Extremely disempowered at TAFE

gabriel

What are they teaching you at TAFE these days?

A Melbourne TAFE student says she was shocked to see a “sickening” quote from a prominent anti-Islam activist suggesting up to 300 million Muslims are “radicals who want to destroy and murder” included in online lecture materials.

Tayeba Quddus, 26, told the ABC she was left feeling “disempowered” to discover the quote from Lebanese-born American conservative Brigitte Gabriel in a lecture slide for a unit at the Holmesglen Institute focused on “managing diversity in a culturally competent environment”.

The unit was part of the TAFE’s Certificate IV in Youth Work and Certificate IV in Alcohol and Other Drugs.

“Given what happened in Christchurch, and a huge movement we have of far-right extremism and political campaigns that seek to vilify most Muslims, within that climate it’s not very helpful to be discussing these things in a way that seems like it supports these ideas,” Ms Quddus told the ABC.

“This isn’t about free speech or trying to police what people are saying. I think it’s more a matter of the teacher publishing overtly fearmongering material online that has no evidence, and the fact that that’s completely inappropriate for (the lecturer) to have done.”

The slide, titled “Most Muslims are peaceful”, referred to a YouTube video of Ms Gabriel on a panel at The Heritage Foundation in 2017 where she was “asked a question that related to the peaceful Muslim majority”.

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There are two different questions here.

Firstly, why is a TAFE course engaging in a discussion about Islam? I guess nowadays just about everything under the sun, including a qualification in Youth Work and counselling, has to include material about “managing diversity in a culturally competent environment”, whatever that means. It’s a mystery though why the lesson here needs to go beyond the generic advice “Don’t be an asshole to other people” and instead veer into questions about peacefulness of Islam. Of course, without the access to the complete slide deck it’s difficult to guess the context in which the quote in question was cited – was the statement, for example, quoted as a factual observation or was it quoted as an example of a certain kind of thinking about Islam?

Secondly, the question of offence. Tayeba Quddus says she has been “sickened” and “disempowered” by the text in question – and the institution in question has withdrawn the slide and apologised to her after she made a complaint to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission – but can that dictate the content of the course she and others are being taught? Is it really an “overly fearmongering material… that has no evidence”?

It strikes me as quite inelegantly and clumsily expressed but far from unsupportable. The essential message is this: while a great majority of Muslims are indeed peaceful, a significant minority are not, and we should not overlook the danger they pose. Minorities can indeed be dangerous. Apparently to point that out in the context of discussing Muslim religious and political beliefs is now considered Islamophobic.

There are around 1.8 billion Muslims around the world today. Gabriel says that somewhere between 180 and 300 million of them are “radicals who want to destroy and murder”. She is talking about between 10 and 16 per cent of the Islamic population, so indeed a small, but not an insignificant minority. Is there any evidence that such a minority exists, which is supportive of extremism in their interpretation of faith?

Let’s look at the results of public opinion research conducted by the eminently respectable Pew Research Center among Muslim populations across the world over the past decade or so (drawn from here, here and here). This research suggests that while a great majority of Muslims do reject extremism (or radicalism) a minority, which varies in size from country to country, indeed embraces and supports it:

muslimpew1 muslimpew2 muslimpew3 muslimpew4 muslimpew5 muslimpew6

One would need access to all the raw data to make exact calculations, but even just looking at the figures above it does not seem at all unreasonable to conclude that a minority of the world Muslims – roughly 10 or 15 per cent – do indeed support suicide bombings, terrorism and extremist terrorist organisations. Whether you call that minority “radicals who want to destroy and murder” or “terrorist supporters” or something else is a matter of form but not of substance. They do exist/

Whether TAFE students need lecturing about such topics in order to qualify as youth workers or substance abuse counselors, and if they do, how this information should be framed and presented, these are valid questions for discussion. But if Ms Quddus feels “disempowered” and “sickened” when faced with a contrary and disagreeable point of view that’s in my humble opinion her problem. As Ben Shapiro quips, facts don’t care about your feelings. By all means, contest opinions and interpretations, argue about factual support and accuracy, but your sensitivity and capacity to be offended don’t grant you a right to censor debate and automatically shut out other views.

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