How One Australian Church Is Combating Islamophobia

Priest Michael Barnes

Perhaps what the world needs most now is a renewed emphasis on what it means to be a good neighbour.

For Michael Barnes, the minister of Gordon United Church in New South Wales, Australia, being a neighbour entails doing everything in his power to make sure marginalized groups feel welcome in their own homes. That’s why Barnes is sending the powerful message that Muslims are welcome in his church — and he hopes the community at large will follow suit.

“There has been concern bubbling around in Australia for most of this year about discrimination against minorities,” Barnes told HuffPost, citing suggested legislation that would have altered the protections guaranteed in Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act.

“I’ve been aware of this issue for some time; often when I listen to comments of ‘ordinary and good’ people in the local community I am surprised to hear misunderstanding and anxiety expressed about Muslims.”

The rise of the Islamic State has played a major role in stoking these fears, Barnes said, specifically as news of Australian recruits joining the militants’ ranks surfaced. The Australian government has cracked down on suspected home-grown terror plots, with counterterrorism police conducting raids in some Muslim communities.

“Images of arrested Muslims dominated our airwaves for quite a few days,” Barnes said. “I was concerned that this, unwittingly, fed into and exacerbated general fear and anxiety in the community and more importantly that it made Muslims feel unwelcome in their own country.”

The motto of Gordon United Church is “Love wastefully” — a charge to promote inclusivity at all costs. Thus Barnes took the tools at his disposal — in this case the sign outside his church — to promote a different kind of attitude toward Muslims in the community.

“I wanted the church to be seen to offer a different message, to be neighborly and to offer welcome,” Barnes told HuffPost.

Barnes isn’t stopping with the church sign. Throughout October, Gordon United Church is celebrating “Interfaith Month” which will include services on Buddhism and indigenous traditions, in addition to a discussion lead by community member Mehmet Saral on “Why jihadists do not represent Islam.”

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14 thoughts on “How One Australian Church Is Combating Islamophobia

  1. Mark 11:17 “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations”.

    If they come to pray, we welcome them. If they come for any other reason, umm…. NO!

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      • Actually, I would still welcome them. The problem is when they start instigating court cases against Christian ministers for preaching sermons which moslems can exploit under “hate speech” umbrella.
        We have just come out of “Solidarity Sunday” where Christians of various denominations have joined hands to pray about the issue of Christians being persecuted in Islamic World. We’ve already met Muslims who came under guise of curious observers in the churches I was present in, only to come out and accuse Christians of preaching hatred.
        In fact there was no hate preaching. But the fact that Islam persecutes Christians, was deliberately misinterpreted to accuse Christians of hate preaching.

        Hence if they come to pray, they are welcome… but don’t expect us to change our religion to accommodate them because of political correctness.

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      • We’ve already met Muslims who came under guise of curious observers in the churches I was present in, only to come out and accuse Christians of preaching hatred.

        Where and when?

        The problem is when they start instigating court cases against Christian ministers for preaching sermons which moslems can exploit under “hate speech” umbrella.

        Where and when?

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      • The West send some drones blow up a few family. The survivors wrongly see the West as Christians and since they can not get justice from the West take out their anger on the local Christians. The West see this and blow up a few more families. It is a cycle of violence that needs to stop.

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      • True Dom.
        I just watched a documentary called ‘Dirty Wars’, it’s focus was on the ever escalating activities(list) of America’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). It shows the “collateral damage” of innocent bystanders in the War on Terror and the crushing personal losses that they suffer when the strikes aren’t as surgical as they are supposed to be or the intell was wrong. You can see how some become so called ‘radicalised’, a term that I am very much starting to question the use of. If my family were killed and and I sought revenge am I radicalised to something or am I just seeking revenge? It seems that some of the ‘radicals’ are people that were once bystanders and got sucked into the dark vortex that is growing in all of this conflict.
        I spent four months working for the US Army during operations “Shield and Storm”. I saw first hand how quickly the value of human life drops when the combat starts. Talk of killing and “easy kills” at first made me feel uneasy when I heard it, but I got used to it, it just became part of the deal. What people fail to understand is that wars are fought by individuals, they are a part of a larger ‘machine’, but are nonetheless individuals. In all of the bloodshed and death terrible psychological damage is done and personal conflicts are created, there is a darkness that just stains the soul in all of this and it doesn’t just stop when the war is done. When I left there, I didn’t realise it, but I had started to fight a personal war that went on for a very very long time, a very angry and bitter one that I didn’t even know I was fighting for quite a lot of years. So wars don’t resolve conflicts they just create new more scattered ones that can manifest in unpredictable ways and can’t be fought with weapons. With all of the current escalations from both sides I wonder just how any of this will ever stop!

