Sat, Feb 25, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Australian minister wants extremists to lose citizenship

AFP , SYDNEY

Australian Treasurer Peter Costello, favorite to become the country's next leader, has called for Muslim extremists to be stripped of their citizenship while denouncing multiculturalism as "mushy and misguided."

The comments from Australian Prime Minister John Howard's anointed successor have outraged Australia's Islamic minority, with leaders saying it is the latest in a stream of unfair criticism from a conservative government out to marginalise their community.

Costello demanded new citizens accept Australian laws rather than attempt to live by alternative codes such as Shariah law, saying it was a sign of respect in the same way that taking off one's shoes before entering a mosque showed deference towards Islam.

"If you have strong objections to walking in your socks, don't enter the mosque," Costello told a function in Sydney late on Thursday. "If you have strong objections to [Australian] values, don't come to Australia."

Prominent figures in the Muslim community, which numbers about 300,000 or 1.5 percent of Australia's 20 million population, said they could not understand why they were being targeted by Costello and the Howard government.

Shaken by racial rioting between white youths and Arab-Australians on Sydney's beaches last December, many Muslims have been frustrated by strong government support of the US "war on terror" and draconian counter-terrorism measures introduced after the 9/11 attacks.

Muslim leaders said their community was being further isolated by a string of criticism from government members.

In remarks published this week ahead of his 10th anniversary in power, the prime minister criticized a minority of Muslims who "rave on about jihad" and hold extreme views "utterly antagonistic" to Australian values.

Government backbencher Danna Vale also said last week that Australians were aborting themselves "almost out of existence" and the country could become a Muslim nation within 50 years as a result. She later apologized.

Islamic Council of Victoria representative Waleed Aly said he believed there was a deliberate government attempt to scapegoat Muslims.

"It seems quite clearly calculated at marginalising a part of mainstream Australia that's been part of mainstream Australia for 50 years, but suddenly it's some sort of hideous problem," he said.

Australia has for decades had a policy of multiculturalism but critics believe it should place more emphasis on specific Australian cultural values.

Costello said he was surprised when attending a citizenship ceremony to hear a politician extoll multiculturalism's virtues by saying new citizens need not give up their culture, language, religion or love of their birth country.

"I realized that this confused, mushy, misguided multiculturalism completely underestimated the audience," he said. "Becoming a citizen of another country changes their identity."

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