Transcript

How 9/11 effected dialogue

Joseph Camilleri
j.camilleri@latrobe.edu.au

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Meghan Lodwick:

Welcome to a La Trobe University podcast. I'm Meghan Lodwick and today I'm interviewing Professor Joseph Camilleri, Director of the La Trobe University Centre for Dialogue. Professor Camilleri is one of Australia's leading international relations scholars and is joining the discussion ten years on from the September 9/11 attacks and the impact of the event on a global and national scale. Joe, thanks for your time.

Joe Camilleri:

Thank you for having me.

Meghan Lodwick:

In just a few examples, how has 9/11 changed the world?

Joe Camilleri:

Well, I think the most obvious way is in the way it has brought the relationship between what we call the West and the Muslim world into much sharper focus than was the case before, certainly in the Western world and probably in the Muslim world as well. Of course it has made the policies of a number of Western countries, of course the United States first and foremost, but other countries like Britain and Australia give a much greater prominence to the problem as they see it of terrorism, and thirdly, and in result from that, is that it has given a considerable boost to security and intelligence organisations which supposedly are trying to do something about terrorists' threat, the actual or potential threat. Having said all that, I think I need to add that I don't think September 11 has quite changed the world in as dramatic a way as some people claimed, certainly when the event actually occurred. After all, there were many terrorist attacks against the United States, including attacks which were mounted supposedly in the name of Islam, well before, in fact for the twenty years or so prior to September 11, there had been quite a number of very significant attacks, some very large scale. So, in a sense it was a continuation of a trend that had been going on for some time, and of course there have been major attacks continuing ever since, and in any case, all of that has to be put in the wider context of all that we've seen happen in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and now in Libya. So it is really one more milestone if you like, in what has been an ongoing situation which has quite deep roots in history, and which is still unfolding as we speak.

Meghan Lodwick:

Where does 9/11 fit in with the overall historical narrative between the West and the Islamic world?

Joe Camilleri:

This is a very important question and I think we're still very much in the middle of that question. The West of course we should first of all remember is a hybrid, part of it is Christian and of course the Christian tradition remains influential. But nevertheless, especially over the last two hundred or more years, there has been a very significant trend towards what we would describe as a secular outlook where religion of any kind, and certainly Christian, does not feature particularly prominently. So, the West generally is a kind of hybrid – it is part Christian, but it's part secular, and Australia is a fascinating example of this. Of course the majority of Australians have a Christian affiliation, but in practice, religion and the Christian religion does not play a central role, at least not overtly, in the lives of most Australians. So, when Muslims have to relate to what we call Western societies, they have, if you like, a double issue to handle. On the one hand, they have to relate with people of another faith, including Christians, and Christians in particular, and the relationship has been a troubled one, going way back to the Crusades – a very difficult and tortuous relationship, not all the time but at key moments for the last fourteen centuries. But they also have to relate to societies, with the possible exception of the United States, highly secular, where religion of any kind does not have a high or prominent place in the life of the society. And for Muslims, this is yet another difficulty. So, the relationship between Islam and the secular society is a major issue that is gradually being worked through, and has a long way to go, but also the relationship between the major different traditions and in particular the three major monotheistic or Abrahamic traditions, namely Christianity, Islam and Judaism. These are the two central arenas in which the relationship between Islam and the West will undoubtedly develop, will need to develop, hopefully constructively in the years and decades to come.

Meghan Lodwick:

Did 9/11 change the dialogue between world leaders and individuals?

Joe Camilleri:

The declaration of the war on terror is probably a more significant event than the terrorist attacks in the first place. There have been many bad things that have occurred in my view as a result of it – by and large, the relationship between the United States, the Western world as a whole, and the Muslim world, both in countries where Islam is the majority, but also in countries where Islam is a minority. All that has been made more difficult – the relationship which has always uneasy to a greater or lesser extent, has become more difficult. But that said, there has been I think, another change, which is much more encouraging, and that is certainly at the level of faith, there have been significant developments in inter-faith dialogue and there is no question that a lot of that is attributable to hostility, the animosity that we associate with September 11 and the response, the war on terror, following in the footsteps of that. And I think many governments have become much more sensitive, and that probably includes Australian governments, to the need to become more tuned in to the needs, the concerns of their Muslim communities, and to find ways of integrating them fully into the wider society, and also of finding ways of giving the Muslim world the attention it obviously deserves on an international scale. So there have been these, if you like, changes occurring at many levels and in many different places, some not so promising or encouraging but others much more so.