        “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction … The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.” Martin Luther King (1963).

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    • “It is a cycle of violence that needs to stop.” (Dom)

      Terrorism can never be defeated by military means alone. But how do you go about negotiating with people who have blood on their hands? Britain’s chief broker of the Northern Ireland peace deal explains how it can – and must – be done (for a start, always shake hands)

      Jonathan Powell writes:-
      “In 1919, the British government had its first major encounter with terrorism, when the Irish Republican Army was established to drive the British out of Ireland. The government responded to the IRA’s acts of terror – which included the assassination of civilians as well as soldiers – with indiscriminate reprisals; these were met in turn by further escalation from the IRA. The prime minister, David Lloyd George, declared that the British government would never talk to the “murder gang”, as he described the IRA.

      But by 1920, it became clear to both sides that a military victory was impossible. Lloyd George secretly began to initiate contact with Michael Collins and other IRA leaders, using a relatively junior former customs official, Alfred Cope – who managed to open up a channel to the rebels and negotiate a ceasefire. This led to full-blown talks in Downing Street in 1921, and eventually to an agreement, albeit a flawed one that later unravelled.

      Seventy-six years later, in December 1997, Tony Blair and I sat down in the same cabinet room in Downing Street with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness; the negotiating teams, from Sinn Féin and the British government, even sat on the same sides of the table as they had in 1921. On both occasions, the meeting was a big event.
      ///
      It is hard not to respond emotionally to a terrorist act in the heat of the moment. When we see videos of western journalists being beheaded or TV footage of small children being blown up by IRA bombs it seems obvious that the only answer is force.
      ///
      Talking to terrorists and agreeing with them are not the same thing. The British government negotiated with Sinn Féin, but we did not concede to their demand of a united Ireland at the barrel of a gun.
      ///
      When I first met Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, in Belfast in October 1997, I declined to shake their hands – a petty gesture I now regret, but one that recurs again and again at encounters between governments and terrorists.
      ///
      We didn’t make any breakthroughs, but it set a pattern and I spent a good part of the next 10 years flying back and forth across the Irish Sea to meet Adams and McGuinness in safe houses in west Belfast, Derry and Dublin, going on to their turf rather than demanding they come to grand government buildings. The shared risks we took helped establish a relationship of trust, in which ideas could be explored informally and progress made. That encounter, and my 17 years of experience since in talking to terrorists in different parts of the world have convinced me of the wisdom of this approach if we want to resolve armed conflict in a lasting way.

      Terrorists are nearly always keen to talk. Gerry Adams could not persuade David Trimble or his Ulster Unionist party to talk to him even when they entered negotiations; they insisted on directing all of their comments to the chair, US Senator George Mitchell, rather than to Sinn Féin. Adams resorted to desperate tactics: he would loiter in the corridor until one of the unionists entered the gents, and then follow them in, stand at the next urinal, and try to engage them in conversation. They still refused to talk.

      I am an unlikely peacenik. I grew up in a military family, and I was involved in the decisions on all of Tony Blair’s wars. I do not think that war is always wrong: sometimes it is necessary to stop a dictator, prevent massive human-rights abuses, or expel an invader. But I have also seen that in the modern world, civil wars are the greatest threat to humanitarian security. If you want to fight starvation, the spread of disease, and mass rape – or to help suffering children, whether child soldiers or the victims of war – then the most important thing you can do is to help end armed conflicts, which is why I have decided to dedicate the rest of my life to that goal.
      ///
      Now we face the group that calls itself the Islamic State (Isis), the latest terrorists to confront us. And yet again we have met them with an emotional response based on the horror deliberately generated by their acts. We agree to bomb them and insist we will never speak to them because they are quite unlike any terrorist group we have ever met before.

