But Dandan is far from sanguine about the projected near doubling of Muslim numbers."That is of great concern to us because we don't have the facilities and the infrastructure, and the government is not supporting us," he says.The Muslim community has plenty on its plate already: intergenerational poverty, undereducation and unemployment, a pressing need for more social, welfare and aged-care services, a siege mentality fostered by a suspicious public and often hostile news media, close attention from the police and security agencies and the problem of pockets of religious extremism.Dandan claims Muslim communities have been abandoned politically, particularly in southwest Sydney, where they happen to live in electorates safely held by the Labor Party."We're a growing community, so where are the services? Our youth get no services, our elderly no services, employment, no service, hospitals atrocious, our schools - don't even talk about it, go and have a look at our schools. Are we not getting the services because we're Muslim or because these are safe Labor seats?"A second set of statistics underscores his complaints, showing that despite numerous success stories such as that of Dandan, who runs a multimillion-dollar IT security firm, Muslims overall remain one of the most disadvantaged groups in Australia.The figures are in a 2009 report by the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies, Social and Economic Conditions of Australian Muslims: Implications for Social Inclusion.On the upside, it found that education-wise Muslims are high achievers: 21 per cent of Muslim males have a university degree, compared with 15 per cent of non-Muslims. But this doesn't translate into financial rewards, apparently because of language barriers, discrimination and non-recognition of qualifications obtained abroad. Unemployment among Muslims is two to four times the rates among other Australians. Twice as many Muslims have no income. Only 15 per cent own their own homes, compared with one-third of other Australians. Twenty-six per cent of Muslim teenagers are unemployed, against 14 per cent of non-Muslims. And, shockingly, 40 per cent of Muslim children live in poverty, almost three times the national average.The report found Australian Muslims are more vulnerable to multigenerational endemic poverty, "thus making poverty a way of life". This in turn creates alienation from mainstream society, leading to higher rates of delinquency, crime, imprisonment and potentially resort to religious extremism.These issues require urgent attention, the report advised. But, Dandan says, "The politicians don't care, they literally don't care." He cites an elaborate new youth centre built next to the Lakemba mosque, which took the local community 13 years to build because it received zero assistance from government.
The first thing that struck me was this was an extended rant about the failure of the state to provide services and infrastructure - which is nothing new in NSW - but what really struck me was the mindset of almost total dependence on the state. In all of this, I didn't see a single spark of, "Look, we need this stuff - let's get together and raise some money and do it for ourselves". It's all, "Let's go and ask the government for a cheque".
Since one big problem appears to be education, and the state of the state education system, I thought I'd have a look into that. So I did a bit of searching for two statistics - the proportion of Muslim kids in the state system vs the proportion of Jewish kids in the state system. I decided to use the Jews as a comparison as they are generally renowned for their very hard headed approach to education, and they're a pretty successful mob in general.
In NSW, the state system educates 66-67% of all kids.
Until a few years ago, 91% of Muslim kids were in the state system. That has dropped to 79% thanks to the opening of a dozen or so Islamic schools. Here are two interesting links regarding Muslim schools.
Only 25% of Jewish kids attend a state primary school, rising to 45% in high school.
So if we accept that education is a vital part of turning into a good, productive citizen, what are we to make of the correlation between the problems in the Muslim community and their high dependence on state education, versus the success of the Jewish community and their low dependence on state education?
If the lousy condition of state education is part of the cause of the problems for the Muslim community (high unemployment, intergenerational poverty, language barriers etc), then we should be pushing hard as hell for the opening of a lot more private Islamic schools, and trying to get 30-40% of Muslim kids into them. Hell, why not be like the Jews and go for 75%?
I think the Muslims have already figured that out for themselves. The Muslim private school sector is one of the fastest growing in Australia. Like many of us, they are simply fleeing in horror from a lousy state education system, and they realise that a good education is vital for their kid's future. The current generation might be a bit of a mess, but if we can give the next generation a great education, most of these integration problems might go away. Yes, it's strange to think that educating kids in an Islamic school will lead to great integration, vs putting them into a secular sink school - but why shouldn't it? 75% of Jews start of in a Jewish school - do they have a problem with the rest of Australia?