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Australia: Black Lives Matter and the Pandemic

As with the United Kingdom, the Black Lives Matter protests which have swept across the United States have overflowed to Australian society. The tangle of BLM issues with the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered bitter debate and some social dislocation.
The weekend of June 6–7 was a particular focal point. Black Lives Matter protest organisers announced plans for significant gatherings in Australia’s major cities to draw attention to the deaths in custody of Aboriginal Australians arrested for various reasons. There have been at least 432 indigenous deaths in custody since a royal commission examined the issue in 1991. This has been a simmering matter for decades, erupting into protest action at various point in time, and almost predictably piggybacking onto the worldwide BLM activism presently underway.
When the plans for the early June protests were announced, most state and federal governing authorities banned the gatherings, given the strict regime of social distancing be…

Is Islamophobia on the Rise?

In this edition of The Interview, Fair Observer talks to Peter Riddell, vice-principal at the Melbourne School of Theology in Australia.

The interview was conducted at the end of 2018 via a written transcript, which has been edited for clarity.

Kourosh Ziabari: How serious is Islamophobia in the modern world? What are the root causes of growing prejudice and bias against Muslims in the West?

Peter Riddell: Any discussion about prejudice should aim to reduce or, ideally, eliminate it. In that context, prejudice by one community toward another needs also to take account of similar prejudice in the opposite direction. So to discuss Islamophobia, namely prejudice against Muslims in the West, without also considering “Westophobia,” or prejudice against Westerners by Muslims, is like looking at a painting and deliberately covering one eye.

There are many causes of mutual prejudice between Muslims and Westerners. History is a factor. Simply put, wars between Christian Europeans and Muslims have …

190 Million Indonesians Vote in Elections

On 17 April Indonesia underwent a uniquely complex democratic process, when around 190
million citizens cast their votes in national elections at both presidential and legislative
levels of government.

The presidential election was a repeat of the 2014 race for the presidency. The incumbent,
Joko Widodo (known as Jokowi), was standing against a former army general Prabowo
Subianto. Each was supported by a coalition of political parties represented in the national
parliament. Jokowi’s support came from both nationalist and moderate Muslim parties, the
largest party being the multi-religious Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) which
is led by Indonesia’s first female President Megawati Sukarnoputeri, who held office from
2001-2004.

Prabowo , as the former general is commonly known, was supported in his bid for the
presidency by a coalition of activist Islamic parties, as well as more notorious community
groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front. During the six-month campaig…

Massacres in New Zealand and Nigeria

Terrorism takes diverse forms and attracts different levels of attention.

The New Zealand city of Christchurch is reeling from an attack on Muslims by what appears to be a white supremacist. The death toll currently stands at 50, with dozens of injured being treated in hospital. The targets were innocent Muslims taking part in Friday worship at two mosques in Christchurch, who were mown down by a man with semiautomatic weapons and evidently supported by certain accomplices.

The international news agencies have been hot with reports of the Christchurch attacks. Britain’s Sky News and BBC World are covering the situation in detail, as are the American chains CNN, CNBC and Fox News. Al-Jazeera from Qatar is reporting in similar vein, interviewing witnesses, drawing on the perspectives of commentators worldwide, broadcasting certain images of ambulances rushing victims to hospitals, giving a voice to the New Zealand Prime Minister and police authorities, and a host of other details of rep…

Australia: Terror Trail Down Under

Australia conjures up images of sun, beaches and a relaxed lifestyle. As with most stereotypes, there is a kernel of truth to such perceptions. For example, in the annual list of the world’s most liveable cities produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Melbourne gained first place for seven years in a row between 2011 to 2017. This year, Melbourne came second, with Sydney and Adelaide also placed in the top ten.
In this context, considerations of terrorism seem somewhat anachronistic. However, Australia is steadily increasing its prominence in another list: that of targets for Islamist-inspired terror plots.
In November, images went global of a lone terrorist attacking police and bystanders with a knife. Hassan Khalif Shire Ali, a Somali born immigrant to Australia, was shot dead by police after killing one 70-year-old civilian and wounding several others, as well as trying to blow up his car filled with gas canisters in Melbourne’s central business district while reportedly exclai…

Baroness Cox: Challenging Secularism and Militant Islamism, an Ongoing Task

On 15 August Melbourne School of Theology (MST) hosted the visit of Baroness Caroline Cox from the British House of Lords. Baroness Cox has been a fearless campaigner for many years, advocating on behalf of the marginalised and the persecuted around the world as part of her work for the Humanitarian Aid and Relief Trust (HART), which has an active branch in Australia.

In her presentation to a sizeable audience at MST, Baroness Cox gave attention to the drift towards secular liberalism in western societies and resulting challenges to minority groups, including Christians. She pointed out that “one of the effects of aggressive secular humanism in the UK is that many Christians now feel they suffer from discrimination and intimidation.” The same is true in Australia.

Baroness Cox also referred to the co-existence of aggressive secular humanism’s assault on Christian faith and the growth of Islamist ideology.  While noting that the majority of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims, includin…

Reflections on a Christian-Muslim Dialogue

This dialogue between Christians and Muslims could have happened in virtually any Western English-speaking country: Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, as well as the USA. In actual fact, it took place at a suburban mosque in Melbourne. A colleague and I took a group of 15 of our students for the purposes of exposure to Islam and meeting Muslims in the flesh, rather than just reading about them. On arrival, we were greeted by the local Sheikh, a Pakistani by origin, his son, who is born and bred in Australia, and another Sheikh who was visiting from Egypt

We were all led into the prayer room where we sat in a large circle, with all eyes trained on our Muslim hosts. After introducing ourselves by name, the Sheikh and his son addressed us for 15 minutes, presenting the basic information about Islamic belief and practice: the Five Pillars and the Core Articles of Faith. However, this seemingly gentle introduction included a sting in the tail, as we were informed that the Bible we ho…