Why Catholics Have More In Common With Muslims Than They Think

Religious minorities have had a rough ride in Australia.

One minority in particular has, for much of its history in Australia, been vilified for a host of reasons including:

·         Alleged links to and support for violence overseas

·         Treatment of women

·         'Inferior' culture

·         Insistence on having prayers said in a language other than English

·         Bludging off the system

·         A desire to send their kids to schools run by their own. As if our schools aren’t good enough for them.

Am I talking about Muslims? South Sudanese Christians? East Asians?

No. I’m talking about Australians who identify as Irish Catholic.

Irish Catholics were once the pariahs of Australian society. (Image: Getty)

Believe it or not, Irish Catholics -- who have made up about 25 percent of Australia's population for most if its history post-colonisation -- were once the pariahs of the majority Anglo-Celtic Protestant society. They were often referred to as “White Negroes”.

In a 2011 article, Australian historian Raelene Frances writes: "for most of the 220 years since the British first colonised Australia, it has been Irish Catholics who have attracted this kind of attack on their schools, their value systems, their lifestyles, their culture and their political loyalties”.

And especially their religion.

"Their religion was seen as an inferior form of Christianity, characterized by superstition and dominated by ignorant and misguided priests. Until the 1820s, Catholics were denied their own priests and forced to practise their religion in secret.”

Irish Catholics coming to Australia were seen as the worst of a bad lot.

"The prejudices levelled at Irish immigrants to England and America were magnified in Australia, which was supposed to be the recipient of the worst type of Irish migrant -- the best going to America.”

Irish immigrants faced widespread persecution on Australian shores. (Image: Getty)

Just about each form of scapegoating and abuse of post-indigenous ethnic and religious minorities in Australia has shared themes with the nastiness directed at Irish Catholics. And with religious denominations now grappling with child sexual abuse in their institutions, many Australians who identify with the Catholic Church will be feeling a higher degree of sensitivity.

READ MORE: Pell Is In Prison But Hypocrisy And Scandal Are Still At Large In The Church

For me as a Muslim (albeit a lukewarm one), this is all very familiar.

I did not head off to join ISIL. My relatives in Pakistan were more likely to be killed by the Pakistani Taliban than become members. My relatives in India were not part of any plot to attack the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai. The word “Islam” isn’t just the name of a faith. It is also the surname of a young British bank clerk, the first victim of the Islamist terrorist attack in London on July 7, 2005, to be farewelled.

Shahara Islam, a victim of the July, 2005 London terrorist bombings, is farewelled at a service at a London mosque. (Image: Getty)

Catholics -- many of them Irish Catholics -- make up at nearly 25 percent of the Australian community.  Muslims make up nearly 25 percent of humankind.

Scapegoating the lot of them makes no sense.

READ MORE: Hugh Riminton: The Cardinal's Legacy Is One Of Crime And Cover-Up

At the same time, it makes me sick in the stomach when some self-appointed Muslim spokesperson defends the indefensible statements and acts of imams.

When an imam defends any form of female genital mutilation, what is there to justify? When an imam states that women who dress a certain way are like meat, what context exists? Why defend that imam when what he says doesn’t reflect on me? It’s as silly as demonising me for his words. Heck, I didn’t choose him.

We shouldn't demonise a whole group for the words and actions of an individual. (Image: Getty)

Ordinary Catholics don’t choose any of their clergy. Ordinary Catholics don’t write the sermons. Ordinary Catholics don’t develop the policies to compensate people hurt by the Church. And no doubt many ordinary Catholics are as sickened by the words of some tabloid columnists “defending” and crying victimhood for a Cardinal who they claim has fallen prey to the criminal justice system.

READ MORE: Take A Look At Jesus, Not Those Who Say They Follow Him

This is a time when people who associate with religion need to come together to protect their faiths from evil. Because the reality is that the overwhelming majority of victims of the evil acts for which we are blamed for come from our own.

This is a time when people who associate with religion need to come together to protect their faiths from evil. (Image: Getty)

Scapegoating Catholics for the evil of child sexual abuse makes just as little sense, when a tiny portion of Catholics are perpetrators and the vast majority of their victims are Catholic.

READ MORE: How Can We Explain The Culture And Faith This Saudi Teen Is Trying To Escape?

I acknowledge that there is a difference between terrorism and child abuse, notwithstanding the fact that victims of abuse and their families feel at the very least terrorised.

But to blame an entire community for the acts of a few should now be deemed unAustralian. Let’s judge people as individuals, not impose some negative identity politic on them which they had no role in producing.