Identity, racism, fear and treatment of the other

UTC is hosting a an evening with Chris Budden, exploring identity, racism, fear and treatment of the other. This is the first of what we hope will be a regular forum to discuss issues in the light of Christian faith. Given the constant mistreatment and targeting of Muslim people there will be a case study around attempts to ban the face veil and the burkini.

WHEN: Tuesday 29 November 2016
TIME: 5.00 to 7.00pm
WHERE: Centre for Ministry, 16 Masons Drive, North Parramatta

The format will be a couple of presentations about the issues in the case study (including the perspective of a Muslim scholar), small group discussion of the case study, and then general discussion.

The case study and some questions can be found below.

For further information contact Chris Budden, [email protected]

CASE STUDY: Banning the face veil and burkini

You belong to a local government area in which a significant number of Muslim people live. There is generally not much mixing between the Muslim peoples and other parts of the community. Constant media concerns about terrorism, usually targeting young Muslim people, means there is considerable mistrust and even fear in the community.

It is clear from recent TV interviews around the local shopping centre that people are particularly anxious around women who wear the full-body covering. People are anxious when they cannot see other people’s faces.

This is a beach-side suburb and some Muslim women have started to come to the beach in what has now been called the ‘burkini’ – a swim suit that covers most of the body. Some other swimmers have become quite abusive about this, claiming that such a covering is inappropriate on the beach and re-enforces a separate cultural identity.

A local Councillor has introduced a proposal to Council to ban both forms of dress – i.e. the face veil and the beach wear – within the council area in shopping centres and on beaches. He has pointed to efforts in France to ban the burkini from beaches. He claims that he is not against Muslims, but believes that all people need to fit in with ‘Australian values’. He has said that such behaviour is a threat to Australia’s social cohesion, and feeds fear and division within the community. Such dress is oppressive of women. He has also said that Australia is a Christian country, and that Christian values are under threat. He also claimed to be concerned about people’s safety, because they are subject to abuses by the local residents because of their differences and refusal to ‘fit in’.

Your local Church Council has been asked by one of the Church members to support the Councillor’s proposal. You have been asked to prepare a short paper for the Church Council to explain the issues from a Christian perspective.

FOR DISCUSSION

  1. What areas of faith and theology are challenged by this issue? That is, why is this a moral issue for Christians?
  2. What do you think people from other faiths, or people who take a more secular perspective might say about this issue?
  3. Where are you located – socially and theology – as you consider this issue? That is, what perspective do you start with?
  4. What resources – Bible, tradition, experience, other sources of knowledge – would you draw on and give weight to?
  5. Whose voices are to be given most weight in this issue? How can Muslim people be heard in this discussion, and taken seriously?
  6. What position should you take and why?

SOME ISSUES
You might want to think about some of the following:
* Does starting with the idea of ‘social cohesion’ mean that diversity and difference are really suppressed? Are other approaches, for example ‘hospitality’ better ways to deal with diversity and difference?
* Are there ways to build empathy so that people can talk and recognise their common humanity, hopes and fears?
* Does the Councillor reflect a view that some people are superior to others? What would Christian theology say to that?
* How do Christians deal with religious diversity?
* How can Christians assist people right across the community to find common ground around this issue in ways that would support human well-being?
* What are the limits of freedom – e.g. the right to wear what we like in public?
* Does the claim that ‘Australia is a Christian country’ make any sense?
* What can Christians contribute to a conversation founded in fear of difference?
* Could there be legitimate occasions when people could express their thoughts and feelings without going into Islamophobia or being stigmatised as anti-Muslim?

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