Sir F. Chook, Inventor of Leopard Oil

Likeness captured upon a daguerrotype machine in Japan, July 1891

Lettres

Wherein the Author reflects upon certain topical & personal issues of the Day.

In the news, not in the news.

Penned upon the 29th of October, 2006

As astute readers will no doubt have noticed, the article which was to feature myself did not appear in today’s Sunday Age. It will instead be appearing next weekend.

What has been appearing in the paper recently is a very great deal of fuss over Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali, whose expressed views regarding women have resulted in calls to stand down, as well as murmurs that he might be a bit backward coming from people living in poorly-maintained thatched-roof cottages in the early twelfth century. One point important to the wider discourse about religious tolerance in Australia but not being made, though, is that such views are social, political and legal – not religious.

Had a prominent cleric argued that there are nine gods and they each represent a different pleasant after-dinner snack (led by Port’n’bikkits, velvet-clad god-king!), one could naturally oppose their argument on religious grounds (perhaps arguing instead for seven gods, or that Swizz Chokkits is a far more powerful deity.) Views on the instution of law and gender politics, however, are both secular issues, and at the level of government and media, it matters no more if they were arrived at on religious grounds than on philosophical, practical, mercenary or aesthetic.

With elections to the Parliament of the Victorian Colony looming, it is essential we debate secular issues in a secular framework, else we risk falling into nothing more than religion-against-religion; and that way lies the path of both major parties selling themselves to hardline Christian conservatives, fanning the flames of public hysteria. By all means, oppose this fellow’s views with great rigour; but in a multicultural democracy, religion has no place in politics, either supporting or opposing, and it is equally foolish and self-destructive to use this as an opportunity to attack Islam (as if one man can possibly represent the second-largest religion in the world) or to defend it (as if Muslims are pathologically incapable of holding the full range of political opinions.)

Secularism in the state and the community can only be maintained on secular terms, and opposing a viewpoint on the basis of its religious background is not a secular method. Let religion debate against religion and tackle issues you disagree with using the methods fit for public politics.


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