Islam Should Accept a Secular State

By Paul Kelly

The sustained and mass violence in Sydney last weekend represents a failure of Australia's immigration and integration policies and demands a reappraisal from our political elites and Islamic community leaders working together.

There are two important saving graces. Our political leaders did not overreact and indulge in anti-Islamic populism. And the event has been treated as a crisis by Muslim leaders who united in Sydney yesterday in an appeal for calm and warning that such extremism is unacceptable in their communities.

These declarations are essential. Yet the path back is a long journey and the fear is that political leaders grasp neither the urgency nor the depth of the problem given many of the perpetrators were Australian born.

The Australian public will not tolerate violence that flows from the abusive manipulation of religious causes. Claims that the violence was terrible merely because it risked inflaming Australian racism are ludicrous. Such behaviour is unacceptable to the whole Australian community -- that is the real problem. The events will raise fresh doubts about the role of Islam in Australia's future and such doubts are justified.

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NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell identified a core problem particular to Islam as a faith: "What we have here is a fool in the United States who's made an incredibly offensive online video about Mohammed. Think about if it was Christ or Buddha or Krishna or someone, we would still be incredibly outraged by it. But that doesn't justify the sort of violence we saw in Sydney."

The violence proves that Australia is not quarantined from Islamic outrage around the world facilitated by social media and triggered by negative depictions of Mohammed. Yet there is a potentially unlimited market for these provocations.

The incident reminds of the 2005 Danish cartoons with their mocking depictions of the Prophet that generated worldwide protests and many killings. For most Australians the recent video has no significance and no interest. Yet it provoked huge weekend violence in the centre of Sydney.

Within much of Islam reactions to the video range from offensive to insulting to justifying revenge. In Australia, however, most other religions, somewhat reluctantly, are reconciled to how free expression can permit religious disrespect and even blasphemy. It is never pleasant and usually ugly.

Our political leaders were taken by surprise at this weekend's eruption. Yet the pattern is now established. It is wrong to think Australia is gifted immunity from the global tides and incidents that provoke Islamic violence. Indeed, such tides will only intensify given the triumph of radicals in the Arab Spring, the Israeli-Iran nuclear flashpoint and the ongoing crusade by violent Islamists against the US and its allies.

Next month is the 10th anniversary of the killing of 88 Australians at Bali by Islamist terrorists.

The current video itself is not the point. The video became a political and religious weapon to be exploited by Islamists around the world.

The motives and emotions of people vary across nations and include many different ingredients -- the desire to consolidate power, promotion of the Muslim victimisation narrative, giving vent to grievance and alienation, seeking to denigrate the US, fanning the clash of civilisations and striving to radicalise the populace.

In Sydney there was another element: the presence of people known to police as thugs and law-breakers.

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