Rabia Siddique

We are one big beautiful salad!

Today is Harmony Day in Australia. Since 1999 this day, which coincides with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is a celebration of our cultural diversity – a day of cultural respect for everyone who calls Australia home.

The message of Harmony Day is ‘everyone belongs’, This special message aims to engage people to participate in their community, respect cultural and religious diversity and foster a sense of belonging for everyone.

Since 1999, more than 70,000 Harmony Day events have been held in childcare centres, schools, community groups, churches, businesses and federal, state and local government agencies across Australia.

These events take on many forms – concerts, faith services, long table meals and dance parties. I attended one such event this morning, which moved me to write this piece on a day which has significance for us all.

As parents we all want the best for our children. For many of us that means providing every opportunity we can for our children to realise their full potential, but in an environment where respect, gratitude and love abounds. We remind our children how blessed they are to grow up in such a beautiful, safe, prosperous and diverse country, and we teach them to remember those that are far less fortunate than them.

As a child of a migrant and proud first generation Australian, I consider myself so lucky to have an extended family and group of friends that represent many of the colours, races and religions that make up my country. It’s something my children happily take for granted. To them and many children that are still filled with innocence, colour blindness and love, every day is Harmony Day.

This morning my children’s school celebrated Harmony Day with a special assembly, cultural costume parade (that the Principal, teachers and the students took part in) and beautiful music. The assembly started with an inspiring Welcome to Country given by the indigenous students from the school – two cultural dances performed to the contagious rhythm and sound of a didgeridoo. The guest speaker at this assembly was my friend and 2017 WA Young Australian of the Year, Abdullah Alim.

Alim reminded us of how on this special day we must first remember and celebrate our first peoples. The ones who were here thousands of years before the rest of us, and to whom we owe our gratitude and respect. He then looked out into the sea of gorgeous faces in the school hall and asked the Year 1 students to put their hands up and identify themselves. He explained to the assembly that he was the same age as these children when he arrived in Australia as a refugee from Somalia with his parents.

He described how Somalia is a country that has gone through so much suffering. Where many children live in fear and don’t have access to schools or decent education. Alim talked about arriving in this country without speaking a word of English. Where he was too embarassed to ask his teacher questions when he couldn’t understand something in school, and too afraid to speak to his class mates.

He told the children that in those early days he never dreamt he would be standing in front of them many years later holding the Young Australian of the Year Award, and reminded them that no matter what you look like or sound like, no matter how different you feel or appear, anything is possible, we are all unique and everyone belongs in this country.

He concluded his beautiful message (pitched at just the right level for 4-10 year olds) by explaining that many adults call Australia a ‘melting pot’, but that he didn’t agree with this description. He described a melting pot as like a soup, where lots of different ingredients are added, heated up and stirred, and that eventually all these ingredients lose their ow flavours and come together to taste of something different.

He preferred the analogy that we in Australia are like a beautiful salad. Where many vegetables and fruits are added, and that each still retains their own unique taste and appearance, but come together to also produce something special and attractive.

His talk left the children, teachers and parents feeling touched, inspired and filled with a renewed love for the diversity within the school, community and country.

As I reflected on this special assembly and Alim’s talk, I was reminded that when I arrived in Australia, at the same age that Alim also arrived to this country, ‘White Australia Policy’ was alive and well, and ‘assimilation’ was the buzz word. Many of us that came from foreign shores felt we had to become invisible and like everyone else in order to progress and thrive in this new land.

Thankfully we have come a long way since then and much has changed – most of it for the better. In many respects Australia and it’s people have matured. The majority of us now speak a different language. A language that includes the words integration, first people, diversity, equality, inclusion, mutual respect and uniqueness.

Attending a Harmony Day assembly for 4-10 years olds was exactly what I needed today. I was reminded thought the eyes and ears of our children that our diversity is our strength and that everyone truly belongs in this country.

Like Alim, I will also now look at Australia as one big beautiful salad. Make mine as colourful as possible!

Happy Harmony Day to you all.

How do we live an ethical life in the face of global upheaval?

Stan Grant, the wonderful Indigenous Australian author, broadcaster and commentator recently delivered the Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture and the subject of his speech was ‘How do we live an ethical life in the face of cultural devastation?’

Grant’s address focussed on the atrocities and murders committed in the 1820’s battle between his Wiradjuri people and the new settlers. This battle led to the devastation and wiping out of half of his people.

