It was the Muslim period of Ramadan in 2016 and I was delivering financial investigation training to a group of investigators from a Nigerian law enforcement agency in Lagos, Nigeria. For half of the class, it was going to be a long day. Being Muslims, they were fasting. No drinking, eating or smoking until the breaking of the fast later in the early evening of each day. Like many training courses, lunch was provided, and the other half of the class, being Christians, proceeded to dine. Though, before they ate, I noticed the Christian participants were preparing take away meals. I thought they were packaging meals to take home to their family, which commonly occurs, but only after everyone has eaten. These participants were selecting food before anyone had eaten, including them. I made inquiries with one senior course participant, a Christian, as to what was happening and to my surprise, she told me “we are preparing meals for our Muslim brothers. They cannot eat now. But they will be able to when the fast ends but by then they will be travelling home and stuck in traffic for hours. They will be very hungry”. I asked if they had checked if the food was halal and she replied: “it’s all halal. And we eat it too. It makes no difference”.
Nigeria has serious problems, not the least being terrorism, particularly from Boko Haram. Given the existence of a major terror group in the country with a history of violence towards Christians and anyone opposed to their ideology, I was surprised to observe in Lagos and Abuja just how well the Christians and Muslims related to each other. There appeared to be no animosity between them. And they did not separate into two distinct groups during breaks which I would have expected, if either group feared or distrusted the other. And given the level of violence in some parts of the country, it would be reasonable for Christians at least to be hostile or suspicious towards Muslims. All I witnessed were Muslims and Christians working together; eating together; socialising together; and praying together. Each morning before lessons began, the Christians would commence with a prayer followed by the Muslims. And each group prayed for their fellow participants. And I was often told that both groups prayed for me. Knowing I was a Catholic turned atheist, they prayed that I would find my way back to God. And it was not uncommon to see Muslims reading Christian material brought into the room by a participant and Christians and Muslims discussing in a friendly and respectful manner their religious beliefs.
I had been to Nigeria on 5 previous occasions. But with each trip I make to that country, like my many visits to other Muslim countries, Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan; I was enriched by the experience.
And upon returning to Australia, the land of my birth, I cannot help but notice the hostility that is growing towards people of Islamic faith, their customs and values. The bulk of the opposition to Muslims is driven by Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party. But there are other political contributors including the Q Society of Australia and Australian Liberty Alliance to name a few. They all preach a similar anti-Islam message, each containing common elements including inflated emotional rhetoric about halal certification in Australia; banning or restricting Muslim immigration and banning the wearing of the Burqa. Comments made in relation to One Nation could equally apply to anyone of those organisations. One Nation goes further though in its anti-Islam rhetoric, including calling for a Royal Commission to examine whether Islam is really a religion!
The views expressed by One Nation and like-minded groups are based on ignorance; are exaggerated or emotional in parts or are incorrect. And while the causes of resentment and alarm are beyond this discussion, it is clear that people no matter what their problems are in life, will be attracted to anything that they see as being the cause, promulgated by the person who shouts the loudest. I doubt if supporters of One Nation and other right wing groups have seriously thought about the impact their policies and statements could have on Australia’s trade and Australia’s national security.
Any ban restricting the religious or cultural rights of a person, including calls to ban the Burqa by outlawing the wearing of it in public or government buildings is a serious breach of human rights. And any law could easily be sidestepped and would be expensive and difficult to enforce. Noting of course, that the wearing of a burqa by a woman is cultural and unique to those countries where it is practiced. Early Christian women, covered their head and face and the practice has all but ceased in Australia and around the world. A similar trend is occurring in relation to the wearing of a burqa by women of Islamic faith, where it is in decline in many countries. I know Muslim women in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Nigeria who do not wear a burqa in public.
Issues with women wearing burqas or any other form of attire, can easily be addressed by current laws and procedures. A blanket ban is unnecessary. In Muslim and non-Muslim countries, simple procedures provide for the identification of women. For example, at international airports, women wearing burqas are searched in private screening areas and are required to show their face to a woman. Banning women from wearing a burqa in public or in a Government building will only cause or increase resentment amongst Islamic Women and marginalise them even further. Amendments to specific relevant laws, where they are required, would be more practical, for example: a female driver wearing a burqa being required to show her face to a male police officer or when having her driver’s licence photo taken. But even in the latter case, there is no reason why the photo couldn’t be taken by a woman. And while proposals also amount to a breach of a person’s rights, they are minor compared to a total ban and would be a small price to pay by Muslim women for living in a free and open society.
