Downs Under #6

September 4, 2006

Peter Costello stirs up anti-Muslim sentiments
Our treasurer this week decided in his wisdom to insult Muslims for not condemning terrorism enough. This has caused quite a stramash, with prominent lawyer and board member of the Islamic Council of Victoria Waleed Aly responding, saying that the Muslim community has been:

“Speaking out unequivocally against terrorism pretty loudly and continuously for five years. If the Treasurer hasn’t heard that yet, I’m not sure what it will take.”

The Your Say thread quickly filled up with responses on the issue. I’ll quote myself here, and say that Peter Costello is completely out of touch. I think that his willful ignorance is designed to pander to far-right voters, who take great pleasure in demonising others in order to feel better about themselves. Muslim organisations have been denouncing terrorism for years. A cursory search reveals the following:

The Age, 2/10/05 – Islamic Council of Victoria Condemning latest Bali bombings or in 2002, the Islamic Council of NSW condemning the first Bali attacks (pdf).

I found a great article this morning on Islamic Sydney’s website by lawyer Irfan Yusuf. He makes some very interesting points, but the overriding message I took away is that the vast majority of Muslims in Australia are already integrated, and that Howard and Costello’s recent exhortations are completely out of proportion – not to mention insulting.

Leaving that aside for the moment, what would happen if spokesmen for the Muslim community were to unleash an advertising barrage of unequivocal condemnation of terrorism? TV commercials, newspaper adverts, billboards etc. What would the net result be? I’m not sure that it would achieve much, if anything. Terrorists are terrorists; they’re not going to be swayed by moderate Muslims being more outspoken than they already are. Condemnation from general society certainly hasn’t done much to dissuade them. The government and other commentators do Islam a disservice by not recognising that it is as divided and diverse as Christianity.
Boo! Aussies are not afraid enough
Our favourite (read: only) Attorney-General Philip Ruddock continued to do his part in promoting terrorism this week, claiming that Australians need to be more afraid of it. Isn’t that great? Apparently we’re far too complacent. Okay, well let’s see what he said to the Ten Network when questioned on just what it is we’ve to be so afraid of.

“We have no specific information, but obviously when you look at the number of people who have already been convicted and others charged yet to be dealt with, we have to be alert.”

“I think what we’re seeing in the United Kingdom is that there are numbers of groups who it is believed are intent on carrying out terrorist attacks,” he said.

“This is of course the situation that we face. I think we become very complacent about these matters because we’ve not had on our own soil terrorist attacks.”

“We have had, tragically, Australians die in Bali, we’ve had the attack on our mission, we’ve had the aborted attack in Singapore. We are clearly a target.”

I’m aghast, this is blatant fearmongering; I mean he’s not even trying to disguise the fact that he’s basing this on no information whatsoever. I know I don’t need to tell our esteemed readers that the raison d’etre of terrorism is to strike fear into people. Why on earth would Ruddock try and do Osama Bin Laden’s work for him?
Obesity developments
Today (Monday, Sep 4th) saw the coming together of 2500 experts for the International Congress on Obesity. It’s no revelation that this is a growing problem in Australia, but it is being reported that some patients are being denied surgery in case they die under anaesthetic.

The Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists has written to the government urging that action be taken to combat obesity. Their recommended changes appear fairly sensible: more activity in school, better food, regulating junk food advertising to children etc. I think it’s sad that the government has to legislate common sense, but then we’ve seen that education has only had so much of an effect.

At the same conference, Monash University professor Paul Zimmet has highlighted suburban planning as being a contributing factor in childhood obesity rates. So-called “McMansion” style estates – UK readers think “Barrat homes”, only bigger, are cropping up at an increasing rate outside Australian suburbs. Zimmet said,

“These ugly dwellings, which are now sprawled across entire residential blocks at the expense of backyards, have also been a key feature of developments without attention to sidewalks, bike paths, public transport corridors, playing fields and friendly exercise areas, attractive and accessible to people who want to maintain their level of fitness and a healthy lifestyle.”

One key point there is the lack of facilities. Newer suburbs simply provide no other way for people to get to work than driving, even driving to a station. If all there is in walking distance is more houses, children are just going to stay at home playing computer games. Now, I know that will have got a grin out of a couple of TC readers (Naselus, HStorm) – because we did a lot of that growing up (still do!). It was always balanced with a lot of walking and larking about town, though. Growing up we had a lot of fields and parks; shops were in walking distance, as was the shore.

As more and more news comes in about the rising obesity epidemic, it seems clear that something has to be done. It also motivates me to keep going to the gym.

And finally…Crikey.
Bit of a sad story to end on this week. Steve Irwin, known to millions as the Crocodile Hunter has died from a Stingray bite. This was really unexpected and pretty saddening, but I think it’s some consolation that the man passed away doing what he loved. Our thoughts and condolences to his family.

CORRECTION: Reader Hueber has called in to clarify an error. Rather than a bite, the barb from a Stingray pierced Steve Irwin’s heart and killed him. More here in The Age.
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