He talks about the greatness of leadership shown by Windradyne, his people’s leader at that time. Windradyne fought for years for his people, defied the settlers and in the end, with his people devastated, his land taken, his culture facing destruction, he made a courageous choice. Grant describes Windradyne’s true courage, which was knowing when to face up to a new reality and protect and defend what his people had left.

Grant and all indigenous people still experience ongoing conflict, cultural devastation and challenges in Australia today, as they try to reconcile the loss of one tradition and the inevitable acceptance of another.

Given back in May, Grant’s address now appears prophetic.

I wonder whether he had even contemplated the global challenges and upheaval that we would all bear witness to a few short months later?

Like many people I have been contemplating, reflecting and trying to reconcile the shocks witnessed throughout the world. As hate crimes, extremism and the displacement of people tragically continues in parts of the ‘Eastern’ world, volatility is rising in the ‘West’.

With decisions like Brexit, the United States (US) election results and the rise of populist parties like One Nation in Australia, the politics of fear and division, and the sinister forces of ignorance and arrogance have gained momentum to engage the increasingly disenchanted yet influential section of our communities.

While so many parts of the world and it’s peoples are suffering, dying and losing their homes, land, culture and sense of belonging, many of our leaders have responded with proposals to build ‘walls’, to shut ‘the others’ out. These leaders espouse that the secret to making their nations ‘great again’ lies in looking after number one.

I grieve for the apparent loss of ethics and values that I had hoped united humanity. But, like Grant, I find myself asking the same question – how do we continue to live an ethical life in the face of global upheaval?

As Grant so rightly points out, these are critical times that we are living in and we need to ask ourselves some fundamental questions.

The one positive I take from recent world events is that we no longer need to waste time speculating about whether there are dark forces at play around us. Recent results in countries like the United Kingdom, the US and Australia (with impending elections across Europe also threatening the rise of populist, far right parties) have brought the darkness into the light. We can now see clearly what we are dealing with. The challenge for us now, is how do we respond?

Are we ready, willing and prepared to take up a place at the centre of our respective nation’s social, political and economic life? Not as acquiescent assimilationists, but as agents of change determined to engage and lead from a position of strength and strong values?

Facing up to ethical challenges amidst global upheaval will require courage.

More than ever, we need to re-engage with those that have felt unheard and unrepresented. We need to protect the vulnerable and marginalised and to hold up those that have committed to lead this work.

We need to redefine leadership and take on more of these roles ourselves, for the sake of our families, community and country.

At this time, when we reflect on the year that was, with all it’s turbulence, triumphs and traumas, I hope we can re-affirm and commit to embracing our power to create ripples of change – in our own lives, our organisations and in our communities.

The challenge for me, for us, is to see 2017 as the year filled with opportunities to inform, educate and unite our communities. We need to reach out to everyone, especially the disenfranchised.

This can only be done if we are prepared to live a life bigger and beyond ourselves.

Let’s reach out without judgement and continue to live lives in harmony with our humanitarian essence. This should be the new global movement that I’d love to see us all working towards.

Like Windradyne, let us have the courage to face up to our new reality, to uphold humanitarian values and protect and defend those who need our help more than ever.

Gratitude For The Strength We All Possess


GRATITUDE FOR THE STRENGTH WE ALL POSSESS

Today we celebrate a day which, on the United Nation’s official calendar, is the International Day of Peace. With a theme of Building Blocks for Change, it is a day to approach with hope and a genuine belief that we can build a way forward together as a planet on a moral and ethical level, irrespective of where we stand in terms of our religious or political beliefs. That we will be prepared to look to co-operate and conciliate for the greater good.

It is also World Gratitude Day. It’s becoming more and more evident that gratitude should be seen less as a post-dinner party necessity, and more as a science. Tertiary institutions, such as the University of California at Berkeley, funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation, are looking to the effects of gratitude on our emotions and our physical well-being. It’s being proven showing gratitude to others in a public way – whether through words, images, speech, or video – can have a positive effect on the immune system, blood pressure, loneliness and feelings of isolation, and encourages us to generally act with more generosity and compassion.