In relation to halal certification of food in Australia, from a marketing perspective, it is simply good business sense to do it. One Nation wants to ban halal certification in Australia. Amongst its many views on the issue, it argues that the current halal certification system in Australia funds terrorism. Despite there being no evidence that it has or is being used to fund terrorism in Australia. Any funds, including illegally and legally obtained can be a source of funds to support terrorism. Supporting material used by One Nation to support its claim of funds derived from halal certification being used in the United States to fund terrorism is incorrect. Similar incorrect or unbalanced claims appear on the websites for the Q Society of Australia and Australian Liberty Alliance. What will be the response from One Nation and other groups, if Islamic finance becomes a major financial product in Australia? Claim Islamic finance funds terrorism as well!! One Nation and other right wing groups would better serve our country if they directed their outbursts and concern towards real criminal threats and activity, instead of inventing issues and creating unnecessary alarm in our community.
One Nation while wanting to ban halal certification will grant exemptions to exporters. This indicates that members of One Nation have never been food manufacturers of any significant scale in Australia. Production costs in Australia are high enough and the last thing any manufacturer needs is another expense being added. Any Australian food manufacturer supplying both the Australian and domestic market knows that to comply with any anti-halal certification law proposed by One Nation, it might have to operate two different labelling and supply systems. This would add to the cost of supply which would be passed on to the consumer, including Australian consumers of non-halal products. And not to mention the loss of market share in Australia and subsequent profits, by those Australian food manufacturers who would be prevented from suppling halal products to the local Australian market. They would lose out to imported halal certified food products which would not be captured by the proposed ban.
One Nation, Q Society of Australia and Australian Liberty Alliance all express alarm on their websites about the payment of halal certification fees. If there is an issue surrounding how products are halal certified in Australia, then changes to the existing model or development of a new model regulated by Government should be considered. One Nation makes reference to the size of the halal food markets overseas. And reports facts as if the industry is something to be feared. For example, One Nation states that the halal food industry is worth more than $7 billion a year in France alone. That should be great news for Australia. Instead of reporting negatively about halal food products and the current halal certification system in Australia, all political parties and business organisations should recognise the potential of the market, embrace it with enthusiasm and work together to develop a world best practice halal certification system that excels all others in existence and enables Australian exporters to capture and hold key international markets.
Unlike other advanced industrialised countries, Australia has very few industries that have an international competitive advantage. Agriculture is one of them. Banning halal certification is an absurd economic policy that does no good, but harms the competitiveness of Australian food suppliers in local and international markets. Loss of sales to foreign made products would have a flow on effect to other suppliers in the food industry, including farmers and industry employees. Perhaps One Nation, it supporters and other groups opposing halal certification, if they are not swayed by sound economic arguments, should simply follow the advice of Nigeria Christians, and that is: “it makes no difference”.
I have worn two uniforms in the service of Australia. The first while serving as a seventeen year old infantry soldier in the Australian Army from 1976. The other as a member of the Australian Federal Police. Now as a financial crime and risk management consultant, I am an exporter of services, one of the fastest growing export segments in Australia. I operate in a very competitive international market, where I am up against the best in the industry. And the last thing I and other exporters need is an artificial barrier being created, particularly at home, that will impact on my capacity to compete internationally. When I am overseas, I often receive first hand feedback of the growing resentment from foreigners towards Australian anti-Islamic views. Some of the comments I have received are hostile but most are expressions of dissatisfaction and dismay at Australia.
And there is a growing sense of concern among Australian exporters that anti-Islamic views held by One Nation and other parties could seriously damage trade with our international partners. A country does not grow its wealth by trading within itself. It must export to grow its GDP. Australia successfully competes in global markets including the Middle East and Asia. Areas that contain large Muslim populations. This includes countries regarded as being “Muslim countries” and countries with large Muslim populations, for example India. They are important markets for Australia and Australian business.
Smart business people living in those countries seeking international partners to import goods and services into their country quickly identify ignorance and stupidity. If they are not personally offended by the policies of One Nation and other groups, they will think carefully about the risk to them, their business and business name by engaging in any deal with an Australian company or an Australian. In overseas business circles where I mix and One Nation is discussed; Australians are seen as ignorant and worse, as being stupid. Unfortunately, the policies of One Nation impact on us all. They tar us all with the same brush. Not just them.
If One Nation and similar groups continue with their absurd assault on Islam in Australia, major Muslim countries will take notice, if they haven’t already. Consequently, there is a risk that those countries, either alone or acting as a block of nations, might retaliate and ban the importation of all Australian goods and services into their countries. If that were to happen, it would be a financial disaster for Australia.
