SINGAPORE – Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday defended his comments suggesting that Western culture is superior to that of Islam, and called for U.S.-led assistance in defeating the Islamic State group.
In a Sydney Daily Telegraph opinion piece published earlier in the day, Abbott, a staunch Catholic and former student priest, wrote of a need to "modernize" Islam, saying it propagates a culture that is inferior to that of the West.
Critics associated his comments with those of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has proposed a controversial ban on all Muslim visitors to the U.S., with the exception of foreign Muslim leaders.
"I am more than ready to assert the superiority of a culture that is decent and humane, and welcoming, over a culture that thinks it's right to kill in the name of God," he said in a speech in Singapore.
Once you embrace the principle of killing in the name of God, "we have the war of all against all, until there is only one man, or one particular faith or version of faith left standing. Now, that is a recipe for catastrophe, absolute catastrophe," he added.
In September, Abbott suggested that the Islamic State group was worse than the Nazis during World War II, angering members of the Jewish community.
"Islamic State has a simple but deadly message — submit or die. To most, a medieval fantasy, but rational enough to many Muslims based on their scriptures," Abbott said Wednesday.
"We need to address the allure of Islamic State and part of that is defeating it, because as long as it survives, there is this idea that somehow it is of God, and if it fails, almost by definition, it is not."
While the main fight should ultimately be between local forces and the Islamic State group, more assistance should be rendered by outside powers such as the U.S. and Australia, Abbott said.
Abbott spent two years in office before being ousted in September by current leader Malcolm Turnbull in a Liberal Party coup, but is still a government lawmaker.
Australia's leading Muslim group, the Australian National Imams Council, on Thursday rejected Abbott's argument that their religion needed to reform.
"Islam is not in any need of reformation since the normative principles and practices of the religion allow Muslims to harmoniously coexist within pluralist societies that are based on the universal values of compassion and justice," said Ibrahim Abu, Mufti of Australia and the head of the council in a statement.
"It is unfortunate that some people in this country wish to tarnish the reputation of the entire Australian Muslim community based on the irreligious actions of a few," he added.
The council, which represents more than 250 imams, welcomed the "recent change in narrative with regard to Islam" under Turnbull's leadership.
"This is a positive departure from the deliberate conflation of violent extremism with the religion of Islam which serves not only to vilify Australians of Muslim faith but also plays into the hands of extremist recruiters on all sides who propagate the notion that the West is at war with Islam," the statement said.
Associated Press writer Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report