In the latest cabinet reshuffle, Labor Parliamentarian Ed Husic was made Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and Parliamentary Secretary for Broadband. This is a historic moment, as Husic is now the first Muslim appointed to the front bench of an Australian Government. But that isn’t the only first. Husic’s new roles required him to take an oath. He chose to do so by swearing on a copy of the Qu’ran. Some, like the Governor General Quentin Bryce, have lauded the decision to use a Qu’ran as exmpliflying “muticulturalism and everything it stands for in our country”. While others, notably some extremists on the internet, have called the act “unAustralian” and “unconstitutional”. Many have already leapt to the defense of Husic and Bryce, and pointed out how ridiculous such claims are. But what I want to know is, if Husic should not have sworn in on the Qu’ran, should he have done it on a book he doesn’t believe in?
Of course, Husic had the option of taking an oath without the use of a “holy text”. Julia Gillard did exactly that. But Julia Gillard is an atheist. She has no particular attachment to any holy text. I would argue that if she had sworn in on one, it would have been more a sign of disrespect than anything else. But Husic is a Muslim. He does have an attachment to the Qu’ran. And to me the whole point of taking an oath on a holy book is that you have an attachment to that holy book. It is a symbolic gesture. By taking an oath on a holy book you are including it in your oath. If you break your oath you have disrespected your holy book by association. To many people of faith that is a deterrent. As a believing Muslim, Husic would not want to disrespect the Qu’ran. If we had forced Husic to take an oath on the Bible what would the deterrent have been? Wouldn’t it have been as vacuous an disrespectful as forcing Julia Gillard to swear on a Bible? What would be the point of the exercise?