x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Australia's Muslims at risk of 'rebellion'

Muslims in Australia are struggling to fit into the country, with high levels of poverty and unemployment making the diverse group vulnerable to "rebellion" and radicalism.

Muslims in Australia are struggling to fit into the country, with high levels of poverty and unemployment making the diverse group vulnerable to "rebellion" and radicalism, according to new research. Despite being better educated than non-Muslims, Australian followers of Islam end up socially and economically disadvantaged, with one third of Muslim children in the the country living in poverty, the study by researchers at Flinders University in Adelaide found.

The study's author, Riaz Hassan, an emeritus professor at Flinders, said the advantage gained by Muslims at school and universtiy was being lost when they entered the workforce. He said it was a trend that reflects the struggle Muslims face trying to fit into Australian society and one that could lead to further isolation for the community as inter-generational poverty becomes more common. Those struggling the most are 19 to 24 year olds, 18 per cent of whom are unemployed, which, according to Mr Hassan, puts them at risk of revolting against the system.

This economic disadvantage was "disempowering" and resulted in Muslims being alienated from mainstream society, which could then make them more vunerable to radicalism and other criminal activity, he said. "What happens when people are unemployed over a long period of time is they drift into poverty and they begin to ask themselves why is this so? This is when radicalism can come in," Mr Hassan said in an interview.

He said it is not religious radicalism that emerges, but criminal "rebellion". The data, taken from national census figures, reveal a grim picture: only 15 per cent of Muslims own their home compared with 30 per cent of non-Muslims; twice as many live in public housing and only 25 per cent of Muslim households have above-average household income compared with 34 per cent of non-Muslims. However, the data also show that a higher proportion of Muslims graduate from high school than non-Muslims and 21 per cent of Muslim men have a university degree compared with 15 per cent of non-Muslims, yet their unemployment rates are twice as high as those of non-Muslim Australians.

Mr Hassan said part of the reason behind the negative statistics was a lack of recognition by authorities of overseas qualifications. However, although this may apply to an older generation of Muslims who immigrated to the country, it does not apply to the younger generation of Muslims among those born and educated in Australia. This is the group Mr Hassan said was of the greatest concern. "This led me to the conclusion that other possible causes, including discrimination and institutional practices, such as prejudice and a kind of Islamaphobia, could be behind the high rates of unemployment.

"If we leave this problem unattended, then poverty and unemployment can lead to economic disadvantage and that can accumulate over a lifetime." As the population ages, the percentage of unemployed Muslims would increase. Abdulah Zayied, the New South Wales president of the Federation of Australian Muslim Students and Youth, said he had seen anecdotal evidence to back up the statistics. "From personal experience with friends and university students there does seem to be some sort of feedback that indicates that it is slightly more difficult for them to find work."

He said some people who had graduated from university told him it was taking them six months to two years to find work. Mr Zayied said one of his Muslim friends had spent about six months looking for work and became convinced it was because of his name. He changed his name on his resume to a more western one and reapplied for a job he had already been rejected for. He got an interview. "It's normal for that sort of thing [discrimination] to happen anywhere, whether it be in Australia or anywhere else in the world.

"I'd be kidding myself if I said it didn't happen here, but how widespread it is I'm not sure." The trend of economic disadvantage of Muslims was highlighted last year in a report by IDA, an international think tank, titled "Australia Deliberates: Muslim and Non-Muslims in Australia". It said there was growing evidence of an increasing lack of understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims in Australia.

"Misperceptions and lack of understanding fuels a mutually reinforcing negative spiral: fear of the 'other' and aggressive behaviours feed stereotypes on both sides which may work as self-fulfilling prophecies," the report said. "Young Australian Muslims, most of whom are born in Australia, are becoming increasingly alienated because of the relentless questioning of their 'Australian-ness'. In searching for identity, they turn to others who share this experience, and therefore gravitate away from mainstream Australian culture which appears to reject them. The danger is that they may turn to more radical sects of Islam."

It said radicalism by Muslims was more likely to stem from socio-economic inequality and discrimination than religious "impulses". The Muslim population is growing quickly in Australia. According to the 2006 census, 340,392 people (1.71 per cent of the population) identified themselves as Muslim. This compared with 281,578 in the 2001 census. Mr Hassan said more research was needed to help identify more specific causes before the problem is addressed.

He said a similar programme recently used to encourage girls to excel at school could be applied to the Muslim community. As Australia grows as a country and becomes more a part of the global community, Mr Hassan said, he hopes Muslims in the country will be treated more fairly. "It is very hard to explain the very large disparity between Muslim and non-Muslims in the labour market without assuming discrimination is a factor and that needs to be addressed."

bslabbert@thenational.ae