After the riot: the meaning for multicultural Australia

Social isolation Multiculturalism Australia

This report presents speeches from a panel discussion on what the Sydney riot means for Australia's status as a peaceful and harmonious multicultural society.

The riot on 15 September in the Sydney CBD by Muslim protestors angry the US film Innocence of Muslims shocked, but perhaps did not surprise, many Australians. For a number of years, there has been growing community concern about the integration of some Muslim citizens into the Australian community. Most concern has centered on the ethnic enclaves of south west Sydney, around the suburbs of Lakemba and Bankstown, which have a high proportion of Muslim residents, many with a Lebanese background. Among thinking Australians, these concerns are not a manifestation of inherent prejudice; they are prompted by legitimate questions. Australian society has a long track record of successfully integrating migrants from diverse backgrounds. But, as the Sydney riots demonstrated, something appears to have gone wrong with a sub-set of a sub-set of newcomers.

A common way of expressing these concerns was to wonder what the riot means for Australia’s status as a peaceful and harmonious multicultural society. To answer this question, The Centre for Independent Studies decided to convene a forum to discuss the relevant issues. The forum was held at the CIS office at St Leonards on 27 September 2012 featuring speeches by three researchers. These speeches are reproduced in this Policy Forum. Not all the speakers agreed with each other about all aspects of the topic. This is as it should be when dealing with contentious and fluid events.

Benjamin Herscovitch argued that multiculturalism remains an overall success in Australia and the hallmark of a free society. Peter Kurti argued that in a multiculturalism society, key liberal values such as tolerance must be embraced by all racial, religious, and ethnics groups, especially as liberal democracy is fundamentally incompatible with the intolerance preached by radical Islamists. Jeremy Sammut argued that the emphasis multiculturalism places on diversity will prove a threat to freedom and liberal democracy if Islamofascist demands for restrictions on free speech are allowed out of a misplaced ‘respect for diversity’.

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