A senior member of Australia's government has said Muslims who want to live by Islamic Sharia law are not welcome in the country. The comments have stoked Muslim anger against the Australian government.
Australian Finance Minister Peter Costello said in a speech late Thursday that immigrants must respect the country's laws and traditions. Costello singled out Muslims who wanted to live under Sharia law as not welcome in Australia.
In his speech on Australian citizenship, the minister said his remarks were directed at what he called a "small radical minority." "You don't have to swear at the football and eat a pie to be an Australian," he said, "but you do have believe in democracy, the rule of law and the rights and liberties of others."
Earlier this week Prime Minister John Howard also addressed Islamic extremism, saying it violated Australia's principles. He pointed to contentious issues such as relations with non-Muslims and the rights of women.
Australian Muslims have reacted with anger to both sets of comments. They accuse the government of being deliberately inflammatory and divisive.
Keysar Trad, president of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia, says Costello's comments are unnecessary. "He is singling out the Muslim community again," he said. "Rather than calling on all citizens to respect the law of the land and respect traditional values, he is making an inference in his comments that Muslims don't do that. Well, on the contrary, Muslims do respect the law of the land and do respect the values of this country."
There are around 300,000 Muslims in Australia.
Community leaders say racism toward this minority group has increased since the terrorist attacks in the United States in September 2001 and the bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali a year later, in which Australian tourists were targeted.