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Australia unveils plans to consult Muslim panel: CEN 4.11.08 p 7. April 13, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Islam, Multiculturalism.

Australia has announced plans to create a Muslim advisory panel to assist the government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in addressing strained relations and to improve the public image of the country’s Muslim immigrant minority.

Last month the Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs Laurie Ferguson said the seven member council would draw upon academics, sporting figures and non-religious Muslims, and would seek to break down the “misconception” that all Muslims were hard-line fundamentalists.

“The whole spectre of Muslims is women in hijabs and other stereotypical characteristics and I think there is not enough opportunity to see a difference,” he told The Australian newspaper, adding that he knew “a lot of Muslim youth in my electorate that are totally irreligious, or is marginal to their existence and they don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the Koran.”

The government of former Prime Minister John Howard had created the Australian Muslim Community Reference Group in 2005, but abolished it after 12 months.

Ferguson said the last government’s council had drawn its members from Islamic clerics, and had not been able to agree on key goals or support the government’s call for integration. Council member Fehmi Naji el-Imam, the grand mufti of Australia, had also embarrassed the government by declaring support for Islamic militants during the 2006 Lebanon war between Hizbullah and Israel.

The appeal to the Muslim mainstream by the Rudd government, Ferguson said, was an attempt to integrate Muslim immigrants in a non-threatening way. “I think one of the failures of the previous government was to drive people into a corner, to force people to make a choice, sometimes which reinforced hard religiosity,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Ameer Ali, the former president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils and chairman of the Howard government’s advisory group, welcomed the proposal. He told Sky News Australia that Muslims in Australia suffered from a poor public image. “Islam has been portrayed as religion of violence, which is not true. Islam has been portrayed as a religion that promotes jihads,” he said.

However, critics of the Rudd government note the proposal to populate the committee with media celebrities and academics who happen to be Muslim, would do little to resolve the underlying tensions. “You cannot exclude imams and expect all Muslim voices to be represented on an advisory body” Sydney imam Khalil Shami told The Australian.

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