World Gratitude Day was founded by the United Nations Meditation Group in tribute to Dag Hammarskjöld, the much-loved and admired ex-Secretary-General of the UN, who tragically died in a plane crash in 1961 whilst still in office. Of course, theories abound regarding said crash, as they would with any powerful and outspoken figure, particularly perhaps in the case of Dag due to his thought-provoking stance on tolerance. He set up the Meditation Room, which is now open to the public at the UN, and which is designed as “…a place where the doors may be open to the infinite lands of thought and prayer… a room of quiet where only thoughts should speak.”

He was an extraordinary man and two of his statements resonate very strongly with me.

Firstly, he said this.

Never, for the sake of peace and quiet, deny your own experience or convictions.

reuters-basraEleven years ago this week, on the nineteenth of September, 2005, I went through what can only be called an experience of profound change. It’s a matter of historical record, but for those who, like me, have a mind full of everything they have to do today and tomorrow, it probably is a case of out of mind, out of sight.

What it meant for me was having to stick to my convictions, despite others encouraging me to ‘keep the peace’. I am profoundly grateful I had the courage to do this, and it leads me on to the second of Dag’s statements, which is something that all of us draw on, whether it’s in a hostage situation in Iraq, or dealing with the pressures of everyday life in a chaotic world.

Life only demands from you the strength you possess.

I needed a great deal of strength that day, eleven years ago. But coming out the other side, and sitting here, today, on a day which celebrates peace, and gratitude, and publicly letting others know how grateful you are to and for them, I know this:

Today, I am grateful for the experience I had, because it makes what I have now so much more extraordinary. I am grateful to be alive, healthy and happy amongst loved ones. I am grateful that I have the strength to allow me to stand up for my convictions, to never deny them, to express my convictions and to hopefully do it with moderation, and a degree of wisdom and respect for others. I am grateful I was brought up in a family, a country, a religion and a culture which gave me the room to develop these convictions. 

And I am grateful, above all, to those who give me the strength to do this. My hope on this International Day of Peace is those building blocks spoken to by Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon will eventually lead to our planet being, in Dag’s words, a place where the doors may be open to the infinite lands of thought and prayer.

That will make me grateful beyond worlds.

rabia-beach-one-wp

 

When Will This End?

WHEN WILL THIS END?

Today I was asked to comment on The Nauru Files: a cache of 2,000 leaked reports published by The Guardian, detailing the extreme trauma, abuse and sexual assault suffered by those seeking asylum from war and terror who are being detained indefinitely by the Australian government in the offshore detention camp of Nauru Island.
More than half of the incidents – just over 51 percent – involve children, despite only 18 percent of the detainee population being made up of children during the period the report covers.

These leaked documents reveal publicly what many of us already knew; the complete abrogation by the Australian government of its responsibilities, duty of care and international obligations towards these vulnerable, damaged, precious souls who fled their own nations in search of a safe haven and protection from harm.

nauruAnd what have we, under the auspices of policy, done to them?

We have shipped them offshore. We have, by indirect and direct lack of action, abused them, hidden them away, ignored them and punished them with the cruelest of treatment.

In international jurisprudence, indefinite detention is deemed to be cruel and inhumane treatment. In Australia it appears to be business as usual – at least on Manus Island and Nauru, and it seems, within our own shores with the treatment meted out to juvenile offenders in the Northern Territory, as recently exposed.

This is a matter of national shame.

What is happening to this country where we allow, by the policy-making of our elected officials, and therefore indirectly condone, the covering up of systematic abuse of children and the vulnerable, the shell-shocked, the emotionally wounded?

We are shocked. We are socially vocal. We ought to be appalled on a far more active level. Most of all, we must now do something about it – and fast.

Offshore detention does not work and should not continue.

How can we possibly say that we deserve to have a voice in condemning others for their actions internationally, when clearly we cannot keep our own backyard in humane order? If we cannot take our national, let alone international responsibilities as a humane nation, seriously?

This issue transcends race, colour, religion, ability, sexuality, age and political affiliations.

Our leaders – on all sides of the political fence – must act now, otherwise I will be forever more ashamed to call myself an Australian.

The question I ask now – is will they act – and are they ashamed?

Image courtesy of The Guardian

The waging of a new war

THE WAGING OF A NEW WAR

sonia krugerYESTERDAY morning, a prominent Australian media personality made a comment on a commercial morning television programme that she co-hosts to the effect that she would feel much safer if the Australian Government changed their immigration policy and stopped accepting anymore Muslims into Australia.

