Here is an interesting story that I picked up from an Australian newspaper.
“ Residents Bendigo of [a city in Victoria, Australia] who oppose a plan to build the town’s first mosque say that the building will attract more Muslims to it, rather than meet the needs of Muslims in the community. Lawyer for objecting residents, Robert Balzola, said that there was “no demand” for the mosque, as there was a “practically non-existent” Muslim presence in Bendigo.
About 15 residents have appealed against Bendigo Council’s decision to give the Australian Islamic Mission a permit to build the mosque on a two-hectare piece of land between two industrial zones.
On the final day of the hearing on Monday, Colleen Peterson, a town planning expert commissioned by the Mission’s lawyers, said the proposed site was appropriate for the mosque, citing the Mission’s estimate that Bendigo’s Muslim population may grow to up to 375 people. ”
The first thing that captures my attention about this objection to building a mosque is that I don’t think that this objection would be raised if someone wanted to build a church. In fact, there are many newer congregations of Christians who use ‘warehouse’ type facilities in industrial areas to begin their outreach. I can also picture in my mind both in Brisbane and Melbourne places where there have been huge new Christian church developments about which no one batted an eye. Or perhaps one can think of the dominating image of the ‘crystal cathedral’ in California. Even Russian and Greek Orthodox churches look pretty exotic in comparison with what we know as churches in the West.
And then there are the many large cathedrals that are part of any big city’s skyline. Not to mention the cathedrals to business and commerce that are going up all the time. So, clearly, the objection is about the fact that the building is a mosque.
Why is it that, suddenly, instead of seeing mosques as part of our rich cultural mix, a group of people wants go to court to have it stopped? Because it is Muslims who worship in mosques, and Muslims are the new ‘bogey men’.
I am worried about the fact that in my lifetime we have had a number of ‘bogey men’. First it was the Russians, Then the Chinese, now the Muslims. Many political thinkers have been influenced by the German Philosopher Carl Schmitt who, according to Wikipedia believed that ‘…there is broad agreement that [Schmitt’s book] “The Concept of the Political” is an attempt to achieve state unity by defining the content of politics as opposition to the “other” (that is to say, an enemy, a stranger.)
I think it is important that I have some idea of how I am being manipulated so that I don’t just get swept along by every wave of new ‘enemy making’ that is let loose upon us. I see opposition to the building of Mosques as such and unconscious response to the need to make enemies in order to achieve a kind of unity.
Part of the problem is that Governments can’t articulate for us much any more what it means to be a ‘citizen’ or on what basis national unity should be forged. It looks to me as though each move by a government to limit this, or stop that is an ad-hoc response, rather than one that has been thought through, and is then consistently applied.
First, there ought to be no room for violence. Second, I think that multiculturalism ought not to be a process where separate communities simply maintain their own cultures in ghettos, but that multiculturalism ought to be a way of maintaining difference, within mutual conversation. The Christian idea of the Trinity encapsulates an idea of distinct identities, which form a union based on mutual love. So it is not a matter of unity based on ‘sameness’ or ‘integration’ nor a matter of unity based on ‘our identity’ over against ‘their identity’ (something which all groups tend to do). I think it would be good for Governments to articulate an idea like the Trinity, which has processes of both ‘being ourselves’ and ‘having contact and being influenced by others’.
The other thing that strikes me about the article is the name of the Group. It is called the ‘Australian Islamic Mission’. It reminds us that like Christianity, Islam is a missionary religion. It is perhaps for many, frightening to think that Australia is an Islamic mission field. But it is. What response should Christians make?
Up till now, we have lived lives where the most common response to a Christian up-bringing was that it was left behind. People do not say ‘I had football stuffed down my throat as a child, so now I have had enough football.’ Instead they say ‘We were brought up in the tradition of this club. So we bring up our children in the same tradition.’ Or they don’t say ‘I had Santa Claus stuffed down my throat as a child, so now we’re not doing Christmas.’ But they do say it about Christianity. It is only possible to say this while Christianity is a personal, private option and does not have anything much different to add to life or society. But now, more than ever, Christianity could do well to rediscover its own missionary identity. It could make its case in the public square for how life can go.
I think that a much better response to a missionary Islam is to become better Christians than trying to stop the building of Mosques. We believe in freedom. We believe in the contest of ideas. After all, that is the idea behind the phrase ‘Church militant’. I think it would be better if we became more of a ‘Church militant’ than a ‘Church ineffectual.’