ACT can be model of diversity with new mosque
The debate over the proposed construction of a mosque in Gungahlin highlights a significant source of tension and opportunity for multicultural societies. An organised minority is opposed to the construction for various reasons. Much of the rhetoric of the Concerned Citizens of Canberra group is grounded in many misconceptions about Islam and Muslims. But this tension is not unique to this particular debate. Across the world similar misconceptions have given rise to feelings of insecurity and intolerance. These tensions have been experienced in democracies as diverse as Australia, Malaysia and Norway. However, from these acrimonious debates, we can find increased opportunities to foster greater appreciation and understanding of other cultures and civilisations.
Beyond the current debate, Australia has witnessed similar objections to the construction and establishment of Islamic institutions. Underlying this opposition is a sense of insecurity about their identity and community being undermined. The recent controversy surrounding the construction of an Islamic school in Camden, NSW is emblematic of this insecurity. This same tension has manifested itself in other places in the world. Recently in Malaysia some groups within the dominant Malay-Muslim community felt their faith threatened by the use of the term ''Allah'' in a Catholic publication, The Herald. In the same vein the fear of Christian evangelism and that Muslims would be confused was evident when the distribution of the Indonesian translation of the Bible, Al-Kitab, was restricted to certain churches and bookstores. The general lack of awareness and understanding of the long history of the Christian usage of the term Allah in Malaysia drove a general feeling of unease amongst the Malay-Muslim community. The notion among the religious elite that the Christians are there to confuse the Muslims exacerbates the problem. Both these cases demonstrate the negative effects from the absence of dialogue between the various faith communities. Even in Australia 50 years ago misunderstood differences between Catholics and Protestants generated an all pervasive sense of sectarianism which has strong implications to this present day.