Thursday, March 27, 2008

REFLECTION: Lessons from an older cousin ...

There were Jews on the First Fleet to Australia in 1788. According to Bilal Cleland, author of a definitive history of Muslims in Australia, there were Muslims on the Second and subsequent Fleets. In terms of European settlement on this continent, that makes Jews our elder cousins.

Our virtually-twin faiths ensure we have even more in common. For a long time now, I've been wondering why leaders and concerned citizens from Muslim communities don't spend more time learning from their Jewish cousins.

Which makes it pleasing that the Australian Intercultural Society and the Anti-Defamation Commission in Melbourne jointly organised a National Cohesion Summit in February this year. The topic of the summit was ‘The Australian Jewish Experience and Challenges Faced by Muslims’. You can read more about the event here.

Among the keynote speakers was Hon Justice Howard Nathan, a Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria. Justice Nathan spoke of the early achievements of Jewish settlers in literacy and numeracy. His advice to us is certainly worth its weight in gold ...

Not only were they literate, but they were also numerate, which put them ahead of others and stood the Jews in good stead ever since. Education, education, and yet more education was the key.

Also important was the contribution of Dr Helen Light, Director of the Australian Jewish Museum. Yes, museums do make an enormous difference in helping to construct an historical identity and in building bridges with the broader community. Consider these wide remarks ...

While museums are secular organisations, they are important venues to discuss cultural identity and talk about religion ... They teach the value of diversity, share the importance of respect between different people and provide a model of a community that has been able to make a real contribution to society.
I am not aware of a single Muslim community in the West which has established a museum. We so often complain about others constructing a negative identity about us. Yet the fact is that we are often too lazy or too pre-occupied with short-term issues to consider projects (such as a museum) which will have lasting effect.

Words © Irfan Yusuf 2008

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