Australian Islam warning
Australian Prime Minister John Howard has defended Treasurer Peter Costello's criticism of extreme elements in the Muslim community, saying he holds similar beliefs.He refused to buckle to calls from sections of the Islamic community for Mr Costello to be censured because "what he said was fundamentally accurate".
In a speech to the Sydney Institute on Thursday night, Mr Costello said people who believed in Islamic sharia law should co-exist with Australian law or leave.
He warned that if people had strong objections to Australian values "don't come".
"He's not trying to stir up hostilities with Islamic people any more than I was when I made some comments three days before the Cronulla riots," Mr Howard said.
The Prime Minister had expressed concerns about the treatment of women by some in the Islamic community and said extreme sections of that community, and its "rejection of the fundamentals of our society", posed a problem.
"I thought both those statements were perfectly acceptable," Mr Howard said.
However, Muslim community leaders were outraged.
Islamic Friendship Association president Keysar Trad accused Mr Costello of "stirring up Islamophobia".
Lebanese Moslem Association spokesman Abdul Hamid El Ayoubi said Mr Costello's beliefs were "baseless, irresponsible and reek of racism" while Victorian Multicultural Commission chairman George Lekakis said he was "propagating fear".
But the Treasurer found supporters as he walked through Sydney airport yesterday before a flight to Melbourne. New Australian Willy Gutierrez stopped Mr Costello to shake his hand.
"I want him to be the next Prime Minister," he said.
Sydney businessman Tony Clark and his driver Wally Attia congratulated Mr Costello on the controversial speech. "We were listening to them talking about it [on the radio] on the way here in the car," Mr Clark said.
"Wally is an immigrant who came here and leant the language.
"We agreed with Mr Costello."
While Federal Labor and Queensland Premier Peter Beattie laid the boot into Mr Costello for being "divisive", he found a supporter in Premier Morris Iemma, whose Labor electorate of Lakemba has a large Muslim community.
He said Mr Costello's proposal should apply to people in Australia on long-term visas as well as those applying for citizenship.