Meghan Lodwick:

When you think about a war on terror, you think about … or many people think about the Islamic community, and they use that as a scapegoat. Do you think that there is a divide in Australia between the Islamic communities and the more Western communities?

Joe Camilleri:

Generally speaking, in many Western countries there's been a lot of manifestations of unease in many parts of Western Europe – UK, France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere, and the Netherlands of course. And Australia is a part of that. So there's that dimension to it first of all, that we have become more conscious of our Muslim minorities. The other thing that's worth noting is the size of these Muslim minorities has increased quite substantially in the last ten to twenty years, and looks like continuing to increase, for a variety of reasons, which have to do with wars going on in different parts of the Muslim world, which has to do with depressed economic conditions. So there are what I call very powerful push factors, which leads people from a number of these Muslim countries, to go either to Western Europe, or perhaps to the United States, and certainly to Australia. So now we have a much larger Muslim community, and no doubt it will continue to increase. Now, in the light of all these international developments, Australians, let's say primarily Australians who are of Western extraction – a number of them – we mustn't generalise, but a significant minority, have become concerned, suspicious, perhaps even positively hostile towards Muslims. There are some who argue that traditionally Australian, mainstream Australia, has had great difficulty engaging with Asia, or with Asians. I think probably we've seen in the last ten years or so, a shift of focus of concern, not so much with Asians generally, but with Muslims in particular. And the fact that dress can be conspicuous in some cases simply is another way in which that is brought to the fore. But there are many factors – there is the old age religious antagonism between let's say Christianity and Islam. There are these current international developments, and there is a minority, but still growing fairly rapidly, and now well over four hundred thousand one would suspect – it would be interesting to see what the census has to tell us about that – boat arrivals gets mixed up with that question because we know that a number of the people who are arriving by boat and seeking asylum, are coming from Muslim countries – so all that becomes a rather rich and sometimes difficult brew in which, shall we say, the more xenophobic, not to say racist elements in Australian society, perhaps find a new target and that becomes Muslim minorities, and we know that a great number of Muslim communities and Muslim women in particular have been the subject of harassment over the last ten years. But on the other hand I think one has to qualify this by saying, there have also been a number of attempts and programs which have helped to bring different Muslim communities into much closer touch with the rest of Australia. So again you have the positives and the negatives.

Meghan Lodwick:

You mentioned some programs that are trying to bridge that gap. Can you name some more practical solutions in order to ease that tension?

Joe Camilleri:

I think that the key to it, what we call in the Centre for Dialogue, cultural literacy. We are able to interact with each other much more constructively and harmoniously to the extent that we have a much better understanding of each other's backgrounds, which means religious backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, political backgrounds and so on. So, there have been a number of attempts including government-funded attempts which have done some good things. They have mounted all kinds of educational and projects in schools for example, bringing students from schools of different religious backgrounds, or government schools with no explicit religious backgrounds, together, to get to know each other more, to hear of each other's religious and cultural traditions – all that is very helpful. Of course it's very long term, but it's helpful. We as the Centre for Dialogue have been involved in several projects including the Young Muslim Leadership Program, which has been government funded, primarily until recently funded by the State government of Victoria, which has enabled us each year for the past five years now, to bring together a group of very dynamic young people aged roughly in their twenties, who have extraordinary leadership potential, who are doing things in their respective communities, and the program enables them to get a much clearer and direct understanding of different facets of Australia – the religious life, political life, law, the media, the educational system, the political world – to enable them to have two things – first hand knowledge and understanding of how things work in Australia, and how they can play a constructive role and indeed a leadership role, and secondly, connections – connections with people that they can make effective use of later on, well after the program has finished to deal with a number of issues which may be of importance to their respective communities. That's just one example of several projects where I think there is a clear and thoughtful attempt, not just for mainstream Australia to tell Muslims what to do, but to hear what is on their mind, what are their concerns, what are their experiences, and to help develop their own leadership potential to the benefit of Australia as a whole.

