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Eid al-Adha celebration at Lakemba Mosque

October 26, 2012

This morning I had the pleasure of speaking at the Eid al-Adha celebration at Lakemba Mosque.

I said that this celebration is a reminder of the important role of Islam in the lives of many Australians.

Australia is home to nearly half a million Muslims and Islam is our country’s third largest religion (behind Christianity and Buddhism).

Australian Muslims contribute strongly to Australian society.

I referred to my first speech as a Senator in March where I quoted the King of Jordan, King Abdullah II. In 2004 he said: “Let us avert the clash of civilisations, and help the overlap of cultures. Let us partner for peace.”

I have worked hard to promote this since becoming Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The Australian Government funds a multitude of inter-faith, cultural overlap and community development activities overseas, for example:

• in the Philippines, our Strengthening Grassroots Interfaith Dialogue and Understanding small grants program supports peace-building activities by local community groups and NGOs;
• the Indonesia BRIDGE program (Building Relations through Intercultural Dialogue and Growing Engagement) supports school partnerships between Australia and Indonesia;
• Australia is contributing funding towards an “Australia Arab Women’s Dialogue” to be held across Australia in March 2013;
• through the Council for Australia-Arab Relations, we have provided 2,867 Australian high schools with a resource kit called ‘Arab Gateways’; and
• in 2004, Australia and Indonesia established the Regional Interfaith Dialogue (RID).

I also spoke of the conflict in Syria, the appalling dimensions of this crisis and the serious risk it poses to stability in the region – it is already spilling over its borders, to Turkey and more recently to Lebanon.

Australia strongly supports the UNSC’s call for all parties – and in particular the Syrian authorities – to cooperate fully with the UN and others on the provision of humanitarian assistance.

Australia has committed over $24 million in aid making us the third-largest national humanitarian donor.

It is important to emphasise that Australia has long-standing links with the Arab world, especially in trade and education:

• trade $13.4 billion in 2011; and
• over 18,000 students from Middle East studying in Australia in 2011.

Our formal links with regional organisations are growing:

• I participated in the second Australia- Gulf Cooperation Council dialogue in New York last month;
• we have a formal dialogue with the Arab League;
• we have a framework of cooperation with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation;
• we have senior officials talks with the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, and Iraq; and
• we have agreed to hold these talks with Libya, Oman, Algeria and Morocco.

We are also supporting the democratic transition of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Iraq.

It is these links that we must remind ourselves of in the face of the efforts of extremist minorities to incite violence or create gaps between cultures.

One Comment
  1. October 26, 2012 7:40 pm

    Dear Senator Carr,

    Like you, I am committed to working for peace and inter-faith dialogue, which I see as the coming together of people from different religious backgrounds and beliefs as equals.

    I note your reference to Syria in this statement and the emphasis you put on calling on the Syrian authorities in particular to cooperate fully with the UN on the provision of humanitarian assistance. Within Syria, it is naturally mainly the responsibility of the Syrian authorities to provide assistance to people in need. As the fighting between the army and ‘rebels’ intensifies, more and more Syrians are displaced from their homes so the resources of the Syrian government and people will be seriously strained. They will need our support.

    (It must be remembered that Syria welcomed into their suburbs and towns over 1.4 million refugees from Iraq in the last decade, so already the country’s resources have been stretched. Throughout history, Syria has been at the crossroads of wars; more than most, Syrians know what it means to provide refuge and to ward off invaders.)

    I believe if we are serious about providing humanitarian assistance to victims of the crisis in Syria, we must

    1. provide it to as many people in need as possible; this includes people in Syria as well as those outside, people who have registered with the UN as refugees as well as those who are depending on the charity of such organisations as Caritas Christi and the Red Crescent because they resist registering with the UN for whatever reason.

    2. determine that we do not provide assistance to camps which serve as refuges for people who are going into Syria to fight the Syrian army and to kill those they deem to be ‘collaborators’ ( i.e. secular Syrians who want a peaceful, stable life and so do not support the violent agenda of extremists). If Australian laws forbid Australian citizens joining the ‘jihad’ against Syria, we must not be disingenuous by supporting in material ways fighters (jihadists or mercenaries) operating from refugee camps in countries bordering Syria. These fighters are going into Syria only to cause more suffering to the general population as is evidenced by their savage attacks on Aleppo – the city and its people – and the recent bombing in a Christian suburb of Damascus.

    3. condemn those – individuals and governments – that provide arms and funding to the militias which are fighting the Syrian army and killing thousands of innocent people. Two weeks ago, I heard that my niece’s fiancé had been assassinated because he worked for a communications company. Just this week, a priest was found murdered outside Damascus; he had been negotiating the release of people held captive by armed men. The kidnappers and his killers may have been ‘rebels’, gangsters, thugs, Wahhabi or Salafi jihadists, mercenaries, or all of the above. What his killing and the killings of thousands of other Syrians by such people represents is a reminder that war is not a chess game played in the lounge rooms of the powerful; it brings out the evil in people and it is played out in the streets and homes of the general population. Once that ‘beast’ in some has been released, it is very difficult to control. But it must be. In the 21st century, in this globalised world with virtually no borders, all nations and peoples should be responsible for determining the world is at peace.

    4. condemn the fatwas of extremist clerics which call for the killings of people who belong to minorities in Syria as well as of people who do not support their violent agenda. Apparently the most prominent cleric in the ME, Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi (he is based in Qatar and has close links with Al-Jazeera and the Muslim Brotherhood) , said on Al-Jazeera last year that “if it is necessary to kill 1/3 of the population of Syria in order to topple the Syrian government, that is ok”. Unless this call to murder millions is condemned, it will slowly and insidiously gain currency. This is particularly true when the rhetoric of so many journalists and commentators in the west depends on distorting and simplifying the situation in Syria with dependence on labels such as the ‘Sunni majority’, the ‘Alawi’ and ‘Christians’ minorities, etc, distinctions which are anathema to the vast majority of people in Syria who instinctively view themselves as ‘Syrians’. (As someone who grew up in the 1950s when the friction between Protestants and Catholics pervaded Australian society, It shocks me that there are journalists and politicians who rely on such distinctions to describe a society they hardly know; they certainly do not show the people in it regard or respect.)

    It reflects very badly on the international community that there has been no condemnation of the fatwas of extremists. We are complicit in the assassinations of journalists, public servants, priests, imams, doctors, professors, politicians, children, people going about their every day business, if we do not condemn them strongly and continuously.

    It is reported that around 80,000 Christians have been forced by Islamist militias to flee Homs, and so are in need of assistance. People would only flee their homes because of a campaign of terror, which would include the murder of individuals, such as young Sari Saoud, killed last year while he stood in the street with his mother. But of course it is not only Christians fleeing the violence. The people of Aleppo a city of millions representing the mosaic of Syria continue to suffer terrible violence and deprivation because of fighters on a mission to kill and destroy a secular society.

    Overall, Australia is right to be proud of its humanitarian work as well as its success at bringing together people of different faiths and ethnic backgrounds. However, having lived in Syria, a country which is committed more than most to such work, I believe Syrians have had their humanity tested in recent years more than most, and they have excellent reasons to be proud of how they have united to support millions of people in need.

    Whereas Australia has no such reason to be proud if it condones arson that spreads fires which could potentially kill millions and then stands on the world stage to proudly display a small fire extinguisher.

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