Proven by the latest bizarre example, where Muslim students do not have to shake hands with females, it’s clear that education’s politically correct embrace of diversity and difference — the new code for multiculturalism — reigns supreme.
As reported in yesterday’s The Australian, school officials at Sydney’s Hurstville Boys Campus, based on a literal interpretation of a hadith, told Muslim students that it was permissible to refuse to greet females in the customary way.
So much for the Christian admonition “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. And so much for the fact that Australian society only prospers and grows when there is a shared understanding of what constitutes civility and good manners.
And Muslim students not shaking hands is not an isolated example. In 2015, a Victorian primary school allowed Muslim students to absent themselves during the singing of the national anthem. At the University of Melbourne, Islamic groups have been given permission to segregate meetings involving males and females.
So much for the claim made on the ABC’s Q&A by the Islamic activist Yassim Abdel-Magied that her religion grants women the same rights and freedoms as men and that Islam does not unfairly discriminate because of one’s sexuality.
Education now embraces identity politics where the rights and privileges of particular individuals and groups nominated by the cultural Left are granted positive discrimination (except, of course, if you happen to be a white Anglo-Celtic, Christian male happy to live in a heterosexual relationship).
Whereas in times past schools would teach all students about the values, beliefs and institutions that bind us as a nation and the debt owed to Western culture, the focus is now firmly on what divides us instead of what we share in common.
Even worse, instead of their arguments being properly analysed and evaluated, anyone questioning multicultural groupthink is quickly condemned as Islamophobic, racist and intolerant.
As noted by the British journalist and author Patrick West: “Tolerance in the name of relativism has become its own intolerance. We are commended to respect all differences and anyone who disagrees shall be shouted down, silenced or slandered as a racist. Everyone must be tolerant. And that’s an order.”
The Australian National Curriculum advocates identity politics and the belief that all cultures must be treated equally. Christianity, instead of being acknowledged as one of the foundation stones on which Western culture rests and continues to depend, receives the same weighting as Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.
While the National Curriculum stipulates that subjects and areas of learning must celebrate diversity and difference, with a special focus an Asian and indigenous perspectives, scant time or attention is given to the history and significance of liberalism within the Western tradition.
The NSW Statement of Equity Principles endorsed by the recently established Education Standards Council also illustrates the way education has been captured by the cultural Left’s long march through the institutions. The school syllabus, associated materials and assessment guidelines all focus on “difference and diversity in the Australian community” where all must be respected and treated equally regardless of “cultural and linguistic heritage, gender, age, beliefs, socio-economic status, location, sexuality or disability”.
Such a relativistic stance inexorably leads to the situation where it is impossible to condemn or prohibit practices such as child brides, female circumcision and treating women as inferior to men.
In this smorgasbord of identity politics, where all cultures and beliefs systems are of equal value (except for indigenous that gets special treatment), schools are also told they must not discriminate as all students “have the right to different beliefs” and the right to experience a “positive sense of identity and self-respect”.
One wonders whether the call for tolerance applies to what the past president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Haset Sali, describes as “a toxic subculture” in Muslim schools where the fear is students are being radicalised by hate preachers to carry out jihad against the apostates and non-believers.
Multiculturalism ignores the reality that some cultural practices and beliefs are un-Australian and that unless we want to follow the example of Britain and Europe, where the policy has led to ethnic ghettos, violence and social fragmentation, education must teach how to discriminate between what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable beliefs and values.
There is also the irony that the very values that cultural relativists champion, such as tolerance and respect for others, are culturally specific. The liberties and freedoms we take for granted are embedded in Western culture, our Judeo-Christian heritage, and historical movements like the Enlightenment.
It is the Bible and not the Koran that states: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
It is also because of Western moral philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill that we have a separation between church and state and that we don’t live in a theocracy like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman where sharia law prevails and basic rights are denied.
Kevin Donnelly is a senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University and author of The Culture of Freedom.