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The new integrationism, the state and Islamophobia: retreat from multiculturalism in Australia

Poynting, Scott and Mason, Victoria (2008) The new integrationism, the state and Islamophobia: retreat from multiculturalism in Australia. ISSN 1095-9262

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Since their introduction to Australia in the early 1970s, the politics of multiculturalism have entailed a degree of state control over the cultural affairs of (principally immigrant) ethnic communities. This was largely obtained by consent rather than coercion, and this consent was often purchased with various forms of state resourcing for community needs, with a measure of coercion attached to the threat, where necessary, of funding withdrawals. Beyond the basic framework of liberal-democratic norms, very little of the ground rules for the acceptable practice of minority culture were inscribed in legislation or state pronouncements. The pursuit of the ‘War on Terror’ since 9/11 has increasingly seen the intrusion of the state into cultural, and especially religious, matters of minority populations, overwhelmingly among Muslims, in Australia. Pronouncements are now routinely made by political leaders of what is acceptable in a sermon, for example, and what is ‘extreme’, ‘radical’ or unacceptable. Religious leaders themselves have been identified by state actors as exemplary or beyond the pale and to be replaced. The government has involved itself in the process of selection of religious representatives, and made strong representations about the selection of leaders and their necessary attributes, such as fluency in English, attitudes favouring ‘integration’, beliefs in women's rights, positive disposition towards the alliance with the United States, and so on. There have also been government demands for ethnic/religious schools to teach ‘Australian values’. At present there is no legal basis for such prescription and proscription, which operates rather by hectoring and harassment and the implied conditionality of the remnants of multicultural funding. All of this action can be shown to be discriminatory, in that it is directed only towards Muslims. It also represents a dangerous trend in terms of undermining the right to religious freedom, enshrined in a number of international treaties to which Australia is a signatory.

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