THE WAGING OF A NEW WAR
YESTERDAY 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.