The Guardian 7 September, 2005

Readin’, writin’ and right-wing politics —
values teaching, Howard-style

Bob Briton

The recent summit between invited "moderate" Muslim community leaders and government heavyweights was the perfect opportunity for Howard to lecture his guests on what will be taught in Islamic schools. "We have sought … advice from the Islamic community as to ways in which we can be totally satisfied that the appropriate denunciations and repudiation of terrorism occurs", the PM said afterwards. He also spoke of bringing an "Australian perspective" to the education of imams. The implication that Islamic schools are guilty of promoting terrorism until proven innocent is clear. In the process of whipping up more suspicion and intolerance, Howard has also given notice that his government will be laying down an even narrower and more conservative set of "Australian values" to be taught in all Australian schools.

Many Muslim community leaders are perplexed. What more can they do to get the federal government off their backs? Mohamed Hassan is Director of Victoria’s Minaret Islamic College and the Australian Council for Islamic Education in Schools. He points out that after September 11, his council prepared a charter condemning violence and undertaking to educate students to be "proud Australians and model citizens".

Noor Al Houda College in Liverpool, NSW, carries the following notice on the opening page of its web-site: "The Staff, students and parent body of Noor Al Houda Islamic College strongly condemn all forms of terrorism and call on the Muslim community leaders to provide clear and unequivocal leadership in countering all forms of extremism. The College is dedicated to ensuring that its graduates are exemplary Australians who live by the highest standards of integrity in a harmonious manner with their fellow citizens."

Bill Daniels, Executive Director of the Independent Schools Council of Australia, reminded the media last week that Islamic schools must meet the same requirements for registration and funding under the same state and territory regulations as any other independent schools. This includes "a commitment to the national values framework", which already stipulates flying the national flag and teaching the federal government’s current brand of "Australian Values".

Accept "core values" or "clear off"

Education Minister Brendan Nelson has foreshadowed that kids in Muslim schools should be taught about Australian WW1 hero Simpson, who famously laid down his life for his comrades while carrying wounded soldiers to safety on the back of his donkey.

The minister is suggesting in the most patronising manner that, without this sort of example from Australian military history, Muslim students will not learn the value of sacrifice and working in the interests of others. "We want them to understand our history and culture, the extent to which we believe in mateship and giving another person a hand up and a fair go … And basically, if people don’t want to accept and adopt and teach Australian values then they should clear off."

Treasurer Costello agrees. He added that migrants should not come to Australia if they do not accept its "core values" of democracy, a secular society and the equality of women. He conveniently ignores the blatant bias of his government in favour of Christian denominations [more on this later] and the fact that, in the ways that matter, women have not achieved "equality" in Australian society. For a start, working women on average earn $150 a week less than their male counterparts.

Costello has also thrown his weight behind a campaign to wipe out the independent exploration of social issues for all school students. Nelson contemptuously calls this the three Rs of "refugees, republic and reconciliation." To counter the spread of universal, humanist and secular values the Commonwealth has for some time been imposing conservative civics courses like the Discovering Democracy program of 1997-2004.

The Australian Financial Review reproduced one of its suggested activities for middle secondary schools last week. In it, the student is to imagine that he/she is about to vote for the first time and is considering the advertising of various political parties. One of these — the fictitious Youth Party — says that the system has failed young people as evidenced by widespread high levels of unemployment. Then the student learns that the Youth Party says that this is the result of the large number of migrants and that the party’s leader had been arrested for inciting violence at a demonstration outside parliament house. The student is then asked to lodge the first of his or her mock votes.

Later, with the help of a workgroup the student is invited to write a 30-second speech giving three reasons why he/she would vote for the rather unsupportable Youth Party and three reasons why he/she would not. They are also asked to formulate a question that might embarrass the Youth Party. The students are asked to vote again. Finally, it is revealed that the leader of the Youth Party plans to ban all other parties, stop all future elections and declare himself dictator if elected.

The students vote again and are invited to consider if this imaginary scenario is similar to what happened in the lead-up to the Nazi takeover in Germany in 1933. The actual lesson is that voting for other than the traditional parties and personalities associated with capitalist society is misguided and a risk to "democracy".

Ideological straightjacket

The federal government is keen to draw the ties of the ideological straightjacket even tighter. In this struggle it is giving aid to its allies in the religious right. Recently a Commonwealth grant of $414,000 was given to the Pentecostal Hillsong Church based in western Sydney. The church, whose Chairman Brian Houston has reportedly flouted the law by failing to lodge financial statements for the past three years, will use the taxpayer-funded windfall to target crime and other problems in the Sudanese community in Blacktown and the Aboriginal community in Riverstone.

The grant is seen as a reward to the Church for backing Liberal Candidate Louise Markus, who happens to be a Hillsong employee. She managed to wrest the working class seat of Greenway from Labor at the last federal elections. Maybe this is a practical example of the secular Australian values Brendan Nelson is keen to see promoted, a demonstration of "the extent to which we believe in mateship and giving another person a hand up and a fair go".

Back to index page