Unpopular Muslims

In a very funny episode of Kath & Kim tonight (including a great cameo by Matt Lucas as Sharon’s half-sister) both racist opinions (Kim) and racial identity based on a distant Indigenous ancestor (Kath) were enjoyably satirised. It was all far easier to take than a sanctimonious report More than tolerance: Embracing cultural diversity for health released this week by VicHealth.

But even tiresome bureaucratic documents can contain interesting data, this time a Victoria-specific study of racism, prejudice and discrimination. 12% of respondents agreed that they were ‘prejudiced against other cultures’, and 10% agreed with a conventionally racist proposition ‘not all races of people are equal’. A similar question in a national survey in 1998 found 16% of the population were racist, and 12% in 2001 in a Queensland and NSW sample.

Most of the questions on actual experience of intolerance or discrimination suggest that a only a small proportion of NESB migrants regularly experience it. It is by far the most likely to occur at a sporting or other public event (15%), perhaps because such events stir tribal passions and the offender is unlikely to see the victim again, easing social pressure pressure for tolerance, or be subject to institutional penalties. The next most likely location is the workplace (7%), though whether from customers or other staff it does not say; followed by education (6%), shops and restaurants (4%), and in housing and policing (3%). The low figure for shops, restaurants and housing perhaps shows again how the profit motive driving out other human sentiments can be a good thing.

Also out this week was an Issues Deliberation Australia report Australia Deliberates: Muslims and Non-Muslims in Australia. Its Newspoll survey suggests that support for the White Australia Policy is down to 5%, with that proportion thinking being white to be a ‘desired characteristic’ of migrants. But 40% thought that the number of Muslim migrants should be reduced, though as usual with these questions it is hard to sort out those who want to target Muslims from those who simply want less migration generally, but only 12% thought that there should be fewer migrants from Europe.

Half the Australians surveyed rarely or never had contact with Muslim people, which may or may not contribute to generally negative attitudes. 33% of the sample thought that Muslims made Australia a worse place to live, 15% a better place to live, with the rest neutral. Does this call into question the Victorian survey finding that only 12% of the population regard themselves as prejudiced against other cultures? Or do they think their negative views of Muslims are something other than prejudice? (Which I think is possible.)

The much smaller survey of Muslim Australians shows that they know how unpopular they are; with 64% claiming that they were discriminated against on the basis of religion and 35% on the basis of race or ethnicity. 4% of them thought that Muslim immigration should be reduced; with 9% wanting fewer Asians and 10% fewer Europeans.

IDA put on a deliberative session in Canberra for participants in their surveys, plus various other figures with views on the issues. As seems to always be the case with deliberative polling, after the session the respondents shift their views in the direction hoped for by the event organisers. The authors of More than tolerance would probably like to send the whole recalcitrant population off for such re-education.

6 thoughts on “Unpopular Muslims

  1. I suspect that abuse is more likely at sporting events, be it racist or otherwise. In fact, while I can’t recall ever being abused by opposition supporters at the football, I remember being abused by a fellow Carlton supporter in the old Ponsford stand of the MCG many years ago. I thing he called an idiot or some such simply because he didn’t like a suggestion I made about to whom the Carlton player kicking in from a behind should kick the ball.


  2. I’m not especially sure how valid these sorts of surveys are for all but petty racism, since its very hard to know if you are not getting things like a job because you don’t happen to look like the person giving it to you due to simple stereotyping, because of conscious racism, or because of other better candidates.
    Its hard to know the extent this affects people, but looking at the jobs minority groups do shows that there is probably a huge amount of stereotyping going on (sometimes positive), and it is moreso in other groups than Muslims, which everyone seems so compelled to talk and worry about. As an example, I can’t even remember the last Chinese blue collar worker I have met in Australia, I can’t think of any in the lower house of parliament in any state (so people won’t vote for them), but I think about half the doctors I go to are Chinese. Its hard to know the extent these things are due to racism, but its sure to play a part, and probably a part the individual wouldn’t be able to definitely say happened to them.


  3. Conrad – There is an assumption in these reports that any departure from statistical equality is prima facie evidence of discrimination (eg p.25 from the Victorian report), but I suspect ‘racism’ is rarely the main explanation. NESB people are over-represented in education and the professions, because migrants are a self-selecting ambitious group. African refugees are no doubt over-represented among the unemployed and low-skill jobs because they arrive without basic skills. But why do Indians dominate the convenience store industry? Why were so many Italians greengrocers in my childhood?


  4. Andrew, for some reason I missed your very interesting policy piece. In your last footnote, you say “Obviously it would be interesting to know if there have been significant shifts since September 2001”. This piece on the labour market impacts of 9/11 is the best answer I know of to that question. It’s looking at the US, but interesting nonetheless.


  5. It would seem to me that the phrase “‘not all races of people are equal” is not entirely without ambiguity. It could be cleaned up a little by saying something like “people of different races are all equal”. This would avoid the potential confusion of double negatives as in “No not all races of people are equal” versus “Yes not all races of people are equal” both of which are notionally racist answers depending on issues of comprehension.

    However it would still be unclear whether this phrase is meant to be treated as normative or positive. If somebody says they argree with the statement “blacks are not equal to whites” are they advocating that whites are superior to blacks or are they advocating for an end to black oppression?


  6. Terje – I’m not sure why the survey chose the negative formulation; it is phrased positively elsewhere. The normative/positive point is an important one, I think. There is no logical inconsistency is arguing that people of one race are on average less intelligent than another race, and that this is morally irrelevant, or relevant in ways that favour the less intelligent group. And it is quite possible to argue that races or even cultures are equal, while still wanting to exclude – which was pretty much the position behind the White Australia Policy, at least in its later stages.


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