      Of course there are differences. Their violence is more grisly than al-Qaida, and unlike many previous terrorist groups they, and Boko Haram in Nigeria, are taking and holding territory. This time, however, we should stop and consider what we have done in similar circumstances before. We need to work out a longer term strategy for dealing with whatever threat they pose, rather than opting once again for a kneejerk response to satisfy opinion polls. That strategy will certainly include security measures – if the terrorists feel they have the prospect of winning, they will just carry on fighting.

      But we will also need to address the grievances of the Sunni community in Iraq and to separate out the ex-Baathists and former members of Saddam’s army, who give the movement its real power, from the jihadis. And while Isis may not want to talk to us at the moment, we need to start building a channel to them, as we did with the IRA in 1972, so we can communicate. At some stage, we will need to negotiate with violent Islamic extremism, whether in this form or another one, if their ideas continue to have political support and we want to find a lasting solution to conflict in the region. They are unlikely to simply fade away. We need to bear in mind that such negotiations do not usually succeed at first; they have to go through many iterations, and an agreement is usually reached only when a mutually hurting stalemate exists, in which both sides realise that they cannot prevail militarily.”
      * * *
      http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/07/-sp-how-to-talk-to-terrorists-isis-al-qaida

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      • The first thing that needs to happen is both sides want it to stop. Not one side pretending to want it to stop.

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      • Just to drive the point home;

        As Richard Clarke told CBS in 2004, invading Iraq was immediately discussed after 9/11:
        As Clarke writes in his book, he expected the administration to focus its military response on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. He says he was surprised that the talk quickly turned to Iraq.
        “Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq,” Clarke said to Stahl. “And we all said … no, no. Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan. And Rumsfeld said there aren’t any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq. I said, ‘Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it.
        “Initially, I thought when he said, ‘There aren’t enough targets in– in Afghanistan,’ I thought he was joking.

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  2. I sometimes go join some guys down in the mall where we answer anyone’s questions on Islam. Over the last couple of weeks a lot of people have approached us to show support.

    My local mosque is having an open days over the week where people can come and ask questions. It generated a lot of interest in a nearby mosque.

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  3. The trouble with Islamaphobia is that it can create what it fears. As in France, where schoolgirls were incensed at the banning of the burqa, and turned to thoughts of jihad. The following from
    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/03/schoolgirls-jihad-society-problem-france-burqa-ban

    “When schoolgirls dream of jihad, society has a problem. Look at France

    Don’t underestimate the role of the burqa ban in turning teenagers into would-be militants

    Teenage angst can cause all kinds of unfortunate behaviour, but when schoolgirls tell their parents they want to join the fight in Syria and Iraq, then society has a serious problem. Alarmingly, this is increasingly happening in France, as young Muslims express their desire for jihad. Worse still, an estimated 100-150 young women and girls have actually joined groups such as the self-styled Islamic State (Isis), travelling to a war zone to devote their lives to setting up a highly militarised caliphate and, if necessary, dying for the cause.

    The situation has been replicated in Britain, but in smaller numbers, and women tend to be far less hateful of the country where they were often born and raised. There are no verified figures on either side of the Channel, but anecdotal evidence suggests that, in France, alienation from society is a far greater incentive to join a conflict than it is in Britain.

    Thus, in June, a 14-year-old girl known as Sarah disappeared from her home in a Parisian suburb for Syria. She texted her parents, telling them to search her bedroom where, under the mattress, they found a pained letter saying she was “heading for a country where they do not prevent you from following your religion”.

    Rather than a fanatical interpretation of Islamic teaching, or anger at western attacks on countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, Sarah’s motivations were based on what she regards as homegrown discrimination. This is markedly different from British jihadis, who tend to position themselves in a worldwide struggle against aggressive interference in the Muslim world.

