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Left doesn't own the fight against racism



Nations like the US, UK and Australia have for decades been characterised by high immigration. Multiculturalism and cultural diversity aren't mere bureaucratic buzzwords. They represent the status quo to be preserved in the absence of compelling reasons.

Islamic gathering, historic illustrationCultures of both the majority hosts and minorities inevitably adapt to each other by a process of gradual osmosis.

But many western conservatives are abandoning their traditional embrace of diversity in favour of populist monoculture. In the US, the Trump government includes members of the 'alt right' who embrace notions of white 'identity' and white 'civilisation'.

Members of the alt right reject multiculturalism and other forms of 'political correctness', often using provocative, racist, anti-Semitic, violent and misogynistic language that make Trump's own campaign pronouncements look tame.

Alt right thinking and its Hansonist/Reclaim Australia equivalents go beyond emphasising economic sovereignty and rejecting free trade and globalisation. This may be an extension of the Huntington 'Clash of Civilisations' thesis, the idea that the 21st century will be characterised by a clash between western civilisation on the one hand and Islamic and/or Confucion civilisation on the other.

American jurist Matha Nussbaum, in her book The Clash Within, argues that 'the real clash is not a civilisational one between "Islam" and "the West", but instead a clash within virtually all modern nations — between people who are prepared to live with others who are different, on terms of equal respect, and those who seek the protection of homogeneity, achieved through the domination of a single religious and ethnic tradition'.

So how do we collectively fight the scourge of cultural totalitarianism? Perhaps if I may, I will share something from my ancestral tradition.

Before claiming prophethood at age 40, Muhammad was a humble illiterate merchant in Mecca, a large city in the Arabian desert whose main sources of income were pagan pilgrimage and the trade it generated. Arabian society was organised into clans and tribes who often settled disputes using war. There was no royal family, no king, no independent courts or judiciary. The only source of justice was revenge by your own tribe or one which adopted you.


"If those who would embrace the campaign rhetoric of Trump and Hanson wish to threaten our diversity, it would only be through building broad alliances that the threat can be met."


In his biography Muhammad: His Life Based On The Earliest Sources, English writer and scholar Martin Lings writes that 'in Arabia there was no comparable system of law by which a victim of crime, or his family, might obtain redress' other than all-out war. This was also the case in civil matters. Lings continues:

'A merchant from the Yemeni port of Zabid had sold some valuable goods to a notable of the clan of Sahm. Having taken possession of these, the Sahmite refused to pay the promised price. The wronged merchant, as his wronger well knew, was a stranger to Mecca, and had no confederate or patron in all the city to whom he might go for help.'

A small but influential group of merchants could not allow such wrongs to continue. They founded 'an order of chivalry for the furtherance of justice and the protection of the weak ... and they vowed that henceforth, at every act of oppression in Mecca, they would stand together as one man on the side of the oppressed against the oppressor until justice was done, whether the oppressed were a man of Quraysh or one who had come from abroad. The Sahmite was thereupon compelled to pay his debt,' failing which members of the order would enforce a commercial boycott.

So what can we learn from this incident? Perhaps it is the attitude of a member of the order, the illiterate merchant Muhammad who later claimed prophethood, rejected idolatry and was eventually pushed out of Mecca to establish a city-state in Medina. He spoke of the order of chivalry (hilf al-fudul) years later in the following terms: 'I was present in the house of Abd Allah ibn Jud'an at so excellent a pact that I would not exchange my part in it for a herd of the most valuable red camels; and if now, in Islam, I were summoned unto it, I would gladly respond!'

He would have gladly joined hands to fight for justice even with those who rejected his message, some of whom were in other contexts happy to wage war on his new home.

Cultural totalitarianism is a major injustice of our age. To fight it effectively, we have to enter into coalitions with those whose opinions we otherwise find distasteful. An anti-racism rally with only leftwing speakers is not going to make as big an impact as one with speakers across the spectrum. If we insist the fight against racism is necessarily a leftwing issue, aren't we effectively saying anti-racist conservatives aren't welcome in this struggle?