Any Australian business engaging directly in the export of goods or services, including food from Australia or who benefits indirectly from that activity, for example a supplier to a manufacturer or a person employed by an exporting business, would be unwise, perhaps foolish, to support One Nation and any other similar political party or group. If they do, then they should be prepared to lose income, their business or their job if and when governments of Muslim countries and Muslims generally, reject their products or services. And any business and individual involved or employed in the export of goods and services, particularly rural communities, cannot afford to be complacent either and say nothing about the anti-Islamic sentiment growing in Australia.
Since the 9/11 attacks, Western security and police services have learned from the mistakes of the past, and have made considerable progress towards building relationships within the various Islamic communities. A key issue identified since those attacks was the absence of effective human sources to gather intelligence in relation to Islamic terror groups. Since September 2001, community engagement programs by Australian law enforcement agencies and ASIO with Islamic communities in Australia, have been highly effective. While gaining the trust of all ethnic communities is a primary police objective, building respect in Muslim communities is particularly challenging. Especially given that many Muslims fled to Australia to escape Islamic extremism and oppressive corrupt governments. A fact forgotten by supporters of One Nation and other right wing groups in Australia.
Building trust in a community in Australia cannot be achieved overnight. It takes time, commitment and patience. And above all total honesty. Skills I learnt while residing in the Sydney suburb of Lakemba in the early 1980’s, while still serving in the Army and later with the AFP and living amongst Lebanese Christians and Muslims who had fled war in Lebanon.
Polices promulgated by One Nation against Islam and Muslims in Australia, only makes the job of police and ASIO to engage with Islamic communities harder if not impossible to implement. Anti-Islamic policies, drive away potential informants which are difficult and costly to recruit and maintain. General sources of information within a community also dry up. And police and ASIO operatives are viewed with greater suspicion and trust begins to erode or is not established in the first place. Each and every time a One Nation representative speaks out against Islam, I can imagine police chiefs in Australia sighing heavily and slapping their forehead wishing they and similar groups would just shut up and go away.
And anti-Islam policies plays into the hands of extremist groups especially Islamic State. They and other terror groups will use it as further evidence that western societies are targeting Muslims, making it easier to cultivate disgruntled youth in the Islamic communities in Australia, particularly those individuals who are unemployed or suffering from mental illness.
Police and ASIO in Australia have been very successful in identifying and preventing terrorist attacks. Much of the valuable information received by those agencies has originated from Muslims, particularly from close family members. Receipt of that cooperation is threatened. Does anyone think that a woman of Islamic faith, who has been banned from wearing her burqa or has been threatened with the potential banning of wearing her burga in public and who feels ostracised or threatened by the introduction of such a measure, is going to make a report to the police about the suspicious activities of a family member? One would hope she or her family would, but policies by One Nation and other groups put all of that at risk. And why take a risk to our national security, when it isn’t necessary? Given that it is hard to assess the value of forgone information because it was never received; we might never know the impact foolish policies by political parties and interest groups have on our national security. If One Nation and other similar groups want to protect the Australian community, they are going about it the wrong way.
Policies of One Nation and other right wing groups potentially impact on our trade relations and threaten our national security efforts. Calls to ban the wearing of the burga; restrict or prevent immigration on the grounds of religion; ending or curtailing halal certification, are a breach of human rights. They are contrary to the Australian core value of fairness, and amount to nothing more than a fool’s harvest.
All major Australian political parties, Australian businesses and business organisations should make a stand and speak out publicly against the policies of One Nation and other like-minded groups and individuals. And all Australians should speak out against any attempt by a group or person to reduce the rights of an individual or group on religious, cultural, race or political grounds.
Australians opposed to Islam would be wise to travel to countries with large populations of Muslims, Christians and other religious groups living together and learn the real meaning of tolerance and acceptance.
Chris Douglas, APM
Proprietor, Malkara Consulting
Perth, Western Australia
 Known by other names, for example as the Chadri in Central Asia.
 The Dubai Chamber of Commerce estimates that the customer base for the halal industry is approximately 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide with US$1.1 trillion spent every year on halal products. Muslim markets remain net importers of halal food with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation countries importing 50% of their vegetable products, 32% of processed food, and 18.5% of animal products.
 The One Nation website pays more attention to the “threat” posed by Islam and Halal certification then it does to the threat of organised crime in Australia including the challenges posed by the current usage of “ice” in Australia.
 India has the third largest population of Muslims in the world, with over 172 million Muslims residing in that country. By 2050, while still predominantly Hindu, India is expected to have the largest Muslim population in the world. India is a growing Australian market for a range of products and services, with Indian Muslims playing a major role in country’s industrial and financial sectors.