    Numerous other girls in France regularly fill social media sites with reasons why they would consider fleeing abroad. Two, aged 15 and 17, are under judicial supervision after apparently corresponding with Sarah with a view to joining her in Syria, where they would almost certainly take husbands among the French combatants already there, as well as being trained in the use of weaponry. All of the would-be women militants rally against France’s distrust of Islam, which has manifested itself in a range of discriminatory legislation.

    This prejudice is exemplified by the burqa ban. Introduced in 2011 as a way of stopping a small minority of women from covering their faces in public, it provoked a vindictive debate about the place of Muslims in French society. Vengeful attacks on Muslim women became commonplace, ranging from assaults by rightwing vigilantes to people ripping veils off women’s faces as part of their “public duty”.

    Politicians of both left and right have since supported a variety of measures aimed at curbing expressions of faith among about 5 million Muslims living in France. These include bans on praying in the street – a practice French Muslims are forced into because of the lack of mosques – and controls on the supply of halal meat.

    Last year, a 15-year-old Muslim girl was expelled from school for wearing a headband and long skirt combination that was considered “too religious”. All conspicuous signs of religious affiliation, including Islamic headscarves, were banned from French state schools in 2004. This was in line with the secular nature of the French republic, but applying the restriction to a headband about two inches wide was considered absurd. The girl’s case was taken up by anti-discrimination groups, as yet another depressingly vicious debate about the role of Islam in society was launched.

    The National Front, a party enjoying massive electoral success, uses all these cases to campaign for an end to what it views as the Islamification of French society. As in the social media messages left by the Syria-bound girls, young Muslims speak about being abused in the street, or worse. Their general perception is that the majority of the French do not like them and would rather they moved elsewhere.

    Since the laws banning headscarves and niqabs were introduced, Muslims have regularly been accused of trying to get around increasingly restrictive legislation. Many believed that the French president, François Hollande, nominally a liberal socialist, would display a more relaxed attitude to how Muslims choose to dress, but his administration is one of the most reactionary in recent history. It was Hollande who last year called for the rules in nurseries against Islamic headscarves to be toughened up and he is an enthusiastic backer of the burqa ban too.

    Choice of clothing might rightly be regarded as inconsequential in the context of a terrorist movement carrying out atrocities against its western enemies but, as the French case shows, the influence of repressive and discriminatory legislation on vulnerable young minds should not be ruled out.”

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  4. “Why jihadists do not represent Islam.”
    Jihad is the essence of Islam. Jihad is being shouted to the rooftops all over the world in connection with Islam.

    Saying that Jihad has nothing to do with Islam is like saying that Jesus has nothing to do with Christianity.

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    • Not really Rol,

      He said “Jihadists do not represent Islam”, not that Jihad has nothing to do with Islam.
      What IS and their supporters are ‘shouting from the rooftops’ is nothing more than bloody vengeance and oppression and calling it Jihad in the name Islam. Of course the true Islamic faithful are denying these people represent them.

      “Jihad is the essence of Islam.”

      It may seem that way because that’s mostly what people are talking about in regard to Islam at present. The essence of ALL religions is to dedicate their lives to the service of God.

      Nobody is denying that Jihad is a part of Islam, at issue is the interpretation of what that is. According to the open letter by the Islamic scholars to IS the following seems to be the case:

      “there are two kinds of jihad in Islam: the greater jihad, which is the jihad (struggle) against one’s ego; and the lesser jihad, the jihad (struggle) against the enemy.”

      “the greater jihad is the jihad against the ego and its weapon is remembrance of God and purification of the soul.”

      “standing firm is the lesser jihad and is dependent on the greater jihad which is the jihad against the ego through the remembrance of God and purification of the soul. In any case, jihad is a means to peace, safety and security, and not an end in itself.”

      “there can be life without jihad, because Muslims may face circumstances where combat is not called for, or where jihad is not required, and Islamic history is replete with examples of this.”

      These are just extracts I have used. It is only fair to listen to those that actually study and practice the Islamic faith before we cast all Muslims as intolerant warmongers.

      Like

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