I have been deliberately offensive about the recent remarks of the Hebrew University’s Professor Raphael Israeli in Australia, as they are reported in today’s Sydney Morning Herald story Jewish group spurns race row academic. (BTW, multicultural Australia shines through the by-line “Chee Chee Leung and Mark Metherell”, don’t you think?) Imagine if someone suggested a “critical mass of Jews” could have dire consequences for a country, but then didn’t someone once suggest that?
The Australia-Israel & Jewish Affairs Council yesterday announced it had cancelled plans to co-host public appearances by Professor Raphael Israeli in Australia. “AIJAC is very concerned by Professor Israeli’s implication that the Muslim community as a whole is a threat or a danger,” said its executive director, Dr Colin Rubenstein. “His comments are both unacceptable and unhelpful, and AIJAC cannot be associated with them.”
Professor Israeli, from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said this week that problems could arise in Western nations when their Muslim population reached a critical mass — such as about 10 per cent in France. But he said an Australian Jewish News article that quoted him as saying Australia should place a cap on Muslim immigration or face being swamped by Indonesians had “corrupted” his words.
“I didn’t come here to lecture Australians, I came here to lecture on the Middle East,” he said. Asked about the cancellation of his public appearances, he said: “I didn’t ask to go to these engagements. I was asked to take them, and now I have been asked to cancel them.”
The Shalom Institute in Sydney, which brought Professor Israeli to Australia to teach an Islamic history course, stood by its visiting academic. “We support his right to make observations … and for these comments to be distorted into what Australia ought to do is a gross misrepresentation,” said Peta Pellach, its director of adult education. “He is here to give a course. He has a very fine reputation as a scholar and author, and he doesn’t intend to become a political pawn.”
Peta Pellach and I were colleagues once when I worked at Masada College, and I respect her integrity, though I also know her views were somewhat more hard-line than some of our colleagues at that time, and so it may well be that Professor Israeli’s views have been distorted in regard to Australia, although his own papers (on that link) indicate his position rather clearly.
Further, see the Australian Jewish News: AIJAC ‘dumps’ scholar over Muslim remarks..
Shalom Institute CEO Hilton Immerman said that while Professor Israeli’s views do not necessarily represent those of the Shalom Institute, which “rejects any form of racial stereotyping or ethnic quotas”, the course would proceed.
An author of 20 books on the Muslim, Arab and Chinese worlds, he was also scheduled to give talks in Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and New Zealand. However, Dr Rubenstein told the AJN that he was unsure whether the talks would go ahead given that AIJAC had withdrew its support.
In an interview with the AJN, Professor Israeli said radical Islam would not be defeated by a war of words.
“You have to infiltrate all those circles where the Muslim radicals operate, to arrest them, and to limit immigration into western countries where these Muslims, who are bent on destroying western civilisation … to limit immigration, even students who apply to come from Islamic countries to the West,” he said. “It serves no purpose when you have this home-grown terrorist, who has been preparing for years to blow up undergrounds in London, and all you do is lead a war of words. The war of words doesn’t help. There is a whole gamut of actions that are possible in order to check this threat of Islam.”…
But Islamic Council of Victoria director Waleed Aly branded the comments “ill-advised and foolish” and said Professor Israeli didn’t understand Australia.
“It is clearly possible in the current environment to say things about Muslims that you simply cannot say about anyone else,” Aly said. “The fundamental problem at the heart of this is that he seems to be suggesting that increased marginalisation of Muslim populations will somehow produce something other than mutual resentment. It should be obvious to anyone really that it’s doomed to failure.”
Officially, there are fewer than 300,000 Muslims in Australia according to the 2001 Census, but Islamic community officials estimate the actual number to be at least 500,000 – about 2.5 per cent of the population.
Far more profitable to us all, I would suggest, is the model held up by America’s Cordoba Institute, the brainchild of, among others, Feisal Abdul Rauf, Imam of Masjid Al-Farah, a New York mosque twelve blocks from Ground Zero. “A leader in the effort to build religious pluralism and integrate Islam into modern America, he has dedicated his life to building bridges between Muslims and the West.” You may read a PBS interview with him.
Tell me more about that. What is an American Muslim — if there is such a thing as “an American Muslim?”
I think it is very much a work in progress. If you look at what happened to the Muslim-American community over the last, say, 40 years, it is a mosaic; it is a cross-section of the Muslim world.
We look at the Muslim centers, or mosques, starting with the early 1970s as waves of immigration began to occur from the Muslim world. You found, as certain ethnic groups reached critical mass, that mosques sprouted with a very ethnic complexion. So we have a Turkish mosque in Brooklyn, an Albanian mosque. You will find a West African mosque, mainly from French- speaking West Africans from Senegal and Mali [in] the Bronx, for instance.
You have also always had African-American mosques. You have Arab mosques, Hindu, Pakistani mosques, Bangladesh mosques.
However, what we are seeing is that these mosques tend to be maintained in terms of their cultural complexion and their general collective psychology by the continued immigration from the Old World. The second generation, the children of these immigrants, are finding themselves with a different psychological complexion. And I see a development of an American Islamic identity, which is currently a work in progress, which will be kind of the sum total of these influences.
But amongst those who are born in this country, or came very early into this country at a very early age, they grew up with a sense of belonging to the American scene, which their parents did not have. The immigrants tend to come here with a little bit of a guest mentality. But those who are born and raised here feel they are Americans. We have to define ourselves as Americans. And just as I said earlier, when Islam spread to Egypt, and Iran, and India, it restated its theology and its jurisprudence within the cultural context of those societies. It also anticipated that Islam will restate itself within the language constructs, within the social constructs, within the political constructs of American society, as well. …
He was also interviewed in Foreign Policy Magazine in September 2006, following the brouhaha over Pope Benedict’s quotation from that Byzantine Emperor.
Imam Rauf has in fact visited Australia. See Visit by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. You may download a PDF of his lecture in Adelaide there.