Justice involves respecting and embracing our diversity of faiths and ethnicities. If those who would embrace the campaign rhetoric of Trump and Hanson wish to threaten our diversity, it would only be through building broad alliances that the threat can be met. Those not wishing to embrace the reality of coalition building are in some ways engaging in their own form of cultural bigotry.?


Irfan YusufIrfan Yusuf is a Sydney based lawyer and blogger.

Topic tags: Irfan Yusuf, Islam, Muslims, Donald Trump



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Existing comments

Fine article, Irfan. I liked the story of 'the order of chivalry for the furtherance of justice and the protection of the weak'. A true test of character is being able to respect and speak honestly with those we have little in common with. That's the way friendships are made.

Pam | 15 November 2016  

Thank you, Irfan. Couldn't agree more. It is also only by knowing why our opponents think and feel as they do that we can start to engage them - and hopefully help them to see why we think and feel as we do. In this case, though, it would be arrogant to expect conversions to our way of thinking but hilaf(?) al fudul on individual issues which may lead to greater understanding would be a very good step which can, themselves, only increase understanding.

Justin Glyn SJ | 16 November 2016  

Informative and interesting Irfan. Alliances are built on compromise and cooperation, things that radical adherents of differing cultures refuse to accommodate. The adherents to differing ideologies need to see each other as equally human something that, for example, the Hansonites and radical Islamists do not entertain. It is up to those who can accept others to change the radicals something that is not going to happen, I'm afraid. For the radicals integration is not on the agenda.

john frawley | 16 November 2016  

Jousting at windmills is easier than overcoming prejudices. John Henry Newman wrote that tackling prejudices is like attacking a granite mountain with a razor blade. There are prejudices on every side; legacies of our survival instinct. We all need to realise that ‘our’ interpretation’ of God is formed by our limited culture and way of life and that we are ALL trying to find our way up God’s Mountain, and need to respect others. Western nations establish ‘Christian’ holidays as part of social life, even though ‘Christmas’ is really a ‘baptised’ celebration of the ‘pagan’ god Mithra. Some Islam leaders wants to promote their version of religion by violence, despite what Muhammad taught. We all need to take a step back, and effect a concordance

Robert Liddy | 16 November 2016  

Thanks for this excellent story/lesson Irfan. Hints at the beginnings of, for example, the Afghan Pashtuns' code of behaviour, pushtunwali.

Jan Forrester | 16 November 2016  

Well reasoned article, Irfan, and all the comments are also interesting. One suspects that all this kerfuffle about 18c and "free speech" at present is just so certain people can go back to hoeing into some good old name-calling without fear of any consequences. It's interesting that these Staunch Defenders Of Free Speech are largely the same people who want the ABC and Fairfax muzzled and GetUp and environmental groups hog-tied. The Trump victory has rattled many in the US and elsewhere, but it shows how far people will go when their problems and concerns are just completely ignored by their politicians. The key lesson was that enough people were willing to trash the whole system just to get politicians to take notice of them. And our own really-in-touch Prime Minister is still frantically running the line "Just move on folks; nothing to look at here". No lessons learned in our recent election, nor from the US. It's in EVERYONE's interests now to stop name-calling and start LISTENING, also to people we would normally oppose politically. We might have much more in common than we think. Especially in our growing exasperation with BOTH major parties in Australia.

PaulM | 16 November 2016  

john frawley: " For the radicals integration is not on the agenda" WE must be radicals then. 'We' came to Australia, ignored the long established culture, took their land, massacred many, stole their children, imprisoned many, and only grudgingly said 'sorry'. Now we say to new arrivals, "Don't do as we did, Do as WE say."

Robert Liddy | 16 November 2016  

Robert Liddy. I would not say "We" are radicals. I would say 'the English of 200 years ago" were. But I do agree that some of us are radicals eg Pauline and her mates.

john frawley | 17 November 2016  

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