s trying to make sense of the world. Yesterday, she admitted to not feeling safe. How do you think she feels now? And how do you expect her to react?”
So how should Christians respond to Sonia’s comments?
Whatever our views, we need to resist the temptation to respond emotionally. Instead, here are 5 thoughts to help us think through this issue:
1) We Must Reject False and Simplistic Narratives:
The false narratives of “all Muslims are terrorists”, or “Islam has nothing to do with Terrorism”.
The first narrative is easy to shoot down: just spend time with some decent Muslims. The majority of Muslims don’t want anything to do with terrorism . Out of love for our Muslim neighbours, Christians must reject any such false stereotyping, and speak up against it when it occurs. Not all Muslims are terrorists.
But the second narrative, that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism, is also simplistic. If Islam has nothing to do with terrorism, then why do so many terrorist organisations identify as Islamic? Why aren’t there similar numbers of terrorists identifying as other religions?
It’s a thorny question, particularly in the current climate. But it’s one we need to explore if we’re to understand the complex issue of Islamist terrorism.
One way to explore this issue is to see when Waleed Aly (almost) agreed with Sonia Kruger:
2) When Waleed Aly Almost Agreed with Sonia Kruger About Islam and Terrorism:
‘If you upset Muslims, they can become terrorists.’
After the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, Waleed Aly gave another viral speech on The Project TV show about ISIL. He said:
‘[ISIL] wants countries like our’s to reject their Muslims and vilify them…if [ISIL] can make Muslims the enemy of the West, then Muslims in France and England and America and here in Australia will have nowhere to turn but to ISIL.’ [emphasis added].
Fairfax columnist John Birmingham recently made the same point.
Now God forbid that innocent Muslim citizens are rejected and vilified. As Christians, we must stand up for our Muslim neighbours.
But do you see Waleed’s argument? It boils down to this:
IF we alienate and demonise Muslims, they’ll join ISIS, and become terrorists.
Sounds logical, doesn’t it?
If we alienate and demonise this particular (Muslim) minority, they’ll become terrorists.
But here’s my question.
What about the (many) other alienated and demonised minorities in our society – why aren’t they in danger of becoming terrorists?
- The LGBTI minority: LGBTI people (especially youth) are reported to be severely at risk from demonization and alienation – leading to an increased risk of suicide. But we’re never warned about them taking up arms and committing terrorism. Why not?
- The Indigenous minority: They’ve experienced – and still experience – severe alienation. And yet, have aboriginal people ever committed acts of terrorism? Are they in danger of doing so now?
- Persecuted Religious minorities overseas, namely Christians. Christians are one of the most persecuted minority groups in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Yet where are the Christian terrorist organisations, responding to their unjust persecution with terrorism?
- Western Christians: Where are the outraged western Christians, who terrorise western Muslims for the ‘Imperialistic Islamic oppression’ of Christians overseas?
I could go on, but you get the point:
Alienation alone does not automatically a terrorist make.
Islam is clearly a factor in Islamic terrorism.
Again, this doesn’t mean all Muslim’s are terrorists (or even could be terrorists).
But we need a more nuanced discussion about the relationship between Islam, and terrorism carried out in the name of Islam. Otherwise, we’ll prescribe solutions to terrorism that don’t treat the actual cause.
3) If We Genuinely Care About Our Muslim Neighbour, We’ll Care About Religious Freedom
Religious freedom is not just a ‘Christian’ issue: it’s a justice issue that affects non-Christians.
Waleed Aly expressed grave concern in his recent video for the future of Australian Muslims:
“I see such hostility and aggression and I’m afraid… I’m terrified about what it’s doing to my friends and my family. Honestly, I’m scared about where I belong”
I share Waleed’s concern.
When people openly advocate detaining all Muslims in response to Islamic terrorism – as Waleed mentions in his video – you know that fear is pushing us to places a civilised society must never go.
And so out of love for our Muslim neighbour, Christians must speak up for Muslim civil rights – and their religious rights.
These rights will come under increasing pressure if (or when) Australia gets hit by a terrorist attack. But taking away civil and religious freedoms without due cause would only harm our Muslim neighbour.
Which is another reason why Christians should be at the front of the debates over religious freedom – a freedom that’s for all people.
4) The “Problem” of Democracy: Free Speech
Should Kruger’s comments be banned?
The ABC’s Scott Stevens recently said:
Whether it be Sonia Kruger, Donald Trump or Pauline Hanson, there’s a toxic language that’s becoming incredibly prevalent within our public culture…and because of that I’m wondering whether we…can still be trusted with the privilege of freedom of speech. [emphasis added]
Stevens thinks the government should further restrict free speech, making Kruger’s comments illegal.
But I think increased government regulation of speech would do more damage than it solves: After all, who gets to decide what’s ‘offensive’, and what’s not?
Furthermore, a functioning democracy assumes that people are able to think for themselves – including discussing contentious issues – otherwise, why trust them with a vote every 3-4 years?
Without robust freedom of speech – including the freedom for Sonia Kruger to make her comments – our democracy would inevitably grow weaker.
5) Using our Free Speech Well
The best way to counter bad speech is with better speech – mixed with mercy.
Thomas Jefferson declared:
‘Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it’.
Free speech leaves reason ‘free’ to combat error of opinion – which is why we should keep it- whatever your view of Kruger’s comments.
But from a Christian perspective, we don’t just have a right to free speech (from undue government interference), we also have a moral obligation to speak lovingly to others.
Waleed Aly says it well:
I’m talking about assuming the best in people; showing others radical generosity in the face of their hostility even when it hurts. This is the much harder choice because it demands much more restraint, patience and so much more strength. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen outrage go viral. Wouldn’t it be amazing if just once we could send forgiveness viral? [emphasis added].
So whenever we hear or read something we disagree with, let’s not ‘pile on’.
Instead, let’s respond in a reasonable and loving way.
Conclusion: Christians must be the ones who reach out to Muslim neighbours.
Sonia Kruger is afraid. She’s afraid of having more Muslims in our country. But she’s also afraid of the Muslims already here.
Now whatever your views on Islamic immigration, Christians aren’t to live in fear.
Instead, we’re to reach out. We must follow in the footsteps of our Messiah, who put his life on the line for the sake of others. This will mean taking the initiative as Churches, Campus Christian groups, and as individuals, to build relationships with our Muslim neighbours.
Helping them feel welcome.
Sharing our lives with them.
Sharing the gospel with them.
How beautiful would it be, if in this time of fear and anxiety, Christians would be the ones to model love – costly, Christ-like love – that builds bridges with our Muslim neighbours?
What about you? What are your thoughts about Sonia Kruger’s comments?