Meghan Lodwick:

You mentioned the media Joe, and I was wondering in what way does the media play into that anti-Islamic thinking? And the war on terror?

Joe Camilleri:

The media has a very important role. The media does many, many things but two are worth pointing out. One, of course, it's probably the major source of information for most people as to what's going on. So the reporting of events is terribly important. And I think it's fair to say that much of the reporting that most Australians would get is the kind of reporting that often does not put Muslims and Muslim countries in a particularly good light. We tend to report on things to do with the Muslim world when there is conflict, when there are tensions, when there are hostilities, when there are problems, when things are not going well – we are much less likely to report achievements, major developments, major skills, bright new ideas, anything like that. So it's only the troublesome, the problematic, the hostile aspects that tend to get major reporting. And then there's the question of course of analysis, because media doesn't just report events and facts, it also provides opinions. Though some quality media outlets have not done too bad a job, it's fair to say that a good number of them have often latched onto aspects of the question of emotions, prejudices, which are likely to make the task of the relationship between Muslim and non-Muslim more rather than less difficult. So, on both counts, I think media can do a lot better than it has done so far, but again, one can see some useful improvements and we can see it for example even on Australian television – we now tend to see more opportunities for Muslim voices to be heard than certainly was the case ten years ago. That in itself is a step in the right direction.

Meghan Lodwick:

It sounds like it's just putting the blocks in place until we have a more harmonious outcome within our communities in Australia.

Joe Camilleri:

Yes, I think a lot of different people working in different areas. Of course the educational institutions, schools and universities, the media too, our legal institutions, our political institutions, of course the religious institutions – all of them have a very important role to play and I think it's the function of governments at all levels, to be doing everything possible to facilitate these positive, more constructive initiatives that are taking place, on a wide range now in different parts of society.

Meghan Lodwick:

If in practice Australians are not very religious, then why would a certain religious minority be singled out as an us and them sort of dialogue.

Joe Camilleri:

Yes, it's an interesting question. I think it relates in part to something I was saying a minute ago, namely that to a considerable extent, Australians, and of course one has to be careful when one's generalising – many Australians, those who settled in Australia over the last two hundred or more years, many of them have had difficulty relating to and accepting the stranger, what for them is the stranger, be it aboriginal Australians, be it Chinese in an earlier period, be it people from a number of other countries that migrated to Australia, recent arrivals, it still is the case with asylum seekers, and Muslims are just, if you like, the most recent and the sharpest expression of the difficulty some Australians have had in relating to the other, those who are different from them, because of the international developments that we have been discussing, it is that sense of otherness or difference which has captured the attention of those – and I realise I'm not talking about all Australians – but Australians, a substantial number who have this fear, this unease, these misgivings about the others, the ones who are different, the ones who are alien, the ones who don't seem to quite fit in. So I think it's just the latest manifestation of part of our culture. I think on the whole it has become probably less prominent than it has been in the past, but nevertheless it tends to rear its ugly head from time to time and it has most dramatically in terms of Muslims and Muslim communities in our midst, over the last ten or so years.

Meghan Lodwick:

So it's quite possible that the war on terror and the international stance is fuel for the flame within our national community.

Joe Camilleri:

I think very much so. I think in this case we've latched on to the Muslim issue, largely on the coat tails of international developments, but increasingly of course, as these developments shift and change, we have to deal with it at the societal level and in spite of all the difficulties I've been referring to and the historical trends, and the sensitivity of some, and the prejudices of others, on the whole I think we're beginning to have a much more mature approach to the question. On the whole I remain very hopeful about how we might progress over the next ten to twenty years.

Meghan Lodwick:

That's all the time we've got for the La Trobe University podcast for today. If you'd like to leave some feedback about this or any other podcast in this series, or suggest a possible topic, you can get in touch with us at podcast@latrobe.edu.au. Joe Camilleri, thank you very much for your time.

Joe Camilleri:

Thank you.

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