Australia stands out among leading Western democracies wrestling with the knotty question of Muslim immigration. More than others, its government has acted bluntly and openly to limit Muslim immigration so that this nation of immigrants might remain staunchly (culturally?) Christian.
If you search the web, you'll find some close coverage of the situation, particularly and unsurprisingly in the Australian press. Restrict yourself to coverage by American outlets, however, and it's a different story.
Here, under-coverage holds sway -- despite the obvious connection to our own explosive political debate over Muslim immigration under the Trump administration. (I know; Australia's far, far away and expensive to get to and report on.)
The New York Times published an opinion piece earlier this month on the issue (from a pro-Muslim immigration liberal perspective). The op-ed's headline, "Australia’s Immoral Preference for Christian Refugees," caught my eye -- as did the writer's impressive-sounding byline, A. Odysseus Patrick.
This prompted me to look closer at the issue's overall coverage.
Here's the top of The Times piece to set the stage.
SYDNEY, Australia -- Like many Western countries, Australia has agreed to resettle refugees from the wars in Syria and Iraq. Unlike other countries, Australia explicitly favors Christians, even though they are a minority of those seeking refuge.
The Australian experience is a case study for Europeans grappling with an influx of refugees and for Americans considering the long-term implications of the Trump presidency: When Muslims are demonized, state-directed prejudice is more likely.
Data I obtained through Australia’s freedom of information law shows that 78 percent of the approximately 18,563 refugees from Syria and Iraq granted entry from July 1, 2015, to Jan. 6 of this year identified themselves as Christian.
This figure is significantly out of proportion to Christians’ presence among the region’s displaced peoples. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees puts the number of registered Christian refugees from Iraq at around 15 percent. The figure for Syria is just under 1 percent.
The essay then offers this about the government's intentions.
Australia’s conservative coalition government has never denied that religion is an important factor in choosing who will be admitted from Syria and Iraq. The favoritism is justified by the claim that Christians are more at risk from the Islamic State and other groups that engage in indiscriminate murder.
Some Christians feel that members of their religion are the unacknowledged victims of the wars in Syria and Iraq.
“Christians have been copping the brunt of persecution at the hands of ISIS,” Lyle Sheldon, the managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, told me.
Similarly, a Labour legislator, Tony Zappia, said in the Australian Parliament, “Christians appear to be the most persecuted people on earth.”
SBS, a sort of combined Australian NPR and PBS, quoted a statement from a spokesperson for Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, saying that "ultimately we want to make sure that we’re bringing the right people; people who can integrate into our community, that can get a job, can speak English, can give their kids the opportunity to go to school."
The spokesman also noted that "while an individual’s religion may be a relevant and, in some cases, primary factor in their humanitarian claims, it is not a requirement that applicants declare their religion on their application form.”
(Sure. Just don't tell anyone you're Muslim and no one will suspect it. But I digress.)
Americans tend to think of Australia as remote and, therefore, somehow removed from the unceasing upheaval and human tragedy that's ripped apart the Middle East and South Asian Muslim world and has spurred the current exodus of its people to what they hope are safer environs.
Truth is, Australia is far closer to the Muslim world (think Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation) and its myriad problems than we are.
Need some background? Take a peek at this BBC historical look at Islam's earliest influences on the land we now call Australia.
Want something more relevant to the situation today? The Washington Post published this piece just the other day about Indonesian Islamic militancy.
Or read this story about the Christian governor of Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, being convicted of blasphemy against Islam for trying to counter Muslim militants' claims that Islam precluded Muslims from voting for a Christian.
I figure this sort of thing makes many Christian Australians pretty nervous -- particularly since Australians have also experienced their own brushes with jihadist violence, though less so than Western Europeans.
While looking for this issue's coverage by the American press, I coincidentally came across an announcement on the Times' website that it is about to expand its coverage of Australia, including posting a staff correspondent there full time.
This certainly fits with what I see as journalism's apparent near-term future, in which a few elite global brands dominate the international marketplace, while hyper-local and loudly ideological outlets scurry about for the left over economic crumbs.
Far less clear to me is whether the Times is also doing this now because it sees in Australia one vision of what the United States could become should President Donald Trump and his base supporters get to put into policy their beliefs about what they think is best for America's demographic makeup going forward.
Could that be part of the Times' calculations?
Yes or no, I suspect we'll be reading a lot more coverage of Australia's Muslim immigration conundrum in the Times. I certainly hope that's the case.
What do you think? But please remember to say so in a manner consistent with GetReligion's focus on the journalism issues involved, the how and why of the coverage.
Religious, moral, racial, political and cultural factors all surely play their part. But to the degree possible, we try and tease the journalism string out of our ball of societal yarn. Now please have your say.
IMAGE: From the Canberra Refugee Action Committee.