Australia: Extremism Fears Prompt Proposal for Citizenship Test

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue May 2 12:48:49 UTC 2006

Extremism Fears Prompt Proposal for Citizenship Test
By Patrick Goodenough International Editor
May 01, 2006

( - At a time of keen debate surrounding immigration in the
United States, the government of Australia may introduce a compulsory test
for prospective migrants that would require both a grasp of English and an
understanding of commonly held "Australian values." The proposal comes at
a time of heightened concerns about extremist views taking root among
Australian Muslims, but some Islamic representatives say it smacks of
racism. "Helping Australian Muslims become integrated and connected to the
mainstream community is the best way to prevent extremists getting a
toehold in Australia," government lawmaker Andrew Robb said in a speech
delivered at a Sydney think tank. Robb, who is parliamentary secretary to
Australia's immigration minister, said a compulsory citizenship test would
be seriously considered in the months ahead.

He said such a test would ensure that all would-be citizens had a
functional level of the English language and a general knowledge of
Australian values and customs. Such a test would "help people understand
the society they have chosen to be part of, help them be more aware of
their roles, their responsibilities, their rights [and] ... demonstrate
their commitment to Australia." Robb also said young Muslims should be
taught by "home grown" Australian imams, whose mosque sermons were
delivered entirely, or mostly, in English. This echoes campaigns in
Britain and other Western countries, driven in part by Muslims unhappy
with clerics using Arabic - the language of the Koran - to rant against
the West or encourage violence. In a BBC opinion poll last August, some 65
percent of Muslim respondents said they would prefer it if their clerics
preached in English.

In Australia, some of the predominantly foreign-born clerics - including
the Sydney-based, self-styled Mufti of Australia - are either unable to
speak English or choose not to. The issues of language and of embracing or
shunning Western values has become more pressing last summer's terrorist
attacks in London. They were carried out not by foreign radicals but by
young Muslims who had grown up in a Western society but came to perceive
it as the enemy. Robb's comments were backed by Australian
Attorney-General Philip Ruddock.  "If you settle in Australia you've got a
responsibility to respect our constitution, the institutions, our courts,
the parliament, the rule of law and what it means," he said. The
Australian, a national paper, called the proposals sensible, saying in an
editorial that a test of Australian values "can only be a good thing,
given the tenuous grasp of secular democracy of some Islamic radicals."

Support also came from Australian historian Keith Windschuttle, who said
in a radio interview Robb's proposal "would help to break down the sort of
tribalism that the multicultural policy ... has instituted." "We've had a
policy that's been telling people that they can retain all of their
previous cultures and that not only includes cultures but all the previous
grievances, their local hatreds of various nationalities in their old
country, and we've seen people bring a lot of that baggage to Australia,"
he said. Currently, the tens of thousands of migrants acquiring Australian
nationality each year are expected to have a basic knowledge of English
and answer simple questions about the rights and responsibilities of
citizenship. Robb and Rudd are the latest of a growing list of Australian
politicians to have stoked controversy by addressing these issues in
recent months.

Federal Treasurer Peter Costello told Muslims earlier this year that if
they could not accept Australian values or wanted to live under Islamic
law (shari'a) - as called for by some Australian Muslim leaders - they
should leave. Prime Minister John Howard also criticized clerics who "rave
on about jihad" and newcomers to the country who wanted to overturn its
core values and beliefs.


For decades Australia, like Britain and some other countries, has pursued
a policy of "multiculturalism," which essentially allowed migrants of
different faiths and cultures to settle without being expected to
integrate. Critics have long worried about unintended repercussions. Some
Muslim thinkers have encouraged Muslims in Western countries specifically
to avoid integrating into the majority, but instead to establish
concentrated communities where mosques, religious schools and - ultimately
- religious shari'a courts regulate life. But now a renewed push for
assimilation has been heard, not just in Australia but elsewhere where
concerns about Muslim radicalism have grown in recent years. The shift in
the debate in Australia over the past year or so has brought accusations
of "Islamophobia" and racism.

Robb's speech drew criticism from groups representing Muslims and ethnic
minorities. Voula Messimeri, chairwoman of the Federation of Ethnic
Communities' Councils of Australia, said the English requirement would
exclude some people, while Keysar Trad of the Islamic Friendship
Association said a compulsory test plan sent out "racist signals." A
spokesman for the Islamic Council of New South Wales, Australia's most
populous state, saw similarities between the test Robb was calling for and
notorious language tests used half a century ago to keep out unwanted
non-European migrants to Australia. Ameer Ali, president of the Australian
Federation of Islamic Councils, also said the notion of "Australian
values" was a vague one.

In his speech, Robb listed some of the values he had in mind, including
"our respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, our commitment
to the rule of law, our commitment to the equality of men and women" and
tolerance and compassion. Muslims comprise less than two percent of the
Australian population, although the community in recent years has been
growing at a rate six times faster than that of the total population.

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