Muslim citizens and belonging in Australia: Negotiating the inclusive/exclusive divide in a multicultural context
Melbourne University Press
Faculty of Education and Arts
School of Communication & Arts, Centre for Research in Entertainment, Arts,Technology, Education and Communications
Since September 11, 2001, scholars have recognised that, as the size of Muslim communities grows and international conflicts involving these groups intensify, Muslims experience increased pressure in secular Australian society. Historically, Muslim Australians have faced considerable social obstacles in their journey towards full integration. These have become all the more challenging when international events, such as September 11, Australia’s presence in Afghanistan, the conflict in Iraq and perceptions of Iran as a nuclear threat, situate Arabs and Muslims at the centre of global instability. Together with domestic events, such as the arrival of (largely Muslim) asylum seekers and the Cronulla riots, these anxieties have been exacerbated. In this context, Muslims in Australia have been negotiating their sense of social belonging and identity in light of wider societal discourses, their own community-based discourses and their own experiences in regards to social integration that mark their status as either inside or outside the Australian community. But the focus on dominant discourses in Australian media and popular culture has Muslims in Australia sidetracked attention from the internal discourses within Muslim communities and the factors involved in socio-economic inclusion, which are just as important, if not more so, in constituting their sense of place in Australian society. It will be argued that the position of Muslims in Australian society needs to take account of the interrelationship between these different facets of identity and belonging if a fuller understanding of the Muslim citizen is to be achieved. The discursive orderings of the popular media and government will be shown to demand from Muslim Australians a commitment to something referred to as ‘Australian values’, which are presented in the superficial guise of multiculturalism. Muslim Australians are themselves situated at the nexus of other influences, such as Islamic notions of citizenship, discourses of Western resistance and various other discourses that render their sense of who they are in diverse and complex ways. Against these discursive constructions of identity and belonging are the socio-economic realities of achieving a better life in Australia for their families, which constitutes a ‘grounded’ sense of belonging. The case of Muslim refugee women will be used to illustrate the interactive effect of inclusiveness as a social, experiential and cultural construction.