Islamic schools and the new suburban edges of race and fear

Year: 2012

Author: Gulson, Kalervo

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper discusses the spatial politics of religion and race in education, in relation to the establishment of private Islamic schools in Sydney, and locates this discussion within the spaces and places of education policy and race/racism.  The south-western suburban areas of Sydney, approximately 25 kilometres from the downtown core, have high proportions of Muslim people - from a variety of geographical and ethnic backgrounds - relative to national population and other local government areas. In these areas important cultural institutions like mosques have been established.  A more recent – as in the last 15 years – phenomenon has been the increase in the numbers of private Islamic elementary and secondary schools.  These schools are one of the fastest growing sectors of government-funded private schools in Australia.  In Sydney these schools have also been strongly opposed at a local government level – an opposition often manifest in local government planning issues.

This paper reports on a qualitative project looking at public discourses, geographies of fear and Islamic schooling, in multicultural countries like Australia.  This paper will focus on two key points from this project. The first point is that race becomes invisible in the educational politics of Islamic schools in Sydney – for it is elided through techno-rationality and the transference of educational politics into an urban politics of planning.  That is, while government-funded, private religious schools are common in Australia, the politics of education around certain schools like Islamic schools - and unlike fundamentalist Christian schools - is being played in the politics of urban change and planning.  This means that opposition to Islamic schools on the basis of not belonging to these areas of the city, and the nation, is being occluded by claims that opposition is on neutral grounds of increased traffic flow or disputes over appropriate land use and zoning concerns.

The second point is that the convergence of educational and urban politics also indicates that the edges of race in metropolitan areas are being shifted – they are no longer the purview of inner cities (see Keith, 2005).  Rather, what constitutes new spaces and places of race and fear are new geographies of suburbia, connected to global Islamophobia, the complex repositioning of national multiculturalism within transnationalised geographies of difference, and the rise of local planning as the dominant form of racialised religious politics in education.