Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has warned against blaming all Muslims for the crimes of extremists, after former PM Tony Abbott inflamed debate about a “massive problem within Islam”.
Mr Abbott has called for a “religious revolution” inside Islam and declared: “Cultures are not all equal. We should be ready to proclaim the clear superiority of our culture to one that justifies killing people in the name of God”.
He initially made the comments in a Sky News interview, and backed them up in an opinion column published by News Corp.
“We’ve got to work closely with live-and-let-live Muslims because there needs to be, as president [Abdel Fattah] Al-Sisi of Egypt has said, a religious revolution inside Islam,” Mr Abbott said.
“All of those things that Islam has never had — a Reformation, an Enlightenment, a well-developed concept of the separation of church and state — that needs to happen.”
He acknowledged most Muslims “utterly reject terrorism” but also argued that Australians should stop being “apologetic” about their nation’s values.
“It’s not culturally insensitive to demand loyalty to Australia and respect for Western civilisation,” he said.
Speaking on ABC local radio, the Prime Minister said Mr Abbott was entitled to his personal opinion.
“It’s a complex area,” Mr Turnbull said.
“Plainly the vast, vast majority of Muslims are as appalled by extremism, and particularly violent extremism, as we are,” Mr Turnbull said.
“The extremism of ISIL or Daesh, these terrorists, is utterly rejected by the leaders of the great majority Muslim nations.
“The one thing we need to be very careful not to do, and I’m sure Tony agrees with this by the way, what we must not do is play into the hands of our enemies and seek to tag all Muslims with responsibility for the crimes of a few.”
Comments ‘grossly disrespectful’ to Muslims
Islamic Council of Victoria spokesman Kuranda Seyit said the comments had caused offence, particularly the suggestion that Islam was culturally inferior.
“Islam is a religion of decency and has, equally to any other religion in the world, the highest moral standards which we uphold,” he said.
“For him [Mr Abbott] to suggest there is a problem in that area, I think, is grossly disrespectful to the people of Islam and the followers of Islam.”
Kuranda Seyit went on to acknowledge some members of the Islamic community needed to change.
“Unfortunately there are some people within the community who want to go back towards the original concept of Islam,” he said.
“That’s where I think, sometimes, you have that clash within the Muslim community between the old guard and the new guard.”
Sydney-based Islamic scholar Ahmed Abdo has also criticised Mr Abbott’s approach and questioned whether he was qualified to call for a “reformation”.
“I’ve spoken to many Muslims and in fact Christians, and Jews today and they’ve without doubt expressed their extreme disgust and upset with those comments,” he said.
“Those comments are inflammatory, those comments are divisive, those comments are in fact in line with what radical groups such as ISIS are actually calling for – and that is that the western world rejects Islam and Islam has not place in wider western society.”
Labor seizes on former PM’s comments
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten called on Mr Turnbull to “pull Tony Abbott into line” and said he was clearly seeking to divide the community.
“Making assertions about cultural and religious superiority is entirely counterproductive,” Mr Shorten said.
“Inflammatory language undermines efforts to build social cohesion, mutual respect and has the potential to harm the efforts of national security agencies to keep Australians safe.”
Labor frontbencher Andrew Leigh said the comments framed Mr Abbott as an “Australian Donald Trump”.
His colleague Ed Husic, Australia’s sole federal Muslim MP, echoed the comparison with conservative US-style campaigning and noted what he saw as a broader effort by some to “Trumpify” Australian politics.
Yesterday Mr Trump, the Republican presidential frontrunner, called for a “complete and total shutdown” of Muslims entering the US, claiming there was “great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population”.
His comments drew fire from all sides of the US political spectrum, with everyone from Hillary Clinton to Dick Cheney saying banning a particular religious or ethnic group would go against everything America stood for.