Justice and peace promoter seeks calm in sea of fear

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Fr Peter Smith
Fr Peter Smith

The archdiocesan promoter of peace and justice is hoping to trigger a groundswell of support for Sydney’s Islamic communities in the wake of controversial police raids and a heightened terror alert blamed on Islamic extremists.

In a letter to 46 mosques and Muslim communities last month, Fr Peter Smith of the Sydney archdiocese’s Justice and Peace Office wrote: “All people of good will are appalled by recent developments leading to conflict in the Middle East. What is sadder is the identification of the few with the majority.

“I trust that your community will be forgiving of those who would insult and deride your great religion and that you will know that so many from diverse groups stand in solidarity with you.”

It was a move to “seek out some calm in society so that we’re not demonising Muslims”, Fr Peter said. “It’s about being realistic that what is going on in the Middle East is not every Muslim or every Islamic community’s desire; in fact, it’s quite the opposite.”

The Leichhardt North parish priest, and former parish priest of Auburn, was overwhelmed by letters of thanks, offers of prayer and invitations to community events.

The letter was “honestly something quite touching and representative of the Christian ethos many of us are fortunate to know”, one respondent wrote.

Another said: “We hope and pray that as believers we can work together to build harmony and peace in the community and in the world, by showing unity against a common enemy and bigotry and discrimination.”

Fr Peter was one of several faith representatives and community leaders to attend a call for calm on 4 September hosted by Rev Bill Crews and the Exodus Foundation along with Multicultural NSW.

It was attended by former Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock and Australian Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane.

“The current climate brought on by events thousands of miles away is making our job more difficult,” Multicultural NSW CEO Hakan Harman said.

“Seeing people from so many diverse parts of society all coming together with the same cause, all agreeing that we need this diversity, but there is a unity in that as well.”

Old enough to remember the post-war migration of the 1950s, Fr Peter was hopeful “that time is going to cure much of this”.

“They were rejected, and the Chinese before them and the Vietnamese after them. And successive generations of migrants, waves of migrants, have been persecuted, in our schools and in our community.”

Policies like banning the burqa in parliament (the ban has since been reversed) were only “exacerbating the position” and contributing to “the rhetoric around terrorism”, he said.