HALF of all Australians want to stop Muslim immigrants from coming to Australia.

That is a statistic that will shock many, but it doesn't shock me.

How many of us have even met a Muslim Australian, let alone enough to include them in our circle of friends or family?

In regional Queensland, Muslim Australians are rare.

How rare? A 2011 report estimated there were just 3929 Muslim Australians living outside Greater Brisbane with 2.33 million regional Queenslanders. 

In Brisbane, less than 1 in every 100 people are Muslims.

For the rest of Queensland, it's almost 1 in 1000.

If you live NSW but outside Sydney, the odds are 1 in 500.

Is this what it feels like to be "swamped" by Muslims, as Pauline Hanson told Parliament on her return from the wilderness?
 

A mosque used by Afghan camel-keepers in Bourke in the 1800s.
A mosque used by Afghan camel-keepers in Bourke in the 1800s. Wikimedia Commons

How many of us have ever had a conversation with a Muslim? Or even met a Muslim man or woman?

And yet we have entire political parties set up to fight the rising influence of a single religion.

That means that when One Nation scored 16,000 votes in the seat of Hinkler, which takes in Bundaberg and Fraser Coast in Queensland earlier this year, those voters added up to four times the entire Muslim population outside of Brisbane.

We shouldn't be surprised by that. Fear can be a powerful thing.

And when we are shown the images and footage of violence, terrorism and torture that marks Daesh's rule in Middle East, it frightens us. We don't want that here.
 

AIR STRIKE: Smoke rises from the Syrian city of Kobani.
AIR STRIKE: Smoke rises from the Syrian city of Kobani. Vadim Ghirdaap

Not every Muslim is a terrorist, even the staunchest supporters of the anti-Islam parties or Reclaim Australia have to know that. But they peddle the idea that some could be, and that's not a risk worth taking.

Ms Hanson has said she believes the 49% to be too low - and I don't disagree. 

When there are so few Muslim Australians in regional areas - 0.16% in Queensland, and 0.2% in NSW - is it a surprise that so many see images of violent Islamic terrorists then wield a broad brush to tar everyone else?

Stories about the inoffensive Muslim guy running his business, supporting his family and living an otherwise mundane existence rarely rates a mention.

Man lives ordinary life is not exactly a front page headline.

If we don't know them, what choice to we have but to link Muslims with the horror we see on the television or on the newspaper's front page?
 

In the 1990s, only 20 years ago, we were again fearful of "Asians" - a fear that helped sweep Ms Hanson to power in the first place.

Now we are uncomfortable with Muslims, despite there being mosques in Mackay and Cloncurry since the 1880s.

The Essential poll does not mean that Australians is full of bigots, racists or morons.

It shows that Australians are hearing the words "terrorism" and "Islam" in the same sentence so often that it can't help but sink in.

That's partly because there is a war raging in foreign lands, a war in which the cowards of Islamic State occasionally try to threaten us from afar.

It's also because there are so many who look to benefit from fear - there is money and power to be gained by spreading it, then promising safety.
 

George Christensen at Reclaim Australia Rally in Mackay Photo Tony Martin / Daily Mercury
George Christensen at Reclaim Australia Rally in Mackay Photo Tony Martin / Daily Mercury Tony Martin

For Australians to welcome anyone into our culture, they must be comfortable with having them here.

How can that happen when so many of us have so little contact with those cultures?

There is no immediate solution. Building walls and dispatching the gunboats is not the answer.

The answer lies with those who have concerns, who wonder whether we are quietly under attack from the same forces that have ravaged Syria and Iraq.

They need to seek and be shown the truth, even if it's mundane, about how Muslims live in Australia.

If we don't answer their concerns without insult or slurs, they will find someone who will.

And they will vote for them at the next election.

 

BY THE NUMBERS:


QUEENSLAND

4,332,738 - Queensland population

34,048 - Muslim Australians in Queensland (0.8% of Queensland population)

30,119 - Muslim Australians in Brisbane (6.3% of all Muslims in Australia)

2,330,000 - Regional Queensland population

3929 - Muslim Australians in regional Queensland (0.16% of regional Qld)
 

NEW SOUTH WALES

7,210,000- New South Wales population

219,378 - Muslim Australians in NSW (3.04% of NSW population)

213,804 - Muslim Australians in Sydney (44.9% of all Muslims in Australia)

2,610,000 - Regional NSW population (outside of Sydney)

5574 - Muslim Australians in regional NSW (0.21% of regional NSW)

All numbers in 2011 figures, courtesy ABS, University of SA

 

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