September 1, 2006

Howard’s Muslim comments spark race riot fear

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister John Howard
has called on migrants, particularly Muslims, to integrate into
Australian society by quickly learning English -- sparking
warnings his comments may lead to race riots.

The head of the government's Muslim advisory committee,
Ameer Ali, said on Friday that Howard's comments could fuel
race riots like those at Sydney's Cronulla beach last December.

"We have already witnessed one incident in Sydney recently
in Cronulla, I don't want these scenes to be repeated because
when you antagonize the younger generation ... they are bound
to react," Ali told local Sydney radio.

In December 2005, Howard said some Muslims were "raving on
about jihad." Days later violence rocked Cronulla, when white
Australian youths clashed with Lebanese-Australians.

In February, Howard again angered Australia's small Muslim
community by saying he was concerned about extremist Muslim
immigrants bent on jihad.

On Thursday, Howard told Sydney radio that migrants,
particularly hardline Muslims, needed to conform to Australian
values by learning English and treating women with respect.

His latest comments angered Muslims, but the prime minister
said he would not apologize.

"I think they are missing the point and the point is that I
don't care and the Australian people don't care where people
come from," Howard told reporters on Friday.

"There's a small section of the Islamic population which is
unwilling to integrate and I have said generally all migrants
... have to integrate," he said.

Almost a quarter of Australians were born overseas. Muslims
have been in Australia for more than 200 years and make up 1.5
percent of the 20 million population.

Muslim leaders say their community feels under siege due to
the U.S.-led war on terrorism, the Cronulla riot in 2005 and
Howard's comments on Muslims.

Islamic leader Iktimal Hage-Ali said the prime minister was
unfairly targeting the Muslim community.

"There's a whole lot of other ethnic communities whose
parents, whose grandparents don't speak the English language
and it's never a problem in the mainstream Australian
community," she told reporters.

"Every tiny step that we take forward we have some
politician come out and say something stupid and it takes us 10
steps back."