Articulate ex-Islamist and ex-socialist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who recently visited Australia, has become a pin-up for neo-conservatives. But her bitterness against Islam clouds her argument.
She conflates Islam with extreme social conservatism (for example, submission to authority, subjugation of women, and persecution of homosexuality). But many Muslims do not hold these views, and many non-Muslims do, including people who already live in Australia. If these issues are a threat to Australian values, then we must address them specifically, opposing the actual repressive ideology, not a religion, not a country, not an ethnicity. To take the other road is mere prejudice. Are we going to ask immigrants from the U.S. if they are Amish? Are we going to deport Australians who oppose gay marriage or think women belong at home?
Hirsi Ali overdresses her straw man in the style of Joseph McCarthy when she describes secret evil plans for “the gradual Islamisation of Australia” by methods which don’t sound much different from those of the Hari Krishnas, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or the Landmark Forum.
Hirsi Ali says that The Australian‘s Janet Albrechtsen told her it is “taboo” in Australia to hold this “unconventional view” – yet it is commonplace and widely publicised. By targeting a particular religion, and particular countries and ethnicities, rather than the actual beliefs and values concerned, she has played right into the hands of shock-jocks, bigots and outright racists.
Her proposal to tear up the UN convention on refugees and replace it with an assimilation test is a dog-whistle which confounds refugee policy with immigration policy.
Her evidence that the current convention is inadequate? “Most applicants lie” about fear of persecution (well, at least, she did). What, then, would stop them from lying about their intention to assimilate?
The evidence that we need an assimilation test? According to Hirsi Ali, it’s “the key to a successful multi-ethnic society”. In case you hadn’t noticed, we already have one; and even if we didn’t, that would be down to immigration policy, not refugee policy, which is about helping those in need. Tearing pages out of statute-books won’t reduce our moral obligations.
Even if we accept the validity of applying immigration policy to refugees, to require “willingness to live by the values of the host country” is obvious and trivial – if that’s all it really means.
But to the ears of those to whom this dog-whistle is tuned, “assimilation” is code for not speaking non-English languages, not wearing certain clothing, abandoning unfamiliar cultural practices including religious ones, and generally trying to conform to some chimerical, narcissistic image of Australian-ness. This kind of oppressive mono-culturalism is as old as migration itself, and is the real failure to assimilate.
Real assimilation is a two-way process: Australia has already absorbed many waves of migration, each of which changed our economy, society, culture and values – for the better.