A LOT of powerful people are trying very hard to make non-Muslim Australia scared of Muslims at the moment. Which makes now a good time to think about things we should and shouldn’t be scared about.
Growing up with a Christian education in the Canberra of the ‘80s and a love of history, my upbringing gave me the same unease of Islam that government and parts of the media are trying to tap into.
But living in London for a few years knocked that out of me fast.
A week after starting work in a West London cinema, one of the long-serving staff, Mohammed (or “Mo” to all who knew him) was having a farewell gathering and I went along with my last five-pound note to show willing.
Having quickly exhausted my finances I went to say farewell to Mo and wish him well in the future. He asked why I was leaving so early, I explained I had no more money to spend at the bar.
“Stay,” he said, “I’ll get you a beer.”
This from a man I’d known for just a couple of days, with no realistic prospect of ever seeing again.
This did not in any way conform to the view of Islam I’d gained from growing up in Canberra reading Australian newspapers.
Being young and inquisitive (and with it occasionally rude in an unwitting way) I asked how he married drinking beer with his faith.
He shrugged and explained that how he lived his faith was between himself and Allah.
A few years living in the lower end of London’s socio-economic spectrum taught me that Muslims are much like us and that while some of them can, from time to time, be real bastards; it wasn’t often in any greater percentage than any other group of people I’ve come across.
For that matter, I’ve had a lot more fun banging around Muslim cities such as Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur than the more fanatically Christian parts of the American South where it’s much harder to get a drink and they’re a lot quicker to start shooting at strangers.
What then to make of the media and the government trying to whip us into a frenzy over the Islamist menace?
Let’s be clear, fear sells newspapers and if the front page says “everything is pretty much okay” few people are going to pick one up and buy it.
In the case of the Government they’ve made clear they want another massive expansion of the Security State, which is a beast that has been serving its own ends since World War II.
Author John Birmingham recently explained the baffling metadata debate by pointing out that, in the US, the National Security Agency’s general counsel, Stewart Baker, has said: “Metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life.”
Whereas US general Michael Hayden says: “We kill people based on metadata.”
Or to put it together: “We need to know everything. So we can kill you.”
What the big social media sites do with our personal data will have to wait for another column.
But trust me on this, Muslims are far, far down the list of things you should be getting worried about.