Islamic leaders are trying to gag Prime Minister John Howard from speaking out against Muslims who refuse to integrate, threatening that any criticism of their culture could lead to another race riot.
But Mr Howard refused to back down—writing exclusively in today’s Saturday Daily Telegraph that he believes a minority of Muslims must do more to fit in here.
The head of Mr Howard’s own Muslim advisory council, Dr Ameer Ali, yesterday tried to shut down debate on whether Muslims should learn English and treat women as equals by raising the spectre of the shameful Cronulla riots.
Dr Ali warned: “We have already witnessed one incident in Sydney, in Cronulla. I don’t want these scenes to be repeated because when you antagonise the younger generation they are bound to react.”
Mr Howard also angered young female Muslim leader Iktimal Hage-Ali, who claimed he was targeting “a minority within a minority”. Their criticisms came after Mr Howard said on Thursday that some Muslims refused to learn English and did not want to integrate.
A defiant Mr Howard writes today that some Muslims are not doing enough to adhere to Australian customs of equality for women and a “fair go” for all.
“Ninety-nine per centy of the Islamic community of Australia has integrated and is part of the Australian community,” he said.
“But I’ve said before there is a small section, and that is self-evident, that is unwilling to integrate and it’s up to all of us to try and overcome that resistance.”
Standing by his remarks yesterday, Mr Howard refused to apologise and warned those who are unwilling to fit in would be further marginalised.
“You can’t get anywhere unless you learn English. It’s the language of the nation. It’s the passport to your future,” he said.
“You can’t get a job, you can’t progress, you can’t do anything without English and there can’t be any compromising on that.”
But Ms Hage-Ali, also a member of the Prime Minister’s advisory group, said many non-Muslim immigrants also failed to learn to speak English.
“It is a religious group that he has identified. Muslims are already a minority, so effectively he is talking a about a minority within a minority,” she said.
She said there were not enough free classes teaching new migrants English.
“There are resources but they cost money. How can they afford the fees?” she said. “I can’t imagine an 80-year-old grandmother running out to learn English.”
Speaking at the opening of a school hall at Eastwood Heights, Mr Howard said it was imperative that all migrants embraced “Australian values”.
He denied targeting only Muslims, saying: “I haven’t singled out anybody in particular.”
Of the Muslim leaders offended by his comments, Mr Howard said: “They are missing the point and the point is that I don’t care, and the Australian people don’t care, where people come from.”