 Her comments received an immediate public outcry through social media and in response to those shocked by and critical of her remarks, the individual then referred to the recent Nice Bastille Day tragedy and her status as a mother to justify and defend the views she expressed.

 It just so happened that this unfortunate situation took place on the same day I was due to appear as a panelist on a non-commercial national current affairs programme, where of course I was asked to dive down into the depths and comment on this ill-informed, reckless piece of broadcasting.  

 In the interests of full disclosure, here is the link to my comments expressed on this programme.

Within seconds, my public comments received an overwhelming response on social media, such is the instantaneous nature of this medium, but within minutes I also received direct and personal emails and text messages. 

Most of these were supportive and encouraging but many also critical. 

I was not at all alarmed by the fact that many people didn’t agree with what I had to say. I believe one of the blessings of living in a beautiful, democratic, peaceful country like Australia is that we are allowed to disagree and express our views openly without fear of violent repercussions. 

What I was disturbed by was the majority of these dissenting comments were fuelled by anger, bigotry and the same lack of understanding about Islam, violent extremism and the process of radicalisation that I suspect was behind the celebrity’s comments earlier in the day.

Her comments and those much more vigorously expressed to me are indicative of the growing voice of ignorance and hatred that I have seen gain greater momentum and influence throughout the Western world.  

As bigotry and racism become more prevalent it fuels the politics of fear and division that pervades all around us and vice versa, therefore playing into the hands of those that seek to divide and conquer.

So what can we do to address this? What can I do to change this?  Well, in my mind it’s simple. Don’t feed the ignorance, don’t take on the bigotry and don’t entertain the hate. 

Change the conversation, lift the tone, educate not alienate and focus on the many things that bind us. Don’t focus on those things that at first glance appear to separate us.

I do not profess to speak on behalf of other Muslims or Australians for that matter, but as a child of a migrant who has dedicated her life to the rule of law, to helping others access justice and find their voice, I believe that the only way we can rise above the discussions about race and religion that are starting to tear at the fabric of our beautiful, multicultural society is to educate and inform our whole community.  

The Bible, the Koran and the Torah all instruct its followers to love their neighbours.  With this in mind I think an important first step we can take in this increasingly globalised world of ours is to look upon those around us as our neighbours.  

We are all of us, citizens of the same world living under the one sun and one moon. When we see each other as neighbours, suddenly we can focus on the things we share. The qualities that make us all human and that bind us. It is when we make this mental shift that it becomes easier to educate, inform and then hopefully unite. 

If my neighbours understood that Islam, like other religions, is not the cause of terrorism, but rather that radical, extreme, misguided individuals have twisted the religion to serve their own perverse, evil purpose, not dissimilar to the way other religions have been used and abused in the past, then I’m sure views would change.

If my neighbours saw that Muslims, just as Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and all who follow a moderate path, have and do die, and suffer from poverty, displacement and oppression at the hands of evil excusism masquerading as religious extremism, then I think views would change.

If my neighbours understood that these poor displaced, injured, broken people that have fled their homes are the ones who have turned to peaceful, tolerant countries like Australia begging for mercy, safe haven and an opportunity to make a new life and show their gratitude by contributing to the rich, multicultural fabric of our country, then I’m sure their views would change.

If my neighbours understood that terrorism is largely the product of home grown, domestically radicalised young men and women, who, having felt mistreated, marginalised and disenchanted with the world around them and how they perceive their place in it, have felt the need to belong to something that elevates their status and self worth, then perhaps their views would change.

If my neighbours understood that I share the same values as them and want the same things as they do – safety, family, friendship, peace, comfort – then perhaps their views towards me and all those peace loving people that identify themselves as Muslim would change.

History has shown us time and time again that bigotry and ignorance feeds greater division and violence.  History has also taught us that education and information holds the key to greater understanding, tolerance and unity within and between communities. 

We therefore must once and for all learn the lessons of history. We must change the conversation, no longer allowing ourselves to be misinformed and manipulated by the politics of fear and voice of ignorance. 

Instead we must embrace our neighbours.  Break bread together,  meet each other’s families, experience each other’s cultures and hear each other’s stories. 

Then we will bear witness to all those wonderful things that bind us to our neighbours. Then we can agree to respectfully disagree about certain things, but come together and unite on the really important issues, like saving our planet, embracing and nurturing our youth and educating our communities. 

Let’s wage a new war – the war of peace, tolerance, love and understanding – and let’s use the weapons of communication, information and education. 

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