Extremism Fears Prompt Proposal for Citizenship Test
(CNSNews.com) - At a time of keen debate surrounding immigration in the United States, the government of Australia may introduce a compulsory test for prospective migrants that would require both a grasp of English and an understanding of commonly held "Australian values."
The proposal comes at a time of heightened concerns about extremist views taking root among Australian Muslims, but some Islamic representatives say it smacks of racism.
"Helping Australian Muslims become integrated and connected to the mainstream community is the best way to prevent extremists getting a toehold in Australia," government lawmaker Andrew Robb said in a speech delivered at a Sydney think tank.
Robb, who is parliamentary secretary to Australia's immigration minister, said a compulsory citizenship test would be seriously considered in the months ahead.
He said such a test would ensure that all would-be citizens had a functional level of the English language and a general knowledge of Australian values and customs.
Such a test would "help people understand the society they have chosen to be part of, help them be more aware of their roles, their responsibilities, their rights [and] ... demonstrate their commitment to Australia."
Robb also said young Muslims should be taught by "home grown" Australian imams, whose mosque sermons were delivered entirely, or mostly, in English.
This echoes campaigns in Britain and other Western countries, driven in part by Muslims unhappy with clerics using Arabic - the language of the Koran - to rant against the West or encourage violence.
In a BBC opinion poll last August, some 65 percent of Muslim respondents said they would prefer it if their clerics preached in English.
In Australia, some of the predominantly foreign-born clerics - including the Sydney-based, self-styled Mufti of Australia - are either unable to speak English or choose not to.
The issues of language and of embracing or shunning Western values has become more pressing last summer's terrorist attacks in London. They were carried out not by foreign radicals but by young Muslims who had grown up in a Western society but came to perceive it as the enemy.
Robb's comments were backed by Australian Attorney-General Philip Ruddock. "If you settle in Australia you've got a responsibility to respect our constitution, the institutions, our courts, the parliament, the rule of law and what it means," he said.
The Australian, a national paper, called the proposals sensible, saying in an editorial that a test of Australian values "can only be a good thing, given the tenuous grasp of secular democracy of some Islamic radicals."
Support also came from Australian historian Keith Windschuttle, who said in a radio interview Robb's proposal "would help to break down the sort of tribalism that the multicultural policy ... has instituted."
"We've had a policy that's been telling people that they can retain all of their previous cultures and that not only includes cultures but all the previous grievances, their local hatreds of various nationalities in their old country, and we've seen people bring a lot of that baggage to Australia," he said.
Currently, the tens of thousands of migrants acquiring Australian nationality each year are expected to have a basic knowledge of English and answer simple questions about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
Robb and Rudd are the latest of a growing list of Australian politicians to have stoked controversy by addressing these issues in recent months.
Federal Treasurer Peter Costello told Muslims earlier this year that if they could not accept Australian values or wanted to live under Islamic law (shari'a) - as called for by some Australian Muslim leaders - they should leave.
Prime Minister John Howard also criticized clerics who "rave on about jihad" and newcomers to the country who wanted to overturn its core values and beliefs.
For decades Australia, like Britain and some other countries, has pursued a policy of "multiculturalism," which essentially allowed migrants of different faiths and cultures to settle without being expected to integrate.
Critics have long worried about unintended repercussions. Some Muslim thinkers have encouraged Muslims in Western countries specifically to avoid integrating into the majority, but instead to establish concentrated communities where mosques, religious schools and - ultimately - religious shari'a courts regulate life.
But now a renewed push for assimilation has been heard, not just in Australia but elsewhere where concerns about Muslim radicalism have grown in recent years.
The shift in the debate in Australia over the past year or so has brought accusations of "Islamophobia" and racism.
Robb's speech drew criticism from groups representing Muslims and ethnic minorities.
Voula Messimeri, chairwoman of the Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia, said the English requirement would exclude some people, while Keysar Trad of the Islamic Friendship Association said a compulsory test plan sent out "racist signals."
A spokesman for the Islamic Council of New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, saw similarities between the test Robb was calling for and notorious language tests used half a century ago to keep out unwanted non-European migrants to Australia.
Ameer Ali, president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, also said the notion of "Australian values" was a vague one.
In his speech, Robb listed some of the values he had in mind, including "our respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, our commitment to the rule of law, our commitment to the equality of men and women" and tolerance and compassion.
Muslims comprise less than two percent of the Australian population, although the community in recent years has been growing at a rate six times faster than that of the total population.
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